Mudalolose (take part), Mandusi (pick up nutmeg)

Mudalolose – also muganti, mugagilirang (take part)

Mandusi – also mangemong, mamuruh, malejung (pick up nutmeg)

Siau Island, Indonesia

Lisa Law and Mercy Rampengan

In Kinali village, Siau Island, North Sulawesi, Indonesia (Map 1), smallholder farmers rely on a unique system for harvesting nutmeg.  This arrangement includes mudalolose (tree tenure) and madusi (fruit gleaning) and these enduring practices make nutmeg a viable crop, distribute wealth in the village and help make this community resilient to volcanic hazards/disasters.  In the absence of an official land titling system, mudalolose involves the rotation of tree harvesting rights between different families over time. Mandusi is a munificent practice of ground fruit gleaning.  These practices persist in an enduring international trade in nutmeg although can be threatened by severe weather changes such as drought.

Siau Island_Indonesia
Map 1: Location of Siau Island

Indonesia’s best quality/most aromatic nutmeg comes from three small islands where it is planted around active volcanoes: Mount Karangetang on Siau Island, Mount Gamalama on Ternate Island, and Mount Banda on Banda Island.  Nutmeg cultivation on Siau was initiated by the trade in copra with the Kingdom of Ternate, North Maluku several centuries ago, when seeds were collected and transplanted (Rampengan, 2015).  The tree is native to Banda Island, which has similar physical features to Siau. The volcanoes on Banda and Siau produce rich soils and gaseous emissions that act as a natural pesticide protecting nutmeg from pests. Nutmeg trees are thus well suited to the local ecology, and do not require fertilizer or pest management.

The nutmeg trade has been lucrative over time, so there has been no particular incentive to mechanize the crop or shift to more formalized plantation-style development (as in the case for sugar, Mintz 1985).  But the persistence of local smallholdings also relates to the fact that the land and trees in any location commonly belong to different people.  There is no formal land titling in Siau, and while some families have had their ancestor’s stories authenticated by the local government, it is more often the case that connections to the land are made through ancestor burial.  There is no public cemetery because land is scarce and steep and entirely planted with trees so families bury family members close to houses – a practice which further strengthens land claims and makes buying land by outsiders less attractive.  It is therefore difficult to divide up land in Kinali and thus difficult for those not from the village to acquire it. If a family member moves to another village, for example, that person will always pass their land to relatives.  This unique arrangement enables smallholder families to maintain their limited natural resource assets.

The crops are planted and harvested by smallholder families in Kinali use mudalolose:  a tree tenure system that provides access to tree resources.  Mudalolose is a distinct system of property rights but it is the trees that are tenured, with particular trees—and thus harvesting rights—attributed to different families.  It has been passed down for generations although it has not been formally written down.  In this tree tenure system it is the access rights to trees that is divided and rotated among family members.  So one area of land might belong to five families, but only one family has a right to manage the trees for two years. The other four families rely on mandusi while they wait for their turn.  In this mandalolose system, families can only replace dead trees with a new tree at the same site.  These access rights/tree resources can also be exchanged for services, so families might give trees to a non-family member in exchange for help: for example, it used to be common for a midwife to be given access rights to a tree for a certain period of time for help with a birth.  Families can also sell harvesting rights for a certain period of time, for 10 or 20 years, depending on the arrangement.

Another community practice that provides an important source of income in Kinali is mandusi which enables non-family members to glean fallen nutmeg.  All village members are able to benefit from gleaning fallen fruit, including school children who collect it on the way to school for pocket money, but villagers are not allowed to pick nutmeg directly from trees that they do not have access rights to. Mandusi thus benefits families without trees as they can earn a reasonable income from this practice.  But it also benefits those with access rights because the gleaners clean the land in the process of picking up fallen nutmeg. Gleaning thus contributes to the health of the crop as well as the more equitable distribution of income among village households.

While monocrop cultures can be detrimental to the cultural and economic life of local communities, mandalolose and mandusi provide Kinali villagers with practices for sustainable income that shares wealth.  Drawing on Gibson-Graham’s (1996, 2006) diverse economic framing, Table 1 attempts to map out how these practices might be understood.  Western-centric understandings of land and property rights tend to construct tenure in ways which prioritize land tenure over other forms of tenure, ie where trees are seen as part of the ‘land’ much like buildings (Smith 1997), so in this table tree tenure is recorded under ‘labour’ and ‘property’.  Also, smallholder farmers sell their nutmeg for profit, under transactions, but also can exchange harvesting rights for services.

Table 1:  A diverse economy framing for Kinali village

Enterprise Property Labour Transactions Finance
Smallholder family farm Customary/no formal land titling/tree tenure Mandalolose Direct sale to warung, exchange for services Community supported
Smallholder family farm Customary/no formal land titling/tree tenure Mandusi Gifting Donation
Smallholder family farm Customary/no formal land titling/tree tenure Mapalus Reciprocal labour Community supported

Rampengan et al (2016) have charted how villagers in Kinali village adopt a range of cultural strategies to manage forest resources including a range of communal and reciprocal labour sharing practices such as mapalus and mudaloloseMapalus is a local term for community based cooperative social work/labour, and is a network that supports villagers in hardship as well as for buildings homes and carrying goods uphill.  Mapalus is what helped the community clear the land close to the volcanic crater a few decades ago for the growing of sweet potato.  Rampengan et al (2016) discuss the significance of these social networks in making the community resilient to disasters.

Although the community has adapted to living beside a volcano, a final note should be made on the recent drought.  Dry season nutmeg is the easiest to harvest and is often of better quality, so the eight month drought in 2015/16 produced some very good nutmeg – although it also killed 1000 trees.  Some villages questioned how families up the hill had recently built such good houses when most were struggling from the drought and a loss of income.  Two explanations were offered:  one that those living up the hill are harder working; and two, that they were gleaning too much and stealing nuts from the trees.  This example shows some of the threats to the mudalolose and mandusi practices.



Fredericksen, CFK (2000) Capitalism, colonialism and seaborne power in Maluku: Prospects for an historical archaeology of the spice trade, Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, 24:27-34.

Gibson-Graham, JK (1996) The end of capitalism (as we knew it):  A feminist critique of political economy, Oxford:  Blackwell.

Gibson-Graham, JK (2006) A postcapitalist politics, Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press.

Mintz, S (1985) Sweetness and power:  The place of sugar in modern history, New York NY, Viking.

Rampengan, MMF (2015) Impacts of multiple hazards on small island communities:  Perspectives from North Sulawesi, Indonesia, PhD thesis, James Cook University.

Rampengan, M, Boedhihartono, A, Margules, C, Sayer, J, Law, L, Gaillard, J C, Ong, T, and L Tran (2016) ‘Agroforestry on an Active Volcanic Small Island in Indonesia: Prospering with Adversity’ Geographical Research 54(1):19-34.

Smith, HF (1997) Semi-commercial complex agroforestry: A case study from West Kalimantan, Indonesia, PhD thesis, Department of Geography, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, (accessed 16 August 2017).


Lisa Law, James Cook University (Cairns)
Mercy Rampengan, UNIMA (Manado)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close