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The Contemporary Pacific 14.1 (2002) 244-249

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Book Review

Pacific Forest: A History of Resource Control and Contest in Solomon Islands, c. 1800-1997

Islands of Rainforest: Agroforestry, Logging and Eco-tourism in Solomon Islands

Pacific Forest: A History of Resource Control and Contest in Solomon Islands, c. 1800-1997, by Judith A Bennett. Cambridge: White Horse Press and Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2000. White Horse Press ISBN 1-874267-09-X; Brill ISBN 90-04-11960-4; xvi + 512 pages, tables, maps, illustrations, measurements, abbreviations, notes, bibliography, index. US$151; 123; £75.

Islands of Rainforest: Agroforestry, Logging and Eco-tourism in Solomon Islands, by Edvard Hviding and Tim Bayliss-Smith. SOAS Studies in Development Geography. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-7546-1233-3, xvii + 371 pages, illustrations (figures, plates, maps), notes, glossary, bibliography, index. US$84.95; £47.50.

Most of us are familiar with the exhortation, Think Globally, Act Locally! which often appears in the company of other peremptory statements about how to change the world, including how to save tropical rain forests. These two books about forest use in Solomon Islands persuasively argue for something more difficult and more intriguing. They encourage readers to try to think from local perspectives toward global issues when considering priorities, courses of action, and possible futures for countries and communities where rain forest still abounds. Bennett's work extends her earlier history of the former British colony and contemporary state of Solomon Islands (Wealth of the Solomons, 1987), here focusing on changing beliefs and perceptions about the forest and its uses and the impact of changing technology on the forest environment over time. Hviding, a cultural anthropologist, and Bayliss-Smith, a human geographer, approach similar issues from the perspective of one small but spectacularly resource-rich subregion of Solomon Islands, the Marovo Lagoon of New Georgia. Because Western Province, and within it mainly New Georgia, has been the largest contributor by volume and value to Solomon Islands log exports, these works dovetail in their examination of forests, land use, and the international logging boom at two levels: national-governmental and village communities. Both discussions are framed in terms of the great time span from prehistoric past to near present. The authors' different kinds of expertise provide three lenses through which to understand the ecology, people, and politics of the current situation. Hviding and Bayliss-Smith argue for a localized view of the global agendas (Save the Rainforest, Buy Eco-timber, Create World Heritage Sites) that have been visited on Marovo people, drawing an analogy with the colonization-missionization process. By the end of their discussion, the sweeping agendas of globalization rhetoric seem vastly oversimplified and unitary compared to the complexity and political density of life in Marovo Lagoon.

These works subvert the powerful and often implicit nature-culture dichotomy that is intrinsic to a western [End Page 244] worldview by looking at the environment through the lens of social and historical process and at social and historical processes through the lens of the environment. Both discussions document the extent to which local views of land and resource rights have been misunderstood and waved aside by governments, missions, and international companies. The clash of worldviews on this issue is acute, disorienting, and persistent. Solomon Islanders have always resisted alienation of their land, but exactly who has the right to decide title and resource use remains a vexed question in relation to commercial resource extraction, and one that is heightened as resources become ever more valuable in global markets.

Bennett begins with the forest cycles that have emerged from geologic and climatological processes. Solomon Island forests are adapted to cyclone damage and can recover fairly quickly and well. The differences between cyclone disturbance and logging are substantial. After logging, much less material is left to protect the seedbed and nourish returning plant communities. Under human gardening regimes, forests have undergone substantial modification through slash-and-burn cycles of use and...


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