Prey as person? Some reflections based on an Amazonian case
Carlos Sautchuk (University of Brasilia)
Paper short abstract:
Based on an ethnographic study of the ecological relations between the harpooner and the arapaima fish in Brazilian Amazonia, this work explores the potentialities and limitations of interpretations that centre on the personification or socialization of animals in situations of capture.
Paper long abstract:
Evidence from diverse latitudes of the Americas support the idea of prey as persons: there is a spirit that controls animals; capture and death are not understood in violent terms, but socialized or eroticized; the animal surrenders itself through a relation of trust with the hunter; the hunter can be transformed into prey, etc. Both extremely interesting and highly pertinent, the theoretical-conceptual elaborations based on this data have stimulated at least two types of discussion: (i) this evidence is based more on discourse than the practice of hunting; (ii) we need to reflect on what person or sociality mean if we are to avoid making an undesired anthropomorphic projection. Taking this questions as a backdrop, I examine the capture of the arapaima fish with harpoons among caboclos of Brazilian Amazonia, where the aspects listed above are found. My interest is not in rejecting the ideas concerning the personification or socialization of prey, but in exploring the potentialities and limitations of this model within this specific ethnographic situation. Adopting an ecological approach to harpooner-arapaima interactions, I argue in favour of the role of these ideas in destabilizing ethnocentric assumptions vis-à-vis hunting. However I also point to some of their limitations in terms of comprehending the mutual ontogenesis of animals and humans on the basis of relations of capture.
Objects, persons or property? Revisiting human-animal relations in the Andes, Amazonia and the American Arctic