Book Review: In their own words
Ethnic Minorities | Gender
While we are busy writing reports, making budgets and discussing action plans, do we ever stop to ask how much we understand the communities with which we work? Can appropriate development interventions ever be introduced without listening to what the project beneficiaries have to say about how they live?
This collection of oral histories from the poorest minority areas in China's southwest mountains and Han areas in the northeast reveals a hidden world. Told mostly by the women, who are often regarded as knowing nothing, they expose the biases that are arrogantly imposed on them. The following anecdote told by a Miao woman shows a glimpse:
In our place, when we were young, trees were everywhere⋯ We planted those trees; those were our mountains⋯ They (ponds) have dried up now, probably because the trees are cut down⋯ When people came (from the plains) and cut (the trees), our people (Miao community) were angry⋯they built that road⋯ The road is convenient for us⋯ (but before) people came to steal only one or two trees⋯each time⋯ Now one truck can carry 10 people - at night trees were easily taken away on the truck⋯ we planted them when we were only eight⋯ the trees were more than 30 years old⋯ People are rich, but the resources are used up.
Oral testimony is emerging as an important tool for encouraging participation from project beneficiaries. This book is among the first of its kind to focus on China. Its value lies not only in making these stories known and allowing people to speak for themselves, but in providing a an opportunity to analyse their experience and address the problems in development plans.
Voices from the Mountain is part of a series published by Panos' Oral Testimony Programme that covers mountain communities in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Poland. The publishers note that 80% of the world's mountain populations live below the poverty line, and that, as the Rio Summit in 1992 recognized, 'mountain environments are essential to the survival of the global ecosystem'.
VOICES FROM THE MOUNTAIN: ORAL TESTIMONIES FROM SOUTHWEST AND NORTHEAST CHINA
230 pp. Panos 2002
ISBN 0-7011-7345-9 GBP 5