Alchemy in the Rain Forest

Politics, Ecology, and Resilience in a New Guinea Mining Area

Alchemy in the Rain Forest

New Ecologies for the Twenty-First Century

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Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 39 illustrations Published: November 2015

Author: Jerry K. Jacka

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Geography

In Alchemy in the Rain Forest Jerry K. Jacka explores how the indigenous population of Papua New Guinea's highlands struggle to create meaningful lives in the midst of extreme social conflict and environmental degradation. Drawing on theories of political ecology, place, and ontology and using ethnographic, environmental, and historical data, Jacka presents a multilayered examination of the impacts large-scale commercial gold mining in the region has had on ecology and social relations. Despite the deadly interclan violence and widespread pollution brought on by mining, the uneven distribution of its financial benefits has led many Porgerans to call for further development. This desire for increased mining, Jacka points out, counters popular portrayals of indigenous people as innate conservationists who defend the environment from international neoliberal development. Jacka's examination of the ways Porgerans search for common ground between capitalist and indigenous ways of knowing and being points to the complexity and interconnectedness of land, indigenous knowledge, and the global economy in Porgera and beyond.


"In sum, this book is a valuable addition to the specialist literature on mining and social change in Melanesia, but also written in a clear style that will be of great use in the classroom. I recommend Jacka’s accessible, straightforward ethnography to all readers."  — Alex Golub, Anthropology Book Forum

"[Alchemy in the Rain Forest] is an important contribution to environmental anthropology and political ecology. Jacka ultimately argues that the mine’s promises of development are as illusive as the alchemists’ quest for gold. What is unique about the book is not that ultimate assessment, but its exploration of the ways in which people who bear the greatest social and environmental harms of large-scale mining understand and navigate those changes." — Jessica M. Smith, Journal of Anthropological Research

"[Alchemy in the Rain Forest] examine[s] at length the fascinating resource management practices, community resilience, and spirit world of the Porgera Valley."  — Phillipa Jenkins, Pacific Affairs

"This is rich and detailed work on development and change and it is a convincing argument for how environmental anthropology can provide multiple scales of analysis in the pursuit of understanding local lifeworlds." — Sally Babidge, Human Ecology

"Jacka provides a multifaceted examination of gold mining in Papua New Guinea and its social and cultural impacts during the second half of the twentieth century. While highlighting the important conflicts and tensions, the author firmly resists the temptation to embark on a morality tale of evil multinationals dispossessing people of their land and culture. On the contrary, he offers nuanced analysis based on both field-work interviews and historical archives." — José Ramón Bertomeu Sánchez, Ambix

"In this field-changing analysis, Jerry K. Jacka shows us a world that is complex and changing, and he takes topics readers think they know and treats them in new and stimulating ways. Alchemy in the Rain Forest is a brilliant examination of ontological adaptation and change over the course of the history of Papua New Guinea's highlands."
— Paige West, author of From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea

"In this unique and nuanced study in highland Papua New Guinea, Jerry K. Jacka shows how royalty and compensatory payments from a multi-national gold mining company percolate through the local kinship system, transform the socioecology, and exacerbate inter-clan violence in a truly horrific way. In place of the idealized relations of neoliberal economics, Jacka posits an 'alchemy,' in one of the most revealing and disturbing accounts ever written of industrial resource extraction in the Global South. Sure to become a classic."
— Michael R. Dove, Yale University


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Price: $26.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jerry K. Jacka is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction  1

Part I. The Making of a Resource Frontier  21

1. Resource Frontiers in the Montane Tropics  25

2. Colonialism, Mining, and Missionization  49

Part II. Indigenous Philosophies of Nature, Culture, and Place  77

3. Land: Yu  81

4. People: Wandakali  105

5. Spirits: Yama  129

Part III. Social-Ecological Perturbations and Human Responses  157

6. Ecological Perturbations and Human Responses  157

7. Social Dislocations: Work, Antiwork, and Highway Life  199

Conclusion: Development, Resilience, and the End of the Land  229

Notes  241

References  249

Index  269
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6011-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5979-1
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