Hunting in Amazonia
KeywordsSubsistence Activity Indigenous Society Food Taboo Indigenous Reserve Computerize Modeling Technique
Hunting became a central concern in the 1970s for anthropologists attempting to understand the supposedly low levels of sociocultural complexity of Amazonian indigenous peoples (Fig. 1). Archeologist Betty Meggers (1971) suggested that Amazonia was a “false paradise,” imposing ecological limitations on the growth and social stratification of native societies from ancient times through the present. A whole field of ecologically oriented anthropological studies grew up around the “protein debate,” namely, whether protein capture was a limiting factor on historical and modern Amazonian societies (Gross, 1975). The debate turned out to be largely spurious, since, as Beckerman (1979) said, protein from aquatic animals, terrestrial game, and even vegetable sources turned out to be more abundant than originally estimated. Moreover, recent archeology has demonstrated far more densely settled and complex societies in prehistoric times than those observed in the ethnographic record (Denevan 1976; Heckenberger et al., 2008). Though the protein debate faded away, quantitative studies on hunting and other subsistence activities by Amazonian communities continued, becoming heavily influenced by microeconomic theory (Alvard & Kaplan 1991; Hames & Vickers, 1982; Hawkes, Hill, & O’Connell, 1982). “Optimal foraging” models predict that hunters’ choices will be largely constrained by practical considerations maximizing protein return for time invested, which is to say, “bringing home the biggest bacon” (Jerozolimski & Peres, 2003).
According to the mythology of the Matsigenka people of Peru, for example, the snake is a hunter with poisonous arrows (Shepard, 2002a). The hunter himself is invisible: the snakes that human beings see are his arrows. The snake views himself as a human being, out in the forest, hunting for his family. When he looks at a human person, he sees a tapir, a peccary, or some other animal of prey, which he shoots and kills to feed his family. Likewise the Matsigenka believe that the spirits of hunted animals can take revenge on a human hunter’s family, making small children fall ill or die suddenly, thus reversing the role of predator and prey in a cosmological tit-for-tat (Shepard, 2002b). In the fluid Amazonian worldview, rife with transformations across species boundaries, most beings are both human and animal; their status in any given relationship depends on the point of view, or what is called “cosmological perspective” (Viveiros de Castro, 1996). This prolific area of anthropological study, intellectual heir to the structuralist paradigm of Claude Lévi-Strauss, is thus called “perspectivism.” Indigenous rituals and practices associated with hunting are often concerned with re-signifying the killing of the animal to remove its human subjectivity so that the predatory act will not be interpreted as an act of warfare by the offended animal spirit (Fausto, 2007) (Fig. 2).
The spatial impacts of hunting pressure are also influenced by variable social systems and cultural norms. Yanomami villages, for example, periodically migrate, creating a “reticular” rather than “central-place” pattern of resource use (Albert & LeTourneau, 2007). Indigenous hunters of the Guyana region appear to avoid sacred places in their hunting excursions, though ecological and geographic factors also strongly affect their choices (Read, Fragoso, & Silvius, 2010). Variable local beliefs and practices related to hunting and food consumption ultimately influence hunters’ behavior and modulate their impact on the local fauna. Developing adequate community-based management systems necessarily requires understanding and leveraging such local concepts (Shepard, 2002b; Vieira, von Muhlen & Shepard, in press).
If biodiversity is to be conserved across Amazonia, hunting management strategies must be biologically sound, socially and culturally sensitive, as well as practical and enforceable on the ground (Yu et al., 2010). Hunting is a complex and variable socio-environmental practice, and adequate management requires ongoing dialog across multiple disciplines and collaboration between local people, scientists, and conservation planners.
The custom in some cultures in which a man takes to his bed and goes through certain rituals when his child is being born, as though he were physically affected by the birth
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