Kitchen Stories

Understanding how Nicobar communities share resources in the wake of the tsunami

The earthquake and tsunami of 2004 left a devastating impact on  ecosystems and human communities.  Just a few 100 km from the epicentre, the Nicobar Islands were very badly affected. As local island communities recover, we ask how resilient their traditional resource management systems are to these  disturbances.

  • Inside a traditional roundhouse in Chowra

  • Coastal areas in many Nicobar Islands were badly affected by the tsunami of 2004

  • Pigs are a critical resource for the Nicobar islanders

  • Clay that will be made into pots on Chowra Island. Mud pots were a critical element of trading networks in the Nicobars until the last century. Here freshly kneaded clay is readied to be manufactured into a pot

  • After the tsunami, aid efforts are focused on reconstructing houses away from the coast

The Context

The Nicobar Islands are biologically unique with tropical forests and mangroves, turtle nesting beaches, grasslands, and extensive coral reefs. Indigenous islanders have lived primarily along the coast, and used natural resources through systems of traditional ownership and management.

Change and cooperative behaviour

The overall aim of this project is to understand the influence of change, on cooperative behaviour and sharing among indigenous communities over natural resources ranging from coral reefs, coastal plantations, wild pigs, crocodiles and avifaunal resources. I propose that communities will cooperate or compete over natural resources based largely on characteristics of the resource itself – its natural abundance and its perceived value by the community. Markets influence these cooperative or competitive systems by modifying the intrinsic value of the resource, and by modifying extractive pressures.

Indigenous systems of resource management

Indigenous systems of resource management are potential avenues of sustainable use that can be incorporated into the development framework of the islands through adaptive management. This study aims at understanding how livelihoods and social frameworks influence the use of natural resources, as well as the foundations of socio-ecological resilience. By understanding these indigenous systems and modern transitions, we will be able to develop appropriate methods to address natural resource conservation and livelihood needs, based on an adaptive framework.





  • Journal Article
    Sharing mechanisms in corporate groups may be more resilient to natural disasters than kin groups in the Nicobar Islands
    Human Ecology. 43:709-720

    It has been suggested that kin groups are better predisposed to cooperatively manage essential natural resources than non-kin groups because of inclusive fitness gains. Whether these long-term genetic pay-offs sufficiently offset the immediate costs of cooperation in periods of scarcity is uncertain. We compared patterns of resource sharing across three island communities in the Nicobar Archipelago affected by the 2004 tsunami. While sharing mechanisms were similar across regions, group composition varied: Central and Southern Nicobar were organised along kinship lines, while Chowra was organised as corporate alliances of unrelated households. We documented post-tsunami losses and conflicts emerging in resource sharing after the event. While kin groups showed considerable breakdown in resource sharing arrangements, corporate communities in Chowra were much more resilient to change. Our results suggest that the more immediate reciprocity of corporate alliances may outweigh the potential benefits of inclusive fitness when faced with conditions of extreme resource scarcity.

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