Sotetsu heritage: cycads, sustenance and cultural landscapes in the Amami islands

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Hayward, P & Kuwahara, S 2012, 'Sotetsu heritage: cycads, sustenance and cultural landscapes in the Amami islands', Locale: The Australian-Pacific Journal of Regional Food Studies, vol. 2, pp. 26-46.

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This article addresses the cultural heritage and, thereby, socio-historical perception of the sotetsu plant (cycas revoluta)1 in Tokunoshima, the Amami islands and the broader Ryukyu archipelago of southern Japan. The article addresses the plant’s function as an emergency/resilience food resource, a field windbreak, a defining feature of a particular ‘cultural landscape’ and a potent symbol within Ryukyu history. While the Amami islands are (now) part of Japan, the article views them from a Pacific history viewpoint, as an underdeveloped archipelagic annex to a major, densely-populated regional power and whose use of botanical and other primary resources has much in common with the islands of Oceania, not the least in terms of the “derivative vulnerabilities” (Lewis, 2009) arising from Amami’s history of colonial disruption and economic exploitation. The discussions advanced in the article engage with the sotetsu’s nature as a food source, a progenitor of related ‘foodways’ and its complex role in the cultural landscape and heritage of the Amami islands and, in particular, southern Tokunoshima. The concluding section considers the heritage value and context of the plant and of the distinctive hedged ‘fieldscapes’ within the context of contemporary economic development.

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