Kasar was the last person I stopped to visit as I hiked down from the Sulawesi
highlands in 2006. He was in terrible shape. His bamboo house was rickety
and in danger of collapse. The condition of his son, aged about twelve, was
even more alarming. Terribly thin and visibly exhausted, the boy was moving
heavy sacks of kapok, the tree crop his father had planted on the hot, dry land
he previously used for tobacco. “I tried to plant cacao,” Kasar said, “but this
land is not good for cacao and it is the only land I have. Kapok grows OK,
but the price is too low.” Even if he cut down his kapok trees, he didn’t have
enough land to revert to food production and he couldn’t borrow land for
food, as he had in the past, as everyone’s land was full of trees. He planted
new crops with the hope of improving his family’s situation, but ended up
with this one barren plot.
Kasar was painfully aware that he had no way out, no way back, and no
future for his children. He was also embarrassed by my visit. He knew that I
had already visited some of his neighbors who had attained wealth and secu-
rity in the two decades since we first met. He was in his midforties but looked
much older. He was so physically worn out that he could no longer do the
strenuous work of hauling rattan vines out from the forest on piece rate, his
occasional source of income in previous years. Wage work locally was scarce,
as the new tree crops needed little labor. I feared that the boy lifting the sacks
might not survive.1 Their house was in the foothills only about a one- hour
hike from the nearest school on the coast, but unlike his father who hiked
up and down to school in the 1970s the boy was so ashamed of his ragged
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