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Introduction This article developed out of my surprise at how "The Giving Environment" (Bird-David 1990) had been read by English-speaking students and a nagging curiosity to understand why. "The Giving Environment", which over the years has received a fair share of attention within and outside anthropology, offered a cultural perspective on the economies of hunter-gatherers, serving as a counterpoint to the then prevailing ecological approach in this field. In a nutshell, the article suggested that it is worthwhile to distinguish hunter-gatherers by their perception of their environment, more than by the actual subsistence activities which they do (or do not) carry out, arguing that this perception influences their economic conduct. It analyzed ethnographic material from the food-gathering Nayaka of South India, and their shifting cultivator neighbors, the Betta Kurumba, highlighting parallels between the Nayaka and other tropical forest dwellers (Batek and Mbuti) and contrasting them with the cultivators. The gist of the argument was that, compared to the cultivators' sense of an environment that yields its bounty in return for appropriate conduct and labor, the "hunter-gatherer" view can be summed up as the "forest is a parent" who unconditionally "provides food to its children" (Bird-David 1990:190). Puzzlingly, some Anglo-American students read into this idea a far more transcendent, benign, nurturing and loving (forest as)"parent" than I had envisaged. (1) Their reading surprised me even more because based on the same argument some of my Israeli students visualized a "Jewish parent" of sorts--someone you trust to give you food. Now, the Nayaka words "appa," "awa" and "makalo" readily translate into the English "father," "mother" and "children," and as readily into the Hebrew "abba," "imma" and "yeladim." The translation of these basic, everyday words is incontestable. (2) However, while the translation itself is not problematic, that very fact may obscure divergent cultural perspectives and ontologies. (3) It produces a sense of obviousness which allows the readers to insert their own native intuitions and understandings.

Essais et sciences humaines
22 juin
Institute for Ethnographic Research

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