A Theory of ‘Animal Borders’

Thoughts and Practices toward Non-human Animals among the G|ui Hunter-Gatherers

in Social Analysis

Abstract

The term ‘animal borders’ refers to both the border between humans and animals and to that which demarcates the former according to stances toward the latter. The practices toward animals among the G|ui foragers inspire fundamental reflection on ‘animal borders’. Their mythical characters are personified animals. An invisible agency, translated as ‘to be affected’, permeates the G|ui everyday life. A complex code of food regulation is associated with this effect. Violating the taboo on specific meat may lead to madness that causes the imitation of animals. The G|ui pay particular attention to the messages from many ornithic species. The following ethnographic descriptions confirm the continuity of the G|ui corporeality with animal existence and further show the potentiality of metamorphosis. This scope requires a new understanding of ‘naturalism’.

The purpose of this article is to outline a theory of ‘animal borders’ based on ethnographic materials I have collected over the past two decades among the G|ui Bushmen living in the Central Kalahari Desert, Botswana, in Southern Africa. First, I locate my theoretical standpoint in the ‘phenomenological positivism’ proposed by Maurice Merleau-Ponty and explicate the dual meaning of the term ‘animal border’. I then offer a general description of the subjects of my ethnographic research, G|ui Bushmen. In order to surmount the human-animal dualism, I next criticize the representational view of culture that has been prevalent in anthropology (Csordas 1994). My general aim is to demonstrate that our concept of human-animal relationships has to be based on worldly, corporeal existence. Guided by the notion of ‘communicative expectation’, the theoretical origin of which is found in the ‘relevance theory’ proposed by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson (1986), the following text throws light on some essential characteristics of interactions between the G|ui and animals. After outlining G|ui ‘folk knowledge’ of the metamorphosis from one animal species to another, I show that G|ui intercorporeality is open to the potential for transformation into animals. Finally, drawing on the concepts of devenir and ritornello proposed by Deleuze and Guattari ([1980] 1994), I argue that the thought and practices of Junichiro Itani, a Japanese primatologist and ecological anthropologist, can be seen as a precursor of the contemporary movement to overcome the human-animal dualism.

The Dual Meaning of ‘Animal Border’

Following Merleau-Ponty’s ([1945] 2002) Phenomenology of Perception, I like to designate my basic methodology as phenomenological positivism. My analysis of ethnographic material, especially oral discourse, is phenomenological in that it sets aside (or ‘brackets off’, in Husserlian terms) any objective judgment, based on scientific knowledge, concerning the truth value of statements. At the same time, my comprehension of the habitual sense lived by the G|ui people always flows back to my own life-world, where, furthermore, it illuminates the continuity between their immediate experience and mine. At the same time, my methodology is empirical and positivistic in endeavoring to construct an ethnographic description that rigidly relies on direct observations, including systematic transcription of conversations and narratives.

My key term ‘animal borders’ has a double meaning. The first is of course the boundary between human and non-human animals. As a point of departure, I refer to Peter Singer’s ([1975] 2009) controversial Animal Liberation. In its preface, Singer expresses dissatisfaction with the limitations of English, where the term ‘animal’ usually refers to non-humans, implying that we are somehow not animals. Yet anyone who has taken an elementary course in biology knows this to be false.

The statement that human beings are also animals is often found in articles that investigate the human-animal relationship. However, in everyday language, in English and in Japanese and also in G|ui, the human is not an animal. Singer’s dissatisfaction thus immediately commits us to a particular theory, that is, evolutionary theory, which is indeed the most predominant of all ideas about the human-animal relationship in modern industrial societies. Yet it might be questioned whether this commitment is epistemologically rational.

In Philosophy in the Flesh, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1999: 4) declare: “The discovery that reason is evolutionary utterly changes our relation to other animals and changes our conception of human beings as uniquely rational.” However, they never offer any examples of such an utter change. In contrast, Singer’s claim that we must not eat any animal meat deserves to be examined because it proposes a clear agenda for a radical change of the relation of humans to other animals. Yet I have doubts about his simple strategy of reducing the continuity between human and animal existence to the experience of pain. In my view, the best definition of animal behavior is proposed by Merleau-Ponty ([1942] 1983: 125–126) in his early work The Structure of Behavior: “The gestures of behavior, the intentions which it traces in the space around the animal, are not directed to the true world or pure being, but to being-for-the-animal, that is, to a certain milieu characteristic of the species.” In sum, any consideration of animals needs to comprehend animal existence as inseparable from the structure of the environmental world to which it belongs.

John Knight’s (2003) Waiting for Wolves in Japan inspires us to further elaborate the concept of ‘animal borders’. Imagine, he writes “the feelings of the farmer who, over the year, puts everything into growing his crop, only then to have it eaten up and destroyed [by the wild boars], so that he is left standing, shocked and paralysed in front of fields he can no longer harvest” (ibid.: 58). The farmer would probably cry out, “Let the wild boars be extinguished!” or would regard those conservationists who prioritize the life of animals as enemies. The second meaning of ‘animal borders’ thus denotes the boundary demarcated by the intentional stance that a human agent, or a group of agents, assumes toward some animal actor(s). For instance, no sooner is the habitual thought of hunter-gatherers toward animals labeled as ‘animism’ than a sharpcut distinction separates ‘them’ from an ‘us’ who might be Buddhist, Christian, scientific rationalist, and so on (cf. Bird-David 1999).

The thought, imagination, and practice toward animals among the G|ui hunter-gatherers in the Central Kalahari inspire fundamental reflection on these two meanings of ‘animal borders’. This reflection is guided by the notion of ‘corporeal schema’ that was originally proposed by Merleau-Ponty ([1945] 2002), but without a clear definition. I define ‘corporeal schema’ as a bundle of manifold intentionality toward the surroundings that is united with the physical properties of the body. Assuming that corporeal schema not only is common to all human beings but also is shared, at least in part, with animals, we can establish a bridgehead for striding across the ‘animal borders’ in the above two senses.

