The Banana Tree at the Gate: A History of Marginal Peoples and Global Markets in Borneo

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By Michael R. Dove

The "Hikayat Banjar," a seventeenth-century native court chronicle from Southeast Borneo, characterizes the irresistibility of natural resource wealth to outsiders as "the banana tree at the gate." Michael R. Dove employs this phrase as a root metaphor to frame the history of resource relations between the indigenous peoples of Borneo and the world system, standing on its head the prevailing view of resource-poor and economically marginal tropical forest dwellers.

In analyzing production and trade in forest products, pepper, and especially natural rubber, Dove shows that the involvement of Borneo's native peoples in commodity production for global markets is ancient and highly successful. This success is based on the development of a "dual" household economy, with distinct subsistence- and market-oriented sectors, which has historically made these "smallholders" extremely competitive with the large-scale, heavily capitalized, state-supported plantation sector. Dove sheds new light on the nature of smallholders and in particular their relationship with the global economic system. He demonstrates that processes of globalization began millennia ago and that they have been more diverse and less teleological than often thought. His analysis replaces the image of the isolated tropical forest community that needs to be helped into the global system with the reality of communities that have been so successful and competitive that they have had to fight political elites to keep from being forced out. The ubiquitous but historically inaccurate emphasis on isolation and resource-poverty disguises that the overweening characteristic of these communities is their political marginality and that their greatest want is not to be uplifted economically but to be empowered politically.

Michael R. Dove is Margaret K. Musser Professor of Social Ecology in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; Professor in the Department of Anthropology; Co-Coordinator, Joint F&ES/Anthropology Doctoral Program; and Curator of Anthropology in the Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University.

Publication Year: 2012
351 pages, 229mm x 152mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-617-7, Paperback

NUS Press