News and Reviews
As Halloween approaches, many children shiver at the thought of ghosts, but the kids in one Inuit hamlet have quite valid reasons to be afraid of large, white, child-eating monsters. As a result, the people of Arviat have decided to cancel trick or treating this year in order to protect their kids from the polar bears that might gobble them up.
According to a news report last week in the Huffington Post, the community of Arviat, located in Nunavut on the western shore of the Hudson Bay, has had a lot of the animals roaming around this fall. As a result, hamlet leaders decided to cancel the door-to-door trick-or-treating that children in many western countries associate with tomorrow evening, the last day of October.
According to the news story, the hamlet posted on its Facebook page a statement indicating that the council "is concerned with door to door due to this activity going on at the same time that polar bears are in and around our community." As a result, the council decided to hold a Halloween celebration in the community hall which will especially focus on the fantasies of the children, such as face painting and a haunted house.
The village council included a letter on its Facebook page saying that the majority of the village residents supported the idea of having a safe environment for celebrating Halloween. According to another news report quoted by the Huff Post story, Steve England, the senior administrator in the village, commented, "picture 1,200 kids going door-to-door in Arviat in the middle of polar bear season." Arviat has about 2,000 residents in all.
He didn’t have to add, for a Canadian audience, that polar bears are widely known as aggressive predators that might attack and try to eat human beings. Kids would make tasty snacks for the bears. "It's a pretty obvious conclusion of what tragedies could come out of that. We're just trying to safeguard the younger population by offering an alternative," England said. The bears have been entering the village in increasing numbers in recent years.
The hamlet council posted a public notice, reproduced with the news article, stating the reasons for its decision to cancel the trick-or-treating. The posting said that the hamlet recreation committee, its staff, other organizations, and businesses are cooperating to produce fun, but safe, events for the kids tomorrow night.
The decision to cancel trick-or-treating was made within the context of an agreement reached on October 14th and widely reported in the Canadian press that the Inuit and Cree hunters of polar bears will further limit their hunting kill this year. The annual harvest of bears has been 60 animals in the southern Hudson Bay region, but the new agreement, reached with the native groups, is to limit the harvest to 45.
The polar bears of course are not monsters. They are important predators—they represent a critical component in the Arctic ecosystem. There have been years of meetings, debates, and disagreements between biologists concerned that the numbers of polar bears are dropping, based on extensive wildlife research, and observers in Inuit communities who strongly disagree. The reduced limit on the number of bears allowed to be shot this hunting season will take effect as of November 1. Inuit negotiators said that they agreed to the reduction in the numbers of bears allowed to be killed in order to appease international pressure groups.
Paul Irngaut from the organization Nunavut Tunngavik told the news agency, "We keep saying there's too many bears out there but the biologists don't seem to understand that." However, the hamlet council in Arviat made no mention of that larger controversy in the publicity about their decision—their action was framed entirely as a measure to protect their children.
The Semai effectively utilize products from their nearby forests that give them health and economic benefits, and in the process they are able to preserve their traditional way of life. A journal article about a research project in Malaysia, published in 2012, analyzes an important aspect of their traditional relationships with the forests: the uses made by the Semai of various medicinal plants.
The project was carried out in Kampung Batu 16, a village of 28 households with a population of 278 people at the time of the study. It is located in the Malaysian state of Perak. (The “16” refers to the fact that the village is near the 16th mile marker along a road.) The village consists of houses located on a slope above a river, though they are not too near it to avoid the dangers of high water. The houses are built in what the authors term the “native style,” that is, constructed mostly from plant materials obtained from surrounding forests.
The Semai in the community practice both forest arboriculture and swidden, shifting, cultivation of crops, such as tapioca and hill-paddy. As part of their shifting agriculture, they allow their land to lie fallow for several years after cropping so it can redevelop natural vegetation before it is put into crops once again. The villagers also raise fruits, medicinal plants, and trees that they utilize for timber.
In order to carry out their research, the authors, all of whom are affiliated with the Institute of Biological Sciences at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, conversed with the two traditional medical practitioners in the village, the people whom the rest of the Semai identified as the most knowledgeable about plants and plant uses. These conversations were held at appointed times. The village medicinal experts showed the authors each plant they were speaking about. In their journal article, the authors carefully identify each plant.