The G|ui Bushmen

The G|ui and G||ana are closely related dialect groups of Khoe-speaking people who have adapted to the harsh dry environment of the Kalahari Desert (Tanaka 1980). The anthropological investigation of the G|ui was pioneered by George Silberbauer (1981) in the 1950s. Silberbauer contributed to the establishment of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) that was demarcated in 1963. In 1966, Jirō Tanaka (1980) began a study of ecological anthropology, primarily in the Xade area, located in the mid-western part of the CKGR. In 1979, the Botswana government started to make the people living in this area settle around the !Oi!om borehole. In 1997, the government carried out a relocation program so that all the residents of the Xade settlement, including G|ui, G||ana, and Bakgalagadi agro-pastoralists, migrated to Qχ’ôẽsàkene (New Xade), a new settlement outside the CKGR about 70 kilometers away from Xade (Tanaka 1987). The ethnographic materials referred to in the following analysis were collected between 1992 and 2013 (see also Sugawara 2001).

The G|ui phonology and grammar have been systematically explicated by my collaborator, the linguist Hiroshi Nakagawa (1996), although he later revised his original orthography (see Nakagawa 2006). The notation system in the present article principally follows the revised one. In G|ui, 4 types of click influx and 13 types of click accompaniments are distinguished. The order of words basically follows the subject+object+verb structure. Nakagawa’s participation in the research drastically enlightened the non-linguists’ obscure understanding of G|ui phonology and syntax.

The Corporeal Basis of Mythical and Magical Imagination

In the cultural relativist tradition, the mythical world, as well as cosmology more generally, has been regarded as an enormous assemblage of representations, each of which is arbitrarily constructed on the basis of local environments (Ingold 2000). Although the following analysis will make use of the model and inferential structure developed in cognitive anthropology, its ultimate aim is to demonstrate that the G|ui mythical and magical imagination is fundamentally based on their corporeal or immediate experience of encountering the natural world rather than on representation.

Dan Sperber’s (1975, 1982) cognitive theory of symbolism offers a relentless criticism of relativist and hermeneutic interpretations. When an object, or an instance, is perceived by a human subject, this ‘input’ is sent to a ‘conceptual device’ that in turn designates its identity. Having processed this input, the conceptual device convocates from the mnemonic device a set of information pertinent to its identity. Conversely, when the conceptual device fails to designate the identity of a particular input, this input is sent to a ‘symbolic device’ that searches an indefinite range of passive memories. Thus, some symbolic effect is ‘evocated’ from the mnemonic device. Evidently, Sperber’s theory is characterized by the dualism of conceptual-symbolic devices. Although I share with Sperberian theory an anti-relativist stance, my emphasis on corporeal schema entails a monistic integration of conceptual convocation (i.e., ‘deictic cognition’ in my terms) and symbolic evocation that is essentially coupled with affective arousal. An argument that is similar to Sperberian dualism can be found in an article by Blurton Jones and Konner (1976) on the ethological knowledge of the !Kung (more recently designated as Ju|’hoan) in the northwestern area of Botswana. Blurton Jones and Konner come to a strikingly dualist conclusion about non-rational beliefs: “They seem to exist in a domain of the mind quite separate from ethno-ethological knowledge” (ibid.: 342; emphasis added). Much of the evidence presented below will counter this view.

The first set of evidence has been obtained from ethno-ornithological observations. I identified 81 biological species of birds and collected 75 vernacular names. I also collected various descriptions, discourses, and songs on the subject of birds (Sugawara 2001). Here, I focus on two tales, both of which include a particular species, the black korhaan, as a principal character.

The black korhaan competed with the red-crested korhaan A long time ago, a red-crested korhaan (g!àī), talking with a black korhaan (ǁàà), boasted of his skill: “I am good at falling down head first like a stone.” The latter did not believe it. So the g!àī gave a performance, but, immediately before hitting the ground, he turned round to land on his feet. However, the ǁàà did not see this trick. So, encouraged by the ɡǃàī he attempted to do the same thing but crushed his head on the ground. Thus, the head of the ǁàà is still large today.

A popular field guide to Southern African birds describes the behavior of the red-crested korhaan as follows: “In summer [the] male flies steeply upwards to about 30 m and then tumbles as though shot” (Newman 1989: 88). Just like the G|ui people, the Western ornithologist identifies this behavior as a conspicuous feature of that species. This kind of cognition instantiates an identity designation that enables the conceptual device to operate. At the same time, the image of a hard blow on the head so acutely arouses our own corporeal schema that the association of a skull fracture with the flat shape of the male black korhaan’s head induces loud laughter at the poor and stupid animal.

A calamity befell the black korhaan

Two women, a guinea fowl (ǀχane) and a black korhaan (ǁàà), and their husbands were living together in a camp. The husbands went hunting and were killed by two ‘man-eaters’ (mythical beings). They skinned the victims and respectively wore these skins to disguise themselves as ǁàà’s and ǀχane’s husbands. The man-eaters went to the camp, and each sat beside one of the wives. One wife, ǀχane, noticed that this man was not her husband, while the other wife, ǁàà, did not notice and ate the meat of her husband that the man-eater gave her. At night, ǀχane pretended to take her children to the toilet, calling on ǁàà to go together, but ǁàà came leaving her children in her hut. When she was told of the true character of their seeming husbands, ǁàà was so upset that she ran back to her hut to recover her children. However, the man-eater shot her with an arrow, and she died. All of her children were also killed. ǀχane and her children took refuge in a camp where kin of both ǀχane and ǁàà were living. Listening to this news, ǀχane’s aunt boasted and sang: “Oh, as I’m smart, she is smart! táʔtārārá, táʔtārārá.” On the other hand, ǁàà’s mother cried and sang: “Alas, as I’m stupid, she is stupid! tòrā, tòrā.”

