|Hereford Cattle at Turner Ranch, Oklahoma, 1944 (source)
||Battle at Mullaitivu, Sri Lanka, 2009 (source)
In the history of the American West, it was white settlement, smallpox, the railroad and rifle, but also the steady incursion of barbed wire fencing which tamed the no longer virgin, wild, territories reaching from present day Nebraska through West Texas. The nascent barricades curbed the movement of nomadic peoples and migratory animals (buffalo) along with the open-range ranching of Longhorn cattle. Barbed wire’s amorphous form and eminent extendability made it a flexible political tool; in some cases the U.S. Government enclosed lands held by the Cherokee Nation on supposedly temporary terms, their negotiations aided by the seeming unobtrusiveness of thin steel strands and periodic fence posts. Barbed wire’s diligence as a fixed boundary might be confused by its innocuous material qualities and timid definition of inside from outside. Lightweight and tumbleweed-like, the tense wire was nevertheless rigid enough to choreograph such disastrous events as ‘The Big Die-Up’, when hordes of shelter-seeking herds froze across the Southern Plains during the unseasonably cold winter of 1886-87.
Barbed wire’s bureaucratic function, deployed at a level very low to the ground, may have seemed to be purely in the service of capital, particularly in securing personal property (including the more stable stock-farming of high grade Hereford and Angus cattle).
Yet it ultimately amounted to a much more pervasive manipulation, quickly systematizing a variable albeit cyclical ecological system—the aberrant grazing of buffalo allowed time for prairie grasses to regenerate, for example. In this case, the use of the adjective ‘wild’ to describe the romance of the Wild West connotes a cultural-imperialist perspective, held in place by steel spikes whose legitimacy was eventually supported by the U.S. Supreme Court to the detriment of the cowboy and the Plains Indians.
The Sri Lankan government will soon establish a wildlife sanctuary in the midst of a heavily mined region, which until May of 2009 was the stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The government’s official reasoning for programming the area as an animal reserve emerges from a belief that the proposed use will resolve any local conflicts between humans and elephants. As there are no major reserves in the region and the area is occupied by both elephants and people, this plan has some validity.
However, many critics are suspicious of the government’s decision to return the region to a jungle, claiming this decision is a mere tactic for the systematic suppression of the Tamil population. Local Tamil residents who were displaced by the war, are now denied re-entry into the reprogrammed area. Those in power may be concerned that human resettlement in the region will lead to the construction of memorials for the recently defeated rebels, taking after remembrances that have materialized on similarly significant battlegrounds. There may even be fears that the area could be commandeered by guerrilla fighters for yet another uprising.
Regardless of the government’s motives, this site will return to a wilderness, in a bid for control over what authorities identify as unruly elements.
Erandi de Silva