The Pine Nut Wars

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The business of pine nuts is a serious one.

I spoke with a conservation inspector last year, the fellow singly responsible for enforcing wildlife and natural resource law across all of Ternei County–an area larger than Massachusetts–in northern Primorye, Russia. He recounted his experiences in 2008, a year when the pine forests yielded an atypically productive harvest of cones packed with commercially-valuable pine nuts. People fell over themselves to profit from this bounty, and the inspector animatedly recalled numerous skirmishes fought over the resource.

In one case, a band of Chinese shishkari (pine nut collectors) were robbed of their harvest by Russian competitors from the village of Malaya Kema, men who stumbled upon the Chinese camp and its neatly-organized sacks of cones while their owners were in the forest collecting more. The Chinese men returned to find their hoard missing, rushed out in pursuit, and were almost surprised they found the robbers so quickly. They rounded a curve in the forest road to see the Russians cursing and smoking and bent under the hood of their truck. Their get-away vehicle had selected an untimely moment to break down. The Russian thieves were beaten with sticks and the stolen cones triumphantly reclaimed. The Chinese victory was short lived, however. The Kema men fixed their truck, returned to their village to rally compatriots, and descended on the Chinese camp with rifles. The Chinese team decided against the indignity of burial in hastily-dug graves in the Russian wilderness; opting instead to cede the forest and leave their aromatic treasures behind.

In another case, a gang of shishkari from the village of Amgu engaged in a midnight raid on a camp of adversaries from the city of Dalnegorsk, and laid into them with heavy sticks and merciless blows. Many on the receiving end were hospitalized; those that remained to collect more cones abandoned their territory to the aggression of Amgu and occupied a forest of lesser value instead. The Dalnegorsk shishkari had to work harder for fewer cones, but they did so without the constant threat of a surprise thrashing.

In autumn 2014, two shishkari died near the village of Roshchino in separate incidents; men who fell from the heights of pines while overextending for a final cone that was just out of reach. These incidents were not isolated: every autumn a few shishkari simply don’t come back, and every spring a few bodies are found. These are the pine nut collectors who lost their way, encountered a covetous rival, or met some other unfortunate fate that will never be clear.

The business of pine nuts is a serious one.

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One thought on “The Pine Nut Wars

  1. Global warming and the pine bark beetle will leave me – and other pesto lovers – with little option but to buy into this a vicious circle of Sino-Russian pine cone aggression.

    Like

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