A few days after I was told this tale, the Japanese researchers heard the noisy call of a bird in the evening. My colleagues could not identify the bird. However, I noticed that it sounded very boastful and therefore claimed that it had to be a guinea fowl, to the disbelief of my colleagues. The next evening, we heard the same call while a local research assistant was still present. I asked him: “What is that bird?” He replied: “It’s ǀχane [guinea fowl].”

Elsewhere, I have proposed a simple distinction between deictic and indirect cognition (Sugawara 2001). Deictic cognition refers to any kind of cognition that is produced by the direct perception of objects in the surrounding world. On the other hand, the birdmen (or–women) characters and their acts in the myths described above are obviously not amenable to direct perception. As a contrast to deictic cognition, I have used the term ‘indirect cognition’ to indicate cognition that is oriented toward features existing only in representation. The point is that deictic and indirect cognition reinforce each other. To notice the conspicuous behavior of a bird reminds one of a relevant tale or myth, while holding a cultural representation relevant to the interpretation of such a behavior may sharpen observational ability.

I now turn to ethno-immunology observations in order to throw light on the continuity of the G|ui corporeal schema with the schema that is lived by ‘us’ in the modern industrial societies.

The smell of leopards made a woman sick (September 1992)

A middle-aged woman, Ho, about 50 years old, had been sick and could not eat food. Her eldest son, CR, asked a G||ana man to hold a curing ritual. The doctor cut with a razor the skin on the right side of her belly, above the liver. He put his mouth on the wound, sucked out the blood, and vomited it on the sand. He repeated this procedure five times. The doctor put the paste made from the burnt and ground body of a bat on the wound. Afterward, the doctor told the researcher that he had discerned the cause of the illness: the smell of leopards. When Ho was in an extra-marital love relationship in 1987, her ‘younger brother’ (parallel cousin) killed a leopard, and sold its skin to a rich Kgalagadi man. The latter employed Ho’s lover to rub the skin and rewarded him with a bag of maize flour for his labor. When he gifted it to his lover, the smell of the leopard entered her body for the first time. Five years later, in early 1992, Ho participated in a trip to gather berries. Near the bush camp, several young men caught two female leopards, a mother and daughter, in wired snares. When they boiled the meat, Ho was sitting so near that “the smell of the two leopards made the old one recur.” She died two weeks after the curing ritual.

Although about 30 percent of adult men eat leopard meat, it is strongly abhorred by women. When I heard the witch doctor’s diagnosis, it came to my mind that this interpretation offered something like an ethno-immunology. Any immunological consideration requires an encounter between two or more tokens of a type of experience that are ordered in a temporal relationship of precedence and succession. Both the narrative of allergy in industrial societies and this witch doctor’s interpretation are comprehended as an attempt to reorganize the continuity of a person’s experience over long periods. Three years earlier I had encountered the following story.

A father worried about his newborn baby’s health (October 1989)

In the early period of the rainy season, I went to check snares with two research assistants, CR and TB. CR had married a G||ana girl in 1988, the previous year, and their first daughter had been born several months ago. In those days, CR was worrying about the newborn baby’s bad health. Finding no animals caught in the snares, we arrived at the !Q’are pan, 12 kilometers east of the settlement, and encountered a hunting team consisting of three G||ana men. They were taking a break after butchering a gemsbok they had killed with spears a little while earlier. CR eagerly asked them where they had butchered the game and ran to the spot. He came back with the gemsbok’s feces in his hand: “I’m afraid that if I eat this gemsbok meat, my daughter will suffer from serious diarrhea. So, before eating, I’ll rub these feces on my daughter’s belly. If I do, she will not become sick.”

The next case derives from a long discourse recently narrated by an old woman, TS, TB’s mother-in-law:

The wildcat killed a man (August 2013)

Because you have eaten that wildcat (!qórù) without knowing what it was, he makes you sick. Then he goes toward your liver. You have a pain every day. Then, if there is a witch doctor, he would cut you with a razor and would say: “Last night, the wildcat killed a man. I smell his odor. So, isn’t there the wildcat’s fur?” If there is the fur, he would pick up a piece of it and cut [you] with a razor. [He would rub the fur into the wound.] You would recover.

In order to comprehend these cases, it is useful to recall Lakoff and Johnson’s (1999: 343) emphasis on “the unconscious inferential structure” of argumentation—that which “is not overtly and consciously discussed in the text, but rather … must be unconsciously taken for granted in order to make sense of the text.” As the inferential structure is essentially deductive, it does not depend on time. On the other hand, like Lakoff’s (1987) prototype scenario of anger, the cognitive schema of ethno-immunology has a temporal organization. Accordingly, I designate this schema as a ‘scenario’ rather than as an inferential structure. Here we can notice that our medical theory concerning allergy and the G|ui ethno-immunology instantiated by “The smell of leopards” narrative have similar features that can be abstracted in scenario α.

Scenario α

  1. (1)As some material X invades a healthy body B, B is transformed into B’, which embraces the potentiality of illness.
  2. (2)As the same material X enters B’, that potentiality is transmuted into actuality so that B’ becomes a sick body Ƀ.
The inversion of this etiological scenario brings about a pragmatic scenario for prophylaxis or curing. Scenario β can be abstracted from the “A father worried about” narrative:

Scenario β

  1. (i)Premise: The father’s body B and his child’s body b are congruent.
  2. (ii)The invasion of X into B entails that it also invades b, so that b is transformed into a sick body ƀ.
  3. (iii)If a little bit of x, which is congruent with (or adjacent to) X, is put into b, b will be transformed into b’, which is immune to X.
  4. (iv)Then, although X’s invasion into B also entails its invasion into b’, b’ would not change.
Furthermore, scenario γ can be formulated from “The wildcat killed” narrative:

Scenario γ

  1. (I)As X invades B, B becomes a sick body Ƀ.
  2. (II)Put a little bit of x, which is congruent with (or adjacent to) X, into Ƀ.
  3. (III)Then, Ƀ will become a healthy body, B.
As suggested above, scenario α is homologous to the modern medical theory of allergy. On the other hand, scenario β is identical with a medical theory that supports modern epidemiological practice (i.e., inoculation or vaccination). Although scenario γ has the simplest structure, its inference embodies a logic inverse to our immunological theory. Even so, this scenario is similar to medical practices for curing some diseases (e.g. the allergy shock caused by a tick bite) by injecting the serum into the client’s body (as is indeed practiced at the clinic in New Xade).