The investigation recorded 37 species of plants that the Semai in Kampung Batu 16 use for medicinal purposes. Table 1 in their article shows not only the correct scientific names of the plants, it also gives the Semai names, the status of each plant, and whether or not it is wild, planted, or both.
The table also shows the uses made of each plant, what parts of the plants are used, the methods of preparation, and what the plant is used for. One example of a plant examined by the authors is Dicranopteris linearis, called “tebok” by the Semai, a common, widely distributed, species of native fern, the "leaves" of which are used by the people in Kampung Batu 16 as a cockroach repellant. The article about that plant in the Wikipedia describes various other uses for those ferns but it does not mention any other societies that are familiar with its anti-roach properties.
The study shows that there is no single, dominant, family of plants in the Semai pharmacopeia. It revealed that 23 of the plant families had only one, single, useful medicinal plant, and 7 more had two. Perhaps even more significantly, out of the 37 species, 31, or 84 percent, are wild, native plants, while only 6 are non-native and cultivated.
From that data, the authors conclude that the Semai from this village depend for most of their medicinal needs on traditional, native, wild resources. Only 16 percent of their needs are filled by plants originally found outside Malaysia that are used with knowledge coming from outside their own traditions.
Another interesting finding is that 14 out of the 37 plant species are used in rituals—healing, protecting, and harvesting. The authors suggest this demonstrates how the Semai associate their well-being, health, and illnesses with the realm of the spirits.
The most significant conclusion of the study is that the Semai, at least in this village, depend heavily on the medicinal plants that they gather in the natural habitats surrounding their community. They are much less dependent on cultivated plants for medicinal uses. “This suggests that the forest is still an important source of medicine for the Semai,” the authors emphasize (p. 210).
Other studies have shown that Malay villagers in Malaysia utilize cultivated plants and non-natives more than the Semai do. The authors speculate that the situation may change as the forests traditionally used by the Semai are increasingly developed and industrialized. That will pressure them to adopt modern medicine, to “change with the times,” as the writers put it.
The authors also suggest that younger generations of Semai may be less interested in acquiring knowledge about the traditional uses of plants. They argue that preserving the traditions and knowledge of subjects such as medicinal plant uses is essential before that knowledge is lost.
Ong, Hean Chooi, Elley Lina and Pozi Milow. 2012. “Traditional Knowledge and Usage of Medicinal Plants among the Semai Orang Asli at Kampung Batu 16, Tapah, Perak, Malaysia.” Studies on Ethno-Medicine 6(3) (December): 207-211. Available free of charge on the Internet.
News and reviews of publications relating to peaceful societies—and sometimes to related topics—are normally posted here on Thursday mornings (U.S. time) and are kept on this page for one week. Older news and reviews for 2014 are listed below, and ones from previous years are listed on the News and Reviews 2004-2005 page, the 2006 page, the 2007 page, the 2008 page, the 2009 page, the 2010 page, the 2011 page, the 2012 page and the 2013 page. All stories are also included in the News and Reviews Subject Listing. Recent ones are listed at the bottom of each society entry in the Encyclopedia of Selected Peaceful Societies, after the heading: Updates: News and Reviews. News and reviews about peacefulness in general are referred to from the bottom of the Facts page, while news stories about this website are linked from the About This Website page. News and Reviews can also be found with the Google search bar.
