Birds as Relationships: An Ethno-Ornithology of Reciprocity 1

Session Type: 
Session Date and Time: 
Friday, 18 March, 2016 - 09:00 to 12:00
Harvill Hall, Rm. 2
Session Organizer(s): 
Nicole Sault

Around the world birds are honored for their powers to communicate, teach, and transform. Through these powers birds are understood to represent key cultural values, such as reciprocity in complementary relations with others. These relations include other birds and animals, plants and people, land and sea, as well as spirit beings. In prayers and ceremonies of both asking and giving thanks, birds participate in a circle of rights and responsibilities that reach out to incorporate others. While the papers presented here examine observed behavior of various species, the emphasis is on birds as social beings in cultural context. To fully appreciate why they are important in a particular society requires that we consider how they are perceived as portraying behavioral norms with moral underpinnings and spiritual consequences. Ethnoornithological research also demonstrates the centrality of traditional environmental bird knowledge for documenting and understanding climatic change, as birds are indicator species for assessing variations within ecological zones. These papers address historical and contemporary contexts that incorporate observations of bird behavior, archeological evidence, linguistic analysis, and the knowledge of ancestors, elders, and children. The specific topics examined include communication and language, behavioral data, clothing and dance, medicine and food, fire and rain, as well as tricksters and teachers. These presentations are based on research conducted in societies of Australia, Canada, China, England, Indonesia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and the United States, with special emphasis on the traditional environmental knowledge of indigenous and First Nations peoples.