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This historical study analyzes the little known practice of gathering food resources from rodent stores in Siberia, with comparative perspectives from northern Europe and North America. Until the 19th century, taking roots, tubers, corms, bulbs, seeds and nuts from rodent food stores was a widespread practice by several ethnic groups in Siberia to supplement their diets. Rodents in northern areas, for example the root vole (Microtus oeconomus), depend on a constant food supply and therefore collect large quantities of plants in their underground caches. Often, but not only during colder seasons, Siberian peoples collected these high-quality plant parts from the voles. Some plundered the stores completely, but others left food or other objects for the animals so that they would survive and gather more the following year. In the circumpolar area ceremonies were held, presenting the rodents with gifts that were valued in human society.
This study is a cross-linguistic survey of terms for the ‘unique beginner’, defined as the highest and most inclusive rank in an ethnozoological taxonomy. Drawing on data from a world-wide sample of 149 languages, I show that terms corresponding to this category are often formally complex or characterized by polysemy. In addition, languages often lack a term for the unique beginner category altogether, confirming claims to this effect in the literature. Furthermore, I point out that the status of the unique beginner category and its lexical structure, in languages which have such a category, are positively correlated with mode of subsistence. Small-scale societies relying on hunting and/or gathering as the main mode of subsistence are likely to lack a term for the unique beginner, while those practicing advanced agriculture are the most likely to have a simplex unique beginner term not characterized by polysemy.
This study investigates the source species for feathers incorporated into two Comanche artifacts known as hi kodako. We attempted to determine the originating species using a molecular approach–specifically DNA barcodes–because the feathers were modified in appearance. We tried three different DNA extraction methods on feathers from one complete hi kodako and a remnant feather from a second artifact, each more than 100 years old. The silica membrane extraction method was most successful in this study. While tradition holds that only corvid feathers should be used, our results suggest that hi kodako are actually composed of feathers from multiple species, which in this case included ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis), domestic chicken (Gallus gallus), and northern raven (Corvus corax). This information bears important cultural significance and provides a greater degree of accuracy to the historic ethno-ornithological record.
The bird species Fluvicola nengeta (Tyrannidae) and Motacilla alba (Motacilidae) are widely known as lavandeiras and are directly associated with mythological traditions in Europe and South America. F. nengeta is considered a sacred animal in popular Brazilian Catholicism. We investigated the possible implications of mythical beliefs for ethnoconservation of these species. Two versions of the lavandeira myth were examined–a South American tradition common in north and northeastern Brazil, and a European version known principally from Galicia, Spain. Each version of the myth was divided into small component units called mythemes, which were subsequently analyzed and compared. The two bird species have similar morphological and behavioral characteristics that probably aided the “migration” of the European mythology to the Americas–showing that human populations that are geographically distant but culturally linked and that interact with very similar natural elements will demonstrate similar cognitive schemes. The analysis of myths represents an appropriate strategy for ethnoecological studies and for ethnoconservation efforts, especially when related to species falling under an ideologically motivated protection such as the lavandeira birds.
Folk classification is largely based on a long history of observing and harvesting living organisms. Although epistemologically undervalued by Western modern science, the study of ethnomycological classifications by indigenous populations has recently received increased attention. The classification criteria for fungi of several Brazilian indigenous groups, including the Caiabi, Txicão, Txucarramãe, Tupi-Guarani, and Yanomami, are similar to those used in classical, morphology-based taxonomy. The Yanomami, due to their long history of mycophilic behavior, show impressive knowledge of fungal classification similar in some cases to the recently proposed phylogenetic classification. This suggests that indigenous traditional knowledge may be helpful in the development of fungal systematics, reinforcing the epistemological validity of these distinct forms of knowledge of the natural world.
To illustrate and analyze how Bromeliaceae species are used, perceived and conceived by the Wichí people of the Semiarid Chaco, phytonomy, morphology, organoleptic characteristics and other features of the plants are described from a Wichí perspective, placing emphasis on an analysis of linguistic expressions. Fieldwork was carried out in five settlements located in the northeast region of the province of Salta, Argentina. The information was gathered through open-ended and semi-structured interviews as well as participant observation. Our results reveal a correlation between the importance of each species and the type of phytonym used to name it. The majority of names for plant parts are also used to refer to animal or human body parts; this polysemy is explained by functional, morphological and positional similarities, and mythical associations. Some organoleptic characteristics and the existence of a spirit “owner” of Bromeliaceae species suggest that they have features of animacy. For the Wichís, the Bromeliaceae are closely related and may comprise a distinct ethnocategory.
The world's largest lizard, the Komodo dragon, occurs not only on its namesake island but also on the far larger eastern Indonesian island of Flores. Since it first became known to western science in the early 20th century, local people have provided information on the species, its ecology, and distribution on Flores. While the lizard's occurrence in westernmost Flores has been known since its discovery by Europeans, this paper reviews recent ethnographic evidence for the continuing presence of Komodo dragons in more easterly parts of north coastal Flores where its occurrence has yet to be verified zoologically or has been documented only recently. Also discussed are the carnivorous lizard's relationship with humans and domestic animals in north central Flores, its place in local symbolism, and different names applied in various parts of the Flores region to the Komodo dragon and another, smaller and sometimes sympatric Varanid, the water monitor.
Under-differentiating classificatory systems pose methodological problems for cultural domain analysis in particular, and ethnobiology in general. Our analysis suggests the Roviana people from the Western Solomon Islands do not have a word for the category “insects” and their classification scheme for little terrestrial animals is rather generic and undifferentiated in comparison to scientific taxonomy. In most cases the accuracy of cultural domain methods depends on the identification of homonymous categories between local and Western classificatory systems. This, as the case study illustrates, is not always possible due to under-differentiation, and analytical alternatives need to be considered for building and understanding indigenous biological classificatory systems.