October 23, 2014. Amish Volunteer Firefighters
October 23, 2014. Revitalizing Zapotec Language and Culture [journal article review]
October 16, 2014. Nubian Resettlements May Move Forward
October 16, 2014. Tristan Lobsters Accepted by the EU
October 9, 2014. Electricity in a Ladakhi Village
October 9, 2014. Gathering Non-Timber Forest Products [journal article review]
October 2, 2014. Horse Manure
October 2, 2014. Gender Inequality among the Lepchas [journal article review]
September 25, 2014. Deaths of Pregnant Fipa Women
September 25, 2014. The Ju/’hoansi Address Global Climate Change
September 18, 2014. The Fate of the Lost Franklin Expedition
September 18, 2014. The Trap of Rural Thailand [journal article review]
September 11, 2014. The Ladakh Project: An Audiovisual Mashup
September 11, 2014. The Peaceful Ju/’hoansi Mistreat their Dogs
September 4, 2014. Amish Hate Crimes Convictions Reversed
September 4, 2014. The Baybayin of the Buid
August 28, 2014. Inuit Plural Marriages
August 28, 2014. Zapotec Women Push Changes [online magazine article review]
August 21, 2014. Violence in a Yanadi Community
August 21, 2014. Frog Woman and Her Moral Code [anthology chapter review]
August 14, 2014. San Hunters Versus Botswana
August 14, 2014. Conflict Resolution and Gender Equality in Lepcha Society [book review]
August 7, 2014. Amish Self Concepts—Prisoners Relate their Experiences
August 7, 2014. Inuit Self Concepts—Are They Satisfied with Life? [journal article review]
July 31, 2014. Conviction for Corruption Upheld against Flosse
July 31, 2014. Uses and Customs in Oaxaca [online magazine article review]
July 24, 2014. Schooling for the Semai
July 24, 2014. Political, Religious, and Community Tensions in Ladakh [journal article review]
July 17, 2014. Rural Thai Children Threatened by Absence of Parents
July 17, 2014. Official Concern for Birhor Wanes
July 10, 2014. Police Remove Yanadi before Modi Visit
July 10, 2014. Children Learn to Be Peaceful the Batek Way [anthology chapter review]
July 3, 2014. Amish Volunteerism
July 3, 2014. Birthday Wishes for Glenn Paige
June 26, 2014. Atlas of Inuit Trails
June 26, 2014. The Challenges of Lepcha Identity [journal article review]
June 19, 2014. Nubians Waiting for Fair Treatment
June 19, 2014. Homeless Fipa Children
June 12, 2014. Huarime Festival in a Piaroa Community
June 12, 2014. Soups and Such from Hutterite Kitchens
June 5, 2014. Zapotec Affected by Wind Project
June 5, 2014. Reports of Violence in Thai High Schools [journal article review]
May 29, 2014. The Birhor and the Bees
May 29, 2014. Traditional Ways on Huahine
May 22, 2014. Lancaster County Amish Consider Leaving
May 22, 2014. Rat Hunting Holiday on Tristan
May 15, 2014. Ladakh Makes the Effort to Vote
May 15, 2014. A Visitor on Ifaluk
May 8, 2014. Yanadi Abandon Traditions, Modernize
May 8, 2014. Inuit Sale of Game Meat Questioned—and Defended
May 1, 2014. Paliyans Proud to Vote
May 1, 2014. A San Complains about Rotten Treatment
April 24, 2014. Birhor Boycott National Elections
April 24, 2014. Kadar Boycott National Elections
April 17, 2014. Hutterite Colony in Japan
April 17, 2014. Raging Violence, Nubians Versus Arabs
April 10, 2014. Paliyans Exploited in Tamil Nadu
April 10, 2014. Storytelling Preserves Traditions of the Lepchas
March 27, 2014. Presentation on Tristan Coming to Toronto Area Library
March 27, 2014. Philippine Conference Promotes Indigenous Languages
March 20, 2014. Proposed Port Threatens Yanadi Villages
March 20, 2014. A Jewish Scholar Visits an Amish Family
March 13, 2014. Seminar Presentation on Rural Thai Culture
March 13, 2014. Ladakh Political Status Challenged
March 6, 2014. Inuit Languages Celebrated
March 6, 2014. Rules for Maintaining a Peaceful Society [journal article review]
February 27, 2014. Zapotec Linguistics Analysis
February 27, 2014. Schooling for the Lepchas
February 20, 2014. Endangered Species and the San
February 20, 2014. Drive-by Horse Shooting
February 13, 2014. Nubians Recognized in Egyptian Constitution
February 13, 2014. Inuit Sex Trafficking
February 6, 2014. The Semai of Pos Betau
February 6, 2014. New Dictionary for Ju/’hoansi Children
January 30, 2014. Preserving Lepcha Culture
January 30, 2014. Rural Thai Culture of Rice Farming
January 23, 2014. Hutterite Colony School Burns Down
January 23, 2014. Batek Suffering from Logging
January 16, 2014. The Tamaraw and the Buid
January 16, 2014. G/wi are Being “Treated Like Dogs”
January 9, 2014. Central California Zapotec Festival
January 9, 2014. Birhor Poverty Finds Relief in a Picnic
January 2, 2014. A Semai Christmas
January 2, 2014. Nubian Recognition in New Egyptian Constitution