- Edges, Fringes, Frontiers: Integral Ecology, Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainability in Guyana by Thomas Henfrey
This well-conceived and deeply researched treatise on people and the environment is an extended thought-piece of a philosophical and theoretical sort that seeks to introduce an ecology that goes beyond isolated modes, or what the author calls structures, of thought and action concerning landscape and resource management. The structures are magical, mythical, and mental. They interact with intersocietal conditions and states, namely edges, fringes, and frontiers. Edges are intersocietal and interenvironmental meeting grounds wherein the opposite sides to an encounter are not much affected; fringes involve intersocietal communication but not necessarily domination by either group; frontiers are usually the ugly meeting ground of Babylon (i.e., Western science, capitalism, developmentalism) and traditional or indigenous society, knowledge, and outlook. They imply subordination, poverty, and domination of indigenous (or traditional) locals. The book is ostensibly concerned with Amazonia; it displays an indigenous subtext of Wapishana environmental knowledge and how that unfolds over time, leading one to appreciate their wisdom in shepherding a sustainable future for themselves and their lands in Guyana.
The Wapishana, the author avers, have retained their language and culture, even though specific changes are afoot, such as differences of religion (some are Christian, some are not), differences of observation of traditional (magical) practices, such as restrictions attendant upon the Wapishana couvade, and a loss of classificatory (Dravidian-type) kinship and marriage regulations. Apart from that, most of the subsistence strategies in agriculture, hunting, and fishing are intact, according to the author's data from about twenty years ago—and he collected a substantial amount of field data, much of which he has published elsewhere. Mental structures need not negate magical or mythical ones. "Every Wapishana farmer can rationally explain that black-eyed beans attract red brocket deer … At the same time, the characterization of black-eyed bans as a bina [what I would call, and I think the author agrees, a 'fetish'] for this species assimilates this observation to a distinctive expression of the magic structure" (p. 181).
Henfrey's argument in this book is much [End Page 363] more wide-ranging than Guyana or Amazonia. About three-quarters of the book addresses theory and research programs in environmental anthropology, and more generally explains how science can be transcended if linked to indigenous or traditional ecological knowledge. Integral ecology, which the author notes is on the academic fringe, seems to be the way to do that. It derives from integral theory, which is more or less a theory about how to approach everything cognitively, coming mostly from K. Wilber's integral psychology (e.g., A Theory of Everything, 2000) and with judicious (and carefully selected) borrowings from J. Gebser (The Ever-Present Origin, 1985), and the author's own creative synthesis of all that with a range of concepts found in sustainability and resilience theory (much of it centered around the fine work on traditional resource management by F. Berkes and his numerous collaborators, including resilience guru C.S. Hollings).
The book makes for difficult reading—"amply demonstrated by the arduous and tangled nature of academic treatises (like this one) …" (p. 180)—especially if one is not familiar with the background sources, and the associated metalanguages found therein. Indeed, the author would have well included a glossary—that's for a second edition! These terms from metalanguages are not yet in the principal canon of environmental anthropology. In spite of the difficulty with the prose—which is not bad writing actually, and I find no logical or organizational flaws in it—the volume conveys a solid introduction to a new model of thinking and for action as to how indigenous knowledge can be more widely incorporated into policy that impacts the diversity and sustainability of landscapes. The author shows considerable erudition in every relevant genre of environmental anthropology and ethnobiology (and indeed...