Sample Anthropology Case Studies Paper on THE COSMIC FOOD WEB: HUMAN-NATURE RELATEDNESS IN THE NORTHWEST AMAZON

THE COSMIC FOOD WEB: HUMAN-NATURE RELATEDNESS IN THE NORTHWEST AMAZON

Until recently, the image of Indian tribes in Tropical America has been that of a tribe considered to consist of primitive and unfriendly human population. This is because the community’s level of social complexity is considered to be far much below that of the most backward communities of the 21st century.[1] As a matter of fact, scientists, at one point, were led to believe that the tropical Indians are among the communities in the world whose lives and cultural practices have not yet evolved to match the current global cultural changes. For those scientist who believed that they could use tropical Indians as a focal point towards understanding human evolution and human-animal relations found it hard working within these groups of individual since their behaviours were more of non-humans’. Recent studies on the people of the tropical forests have showed results that were never thought of in the early days. For example, studies have indicated that the old labels are slowly becoming extinct paving way for the emergence of individuals with tameable characteristics.

Studies have also indicated that tropical Indians depend on hunting and gathering as the main source of livelihood, and the tropical rain forest provide then with the conducive environment to conduct these activities. Through hunting and gathering, the tropical Indians were able to establish strong relationships with wild animals, and this became the main tactics of survival between the individuals and the animals.[2] Precisely, the relationship between the tropical Indians and the animals was so strong to an extent that members of the community started showing respect for specific groups of animals.  For example, the communities believed that their spiritual lives depended on certain animals and such animals were never to be hunted for whatever reasons. The community believed that as hunters and gathers, animals played very important roles in shaping both their social and cultural lives.

It is true that the tropical Indians obtain their food directly from within their ecosystem. With hunting and gathering as the main type of economic activity, it is accurately stated that the community’s diet and lifestyle was influenced by the animals they hunted or the wild fruits they gather.  This community also understood that one of the preconditions for healthier hunting and gathering activities was to move from one place to the other and never settling in one place. The tropical Indians were known to shift their places of residence since they had to search for animals and fruits in different locations within the rain forest. Just like in similar communities where hunting and gathering is the main socio-economic activity, the tropical Indians have the view that each individual bares the task for find food for himself or herself, meaning that the community system of live have little knowledge when it comes to division of labour.[3] This is to say, the position of women in the community is relative to that of men and inequalities among the sexes is not as large as seen in other societies.

For the tropical Indians, animals are equal to people, and may at times be consulted for spiritual nourishment, especially when the community is facing series of calamities believed to be spiritually instigated. For instance, before a member or members of the community go for hunting, rituals are always performed as a show of respect and appreciation to the animal spirit. This is always done with the hope of uniting members of the community for continued success during hunting and gathering. The belief in animals for rituals or magic as practiced among the tropical Indians and other communities across the world in known as animism, and allows for spiritual connections between individuals and their supreme being. In general, the communities that practice hunting and gathering are always known to possess the ability to tame and coexist peacefully with wild animals.

The fact that these communities are small in number means that the competition for natural resources is lower compared to the level of competition among communities that practices agricultural activities. The hunting and gathering as the main source of activity at times become socially limiting and the community must employ survival tactics. Even though the members of this community rely on the policy of survival for the fittest, the activities conducted are only directed towards getting food with little or no manipulation of the general environment.

Researchers have suggested that hunter-gatherer communities’ peaceful coexistence with animals is attributable to the magical, humble approach towards nature. On the other hand, other different arguments show that hunter gatherers had very small impacts on the ecosystems. Studies by researchers conclude that this was simply because they lacked the skills to further manipulate the environment or even the population densities that required such manipulations. However, not all hunter-gatherer co-existence are positive or rather socially improving.[4] It is believed that some animals and bird species in the ecosystems disappear due to such relationships because there are lower chances of survival in a man dominated environment. For instance, the observed decrease in the number of animals and bird species within the tropical forests was as a result of over hunting.

At some points, the communities were seen to use fire during hunting and this in most cases interfered with the animal habitats. Such methods of hunting also had ecological impacts on humans living around the targeted areas. In another perspective, animals are at times associated with certain gods and goddesses, and often linked to spiritual power. Therefore, hunting a certain species of wildlife can be viewed as bad omen and may bring calamities to the community.[5] The tropical Indians understood perfectly that at times the power does not reside in the animal itself, but rather may represent the existence of god.  Animals are usually big players in the development of mythology of such communities, and in the end facilitate environment conservation approaches. With reference to the above statements, it is important to understand how certain animals affect how hunter-gatherer societies relate or coexist with each other. Wildlife influences the lives of the people in the hunter-gatherer communities, and at the same time, influences the environmental practice. Apart from the tropical Indians, another example of such a community that coexist with animals is the Maasais who believe that domestic animals like cattle and goats are the only source of wealth.  The benefits obtained from these animals include range from food, clothing to community rituals. However, with the limited grazing lands and huge numbers of cattle kept per household, environmental degradation has been a major challenge in Maasai land. Land degradation results from the increased pressure on grazing lands the large heads of animals.

