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The Northern Myth

Nov 21, 2017

“Birds in culture and context—Ethnoornithology in application and theory”—abstracts from an ethnoornithology symposium, 2007

Bob Gosford — Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

Bob Gosford

Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

Following are the abstracts of papers and posters presented at the recent Ethnoornithology Symposium, entitled “Birds in culture and context – Ethnoornithology in application and theory“, held during the 30th Society of Ethnobiology conference at the University of  California, Berkeley from 28 to 31st March 2007.

It was a great day, with a quantity and quality of papers that reflects the complexity and diversity of ethnoornithological research being undertaken across the globe at present. I believe that the symposium participants reflect the world-wide interest in ethnoornithology as an emerging sub-discipline of ethnobiology and will go a long way towards stimulating interest in the work of the ERSG and in encouraging young and emergent scholars, researchers and practitioners to present their work at future SoE conferences (next year’s will be in Arkansas) and at similar proposed events like the upcoming 8th Neotropical Ornithological Congress in Venezuela in late May and the 2007 Australasian Ornithological Conference, to be held in Perth, Western Australia, in December 2007.

For future reference or research go to the webpage of the Society of Ethnobiology.

I had a great time at the conference and heard some wonderful presentations and caught up with some old (and not so old) friends and made a bunch of new acquaintances and contacts.

Following the conference my partner and I went to New Mexico and Arizona to see what life (and the birds) in another desert looks like.
Highlights of the trip? – the conference boat trip to the Farallon Islands 25 miles offshore from San Francisco, seeing a family of Harris Hawks (and other raptors) being free flown at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum at Tucson, AZ and, of course, a couple of early morning visits to the wetland habitats at Bosque del Apache on the Rio Grande outside of Socorro in New Mexico.

Anyway – here are the abstracts – enjoy. Please send a message by return email if I can be of assistance or if you have any queries or go to the website of the Ethnoornithology Research & Study Group (the ERSG).

Robert Gosford,
ERSG moderator

Birds in culture and context – Ethnoornithology in application and theory

Chair: Robert Gosford

(1) Introductory comments to the symposium: Eugene Anderson

(2) Mercy Muiruri and Patrick Maundu: Conservation concerns in the use of birds in cultural ceremonies among the Maasai of east Africa.

The Maasai are a pastoral community in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They still uphold their traditional lifestyle characterized by ceremonies. The circumcision ceremony, emurata, is preceded by killing
of birds for headgear. Each initiate has to kill approximately sixty birds of mixed species and keep on replacing spoilt bird skins. Research was carried out to find the significance of birds in Maasai ceremonies and conservation status. Birds such as Schalow’s Turacos, Grey Helmet Shrike have been affected perhaps due to hunting, but hard data on actual causes is lacking. The Maasai do not usually kill birds for other reasons.

(3) Alejandro Hernández-Jaramillo: So live the birds of Belén de Docampadó, Bajo Baudó, Chocó – poster

Belén de Docampadó belongs to the municipality of the Bajo Baudó, the Afrocolombian communities are the owners of these territories, habitants identified 92 species of the 124 species registered in the area, 75 represent particular ethnographic aspects, of them 65% was associated to nutritional uses, 28% to recreation activities, 9% to activities of “witchcraft” and 8% were associated to origin myths. The percentage of
species with probability of risk of local extinction corresponds to 15%; that combined to the impact to the timber extraction demonstrates the necessity to implement alternative economic viable for the conservation
birds and local traditional knowledge.

(4) Shepard Krech III: Augural, powerful, and dangerous birds among Indians in the American south.

This paper addresses the salience of various birds in the traditional native cultures of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Catawba, and other indigenous people in the American south. The analysis draws on a book in process, Spirits of the Air, and focuses especially on whether or not it is possible to arrive at satisfactory conclusions about the cultural meaning of birds or human-bird relationships among people for whom, both native people and anthropologists admit, much cultural information has been lost and might remain forever partial and opaque due to the ravages of time, language loss, and relocation. Among birds, the focus is on those that rise to the level not simply of being noted (by native people) but that figure in important and interesting, although sometimes inscrutable and indefinite, ways in the lives of native people.

(5) Robert Gosford: The stormbird cult in the Central Northern Territory: A migratory cuckoo, aboriginal languages and cultural practice.

