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Over the last 10 years, indigenous populations of Sarawak have gained previously unseen sums of money from hunting porcupines and selling bezoar stones found in their stomachs which are valued in Chinese medicine. This has spurred new and expanded hunting methods, impacting on the relationships between humans and nature. At first glance, the boom in bezoar stones seems to have become widespread after the expansion of oil palm plantations. To investigate this further, multisited research was conducted in bezoar stone source areas, along the downriver trading network and in metropolitan cities where they are consumed. It was found that the progress of the bezoar stone boom among indigenous populations in Sarawak varied by river basin. As far as the relationship between oil palm plantations and porcupine bezoars is concerned, we can see an ‘inter-disturbance’ interaction between humans and nature. The expansion of oil palm plantations can be described as a ‘human disturbance’ in this tropical natural environment, while the porcupines that eat the oil palm fruits can be described as a ‘natural disturbance’ to human lives, providing inhabitants with opportunities to garner vast sums of money from the bezoars.
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There are three kinds of porcupines on Borneo. The Malayan porcupine ( Hystrix brachyura) is generally a black mammal that has long white spines or quills with black bands towards the tip. The thick-spined porcupine ( Thecurus crassispinis) is generally dark brown, and both males and females have hollow quills on their tails, which are shaken to make noise. These two types of porcupines are referred to as landak in Malay. The long-tailed porcupine ( Trichys fasciculata), called angkis in Malay, has a brown upper body and whitish lower body, giving the overall impression of a large rat. For more details, see Junaidi Payne and Charles Francis ( 2005). Porcupine bezoars are produced by all three kinds of porcupines, and in this chapter the term ‘porcupine bezoar’ is used generally.
Porcupines in China are widespread, ranging from the north of the Chang Jiang basin southwards towards Shanxi province. Porcupines have been referred to as 豪猪 or 箭猪, and their stinging hair, stomach (including its contents) and muscles have been used in Chinese medicine. It is difficult to find a description regarding porcupine bezoars in the Chinese medicine practised in mainland China. On the other hand, porcupine bezoars are generally known as 箭猪棗 in the Chinese societies of peninsular Southeast Asia, but it is also difficult to find a description of their medical value.
In 2013, US$1 was equivalent to approximately RM3.60.
Such differences concerning the progress of the boom are referred to in J. Peter Brosius ( 1995).
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Brosius, J. Peter. 1995. Bornean forest trade in historical and regional perspective: The case of Penan hunter-gatherers of Sarawak. In Society and non-timber forest products in tropical Asia, Occasional papers environmental series no. 19, ed. Jefferson Fox, 13–26. Honolulu: East-West Center.
———. 2013. The edible bird’s nest commodity chain between Sarawak and East Asia. Equatorial Biomass Society 7: 1–6.
Everett, A. Hart. 1879. On the guliga of Borneo. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 4: 56–58.
Hoffman, Carl. 1986. The Punan: Hunters and gathers of Borneo. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press.
Payne, Junaidi, and M. Francis Charles. 2005. A field guide to the mammals of Borneo. 3rd ed. Kota Kinabalu: The Sabah Society with WWF-Malaysia.
Soda, Ryoji. 2009. River improvement history in Japan: Rethinking human–nature interactions. Paper presented at the Third International Conference on Changing Nature of Nature: New Perceptions from Transdisciplinary Field Science, Kyoto University, Japan, 14–17 December.
- Oil Palm Plantations and Bezoar Stones: An Ethnographic Sketch of Human–Nature Interactions in Sarawak
- Springer Singapore
- Chapter 23