Out of stock

Nature and Nation: Forests and Development in Peninsular Malaysia

JEYAMALAR KATHIRITHAMBY-WELLS is a Life member of Clare Hall, Cambridge. She formerly held the Chair of Asian History at the University of Malaya.

NUS Press (First Published, 2005)
384 pages including Bibliography and Index


Out of stock

Nature and Nation: Forests and Development in Peninsular Malaysia explores the relations between people and forests in Peninsular Malaysia where the planet’s richest terrestrial eco-system met head-on with the fastest pace of economic transformation experienced in the tropical world. It engages the interplay of history, culture, science, economics and politics to provide a holistic interpretation of the continuing relevance of forests to state and society in the moist tropics. This is a major contribution to the forest history of Peninsular Malaysia. Meticulous and exhaustive in the field which it addresses, the changing social and political milieu and policies from the precolonial Malay states to the present advanced middle-income economy are recounted, and their effects documented. Peninsular Malaysia is often upheld as having one of the most enlightened and successful traditions of indigenous forest management in the tropics but, as this even-handed text reveals, it proves as usual to be a sorry story: the author details how short of ideals even this successful economy has been, and explains in exhaustive detail why it has been so.

In twentieth-century Peninsular Malaysia, one of the planet’s richest yet most vulnerable terrestrial ecosystems collided with unsustainable growth. The retreat of the forest cover by over 60 per cent during the course of the same century manifested the profound change that development brought to society, driving a wedge between nature and culture. This study traces the transformation. It also examines the countervailing influences that have sought new ways of re-engaging with the environment. From the early centuries of the first millennium, the Peninsula’s forests furnished markets from China to Arabia with aromatic gums and resins collected by a small and dispersed population of forest dwellers and exported by merchants and rulers at the riverine commercial nodes. Forest-fed rivers that served as arteries of commercial exchange underpinned the political economy of the pre-colonial Malay state. The nature of the forested terrain constrained territorial control and shaped the nature of political authority, upheld by socioeconomic influence rather than military power. Nineteenth-century British colonial enterprise was a major catalyst for change in the relations between forests and people.

It fractured the forest-dominated riverine infrastructure that influenced the relations between humans and nature. Forest laws and reserves established immutable boundaries, denying access to products vital for everyday needs. Fruits, herbs and essential plants, no longer sought in the wild, were planted within the newly refashioned kampung (village) landscape. The relocation of hamlets from riverbanks to sites along new dirt tracks, roads and railways, and the corrugated iron roofs that replaced thatch, symbolized the gradual alienation of the rural economy from the forest. The process was completed after Independence by the inroads of mechanized farming and mega-plantation agriculture under the New Economic Policy (NEP) introduced in 1971. As reliance on forest for wood fuel and other necessities diminished, only marketable timber and land stripped bare for plantation agriculture gained value. The complex relations between nature, culture and material growth, emphasize the importance of incorporating the social values of ethics, public accountability and collective responsibility into scientific and technological initiatives.

Studies of Malaysian development suggest shortfalls in environmental safeguards relating to forests. Scholars traced the links between twentieth-century development and environmental degradation; some others reviewed the emphasis on land development at the expense of the value of forests; while others questioned the viability of sustainable forest management, and the author herself highlighted the toll taken on the forests by plantation agriculture. Modern Malaysian history has been studied largely in terms of politics, trade and economic growth, independent of the environmental context within which these processes evolved. Rectifying the imbalance demands a shift of focus to the centrality of forests to Malaysian development and the evolution of nationhood. In sum, this study traces the historical links in Peninsular Malaysia between forests and the state at the crucial intersection of science and society. As well as examining the problems of sustainable forest management, it highlights the conservation discourse as providing political space and a claim to equal citizenship, based on nature as common heritage.

