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Episodes of concealing: the invisibility of political ontologies in sacred forests

Smith, Thomas Aneurin ORCID: 2020. Episodes of concealing: the invisibility of political ontologies in sacred forests. Cultural Geographies 27 (3) , pp. 333-350. 10.1177/1474474019886837

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Indigenous research has demonstrated how Indigenous ontologies are political and how they have been articulated politically to express counter-narratives to modern understandings of human–nature relations. This article argues that current characterisations of political ontology, particularly in relation to environmental conservation, have yet to fully take account of African Indigenous spiritualities. Current thinking on Indigenous ontologies and decolonial scholarship, and their political manifestations, faces two problems: (1) they assume the visibility and availability of Indigenous ontologies to ‘doing politics’ and (2) presumptions are made about the comparability of place-based Indigenous ontologies and wider attempts to reform the state, and that the political goals of Indigenous people will straightforwardly align with those of the researcher. Drawing from research on sacred natural site protection among the Nyiha in Mbozi District, southwestern Tanzania, I examine how these problems might be addressed in a context where notions of Indigeneity are articulated quite differently to those predominantly evident in current writing on Indigeneity and decolonial scholarship. Nyiha ontologies, although already-political at the local scale, resist becoming ‘available’ to environmental politics at wider scales, making straightforward notions of solidarity problematic. Through a particular encounter with Christian groups attempting to spatially appropriate Nyiha sites, I explore the various ways in which ontologies are made politically available and visible and how the Nyiha analyse Christianity as colonial. Finally, I turn to how Nyiha ontologies and their sacred forest sites are replete with ‘episodes of concealing’ and variable invisibilities, which call into question how visible practices are utilised as ‘evidence-of-ontology’, or as part of a wider decolonial project.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Geography and Planning (GEOPL)
Additional Information: Released with a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives License (CC BY-NC-ND)
Publisher: SAGE
ISSN: 1474-4740
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 10 October 2019
Date of Acceptance: 7 October 2019
Last Modified: 06 Nov 2023 18:17

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