Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Ecology and gender dynamics

Another thread that's emerging here: The plains region is undergoing ecological catastrophe. Partly it's human-caused-- overgrazing, burning and logging (actually charcoal-making) by the Kesset. Partly, it's a natural dry cycle.

The last thing I want to do is set up a simplistic moral equation: Ta'arane = matriarchal = harmony with nature = good vs. Kesset = patriarchal = impact on environment = bad. It might be hopeless: the fact that the Kesset keep slaves is a moral strike against them that's going to be hard to balance.

One thing I mean to do is stress that the Ta'arane had just as much impact on their environment as the Kesset. (Mafileo and Akshedhen are going to have flaming arguments over this.) Though the Ta'arane interventions may have been more sustainable in the long term, it's not clear that they would have stood up to this drought cycle-- at least, at the population densities of the Ta'arane at their peak. (Note: make clear that the cities occupied by the Kesset hold far fewer people now than before the conquest.)

So far the Woneiyal are the most egalitarian group, and also the most low-impact on their environment. Hmmm...

What I really want to convey is that the relationship between people and landscape is not simple and not easily reduced to a moral dimension, especially to a dimension related to gender dynamics. Different aspects to explore: effects of large-scale irrigation and flood control (salinization, reduced fertility of the floodplain? Declining food supply and chronic malnutrition/occasional famine among the Ta'arane could have been a contributing cause to the Kesset conquest), burning as a means of rejuvenating grassland and certain types of forest (are different plant species becoming more important under Kesset land management?). Invent some really horrible, painful, disfiguring insect-borne diseases (or just look them up!) that affect the Kesset when they come near the river and forests, so that their decision to burn seems less cold-blooded.

The ecological concerns have been with this story since I first wrote On the Levee lo, these many years ago. It's a two-way street; landscape influences people as much as people influence landscape.

Specific adaptations: The Wonei drumspeech exists in large part because of the steep terrain and dense forests that make any other kind of communication (including walking from place to place) difficult. Kesset culture is centered around nomadic pastoralism and isn't adapting all that well to city life. (Note: the herds are kept outside the city, far from the supervision of the owning family; there have to be problems with theft and raiding. Wild West-type livestock rustling may happen. Does this contribute to the growth of a police culture among the Kesset?) Ta'arane art and dance are made up almost entirely of curved movements, reflecting their dependence on rivers (the river).

No comments: