What does energy
exploration have to do with anthropology?
As explained by Julie Campbell,
an anthropologist who has been a consultant to companies such as
Mobil Oil and Arco Indonesia, companies who blunder their public
relations with cultures very different from their own in their initial
forays into a region are likely to be prevented from returning.
reasons these people gave in the past, Campbell said, is "We don't
like them. They walked through our land, cut our trees down, disrespected
our gods and acted as if we did not exist."
She's in a position to know about
changes — and the importance of change. Campbell has worked for
the past 10 years with various oil companies in Indonesia in the
role of a cultural anthropologist.
She's also resided in Indonesia
for more than 20 years, recently moving to a residence in Summerland,
Calif. Campbell recently spoke to the Coast Geological Society on
"Anthropology of Petroleum Exploration in Southeast Asia," describing
how the indigenous people live and how the exploration for new sources
of natural gas has affected their lives and culture.
It's a relatively new concern,
of course; in past centuries, all a Western power had to do was
to subdue a native people and then exploit their natural resources.
Today, Third World countries
are enacting increasingly stringent regulations to protect their
environments and their populations. Moreover, the global public
has become increasingly aware of the importance of both protecting
the environment and the relationship of indigenous people to their
Whole New World
Campbell, who has done her consulting
in the most remote — and most energy-rich — areas of Indonesia,
says the most obvious issue is the environment. Energy companies
must work with local people to consider what they consider important
to their environment, minimize the damage and then, upon leaving,
return it to its former state so there are, as she says, "no footprints."
But can't some of the industry
infrastructure be left in place that can be of use to the people
once energy companies have gone?
Maybe, and maybe not.
"Some non-Indonesian companies
have come in and offered to build a road," Campbell said, "but for
these tribal people a road means a path wide enough for two people
and a pig to walk side by side. But then a bulldozer comes in and
makes a 60-foot wide throughway, which ruins the people's gardens.
"Outsiders sometimes fail to
understand the basic principals these people have maintained for
centuries," she said. "We need to see things through their eyes."
A dock to carry natural gas,
a rig, the noise all represent enormous and often unwelcome intrusions
into a much quieter way of life that may have sustained the culture
to just how remote these regions are, Campbell gives some indication
that a flight taking off from Jakarta at about 7 p.m., might arrive
at a small airport about 5:30 a.m., followed by a two hour helicopter
ride. From there, the rest of the trip is made by small boats up
a river and walking. The tribes people are likely to have had little
or no contact with the outside world and no more than the equivalent
of a third grade education.
The distance is more than miles.
"There is a vast distance in
time, culture, world views, expectations and fears," Campbell said.
"If the people are afraid, they will not be quite so open, and that
can adversely affect the outcome."
Oil companies also must recognize
that there are myriad taboos, customs and habits that have to be
understood, respected and successfully negotiated.
might strike Westerners as frivolous. For instance, she said, you
don't just walk into a village. You must have obtained prior approval
from the village elders.
And you don't approach a woman
directly — even if there are two to three in a group.
And in this region, Westerners
had to realize that all Indonesians are not the same. The predominant
religion in the east is Christian and the west Islamic — and the
tribal differences go even deeper.
What happens when an oil company
is trying to deal with people who believe there are gods beneath
the ground, and sometimes dragons you don't want to offend by digging
without the proper appeasement?
Campbell cites one example of
Indonesians coming in with an exploration crew to the tiny village
of Lobo in Langura, in southwest Indonesia. To appease the powers
that be, they wanted to sacrifice a buffalo with its head placed
on a small platform — but the people of Lobo couldn't abide blood
being spilled on their ground.
The potential conflict was avoided
when the visitors sacrificed their buffalo in another area and the
people of Lobo did their own ritual on site.
Learning the Ins and Outs
How is it possible to know all
of the ins and outs of such totally different peoples?
is where a cultural anthropologist such as Campbell comes in, who
started doing her own research into various tribes in the early
1980s. She became a consultant for National Geographic, then did
horticultural work for Kew Gardens in London, learning about various
Indonesian plants and their medicinal purposes.
She led tours of school children
and museum groups into the villages, living there for a time.
She also wrote a book, Irian
Jaya, The Timeless Domain, about the 26th and most remote province
of Indonesia. This came to the attention of an energy company that
was having trouble relating to the tribes in the area. The company
hired Campbell in 1991, which started her on her current career
Typically Campbell has worked
with the missionaries in the area whom she views as a valuable liaison.
Learning the language and living in the village is all a part of
the process of building trust and how to communicate.
And though there are some things
giant corporations think might be helpful, such as building big
roads (which are not helpful), there are many things that can be
done to help these people.
- A doctor always accompanies crews into
these remote areas, so clinics are formed to help those with medical
- Partnerships are formed with non-government
organizations that help with issues like malaria — a serious
problem in the area — health education for women, and nutrition
- Non-skilled workers are trained to become
a part of crews.
So thanks in part to people like
Campbell, damage can be avoided, good can be done, and energy companies
and indigenous people can work hand-in-hand for their mutual advantage.
what about the argument that even if the impact from the outside
is benign, a way of life, touched by civilization, is irrevocably
Campbell acknowledges that this
is true, but added that those who do not want change tend to flee
back into the forest, and those who are open to change remain.
"Change is coming," she said,
"so it is better that it come in as positive a way as possible."