Guitar Ecologies and the Making of Fiji Mahogany

Authors: Jose Martinez-Reyes*, UMass Boston Anthropology
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Pacific Islands, Historical Geography
Keywords: political ecology, forestry, guitars
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 3:55 PM / 5:35 PM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Guitar Ecologies is a political ecology of mahogany and its performative materiality in transforming forests, producing sounds, guitars, and guitar cultures and identities. As mahogany became an essential component in a complicated mesh of materials, sounds, and meanings, it also emerged as a site of profoundly unequal power relations and environmental transformations. Mahogany plantations in Fiji became a major supplier for Gibson and Taylor Guitars, two of the largest global guitar manufacturers. The plantations of Fiji grew out of the ruins of the destruction of the forest so characteristic of the Anthropocene. Their transformation left a path of poison, compromised health, impacted ecosystems, altered fauna, and Native control of land in a vulnerable position. Now from its timbers, a new highly-desired sound is produced. This nexus sparks contention over who controls the socio-ecological and musical dynamics in the processes of production, circulation, and consumption of music and sounds. In this paper, I discuss how new modes of existence come into being through the forging of more intimate connections between forests, guitars, and sounds. Specific strategies include examining how Gibson and Taylor maneuvered to take control of the main suppliers of the highest-grade mahogany produced in Fiji by alluding to notions of sustainable forestry and by connecting with local native musicians. Guitar ecologies also assesses alternative strategies for constructing a more liberating political ecology of sounds.

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