In the shadow of the palm: dispersed ontologies among Marind, West Papua

Sophie Chao*

*Corresponding author for this work

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48 Citations (Scopus)
254 Downloads (Pure)


This article explores how indigenous Marind of West Papua conceptualize the radical socio-environmental transformations wrought by large-scale deforestation and oil palm expansion on their customary lands and forests. Within the ecology of the Marind lifeworld, oil palm constitutes a particular kind of person, endowed with particular agencies and affects. Its unwillingness to participate in symbiotic socialities with other species jeopardizes the well-being of the life forms populating a dynamic multispecies cosmology, including humans. Drawing from ontological theories and the multispecies approach, I show how people in a remote place engage with adverse environmental transformations enacted by an other-than-human actor. Assumptions of human exceptionalism come under question in the context of a vegetal being that is exceptional in its own particular and destructive ways. Arguing for greater attention to other-than-human species that are unloving rather than unloved, I explore the epistemological frictions that arise from combining the anthropology of ontology with multispecies ethnography. I also attend to the implications of these theoretical positions in the real world of advocacy for those struggling in and against growing social and ecological precariousness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621-649
Number of pages29
JournalCultural Anthropology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Publisher 2018. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • agribusiness
  • anthropology of ontology
  • multispecies ethnography
  • oil palm
  • West Papua


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