I noted that the pragmatic scenario of prophylaxis or curing is produced by inverting the etiological scenario α. Notice, however, that this inversion lacks the logical symmetry that structuralism would demand or expect. The point is that although the G|ui lack any concept that corresponds to our ‘immunity’, they practically grasp proposition (iii) in scenario β: if a little bit of x is put into b, b would become immune to X. When I came across the following incident, I was astonished by this tiny discovery.

“Daddy made this” (13 February 2004)

I visited a G|ui camp located in the peripheral area of the relocated village, New Xade. The eldest resident, AE, was quite an eloquent and intelligent man. I sat in front of AE’s hut and exchanged greetings with him and his first wife. After a little while, his son SO, several years older than me, came to sit beside me. In the midst of the rainy season it was so hot that he was naked from the waist up. Showing a round scar of about one centimeter in diameter on his left upper arm, he said: “This is a mark from curing χòrētá [smallpox].” I asked: “Did the white man make it like this?” He replied: “No, Daddy did it. When a co-resident man, who had suffered from χòrētá, was recovering, Daddy picked up ‘the rotten one’ [pus] from a wound [blister] that was about to heal, mixed it with some medicine, and rubbed it into both me and my elder brother. Therefore, we survived without being attacked by χòrētá.” I turned to AE and asked: “Had ǂébè [the Bakagalagadi agro-pastoralists] taught you this treatment?” Smiling pleasantly at me, he replied: “No, I thought of it by myself.”

According to a reconstruction of the modern history of the Central Kalahari, the smallpox epidemic was rampant in Bechuanaland, the former British Reserve, in 1950 and 1951 (Osaki 2001). AE was probably in his early thirties, while SO was six or seven years old. At this time, AE gave a kind of vaccination that he had invented to his sons and saved them from death. Without any knowledge about invisible agents such as allergens or antibodies, some sense of corporeality led him to an attempt to negotiate with the demonic force raging within human bodies. This attempt can be assumed to be guided by the following implicit inferential structure:

  1. (a)χòrētá kills people. But while many people died of χòrētá, other people survived. The χòrētá that had invaded into the latter people should be weaker than what had killed the former.
  2. (b)The force of χòrētá that makes people sick or die should lodge in the blisters.
  3. (c)Let me pick up the weak force of the weak χòrētá from a blister and put it into my sons.
  4. (d)Then, even though the strong χòrētá enters my sons’ bodies, the weak one, already having stayed there, would say: “I’ve been here!” Thus, being deceived, the strong χòrētá would turn back.
It is plausible to assume that in hellish circumstances, where bodies that could not be buried were lying around, one might acquire insights like propositions (a) and (b). However, direction (c) could never been induced merely from the accumulation of empirical observations. Even though assumption (d) provides the reason that prompts one to follow direction (c), I might be accused of fabricating an interpretation of indigenous thought.

Let me therefore return to “The smell of leopards.” After the treatment of bloodletting, the witch doctor gave an oracle as follows:

If she does not heal even after this treatment, go to the store, pick up a piece of fur from the lion’s skin lying there, and bring it here. [The previous year, a male lion was caught in a steel trap, and its skin had been exhibited at a store in the center of the Xade settlement.] Mix it with a ɡǁàwã-ìī [the name of a shrub; gǁàwã and ìi respectively denote ‘dead spirit’ and ‘tree’] and burn them near her head. The lion and the leopard are brothers. This is the illness caused by the younger. If the elder enters [her body], it will say: “Hey, my younger brother, are you there? My odor will go there. Don’t you trouble this person.” Then the younger one will surely hide himself.

The assumption (d) and the inferential structure organizing the witch doctor’s oracle are analogous. Neither proposition (iii) of scenario β (if a little bit of x is put into b, b would become immune from X), nor the assumption that two kinds of agents can have a dialogue within the patient’s body, is a disembodied representation that emerges arbitrarily. Rather, the G|ui ethno-immunological insights originate from their peculiar sense of the corporeal continuity between human beings, animals, and the material world.

Interaction, Communication, and Metamorphosis between Humans and Animals

Now let us examine the semantic field of a transitive verb ŋǃàrē, which is tentatively translated as ‘to sense’, ‘to have a presentiment’, or ‘to be affected by’.

  1. (1)The simplest usage of this verb is khārī-mà ŋǃàrē: ‘to be intoxicated by alcohol’. Not only humans but also animals may be drunk. A steenbok wandering around in a moonlit night is interpreted as ‘being intoxicated with the moon’.
  2. (2)A peculiar situation where this verb is used concerns food taboo. In G|ui, the transitive verb ŋǃāã means that its object will cause a disease if the subject person eats it. When the derivative morpheme χó, meaning ‘thing’, follows this verb, a noun, ŋǃāã-χó, is produced, which means the things that cause disease if consumed or, more simply, things not to be eaten. The category of ŋǃāã-χó, called ‘sumo’, is the most important. Only elders and infants are allowed to eat sumo. Typical members of this category are the pangolin, kori bustard, black korhaan, leopard tortoise, and Kalahari tent tortoise. Adolescent men always seek a chance to eat these forbidden meats while averting the danger of disease. Suppose that two adolescent men of close kin, P and Q, are sitting near a pot of their common ŋǃāã-χó. P, deciding to eat, will hastily consume it and then upset the pot, orienting its mouth toward Q. By doing so, P will not suffer from sickness while Q will be attacked by diarrhea—because Q’s body is ‘affected by’ (ŋǃàrē) the fact that P ate their ŋǃāã-χó.
  3. (3)Similarly, when one’s belly rumbles, this incident is expressed as ‘my intestine anticipates [something]’ (cíkà |àbē-bì ŋǃàrē) interpreting it as a hunch that, for example, a kinsman will come back with game meat caught in a snare.
  4. (4)When butchering the carcass of a gemsbok, the hunter must not allow his dogs to eat its heart, because next time they go hunting, other gemsboks will ‘sense’ the dogs that have eaten their conspecific animal.
Thus, we see that the semantic field centered around the verb ŋǃàrē represents invisible networks of various influences that affect not only the human social world but also the world of animals.

