Accepted Paper:

Mutual sustenance and animals as co-workers: water buffalo and women in the Indian Himalayas  


Heid Jerstad (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Who sustains who in the caring or exploitative mutual substance exchanges between water buffalo and women in the Indian Himalayas? This paper approaches this question through asking why the door to the animal house is left open in the hot season, despite the deadly risk from the leopard.

Paper long abstract:

Some argue that domestication is akin to slavery of animals. Others that it consists of a form of manipulation of human activity to tend to the needs of the species. This paper is a response which investigates experiences which may not resonate with either extreme, rather considering the two-way nature of this co-working. Women in Gau in the Indian Himalayas spend their days cutting and carrying fodder, fetching water, clearing out manure and tending to the illnesses of the water buffalo. The hard work is a sustenance, a caring for. 'They are like us, only they don't speak.' The buffalo process the grass and leaves inside their bodies into milk and manure, providing nutrition, cash and the fertility of the land. They are large-eyed beings, with preferences, vulnerabilities, and a strong association with a household. The woman and the buffalo exchange substances, their female bodies sometimes metaphors in the hierarchical household labour relationships. The women are not precisely there in order to sustain the buffalo, but on the other hand their life's work consists of sustaining the buffalo, whose body substances are more acceptable than those of low-caste neighbours and with whom amicability and intimacy promote a relationship almost of colleagues, in the larger project of sustaining life. This paper will look at these questions through asking why it is that the door is left open to the buffalo house during the hot season, despite the risk of the leopard killing the buffalo calf.

Panel P23
Collaboration and partnership in human-animal communities: reconsidering ways of learning and communication