Hunting is one of the leading causes of declines in tropical wildlife. Yet, for many traditional and Indigenous Peoples, hunting and associated rituals are integral to establishing and maintaining social identities and reciprocal relations with nature. Taboos that restrict hunting and forest use are widely prevalent in traditional societies and have been likened to informal culture-based conservation mechanisms. However, where taboos have been formally co-opted by conservation programs, the results have been largely ineffective. A recent study showed that taboos in the Idu Mishmi community of Northeast India significantly reduced wild meat consumption and contributed to biodiversity protection, including an endangered tiger population. In this study, we explore what motivates Idu taboos, their role in everyday Idu life, how they impact hunting, and whether they will endure with changing circumstances. We find that by conditioning social and personal prosperity on ancestrally mandated, morally correct behavior in the forest, Idu taboos ensure that people understand that human well-being is inextricably linked to restrictive hunting. Violation of taboo does not just bring misfortune to the violator but to all kin, forging interdependence and cohesion in the society. Taboos form the moral and practical basis of interaction between and among humans, spirits, and animals. Taboos are not an isolated component of the Idu culture; they make the Idu the Idu, the reason why they have endured through rapidly changing times. Conservation should pay careful attention not just to the outcomes of cultural institutions, but to their meanings and processes to co-create sustainable and ethical programs.
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Vol. 40 • No. 2