The Stormbird (Kurrakurraja, Channel-billed Cuckoo, Scythrops novaehollandiae) is the largest member of the Cuculidae and is a significant species in the cultural and ceremonial practices of several Aboriginal language groups in the north and central areas of the Northern Territory of Australia. In this paper I will examine aspects of the cultural relations between Aboriginal peoples and Kurrakurraja. I will examine naming similarities throughout Kurrakurraja’s migratory range and the particular cultural significance of Kurrakurraja for one language group in the central Northern Territory and its role in continental-scale ceremonies across Australia’s Top End.

(6) Berioska Quispe Estrada: Ashaninkas, Machiguengas and Huachipaeris: Environmental relationships of Amazonian communities of southeastern Peru. (CANCELED )

This study illustrates the importance of the traditional knowledge of three Amazonian communities of the Southeastern Peru, its recovery and conservation, analyzing the connection between the Amazonian tradition and the diversity of birds. Taking of data included the coexistence with the communities and the implementation of surveys. As a main result it was found that in spite of the cultural and geographical differences among these groups, it exists in general the same conception of the ecosystem and mainly of the birds. It discusses in this study that they have been conserved through the time starting from this knowledge traditional many species of birds. This supports the theory that the conservation of the biodiversity of birds is benefited by the active presence of indigenous communities in areas of high ecological relevance.

(7) Eugene Hunn: A Zapotec ethnoornithological sketch from San Juan Gbee, Oaxaca, Mexico.

I recorded an inventory of 69 folk generic bird taxa and a total of 103 terminal taxa for birds in San Juan Gbee, a Zapotec municipio in the Sierra Sur of Oaxaca. I also recorded 190 species of birds in and near that community during several years of intermittent field work 1996-2003. I will briefly compare this ethnoornithological vocabulary and its associated beliefs and practices with comparable systems elsewhere. As seem often the case, small, migratory birds are relatively poorly differentiated as are larger species that are of seasonal or sporadic occurrence. Onomatopoeia is common in naming birds, and certain imitative names are quite creative. Nocturnal birds are widely feared as ill omens, as are certain wrens that nest in abandoned structures. Turkeys and chickens are common domesticates. Curiously, the chicken, a post-colonial introduction, is highly differentiated by breed, while the turkey, an indigenous domesticate, is not. A few wild gallinaceous birds are hunted. The sphinx moth is considered by some to be a “night hummingbird,” though others consider that name metaphorical.

(8) Cecil Brown: Raven=Heron in Mayan Language prehistory: An ethno-ornithological/ linguistic puzzle.

Two very different kinds of bird, ravens and herons, are nomenclaturally linked in the prehistory of Mayan languages of Mesoamerica. Reflexes of Proto-Mayan jooj found in daughter languages spoken in highland areas denote ravens, and reflexes in daughter languages of lowland areas designate herons. In the Mayan-language region, the Common Raven is found in the highlands but not in the lowlands, and a species of heron that among all regional herons shows the most (superficial) resemblance to the Common Raven, i.e., the Boat-billed Heron, is found in the lowlands but not in the highlands. When ancient speakers of Mayan languages moved from the lowlands to the highlands or conversely (direction is not definitively known), reflexes of jooj respectively shifted in reference from the Boat-billed Heron to the Common Raven or
vice versa. This nomenclatural switch was based solely on the superficial similarity of these two extremely different kinds of bird that have nothing in common phylogenetically other than their birdness.

(9) Nicole Sault: Nicole Sault: Bird Messengers for All Seasons: Landscapes of Knowledge Among the BriBri of Costa Rica

The rather plain, clay-colored robin is spoken of with affection by Costa Ricans, not simply for its lovely song, but because it “calls the rains” at the end of the dry season. Many birds are important for the messages they send out: predicting the weather or warning about venomous snakes. However, birds do not simply inhabit the landscape—they are beings with knowledge that can benefit people in everyday life, as well as in critical times of change or disaster. People recognize that this requires paying attention, knowing how to interpret the messages, and protecting bird populations.

(10) Gregory Forth: Symbolic birds and ironic bats.

Ethnobiologists have long recognized a distinction between ‘general purpose’ ethnotaxonomies and more specialized ways of classifying plants and animals. Among the latter is ‘symbolic classification’ (a term here
employed somewhat differently from uses in social-cultural anthropology). In this paper I apply the distinction of ethnotaxonomy and symbolic classification in order to consider the conceptual position of bats, considered as a type of ‘bird’, in the folk ornithology of an eastern Indonesian society. In a way contrary to the predictions of Douglas and other anthropologists, chiropertans are shown to be peripheral to both forms of classification, in a way that contrasts especially with values attached to both nocturnal and diurnal birds of prey.

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