The second clue for comprehending the contiguity of the G|ui corporeal schema with that of animals is gained by examining a number of imaginative practices that serve to introduce animal agents into the area of human communication. The clue for the following analysis draws on the relevance theory proposed by Sperber and Wilson (1986). This theory considers the essence of communication as ‘ostension’, defined as a combination of informative intention and communicative intention. ‘Informative intention’, in turn, is defined as presenting a set of assumptions to an audience. The point of this definition is to exclude an act of merely showing an informative intention from the ‘ostensive communication’. However, loosening Sperber and Wilson’s rigid definition of communication, I define a ‘communicative expectation’ as an expectation that one’s informative intention is to be understood by the other. A ‘communicative area’ can be further specified as an indefinite virtual domain covering all those to whom one’s communicative expectation is ascribed (Sugawara 2005).

The G|ui often ascribe communicative expectations toward animals. For example, the G|ui have several songs and dances addressed to birds. When encountering certain birds, people sing a song to them, or even dance for them. The following song is addressed to the lilac-breasted roller: “Charcoal of gǃŏõ firewood has popped into your back! Charcoal of ǁárà firewood has popped into your back [gǃŏõ ǀʔee ŋǂōm̄ tsà ŋǂúrō wà ǂāã, ǁárà ǀʔee ŋǂm̄ tsà ŋǂúrō wà ǂāa]!” Both gǃŏõ and ǁárà are names of Acacia trees. The lilac-breasted roller has a brown back that is likened to a scald in this song. It often emits a hoarse sound, with its shoulders swaying as if it were in pain.

The song of a crowned plover is likened to the noise of filing a knife. It is interpreted as telling a man: “A game animal is caught in your snare. File your knife and cut the animal with it!” Moreover, the songs of many bird species are likened to G|ui phrases or sentences. Thus, the caws of the pied crow are likened to the menacing talk of a sorcerer: “You [male, plural] will know me [my magical power] [ʔíǁàò qχ’awa cìà !ʔaa].”

Again, the song of the female red-crested korhaan tells that vultures are flying in the sky. Hearing her song, a man looks up and sees the vultures. Going in their direction, he may find the carcass of a game animal. The reason for this bird’s keen sense of vultures goes back to her bitter experience in ancient times. A long time ago, !gǃàī used to lay eggs in the trees. Vultures found them easily and ate them up. A ground agama lizard advised the !gǃàī to lay her eggs in the sand and cover them with grass. Following this advice, the eggs were no longer eaten. Even to this day, however, the female utters a cry of warning at the sight of a vulture.

The ethno-ornithological analysis above reveals that in the G|ui mythical imagination, corporeal schema lived by animals is essentially identical with that of human beings. This homogeneity between animal and human corporeal schemata ultimately entails the potential for metamorphosis.

The kori bustard (gǂeu), a large bird like the crane, is undoubtedly the prototype of sumo meat for elders (Sugawara 2008). In a film I made in 2006, I was eager to ascertain the meaning of a quite difficult indigenous concept, cìmā, which I assumed to relate either to magical power specific to women or to the violation of the food taboo. I asked my two research assistants and principal informant the following question: “When a person violates the food taboo, doesn’t this make cìmā?” All three confidently replied “Yes!” in one voice. One declared that the person “would become mad (dzùāzúrā).” The other two then related a story in which a young man who had dared to eat the meat of the kori bustard began to cry and flap his arms, as if he had been transformed into this bird. The highlight was a scene in which my research assistants, one after another, re-enacted the cry, flapping, and gliding gesture of the kori bustard (see fig. 1). In the G|ui life-world, the continuity between human and non-human agents is comprehended in a pre-linguistic way. This understanding may influence their sense of intercorporeality, which is open to the potential of transformation or metamorphosis into an animal body.

Figure 1
Figure 1

Two research assistants imitate the flying gestures of the kori bustard: (a) GB is flapping, (b) GB is gliding, (c) CR is flapping, (d) CR is gliding

Photographs © Kazuyoshi Sugawara

Citation: Social Analysis 61, 2; 10.3167/sa.2017.610207

As a final piece of ethnographic evidence in support of the G|ui belief in metamorphosis, I shall cite some ‘folk knowledge’ concerning the transformation of one arthropod species into another and about the life cycle of amphibians (Nonaka 1996).

  1. (1)During the final period of the dry season, we often hear the chirps of cicadas. They disappear soon and are transformed into the edible jewel beetles, gǁōāχàḿkútsúrō, which appear in the mid-rainy season. People collect and eat them after roasting them with hot ash.
  2. (2)The scorpion ǀqχ’árì, after digging itself into the sand, is transformed into the edible caterpillar ɟúùŋ!òM, the larva of the convolvulus hawk moth, which feeds on fresh leaves of Legiminosae trees in the rainy season.
  3. (3)After heavy downpours during the rainy season, small pools form for up to a week in depressions in the bottom of pans. In these pools appear giant frogs and tadpoles. While the frogs are valued as food, the G|ui laughed at my claim that the tadpoles will be transformed into frogs. All tadpoles, they insisted, will die out as soon as the ponds dry up. On the other hand, small frogs drop from the sky with the downpours and grow up to become giant adults.
Below I focus on this third example as providing the clearest clue to understanding how the G|ui corporeal schema is contiguous with the schema shared by animals, regardless of whether they are prey (game animals), predators (lions and leopards), or ‘useless things’ (e.g., little birds).

