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Landscape Ecology in Asian Cultures

Asian cultural landscapes also have special characteristics and features. However, they are not extensively identified and assessed, except in a few countries S. Abdullah such as Japan and Korea. In these countries, agricultural landscapes appeared as a premier characteristic of cultural landscapes e. Nakagoshi and Hong ; Hong This resembles the situation in European countries, but the features are absolutely different owing to differences in cultural and ecological influences. In Japan, the cultural landscape is known as Satoyama, which is characterized by areas of agricultural fields and households surrounded by mountains Takeuchi In Korea, the cultural landscape features a combina- tion of high mountains and the gentle slopes of low mountains, houses, and plains of agricultural fields and streams Hong ; Nakagoshi and Hong Interestingly, one thing that is common to cultural landscapes in Japan and Korea is that the spatial pattern of their features is strongly related to the theory of Feng-shui Nakagoshi and Hong In this theory, people determined the setting of the features based on cultural attributes such as religion, social structure, economics, politics, and bio-geo-ecology Forman ; Zonneveld Nevertheless, beginning with the industrial revolution in European countries during the eighteenth century, and followed by rapid economic growth after World War II coupled with population growth, dramatic changes have been seen in the cultural landscapes of the world Antrop All these factors have put cul- tural landscapes under threat.

For example, the impact of human disturbance has caused a disruption in the ecological processes e. Because the central premise of a cultural landscape is the feedback loop of interactions between humans and nature Nassauer , cultural landscapes are an important entity which must be considered for sustain- able development.

Therefore, identifying cultural landscapes and assessing their characteristics and features, as well as understanding their relationships with the socio-economic and cultural background, will show that human impact is pivotal in achieving a balance between the environment and its development. In the Southeast Asian region, however, the concept and perspective of cultural landscapes have not received much attention, although there are many areas which fit the premises of a cultural landscape.

In fact, there are many areas in Southeast Asian countries with the potential to receive this recognition, but the lack of a reliable definition, identification, and assessment of a cultural landscape in the context of each country may hinder their efforts to achieve such a status.

Therefore, in this chapter, the concept and perspective of cultural landscapes in Malaysia, which is one of the most highly developed countries in Southeast Asia, is discussed. To provide a detailed perspective and concept of a cultural landscape in Malaysia, an example, the Merbok estuary in the Malaysian peninsula, is described. This country is not only endowed with a high biological diversity of flora, fauna, and complex ecosystems, but it also has a wide variety of traditional values formed by various ethnic groups with different cultural, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds.

A factor behind these traditional values is the migration of people, particularly from the Indo-China continent and the Malay Sundaland, which is one of the main aspects of Malaysian history. At present, the Malay, Chinese, and Indian people form the three major ethnic groups in this country. Abdullah From the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, the major economic activity was different between ethnic groups.

Agriculture was the main economic activity among the Malay community. The Chinese were primarily involved in trade and business, while the Indians were engaged as workers in rubber and oil palm estates and other major crop plantations. This scenario influenced the formation of the characteristics and features of human settlement landscapes in Malaysia.

The settle- ments of the Malay communities are mostly found in rural sites.

At Home on the Waves

Their agricultural activities included paddy and slash-and-burn agriculture, but this mostly occurred in Sabah and Sarawak, in small-scale vegetables farms and orchards. However, this was only for their daily subsistence and not for trade. Although the Chinese domi- nated the urban settlements, they can also be found in rural areas. This rural com- munity was mostly engaged in vegetable farming and trade. Meanwhile, Indian community settlements were usually confined within the plantation estates where their employer provided the houses.

The rural, or traditional, villages of the Malay and Chinese are located adjacent to the forested areas of mountains or foothills. Because of this proximity, the com- munities, particularly the Malays, also depend on forest resources such as rattan, fruits, bamboo, and fish for their daily subsistence. In fact, this is still the practice of villagers, and has been handed down throughout the generations.

