Nature in Culture: Multi-Sensory Mapping with the Marind People

Sophie Chao has worked with the Marind people of Indonesian West Papua for over a decade. With them, she has watched as the Indonesian government and large agribusinesses have entered traditional Marind territories and converted them to Palm Oil plantations.

Here she shares with us her experience of what was to be a two-day mapping expedition – which grew to a three-week encounter with Marind song, lands, vegetation, bird and animal life and a map of coexistence rather than a map of topography, or ownership, or territory. It became a multi-sensory map, a map of shifting flexible demarcations. This multi-sensory world view is demonstrated too in the Marind response to and empathy for the Oil Palms – a ‘greedy’ plant that is cast adrift from its African kin and transplanted, replacing the native flora of West Papua.

Episode 1 of The Re-(E)mergence of Nature in Culture series convened by Dr Christine Winter and Michelle St Anne.

The Re-(E)mergence of Nature in Culture podcast series originated from a two-day symposium, the second of its kind. It’s an opportunity for Indigenous scholars and people working with Indigenous scholars and Indigenous peoples to come together, discuss the ways in which culture and nature are entwined in the philosophies, lives and strengths of indigenous peoples. Importantly, we reflect on the leadership these perspectives offer as the world faces multiple challenges such as climate change, pollution and associated biocultural destruction.


00:30   Introduction – Christine Winter
05:20   Maps: Tools of Domination
10:40   On a Journey with the Marind People in Re-mapping the Land
16:30   Communicating a Map of Entangled Relationships and Coexistence
22:15   Marind Activism and its Challenges
30:15   What Would the World Look Like If Power Dynamics Were Reversed?
33:55   Marind’s Emotive Response to Oil Palm Invasion


Dr Sophie Chao is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Sydney School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry and the Charles Perkins Centre. Her research explores the intersections of capitalism, ecology, and indigeneity in Indonesia, with a specific focus on changing interspecies relations in the context of deforestation and agribusiness development. Sophie previously worked for international indigenous rights organization Forest Peoples Programme in the United Kingdom and Indonesia and has published over thirty works on human rights and the palm oil sector in Southeast Asia. She has also undertaken consultancies for United Nations bodies including the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the United Nations Working Group on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises. Learn more about Sophie Chao.