Amerindian ontology, animal personhood, mortality


Published in French in 1996, the original article for which this comprises a post-script set indigenous Amazonians’ attitudes to meat alongside those of Euro-Americans. With the accelerating deforestation of Amazonia linked with the cultivation of soya used to feed animals for meat, and with calls to reduce or abandon meat consumption as one way of averting catastrophic climate change, it is topical once again. In this postscript, I reply to two contrasting critiques of the article, the first wary of an excess of ontology, the second distrustful of a deficit of it. Does a focus on ritual and shamanism obscure the wanton mistreatment and wholesale slaughter of animals in everyday Amerindian hunting practices? Does an appeal to sentiment ("bad conscience"), as a common dimension in indigenous and Euro-American attitudes to animals, risk obscuring important differences between the ontologies of the peoples concerned? Responding to these critiques, I defend the approach taken in the article and clarify my original, incautious use of the phrase "bad conscience."