The use of these resources on a daily-subsistence basis shows that the sustainable harvesting of forest resources is very important. Therefore, the concept of the sustainable use of forest resources has long been applied by the villagers to ensure that those resources are available for their livelihood. Although this is probably not true for slash and burn agriculture, which is known to cause severe soil erosion, degrada- tion, and nutrient losses e.

Michael R. Dove

Lim and Douglass , the concept might also be applied to other land uses, for example the setting, design, and size of their houses, farms, and orchards. Hence, there is harmonization between natural and human activities, which reflects the close inter-relationship between humans and nature. Rural villages can also be found along the coastal areas or river banks down- stream.

The communities depend on marine or aquatic resources for their daily subsistence. Nevertheless, agriculture remains as part of their economic activities because the relatively flat topography and soil of the coastal area is suitable for agricultural land use, particularly paddy and coconuts. This led to what we can see at the present time, i. The association between people and forested areas also exists in coastal villages. Mangrove forest is the predominant natural landscape, as well as other swamp vegetation such as nipa.

These provided resources for the people and played an important role in eco- logical function and balance. The major use of mangrove is timber for charcoal production. Before the mid-twentieth century, the use of charcoal as a fuel source was common among rural inhabitants in this country. However, at pres- ent, the use is very minimal and is restricted to particular purposes. Therefore, the first category can be described as a mountainous cul- tural landscape, whereas the second category is a coastal cultural landscape.

In both cultural landscapes, agriculture has been established as the major human activity or land use, and the harmonization between humans and nature is shown by the inte- grated use of natural resources. Agricultural areas are generally surrounded by, or adjacent to, natural forest. In the mountainous cultural landscape, vegetable farms and orchards are the premier features, with small streams flowing nearby. The tra- ditional houses are generally scattered, and located adjacent to, or within, the farm or orchard. The villagers also depend on forest resources as part of their subsis- tence.

However, in the coastal cultural landscape, paddy fields and coconut planta- tions are the main features. The houses are scattered or else located along the river banks, or are congregated in one locality on the coast to form fishing villages. People in this cultural landscape also use forest resources, particularly mangrove, in their daily lives, but this use might not be as extensive as that of the villagers in mountainous cultural landscapes.

This is because mangrove resources and other swamp forests are relatively less abundant than the forest resources of the moun- tainous areas. Furthermore, the richness and abundance of marine or aquatic resources provide other alternative natural resources for the coastal villagers. However, over the centuries, the cultural landscapes in Malaysia are not unusual in having been encroached upon by various anthropogenic activities, which are driven by socio-economic development. Because of this, in some cases Malaysian cultural landscapes have been totally changed into other landscape types, for exam- ple, urban landscapes.

The possible indicators that show that the urban areas were once a cultural landscape are the clusters of traditional Malay or Chinese houses.

Social Ecological Restoration in Paddy Dominated Landscapes Ecological Research Monographs

Nowadays, these traditional houses are in the midst of new or modern houses and buildings. Some have been renovated but maintain their original structure and design, whereas others are left abandoned. Despite facing the challenges of rapid developmental progress, quite a number of areas in Malaysia still show the charac- teristics and features of a cultural landscape.

Furthermore, the traditional values regarding natural resource use are still practiced among the rural peoples, especially the older generation. Yet developmental activities are continuing to influence the socio-economics of the inhabitants.


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As a result, the long-term traditional landscape features of paddy fields, vegetable farms, and orchards are expanding, and this is essential to meet the demands of socio-economic progress and population growth. Some of the expansion is part of the implementation of economic development poli- cies, under the auspices of government agencies, in order to improve the socio- economic conditions of the rural people. At the same time, non-traditional landscape features have also emerged in the cultural landscape, such as oil palm and rubber plantations, and aquaculture.

This has been brought about either by the government or by private agencies, and the local people are usually employed as labourers. Abdullah 4. This estuary lies between the town of Sungai Petani to the east and a coastal site to the west, and between the foot of the Gunung Jerai Forest Reserve to the north and the Muda river to the south. The Merbok river is the major river flowing through the area, and many small streams form its tributaries.