Professor Annette Hornbacher, Anthropological Institute, Heidelberg University
“From Twins to Dragons: Totemistic Human- Animal Relations in Komodo, Indonesia under Surveillance of UNESCO nature protection”
Friday, April 7, 2017
Haury Room 216
Abstract: The east Indonesian island of Komodo is famous as the last refuge of the world’s largest monitor lizards, and entered the Western imaginary after Dutch sailors described their encounters with mysterious “dragons” around 1910. Soon afterwards, the Dutch administration decided to protect this unique species by imposing a Western idea of nature preservation that continues to inform national and UNESCO nature protection politics but also current plans to develop the Marine park of Komodo as a destination for eco-tourism. This paper explores instead local ideas about the totemistic kinship of humans and animals in relation both to the modern paradigm of nature preservation and to a modern form of Islam. I argue that the survival of the Komodo lizards is not a ‘natural’ wonder but rather the result of a culture-specific ecology embodied and performed in a unique way of life and interaction between humans and animals that has dramatically changed with the imposition of a scientifically based politics of nature protection that had paradoxical effects: It was followed by the first hostile attacks on humans by lizards and is associated with a decline in the lizard population.