Metamorphosis as the Potential for Intercorporeality

In Crowds and Power, Elias Canetti ([1960] 1984) remarked on some Bushmen folklore that was published in the early twentieth century: (1) a man told his children that their grandfather would come soon because he felt his father’s old wound in the same part of his body; (2) before hunting, a man felt the blood of the springbok that he would kill trickling down his back and calf; (3) an ostrich bitten by lice scratched the back of its neck with its foot, while a hunter felt this in the same part of his neck and had a presentiment that he would soon encounter it. Canetti referred to these cases as examples of ‘metamorphosis’. The folklore Canetti cited had been collected by Bleek and Lloyd (1911) from |Xam bushmen who were imprisoned in South Africa in the late nineteenth century (see also Biesele 1993). The |Xam inhabited the Cape Province and were already on the verge of extinction at that time (Barnard 1992). It is surprising that two studies, Bleek and Lloyd’s and mine, carried out independently at intervals one century and 800 kilometers apart, reveal a common corporeal sense that might be specific to the hunting and gathering way of life in the Kalahari savanna.

The notion of corporeal schema, the axis of this investigation, has an affinity with Viveiros de Castro’s (1998: 478) formulation of ‘the body’ as a bundle of “affects, dispositions or capacities.” In his influential article, Viveiros de Castro argues that for Amerindians the soul, shared by humans and animals, functions as the ‘cosmological deixis’ in that it always implies a contextual reference point for the first-person pronoun. While his ‘multi-naturalism’ is not defined as a general alternative to the monistic naturalism of modern science, but rather as a reinterpretation of Amerindian ethnographies, it is nevertheless possible for us to take extreme multi-naturalism at ‘face value’ in order to try to radically undermine nature-culture dualism. Contrary to the picture of cultural relativism depicted by Ingold (2000), this position refuses the presumption that a uniform plane of nature covers all over the earth, admitting that multiple natures exist, each of which strictly coincides with an indigenous ontology. However, this thought experiment leads to a logical contradiction.

Returning to my own life-world, the proposition that tadpoles become frogs is so firmly based on my immediate experience that I never doubt its truth value. Thus, we can formulate two propositions that are antithetical to each other:

P : Tadpoles become frogs / ∼P : Tadpoles never become frogs

The truth values for the above two propositions are inversed depending on the place where we make a statement: in Japan, P is true and ∼P is false, while in the Central Kalahari, P is false and ∼P is true. If there were two different natural worlds, each permeated with their respective ontology, we should be able to ascertain a boundary that demarcates these two worlds. If there were such a boundary, we could bring a tadpole that had been born in Japan across this boundary into the Central Kalahari. Yet this tadpole is ontologically against the law of excluded middle because it must become a frog in the place where it will never become a frog.

Deleuze and Guattari’s ([1980] 1994) Mille Plateaux (A Thousand Plateaus) contains resources for reconsidering the apparent contradiction deduced from taking ‘multi-naturalism at face value’. Like the snares among the G|ui, their huge volume is organized along the intention of ‘anti-communication’ and provokes the reader into escaping from institutionalized forms of thinking such as deductive inferences or even phenomenological description. Letting myself be seduced by the snare they had set, I was moved by their argument that the potential for a human to become an animal offers rich possibilities for those who attempt to break through the intellectual impasse under the capitalist regime. Relying on the potential of devenir (becoming), we are thus tempted to reconsider the above logical contradiction.

It deserves note that I have never attempted to carry out any experiment designed to prove that the tadpoles caught from a pool in a pan transform into frogs, or to persuade my stubborn research assistants to believe that the tadpoles are indeed the larvae of frogs. In fact, I am absolutely unwilling to commit myself to such an enlightenment project, for I have become G|ui to some degree. There is no discrete boundary between the two worlds: rather, my body continuously transfers from one world to another. Once it dwells in either of them, it gets embedded in the relatedness that is specific to the local contexts, either of the Kalahari or of Japan.

I find Deleuze and Guattari’s emphasis on the ritornello (refrains) with which nature is filled so inspiring that I have been prompted to listen carefully to the crow’s cawing or tit’s chirp. One morning I noticed that during an interval between a crow’s caws, other caws were faintly heard in response. Another morning, hearing the refrain of chirps of an unknown bird, I remembered an old question that I had long forgotten. When I was 14 years old, I read a short English novel translated into Japanese in which a novelist, bothered with his slow writing, felt as if the birds’ chirps were laughing at him. I could not understand why. Eureka! The answer came to me: those birds were singing “literature, literature”! In that moment, I also understood that the G|ui interpretation of the caw of the pied crow as “ʔíǁàò qχ’awa cìà !ʔaa” (you [male plural] will know me) was not merely an analogy but conveyed the reality of the sorcerer who was incarnated into the crow. Thus, we are always on the way of becoming another existence.

More than half a century ago, in 1950, a young man of 24 was absorbed in the ritornello of the voices of Japanese macaques, walking and sometimes running around in a mountain called Takasaki-yama. He was the late Junichiro Itani, a distinguished pioneer of primatology and ecological anthropology. Fascinated by the striking variety of the monkeys’ vocal sounds, he decided to note each of them down as accurately as possible. He quietly approached the troop, tracked its nomadic movements all day long, listed a huge repertoire of vocal sounds, and repeatedly reconstructed the theoretical models that could illuminate the internal organization of the macaque troop. Then one day in the early summer, he decided to put into action a plan that he had devised.

As Itani ([1954] 2007: 124–125) explained it: “To make the strongest impact I can on the troop … I wanted to throw the troop into total chaos … to see how they recover their order” (in Japanese; my translation). Carefully hiding himself in the forest, he stalked to the edge of a range where the scattered monkeys were calmly feeding and suddenly dashed into the midst of the group. Running at full speed along a monkey trail through the bush, he noticed out of the corner of his eye that panicked big male monkeys were running parallel to him. Merely witnessing the scene, we would have to believe that Itani was crazy. However, it is not quite right to say that he had become monkey. Even in bed, he kept thinking about those Others. “At night, as soon as I closed my eyes, many monkeys appeared … To get away from these illusionary monkeys, I took up my notebook again. I considered a theory that enables the phenomenon [I have observed] to be settled in my system” (ibid.: 86; emphasis added).

