In Alchemy in the Rain Forest Jerry K. Jacka explores how the indigenous population of Papua New Guinea's Porgeran 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 inter-clan 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 field-changing analysis, Jerry K. Jacka shows us a world that is complex and changing, and he takes topics readers think they know and treats them in new and stimulating ways. Alchemy in the Rain Forest is a brilliant examination of ontological adaptation and change over the course of the history of Papua New Guinea's highlands."
– Paige West, author of From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea
"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
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Jerry K. Jacka is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas, San Antonio.