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The painting ‘Fresh Banana Leaves’ depicts how Western conservation has damaged Indigenous people in the Amazon

‘Fresh Banana Leaves’ shows how Western conservation has harmed Indigenous people

Image Source: Vox

During the civil war in El Salvador that started in the 1970s, a wounded Victor Hernandez sought refuge behind the fronds of a banana tree to avoid being hit by falling bombs. An indigenous Maya Ch’orti clan from the area, the boy soldier, fashioned a crutch from a tree limb and hobbled toward Guatemala, where he would be liberated. In his words to his daughter, Jessica Hernandez, who wrote the book Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science, “I think that it was this banana tree that saved my life.” He said, “it is ironic since banana plants are not indigenous to El Salvador.”

Jessica Hernandez, an environmental scientist, sees connections between her father’s narrative and the story of the banana tree, which she discovered when researching the tree. The voyage of the banana tree from Southeast Asia to the Americas through European colonial ships required the hardy plant to adapt to its new environment. The same could be said about her father, who finally settled in the United States after encountering some less-than-welcoming receptions along the road, but eventually found his way home.

A complicated conversation on the relationship between colonialism, Indigenous relocation, land degradation, and contrasts between how Western scholars and Indigenous people approach conservation is framed by Hernandez’s father’s memories, as well as first-person testimonies from other Indigenous people. Hernandez reminds out that restoration efforts often focus on eradicating exotic species in the western hemisphere. However, she argues that such a limited approach fails to recognize that Indigenous people — the lands’ original custodians — are essential aspects of threatened ecosystems.

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