sábado, 9 de diciembre de 2017

In the very earliest time
When both people and animals lived on earth
A person could become an animal if he wanted to
and an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
and sometimes animals
and there was no difference.
All spoke the same language
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
and what people wanted to happen could happen--
all you had to do was say it.
Nobody could explain this:
That's the way it was.
-- Nalungiaq, Inuit woman interviewed by ethnologist Knud Rasmussen in the early twentieth century.

"...A few years ago, I was entering a restaurant very near my home and noticed a sign in front that said "Native Grass Garden-Do Not Disturb." My first response, naturally, was to trample over to the sign to see what the fuss was about. I knelt down and admired the soft, variegated green foliage, the tiny pointed leaves and small yellow and orange flowers. Suddenly it occurred to me that these were exactly the same plants that I had been mowing down on my John Deere sit-down mower the day before...but I had been thinking of them as "weeds"! This was a lesson in the power of labels, of the trances induced by the word-worlds that are enacted every time someone categorizes in speech or thought. 

Is this a question of "mere semantics" as some might argue? The plants remained "the same" regardless of any label I might apply in this view. But the effect in the real world was as tangible as in Nalungiaq's story where what people said came to be. Having labeled the plants in my yard "weeds," I mowed them down. The "native grasses" at the neighboring restaurant remained untouched because a conservation-minded gardener had, by contrast, elevated them to a place of respect with his label. 

Among indigenous peoples, the concept of "weed" does not exist. Every plant has a purpose or it would not be here. The entire field of ethnobotany consists of attempts to articulate in western terms the web of life as it is perceived through native eyes and the categories of native languages. Comparative ethnobotany reminds us that the Linnaean system of categorization is but one of an infinite number of possible taxonomies available to humankind. The categories we use in our everyday speech and thinking, like the formal categories of Linnaeaus for plants, are inherited as part of socialization and constitute in large measure a collective sense of "reality." In the view being advanced here, language always mediates experience in some measure. Yet the path of least resistance is to accept the habitual categories in lieu of the complexities of experience. Language creates reality rather than merely describes it as the First Peoples still remember..." 


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