Itani never became monkey, but he did keep running along the ‘animal border’ between human and monkey. His endeavor was firmly supported by the belief that the Japanese macaque must have a unique society, the structure of which could be revealed. Honored with the Huxley Memorial Medal in 1984, Itani tried in his later works to demonstrate that the egalitarianism most typically found in extant hunting-gathering societies was deeply rooted in the legacy from pre-hominid and proto-hominid ancestors (see, e.g., Itani 1988). He never expressed any sympathy with Darwinian evolution theory based on natural selection and the survival of the fittest.

Thus, Itani’s ‘naturalist’ stance was as distant as we can imagine from objectivist naturalism (Olafson 2001). Instead, his intellectual and corporeal practices were motivated by the radical insight that human beings share their corporeal schema with that of monkeys and apes as existences immanently belonging to their own society. Thus, Itani’s naturalism opened the way to an interspecies corporeality that drastically extends the intercorporeality (intercorporéité) described by Merleau-Ponty (1964: 183) in his later years.

Over the last half-century, most cultural anthropologists in Japan have neglected primatologists’ efforts to establish continuity in sociality between human and non-human primates. Indeed, they often emphasize a clear-cut discontinuity. I suspect that their skeptical attitude toward natural history—of either humans or primates—is indicative of submission to various forms of representationalism, whether structural-functional, hermeneutic, or post-structural.

In order to escape from this situation, I dare to commit myself to stand on the ‘animal border’ along which Itani was running. From this vantage point, how do we see this world in which both we and animals are “fellow participants” (Ingold 2000: 87)? Looking at the animal side, we need to develop the phenomenological tools for describing animal behaviors and societies, positioning animals as ‘beings-in-the-world’ (Sugawara 2002). Looking at the side of human societies, we have to re-evaluate natural history observations to uncover the immanent structures and schemata of praxis that organize them (cf. Descola 1996). In order to avoid the representationalist bias, we especially need to comprehend human oral discourse as ‘genuine gesture’ (Merleau-Ponty (1945) 2002: 213; Sugawara 2014). At this point, my methodology of phenomenological positivism has to be transformed into phenomenological naturalism or naturalized phenomenology. While this approach is quite far from the monistic or mechanistic view of the natural world that underlies modern science, it is resonant with multiple cross-disciplinary approaches that have emerged in recent decades, from anthropology (Descola [1986] 1994; Latour 2005) to sociology (Shilling 2005) and even to the philosophy of science (Hacking 1983, 2002).

Acknowledgments

I wish to express my gratitude to the officials of the Botswana government for their cooperation and hospitality. I am greatly indebted to Dr. Hiroshi Nakagawa for teaching me G|ui phonetics and syntax. I am also grateful to Dr. Jirō Tanaka for his suggestions and encouragement. Lastly, I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to many G|ui and G||ana friends for their generosity and patience.

References

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  • BieseleMegan. 1993. Women Like Meat: The Folklore and Foraging Ideology of the Kalahari Ju/’hoan. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Export Citation
  • BleekWilhelm H. I. and Lucy C. Lloyd. 1911. Specimens of Bushman Folklore. London: George Allen.

  • Blurton JonesNicholas and Melvin J. Konner. 1976. “!Kung Knowledge of Animal Behavior (or: The Proper Study of Mankind Is Animals).” In Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers: Studies of the !Kung San and Their Neighbors ed. Richard B. Lee and Irven DeVore325348. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Export Citation
  • SperberDan. 1975. Rethinking Symbolism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • SperberDan. 1982. Le savoir des anthropologues: Trois essais. Paris: Hermann.

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    • Export Citation
  • SugawaraKazuyoshi. 2002. Kanjou no En=Jin [Emotional ape-man]. Tokyo: Kobundo.

  • SugawaraKazuyoshi. 2005. “Body Configuration as Resource in the Experience of ‘the Hunter and the Hunted’: Narratives of the |Gui Bushmen.” In Construction and Distribution of Body Resources: Correlations between Ecological Symbolic and Medical Systems ed. Kazuyoshi Sugawara5678. Tokyo: RILCAA, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

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  • SugawaraKazuyoshi. 2008. “How Is the Memory of Ritual Articulated with ‘Nowand-Here’ Context? A Reconstruction of the Lost Initiation Ceremony of Male |Gui Bushmen.” In Multiplicity of Meaning and the Interrelationship of the Subject and the Object in Ritual and Body Texts ed. Haruka Wazaki6787. Nagoya: Nagoya University.

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  • SugawaraKazuyoshi. 2014. “A Long Way toward Life in the Wilderness: In What Sense is Fieldwork an Immediate Experience?” The 2013 Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology Award Lecture. Japanese Review of Cultural Anthropology 15: 531.

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    • Export Citation
  • TanakaJirM. 1980. The San Hunter-Gatherers of the Kalahari: A Study in Ecological Anthropology. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press.

  • TanakaJirō. 1987. “The Recent Changes in the Life and Society of the Central Kalahari San.” African Study Monographs 7: 3751.

  • Viveiros de CastroEduardo. 1998. “Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism.” Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute 4 (3): 469488.

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Contributor Notes

Kazuyoshi Sugawara is a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Kyoto University. His research includes primatological studies of face-to-face interactions among Japanese macaques and the social organization of Ethiopian hybrid baboons, as well as long-term ethnographic research among the G|ui San. His many publications include Anthropology of Conversation: The Life-World of the Bushman (1998, in Japanese) and An Encyclopedia of G|ui and G||ana Culture and Society (2010, co-edited with Jirō Tanaka).

