Published: Feb. 17, 2016

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

By Jerry Jacka, assistant professor of anthropology

Duke University Press

Alchemy in the Rain Forest cover

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 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

Publication date: 2015