Panama’s Darién is a name many conservationists know. Renowned for its lowland tropical forests, its fame is more pronounced because a road that should be there is not: environmentalists have repeatedly, and remarkably, blocked all attempts to connect the Americas via the Pan American Highway. That lacuna, that absence of a road, also serves to occlude history in the region as its old-growth forests give the erroneous impression of a peopleless nature.
In Crafting Wounaan Landscapes, Julie Velásquez Runk upends long-standing assumptions about the people that call Darién home, and she demonstrates the agency of the Wounaan people to make their living and preserve and transform their way of life in the face of continuous and tremendous change. Velásquez Runk focuses on Wounaan crafting—how their ability to subtly effect change has granted them resilience in a dynamic and globalized era. She theorizes that unpredictable landscapes, political decisions, and cultural beliefs are responsible for environmental conservation problems, and she unpacks environmental governance efforts that illustrate what happens when conservation is confronted with people in a purportedly peopleless place.
The everyday dangers of environmental governance without local crafting include logging, land grabbing, and loss of carbon in a new era of carbon governance in the face of climate change. Crafting Wounaan Landscapes provides recognition of local ways of knowing and being in the world that may be key to the future of conservation practice.