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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2023  |  Volume : 21  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 28-37

Different Natures of Reality Inform Different Realities of Nature: What Karen Perceptions of Forest Reveal about Nature Conservation in Indigenous Contexts

1 Independent Researcher, Myanmar
2 Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands

Correspondence Address:
Bas Verschuuren
Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen
The Netherlands
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_83_21

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Karen people's interactions with the forest are informed by their ontologies. Important aspects of these ontologies are the influence of spirits, the cycle of the moon and communication with nonhumans. We foreground that Karen ontologies and knowledge systems are heterogeneous yet different from other ontologies and knowledge systems informing forest conservation in Myanmar (Burma). We recognise that interaction between Karen people and other conservation actors needs to be understood in the context of socio-economic and transformative political factors and is affected by spirits and other nonhumans. Based on empirical research, we argue that Indigenous people and conservationists can better support each other if they are each understood concerning their own ontology. This way, spirits and other nonhumans can be recognised as having agency in forest management and governance. We demonstrate how spirits, nonhumans and religious beliefs affect Indigenous ontologies and prompt us to think of ontologies as heterogeneous and overlapping. We conclude that moving past Eurocentric dualisms opens up new ways to think about how different ontologies inform our ideas about what is considered important in making forest conservation in Myanmar more sustainable and socially equitable.

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