Mamberamo River

CAS Event
Wednesday, April 14, 2021 at 4pm MDT

ZOOM information will be added soon

In her book Indigenous Species (2016), which takes form as a long poem, Indonesian writer Khairani Barokka writes from the perspective of a kidnapped woman on a boat in a river “drifting down open sores of forest” cleared for palm oil plantations in Kalimantan. She writes that this oil later coopts and transports “eons of intricacies and strength/ From the forest to molecular form/ On a woman’s lipstick bottle in Iowa”. In her poem that she also presents in Braille, I argue that Barokka makes audible and tactile the often invisible movements, connections, and interdependent relationships of palm oil that sustain modernity in other parts of the world. Alongside Barokka’s longer poem, I will also read two texts by West Papuan authors: a song by elder Gerardus Gebze, and a poem by Aleks Giyai, which are both about the devastating impacts of palm oil on a forest landscape in their homeland: specifically the impact of oil palms on a staple lowland Papuan food resource, sago. Read together, these literary works present multidimensional, multi-vocal views of (de)forested kinships and interconnections in regions critical for palm oil production in Indonesia. These “voices” sketch out unexpected geographies of palm oil and intervene into global conversations about oil, modernity, and capitalism in the face of precarious environmental futures.


Bonnie Etherington is an Environmental Futures Post-Doctoral Associate at the University of Colorado Boulder