Preface and Acknowledgements
Note on Spelling, Terminology, Measurements and Currencies

Preamble: Forests and Development
Development and Environmental Change
Attitudes to Nature and Forest Use
State, Forestry and Civil Society
Structure and Content

Introduction: Nature, Culture and State
The Rain Forest Environment
Co-opting Nature
Nature and Culture
Forests and Livelihoods
New Market Forces
Culture and Knowledge

Part I: Colonial Adventure and Tropical Resource, 1786–1900

1. Tropical Nature and the Imperial Design, 1786–1874
Pioneer Botanical Exploration
Paradise Regained
Taming the Wilderness
The Turning Tide
The Beginnings of Colonial Conservation
New Opportunities, New Values
Towards Forestry

2. Forests in the Pioneer Era, 1874– c.1900: Boon or Bane?
The Commodification of Forests
Pioneer Conservation
El Niño and Shifting Cultivation
Taming the Landscape
Forest Administration and the GuttaPercha Crisis
Towards Professional Forestry

Part II: Forestry and State Formation, 1901–41

3. Appropriating the Forest, 1901–41
Tools of Appropriation
The Malayan Forester
Control over Economic Species
Towards Sustainability
Co-opting the Chinese Timber Industry
The Enigma of Planned Production
The Implications of Decentralization

4. Segmented Space and Livelihoods
Forest Law and the Rural Invasion
Forestry and the Forest People
Failing Strategies of Survival
Extending the Colonial Domain

5. Reconciling Conflicting Claims
The Implications of Plantation Agriculture
Mining and the Scramble for the Lowlands
Invading the Hills

Part III: The Emergence of a Conservation Ethic, Pre-World War II

6. Nature, Ecology and Conservation
Nature and Imperial Science
Ecology and Conservation
Ecology and Economy
Defining New Ecological and Social Perimeters

7. Linking Nature and Nation
Man or Beast?
Wildlife Protection and the National Park
Nature and Nation

Part IV: Forest Use and Abuse, 1942–69

8. The Seminal Years of Forest Politics, 1942–56
Forests for the War
The Japanese Industrial Thrust
Forest Refuge
Forests and Radicalism
Issues of Land Use
Social Engineering
Technical Revolution
Malay Aspirations

9. Development at a Price: 1957–69
An Aborted Policy
Crisis of the Rural Landless
Boom or Bust?
Science, Development and Forestry
Education and the Public Conscience
Towards Multi-Purpose Parks and Reserves
Reinventing Eden

Part V: Reconciling Nature and Nation, 1970–1980s

10. Development and Environmentalism
The New Environmental Age
The Seminal Year, 1972
Environmental Policy: Real or Notional?
Going Only Half Way
NGOs and Public Protest

11. Integrating Biodiversity with Development: Myth or Reality?
Multi-Purpose Parks and Reserves
Biodiversity in Tension with Development
Malaysia and the Tropical Forest Action Plan
In the Grip of Green Gold
Managing Multi-Purpose Forests
State Intransigence

Part VI: National Resource, Global Heritage, 1984–2000

12. The Politics of Resource
Malaysia and the Global Environmental Agenda
The North–South Divide
Federal–State Tensions
Trade Liberalization and Sustainable Production

13. Domestic Response to the New International Order: Rio and After
Policy and Practice
The Conundrum of Sustainable Management
An Integrated Management Initiative
Over the Top
Law, Ethics and Accountability

Conclusion: Nature for Nation
Forestry and Development
Government and Environmentalism
New Uses, New Values
Poorer but Wiser?

1. Forest Area, Peninsular Malaysia, 1946–2000
2. Forest Area, Timber and Revenue Extracted, 1946–2000
3. Population Compared to Forest Area, 1891–2006
4. Forest and Forest-Related Domestic Policies, Legislation and International Agreements
5. Annual Average Southern [ENSO] Oscillation Index, 1880–1990


Weight0.5 kg
Dimensions22.6 × 16.6 × 2 cm




Year Published


There are no reviews yet

Only logged in customers who have purchased this product may leave a review.