Sharing elephant meat and the ontology of hunting among the baka hunter-gatherers in the Congo basin rainforest

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Dokumentart: Buch (einzelnes Kapitel)
Date: 2021-04-14
Language: English
Other Keywords: egalitarian
food transfer
zero-to-all division
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Among the Baka hunter-gatherers, the sharing of elephant meat is associated with a taboo that forbids the hunter who killed an elephant from eating its meat. Previous studies examined the ta- boo in relation to the paradox of egalitarians: the impossibility of dual equality, that is, on econom- ic and social grounds. The paradox arises from the gift-giving theory, which assumes feelings of indebtedness in the receiver of the gift. Howev- er, some researchers argue that sharing is neither a variation of gift-giving nor a reciprocal exchange. Taking this position, I explore the roots of the ta- boo in the Baka’s ontology of hunting. The taboo likely originated from the hunter’s indeterminate state between humans and spirits and the ambiv- alent character of spirits as bringers of both food and death. According to their ontology, the hunt- er’s act of eating meat would result in determining whether he is a human or a spirit, thus causing undesirable consequences anyway. The hunter, therefore, abstains from eating the meat and re- main in the indeterminate state. At the site of the elephant feast, the taboo creates a sharp contrast between the hunter with an empty stomach and others who have sated themselves with the meat. There, the hunter never sees himself as having giv- en the meat to the others, and the others never see the meat as having been given to them by the hunter. He is excluded from the community of sharing, without being identified as the giver of the meat. This way, practicing the taboo realizes zero-to-all division, which is in contrast to the re- ciprocal one-to-one giving.

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