Anthropomorphism is the personification of other characters in life such as animals in ways that conform to human life. The process of personification may also mean giving attributions to other forms, other than humans, the ability to poses natural forces. This was majorly practiced in the ancient days by the hunter-gatherer communities as they believed such practices would boost their luck whenever they were out hunting.[6] Nonetheless, humans and non-humans are distinguished by something that is thought to be very important, which is the possession of behaviours in distinct capacities; the personhood in humans. Some historians, however, have suggested that certain animals should be granted legal personhood. The commonly named species in this context are the great apes, cetaceans and some species of elephants. They argue that these animals are apparently very intelligent and have complicated “social rules” that govern their social relationships. This attempts to bestow personhood to certain animals has, to some extent, led to effects in the manner in which animals are treated, or the relationship between humans and animals. Another important reason is that, the rising arguments against animals’ personhood are based on their contextual value animals have, and how these values distinguish animals from humans. For instance, different cultures can arguably apply different treatment on animals only to distinguish what is human from what is not human. This means that animals can be moulded to behave in the best way according to human desires, ranging from cultural definitions to practical animal use.      

Unlike the case of animals, human dignity is always seen as something that is looked down upon by granting animals personhood. Even more, practical consequences of admitting animal personhood are seen as awful. Hence, there is need to ensure that these comparisons between human beings and animals are thwarted in the early stages otherwise there will be no research on animals.[7] Notably, three factors affect the moral argument relating to animal personhood. This include, understanding humanity, understanding of human value and lastly practical use value of animals. In particular, the last factor is becoming ever more significant. This is because there have been earlier efforts to introduce the idea of animal personhood. It’s evident, animal personhood poses a threat to the human race and would adversely interfere with the relationship between animals and human beings if put into practice. This is because this would mean less for human beings.

However, the hunter gatherer communities such as the tropical Indians treated animals as creatures which have equal status to human beings, and must be hunted with respect. A number of their mythical theories always involved the development of human beings from non-human to human forms, almost the same as the evolution theory. On the other hand, it is also believed that, the Rock Cree see that animals have the ability to judge the conduct of human beings towards them before deciding whether or not to give themselves to the hunters. With respect to the Cree, most indigenous hunter gatherer communities give limitations more so to women especially during menstruation and pregnancy.[8] Reason being, both the hunters’ success and the woman’s fertility are in doubt if she defies the myth and goes hunting while pregnant. Such are the implications that are experienced in these communities as a result of attributing personhood to animals. The relationship between animals and humans is affected by the manner of their interactions, in cases where human interact with wild animals as in the case of hunter gatherer societies. Non humans are seen as being equal to humans. A good example is the livestock rearing communities like the Maasai and the Nuer.[9] The Nuer in particular generally refrains from hunting, claiming that those without cattle are the ones that should practice hunting. With herding, there are actions which hunter gatherer communities would see as disrespectful to other on human persons. The Sebei, on the other hand believe that cattle can understand words even though they cannot speak, it’s therefore obvious that continued coexistence between human beings and animals tend to twist how the animals are viewed. For hunter gatherer communities who have majorly experienced with the wild animals, their relationship with the animals especially the wild animals deserves much respect. As for pastoralist communities, animals are seen as wealth that should be kept at bay. 

Recent scientific study has led to findings that point to some levels of sentience and self-awareness in animals such as dolphins, pigs and cattle. High level of familiar and open connections have as well been witnessed through many species. A move in the direction of the hunter gatherer relationship with animals would both bring humankind closer to the scientific confidence and bring a more acceptable connection with animal species in common. It’s also worth mentioning that indigenous groups hold very diverse views of their relationships with animals. Modernized societies still dwell in the view that non-human animals are simply automata with no ability to reason or think straight. However, in modern societies there are exceptions as well. This goes to animals that are usually used as pets, and those living in wildlife refuge, but the general handling of the animals which reside within the modernized settings is different compared to wildlife animals. In the scientific community, the use of anthropomorphic language that suggests animals have intentions and sensations has traditionally been denounced as showing a lack of fairness.[10] Researchers have been cautioned to avoid assumptions that animals share any of the same mental, social, and emotional abilities of humans, and to depend on as an alternative, strictly observable evidence. 

