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This is a study of subsistence strategies within a system of swidden agriculture. It is based on two years (1974-1976) of research among the tribal Kantu' of West Kalimantan, Indonesia. The study commences with an introductory chapter which gives an overview of the Kantu', their environment, and the methodological and theoretical background to the study. This is followed by a detailed exegisis and analysis, in separate chapters, of each phase of the Kantu' swidden cycle, comprising (1) selecting the swidden site, (2) slashing the rainforest, (3) felling it, (4) burning, (5) planting, (6) weeding, (7) guarding, (8) harvesting the rice, (9) carrying in the crop, (10) harvesting the non-rice cultigens, (11) making field houses, and (12) making swidden tools. Then follows a chapter of summation and conclusion. The primary intent of each chapter, in analyzing each stage of the swidden cycle, is to analyze the way in which the Kantu' employ this system of agriculture to adapt to, and thereby draw their subsistence from, the rainforest environment in which they dwell. This adaptation is especially focused on two basic characteristics of the rainforest ecosystem, namely its diversity and its uncertainty. These characteristics refer to the marked temporal and spatial variation in climatic, edaphic and biotic factors. The analysis demonstrates that the Kantu' cope with this uncertainty, and exploit the diversity, by means of a two-fold strategy. First, they maximize diversity both within and among each household's swidden system. Critical to this maximization is the farming of two or three separate swiddens, of different types (e.g., cut from primary forest versus secondary forest), by each household each year; also critical is the making of decisions, within each household's swidden system, in considerable independence of the decisions of the other households in the longhouse. Second, the Kantu' maximize the exchange of both labor and the product of labor (viz., grain) between households. The exchange of grain is a hedge against harvest uncertainty. The exchange of labor can also be a hedge, but it is more important as a means of overcoming the scheduling problems (viz., alternating periods of idle labor and over-taxed labor) which typically plague swidden agriculture. This system of subsistence adaptation is not static. Oral historical data are included in the study and they show continuous change and adjustment in the subsistence system, by which means the Kantu' respond to changes in their social and political, as well as physical, environment. The Kantu' adaptation to their environment involves not merely their subsistence but, in more general terms, their entire society. The local environment, and the nature of their adaptation to it, is the dominant, independent variable in Kantu' life. Many aspects of behavior that would not otherwise be glossed as "economic" are determined by these economic and environmental imperatives; and this is reflected in the cognitive schemata of the Kantu' themselves. The Kantu' adaptation to their environment through the mechanisms of their swidden system is successful, if "success" is defined as the continued health of both the Kantu' and the environment. This argues for appreciation and utilization of the traditional knowledge of the Kantu' in efforts by the national government to preserve and/or exploit more intensively the rainforest environment.

Author-supplied keywords

  • 0326:Cultural anthropology
  • Cultural anthropology
  • Social sciences

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  • PMID: 19821890217



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