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Vignette from the Anthropology of Knowledge: Cree Hunting

Scientific knowledge comes in many forms, some not explicitly science. Social scientists call this “ways of knowing” – you can think of it as a framework on which you hang the specifics as you learn them. The framework is set up early in life and historically, scientific knowledge was held within a religious ‘way of knowing’. Even one of the founding fathers of genetics, Mendel, was a monk observing peas in the monastic garden.

No matter what form it comes in, language is the common means of transferring knowledge to others and new generations, passing on ethics and lessons for appropriate behavior. In the Cree culture, there are defined roles for humans and animals that are linked in very specific instances such as providing food, especially for pregnant women. From Colin Scott’s chapter in the edited volume “Naked Science” (1996, Routledge):

“The metaphoric juxtaposition/separation of humans and animals is the occasion for much humorous discourse linking the pursuit of sexual partners to the pursuit of game. Hunting and sexuality share a vocabulary: mitwaaschaau can mean both ‘he shoots’ and ‘he ejaculates’; paaschikan can refer to both ‘shotgun’ and ‘penis; pukw to both ‘gunpowder’ and ‘sperm’; and spichinaakin to both ‘gun sheath’ and ‘condom’. But analogy, along with humor is as much about separation as about similarity. The atuush, or ‘cannibal’ figure subverts this separation of human from animal, of sex from food. In one bawdy myth, a cannibal copulates with a woman hunted by his son, before roasting and eating her reproductive organs. In consequence, he consumes his own sperm. He and his son, greatly weakened, are nearly overcome by the superior spiritual power of true human beings” (75).

It sounds like something from another world, but take a minute to examine the English language and what an outside anthropologist might say about us.

~Bluegrass Blue Crab