Bibliography

 Abruzzi, William S., Judith Brown, Thomas E. Durbin, Richard C. Fidler, Donald L. Hardesty, Peter Hinton, M. G. Hurlich et al. “Ecological theory and ethnic differentiation among human populations [and comments and replies].” Current Anthropology (1982): 13-35. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2742550?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Descola, Philippe, and Gísli Pálsson. Nature and society: anthropological perspectives. Taylor & Francis, 1996. https://books.google.co.ke/books?hl=en&lr=&id=TpPJmIPqv58C&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=HUMAN-NATURE+RELATEDNESS+IN+THE+NORTHWEST+AMAZON&ots

Hardin, Garrett. “The competitive exclusion principle.” science 131, no. 3409 (1960): 1292-1297.

Kansky, Ruth, Martin Kidd, and Andrew T. Knight. “Meta‐Analysis of Attitudes toward Damage‐Causing Mammalian Wildlife.” Conservation Biology 28, no. 4 (2014): 924-938. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cobi.12275/full

Malinowski, Bronislaw. Man and culture: an evaluation of the work of Bronislaw Malinowski. Vol. 10. Psychology Press, 2001. https://archive.org/details/mancultureevalua00firt

Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo. “Cosmology as ecological analysis: a view from the rain forest.” Man (1976): 307-318. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2800273?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Ross, Eric Barry, Margaret L. Arnott, Ellen B. Basso, Stephen Beckerman, Robert L. Carneiro, Richard G. Forbis, Kenneth R. Good et al. “Food Taboos, diet, and hunting strategy: the adaptation to animals in amazon cultural ecology [and Comments and Reply].” Current Anthropology (1978): 1-36. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2741146?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Stocking Jr, George W. “Anthropology and the science of the irrational.”Malinowski, Rivers, Benedict, and Others: essays on culture and personality 4 (1986): 13. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-009-5424-3_15#page-1

Volterra, Vito. “Variations and fluctuations of the number of individuals in animal species living together.” J. Cons. Int. Explor. Mer 3, no. 1 (1928): 3-51.

Arhem, Kaj. “The cosmic food web.” Human-nature relatedness in the Northwest Amazon. Nature and Society, anthropological perspectives (1996): 185-204. https://books.google.co.ke/books?hl=en&lr=&id=kj4yve-Za8IC&oi=fnd&pg=PA185&dq=HUMAN-NATURE+RELATEDNESS+IN+THE+NORTHWEST+AMAZON&ots


[1] Abruzzi, William S., Judith Brown, Thomas E. Durbin, Richard C. Fidler, Donald L. Hardesty, Peter Hinton, M. G. Hurlich et al. “Ecological theory and ethnic differentiation among human populations [and comments and replies].” (Current Anthropology, 1982) pp. 13-35

[2] Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo. “Cosmology as ecological analysis: a view from the rain forest.” (Man, 1976) pp. 307-318.

[3] Volterra, Vito. “Variations and fluctuations of the number of individuals in animal species living together.” (Cons. Int. Explor. Mer, 1928) pp. 3-51.

[4] Stocking Jr, George W. “Anthropology and the science of the irrational.” (Malinowski, Rivers, Benedict, and Others: essays on culture and personality, 1986): p. 13

[5] Arhem, Kaj. “The cosmic food web.” Human-nature relatedness in the Northwest Amazon. (Nature and Society, anthropological perspectives, 1996) pp. 185-204.

[6] Hardin, Garrett. “The competitive exclusion principle.” ( journal of science, 1960) p. 1292-1297

[7] Ross, Eric Barry, Margaret L. Arnott, Ellen B. Basso, Stephen Beckerman, Robert L. Carneiro, Richard G. Forbis, Kenneth R. Good et al. “Food Taboos, diet, and hunting strategy: the adaptation to animals in amazon cultural ecology [and Comments and Reply].” (Current Anthropology, 1978) pp. 1-36.

[8] Descola, Philippe, and Gísli Pálsson. Nature and society: anthropological perspectives. (Taylor & Francis, 1996) pp. 13-23.

[9] Kansky, Ruth, Martin Kidd, and Andrew T. Knight. “Meta‐Analysis of Attitudes toward Damage‐Causing Mammalian Wildlife.” (Conservation Biology, 2014) pp. 924-938.

[10] Malinowski, Bronislaw. Man and culture: an evaluation of the work of Bronislaw Malinowski. Vol. 10. (Psychology Press, 2001).