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

  • View in gallery

    Two research assistants imitate the flying gestures of the kori bustard: (a) GB is flapping, (b) GB is gliding, (c) CR is flapping, (d) CR is gliding

    Photographs © Kazuyoshi Sugawara

  • BarnardAlan. 1992. Hunters and Herders of Southern Africa: A Comparative Ethnography of the Khoisan Peoples. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • BieseleMegan. 1993. Women Like Meat: The Folklore and Foraging Ideology of the Kalahari Ju/’hoan. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bird-DavidNurit. 1999. “‘Animism’ Revisited: Personhood, Environment, and Relational Epistemology.” Current Anthropology 40 (S1): S67S91.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • BleekWilhelm H. I. and Lucy C. Lloyd. 1911. Specimens of Bushman Folklore. London: George Allen.

  • Blurton JonesNicholas and Melvin J. Konner. 1976. “!Kung Knowledge of Animal Behavior (or: The Proper Study of Mankind Is Animals).” In Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers: Studies of the !Kung San and Their Neighbors ed. Richard B. Lee and Irven DeVore325348. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • CanettiElias. (1960) 1984. Crowds and Power. Trans. Carol Stewart. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

  • CsordasThomas J. 1994. “Introduction: The Body as Representation and Being-in-the-World.” In Embodiment and Experience: The Existential Ground of Culture and Self ed. Thomas J. Csordas124. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • DeleuzeGille and Félix Guattari. (1980) 1994. Mille Plateaux: Capitalisme et schizophrénie. Paris: Editions de Minuit. Japanese translation by Kuniichi Uno et al. Sen no Pulatoo. Tokyo: Kawade Shobo Shin-sha.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • DescolaPhilippe. (1986) 1994. In the Society of Nature: A Native Ecology in Amazonia. Trans. Nora Scott. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • DescolaPhilippe. 1996. “Constructing Natures: Symbolic Ecology and Social Practice.” In Nature and Society: Anthropological Perspectives ed. Philippe Descola and Gísli Pálsson82102. London: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • HackingIan. 1983. Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • HackingIan. 2002. Historical Ontology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • IngoldTim. 2000. The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood Dwelling and Skill. London: Routledge.

  • ItaniJunichiro. (1954) 2007. “The Monkeys at Mt. Takasaki-yama.” [In Japanese.] In The Works of Junichiro Itani Volume 139262. Tokyo: Heibon-sha.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ItaniJunichiro. 1988. “The Origin of Human Equality.” In Social Fabrics of the Mind ed. Michael R. A. Chance137156. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • KnightJohn. 2003. Waiting for Wolves in Japan: An Anthropological Study of People-Wildlife Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • LakoffGeorge. 1987. Women Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • LakoffGeorge and Mark Johnson. 1999. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • LatourBruno. 2005. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Merleau-PontyMaurice. (1942) 1983. The Structure of Behavior. Trans. Alden L. Fisher. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

  • Merleau-PontyMaurice. (1945) 2002. Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Colin Smith. London: Routledge.

  • Merleau-PontyMaurice. 1964. Le visible et l’invisible. Ed. Claude Lefort. Paris: Gallimard.

  • NakagawaHiroshi. 1996. “An Outline of |Gui Phonology.” African Study Monographs 22: 101124.

  • NakagawaHiroshi. 2006. “Aspects of the Phonetic and Phonological Structure of the G|ui Languages.” PhD diss. Witwatersland UniversityJohannesburg.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • NewmanKenneth. 1989. Birds of Botswana. Cape Town: Southern Book Publishers.

  • NonakaKenichi. 1996. “Ethnoentomology of the Central Kalahari San.” African Study Monographs S22: 2946.

  • OlafsonFrederick A. 2001. Naturalism and the Human Condition: Against Scientism. London: Routledge.

  • OsakiMasakazu. 2001. “Reconstructing the Recent History of the G/ui and G//ana Bushmen.” African Study Monographs S26: 2739.

  • ShillingChris. 2005. The Body in Culture Technology and Society. London: Sage.

  • SilberbauerGeorge B. 1981. Hunter and Habitat in the Central Kalahari Desert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • SingerPeter. (1975) 2009. Animal Liberation. New York: HarperCollins. Japanese translation by Kiyoshi TodaDobutsu no Kaihou. Kyoto: Jinbun Shoin.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SperberDan. 1975. Rethinking Symbolism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • SperberDan. 1982. Le savoir des anthropologues: Trois essais. Paris: Hermann.

  • SperberDan and Deirdre Wilson. 1986. Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

  • SugawaraKazuyoshi. 2001. “Cognitive Space Concerning Habitual Thought and Practice toward Animals among the Central San (|Gui and ||Gana): Deictic/Indirect Cognition and Prospective/Retrospective Intention.” African Study Monographs S27: 6198.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SugawaraKazuyoshi. 2002. Kanjou no En=Jin [Emotional ape-man]. Tokyo: Kobundo.

  • SugawaraKazuyoshi. 2005. “Body Configuration as Resource in the Experience of ‘the Hunter and the Hunted’: Narratives of the |Gui Bushmen.” In Construction and Distribution of Body Resources: Correlations between Ecological Symbolic and Medical Systems ed. Kazuyoshi Sugawara5678. Tokyo: RILCAA, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SugawaraKazuyoshi. 2008. “How Is the Memory of Ritual Articulated with ‘Nowand-Here’ Context? A Reconstruction of the Lost Initiation Ceremony of Male |Gui Bushmen.” In Multiplicity of Meaning and the Interrelationship of the Subject and the Object in Ritual and Body Texts ed. Haruka Wazaki6787. Nagoya: Nagoya University.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SugawaraKazuyoshi. 2014. “A Long Way toward Life in the Wilderness: In What Sense is Fieldwork an Immediate Experience?” The 2013 Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology Award Lecture. Japanese Review of Cultural Anthropology 15: 531.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • TanakaJirM. 1980. The San Hunter-Gatherers of the Kalahari: A Study in Ecological Anthropology. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press.

  • TanakaJirō. 1987. “The Recent Changes in the Life and Society of the Central Kalahari San.” African Study Monographs 7: 3751.

  • Viveiros de CastroEduardo. 1998. “Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism.” Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute 4 (3): 469488.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation