Wild Rituals
eBook - ePub

Wild Rituals

10 Lessons Animals Can Teach Us About Connection, Community, and Ourselves

Caitlin O'Connell

  1. 264 Seiten
  2. English
  3. ePUB (handyfreundlich)
  4. Über iOS und Android verfĂŒgbar
eBook - ePub

Wild Rituals

10 Lessons Animals Can Teach Us About Connection, Community, and Ourselves

Caitlin O'Connell

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Inhaltsverzeichnis
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Über dieses Buch

Wild Rituals explores how embracing the rituals of the animal kingdom can make us more connected to ourselves, nature, and others.Behavioral ecologist and world-renowned elephant scientist Caitlin O'Connell dives into the rituals of elephants, apes, zebras, rhinos, lions, whales, flamingos, and many more.This fascinating read helps us better understand how we are similar to wild animals, and encourages us to find healing, self-awareness, community, and self-reinvention.‱ Filled with fascinating stories on 10 different animal rituals
‱ Features original full-color photos, from the Caribbean to the African savannah
‱ Demonstrates the profound way we are similar to the wild creatures who captivate us Wild Rituals journeys into the desert, tundra, and rainforest to reveal the importance of rituals and how they can help us find a simpler, more meaningful way of living.In a culture of technology where we find ourselves living at a greater distance from nature and each other, this remarkable book taps into the unspoken languages of creatures around the world. ‱ Caitlin O'Connell is on the faculty at Harvard Medical School and an award-winning author who spent more than 30 years studying animals in the wild.
‱ Makes a great gift for anyone curious about nature, animals, and how humans compare to and interact with both
‱ Add it to the shelf with books like Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina; Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal; The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief, and Compassion—Surprising Observations of a Hidden World by Peter Wohlleben; and The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery.

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Information

Jahr
2021
ISBN
9781797201610
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1 ‱ Greeting Rituals

Spit, Snot, and Other Social Grease

“The light within me bows to the same light within you.”
—Sanskrit Namaste greeting
During the middle of a recent field season in Namibia, Big Momma, the matriarch of the African Queens, a prominent elephant family in the region, suddenly found herself separated from her group. Big Momma and her family had been enjoying spending time at the watering hole one particularly hot afternoon when a new family appeared in the clearing, and began to slowly edge them out. Big Momma’s formidable phalanx of adult females marched toward the newcomers with confidence as they tried to drive them off. This is when something went horribly wrong, as a young matriarch of the new family charged at the group, scattering Big Momma and her family—a most surprising outcome. Showing signs of going into estrus, Big Momma caught the attention of a young male, which seized the opportunity in the chaos to chase her out of the clearing. This is how Big Momma ended up by herself, running through the brush in an endeavor to dodge her unwanted suitor.
It wasn’t more than a half hour of separation, but it was an extremely tense situation and the family reunion for Big Momma’s return seemed to be an enormous relief. It was somewhat chaotic—Big Momma running toward the family with dust and snot flying as younger females ran to join the adult females in greeting their leader with jubilant rumbles. They gathered around her, almost sandwiching her between them, and rumbled in long low-pitched tones replete with many trunk-to-mouth greetings, consolatory gestures indicating that they had no intention of letting such a separation happen again.
For female elephants, being separated, for any reason, is a risk, which is why their reunions can be such monumental occasions. It is also why bonded groups stay within vocal contact while foraging. Remaining in contact makes it easier to find one another in case a family needs to reconnect in order to help ward off a predator or any other threat to their group.
Big Momma’s reunion made a strong impression on me. It showed just how vulnerable individual female elephants and their calves must be on their own. It also demonstrated how insecure a family might feel without its matriarch in its midst, knowing that she might be in trouble somewhere, in the distance. Regardless of how long they are separated, elephant family groups come back together with celebratory greetings. These greetings serve as a reaffirmation of the bonds these individuals have with one another.
Greeting rituals evolved within groups of social animals for three purposes. One is to reinforce bonds between two close associates or a group of associates or to welcome a new friend. Another is to reduce tension and foster reconciliation. The third is to signal submission to a dominant individual, which promotes cooperative and peaceful coexistence within a society.
By performing a suite of often risky and intimate acts, one can effectively communicate one’s intentions to engage in further affiliative exchanges. Completing actions that require mutual trust within a greeting ritual can also offer a way to assess an individual’s potential as an ally.
For example, both male and female hyenas present their erect genitalia during a greeting ceremony, a very vulnerable position, indeed. Studies of hyena social structure indicate that reinforcing trust in existing relationships, through this greeting ritual, facilitates coalition formation within hyena groups. This helps them to be more cohesive, such as when they engage in clan wars or have to push lions off their kill.
More like our handshake greeting, the elephantine ceremony between Knob Nose and Donut, and Big Momma and her family, reminds me of how easily we tend to dismiss the importance of a proper greeting in our busy, technologically driven lives. Compounding the issue, in situations where there is frequent interaction, we might mistakenly assume that greetings are not necessary at all, thus forgoing thousands of years of human ritual.
Today, in many situations, daily greetings on the street or subway—or in some situations, even with a neighbor—are now awkward, such that we scarcely attempt or even actively avoid them. In allowing this “greeting fatigue” to be our new norm, we become isolated from our communities.
The act of saying hello, giving someone a smile in passing, making eye contact, or offering to shake hands may feel insignificant. These simple acts, however, have been shown to be vital to our well-being. Greeting rituals generate an air of positivity and connectivity within our communities. They improve existing relationships and help forge new ones.
I often think about how in more traditional societies that don’t have much technology (let alone electricity), direct interactions with people are constant and greeting rituals remain common. I spent some years in the early 1990s, and again twenty years later, working in Zambezi (formally Caprivi), a remote region in Namibia, with a number of very traditional societies. Greetings in these societies are paramount to one’s social existence. I quickly learned that the greeting ritual included a number of critical steps, depending on the relationship of the greeting parties as well as their position within society.
Over the course of my many social interactions in Zambezi, I was exposed to several levels of greetings. In my work protecting farmers from crop-raiding elephants, I became very close to the women farmers. This led me to get involved in community development and female empowerment issues, as well as issues surrounding land disputes and the HIV crisis in the region.
Within these many contexts of working with people, I learned that the most casual greeting between associates in Zambezi includes a style of hand-over-hand clapping with a slight bend of the knee. The greeting also includes a spoken salutation, depending on the time of day and the language of the greeting party. The clapping and knee-bending can be repeated several times during the salutation, which confers additional respect depending on the relationship. A greeting for close associates might also incorporate a three-part handshake, involving a standard shake, then a clutch, and then a handshake again, followed by another hand-over-hand clapping sequence with a slight bend of the knees.
The highest-level greeting is reserved for either the mayor (InDuna) or the chief. This includes a full crouch (as low as one can possibly muster) during a bout of hand-over-hand clapping. Once this portion is completed, you take a few steps forward and start the ritual again. And if you happen to be a woman, there is also a tripping hazard, as women must wear a long skirt to appear before a chief—the crouching and clapping and then standing, stepping forward, crouching, and clapping again requires a dexterity little appreciated by non-skirt-wearers.
As you might imagine, this greeting ritual can be a somewhat time-consuming endeavor, particularly if there is a whole group appearing before the chief. Each specific act performed in this very detailed sequence serves to convey one’s recognition of the chief’s status. The use of this cultural greeting honors their social traditions.
Late one night, while my colleague and I were attempting to track down a group of troublesome male elephants, known to be raiding crops along the river, I received the most honored Zambezi greeting of all. We had stopped at a local khuka shop (a local bar) to find one of the game guards who might have knowledge of the offending elephants’ whereabouts.
As soon as I got out of the truck, I was surrounded by a group of very old women who seemed amused by my presence. They laughed at me through sparse, tobacco-stained teeth. Some were friendly laughs, some seemingly half-mocking—as a makua, or white person, wasn’t always welcome in such settings.
Several of the women wanted to touch me, and one grabbed at my hand, while my colleague tried to wave them away. When I hesitated to leave, he dismissed them as drunken troublemakers. It was immediately apparent how these women had spent the day—or most likely several days. Since there is no refrigeration in the region, when the local traditional batch of homemade fermented grain (beer) is ready, everyone becomes drunk for a four-day period.
I didn’t want to deter the enthusiastic desire of these elders to engage with me, so I allowed one of them to open my palm. She held my hand and spread it open further as if she were going to do a palm-reading. She laughed and mumbled incoherently as the others closed in, forming a circle around us. She struck a more solemn tone, as if she were about to perform some kind of rite.
I tried not to look intimidated when suddenly the woman started spitting into my palm. I couldn’t help feeling a little concerned that this interaction wasn’t entirely good-natured. I resisted the urge to flinch as the woman continued to spray spittle into my opened palm with great ceremony, while the others huddled around us and looked on unabashedly. The others didn’t participate in the spittle contribution, thank goodness, but they provided no clue as to what was going on. Hoping the mystery was going to be solved imminently, I continued to provide my saliva-soaked palm for these women’s entertainment.
At that point, the game guard appeared and smiled. He explained that this woman was bestowing a great honor upon me by calling up her ancestors to greet me. The spray of spittle represented splashing water onto the embers of a fire—the local method for summoning ancestors. I smiled at her warmly, relieved that there was a positive end to this uncertain exchange.
Being unfamiliar with another culture’s greeting ritual can easily lead to misunderstanding. All social animals have some form of greeting ritual for a reason. It is a sign of recognition, goodwill, and welcome.
Often a greeting expresses different levels of respect depending upon the relationship between individuals. The European “air kiss” on both cheeks signifies a special relationship or occasion. Many are probably familiar with the nose greeting by the Inuits called the kunik (what was once referred to as the “Eskimo kiss”). This greeting ritual involves pressing the nose and upper lip against a family member or loved one’s cheek or forehead and breathing in their scent. A very similar greeting ritual exists in Polynesian and Hawaiian cultures, where two people press noses, or noses and foreheads, while inhaling together the ha—the breath of life—and mana, or the spiritual power between two people.
If an Inuit friend in Greenland leaned in to give you a nose rub, or a Maori friend in New Zealand, or someone of Hawaiian descent in Hawaii, you would very likely feel honored by this reverent cultural welcome. Outside of these cultural contexts, if someone pulled your nose and forehead toward theirs and breathed in deeply—say on the streets of New York City—this gesture might seem offensive.
An acceptance of different cultural practices is key to creating new relationships around the world. When communicating with another society, learning the appropriate greeting ritual is the most important—and often the safest—place to start.
A submissive greeting allows one to acknowledge their place in the social pecking order. This action helps to minimize potential conflict and reduce stress in a group. All cultures have special greetings that show deference for elevated status. For example, if I were to go to Buckingham Palace to meet the queen, I had better brush up on the eight-step greeting ritual for British royalty. The first step is to rise when the queen enters the room and remain standing unless directed to sit, or until she sits. Next is a brief bow or curtsy that is required of a British citizen. Third is to use the salutation “Your Majesty.” To show respect when dining in the presence of the queen, one must wait for the queen to eat first and then eat in silence.
For male elephants, the purposeful act of placing a trunk in a dominant male’s mouth is akin to the prime minister kissing the queen’s ring, or kissing the ring of the bishop or of the capo di tutti capi, a mob boss—even to the point of lining up and performing the act in single file, usually in order of dominance.
There are many more human cultural greetings, as well as an infinite number of nonhuman animal greetings. Take, for example, the gorilla or chimpanzee hug, the bonobo kiss, and the zebra nip. I like how other great apes hug because it is so similar to our own—two bonded gorillas or chimps relaxing into each other’s arms. The bonobo kiss on the lips is an even closer parallel. I also like the zebra nip for how playful and spirited it is. It can also be tense—with two young males ready to spring into action.
Mid-July at Mushara waterhole is a very dramatic time. Zebras arrive en masse, as water availability south of this waterhole diminishes, and zebras depend on Mushara to drink.
In the mid- to late afternoon, hundreds of zebras spill into the clearing. Family by family, the dominant females and their offspring follow in a line through the sandy track, head to rear. Their heads bob as they shuffle along, while the stallions of each harem peel off to participate in greeting ceremonies. Young males within smaller bachelor groups burst into the clearing behind these organized families. Each is eager to greet and play and test out their prowess with other young males.
The lead stallion of each harem will seek out other harem stallions and form little greeting parties. They call out in vocalizations that are quite noticeably distinct from one another. These vocalizations are unexpectedly high-pitched emanating from such fantastical-looking creatures. Afte...

Inhaltsverzeichnis

  1. INTRODUCTION: THE LOST ART OF RITUAL
  2. 1: GREETING RITUALS
  3. 2: GROUP RITUALS
  4. 3: COURTSHIP RITUALS
  5. 4: GIFTING RITUALS
  6. 5: SPOKEN RITUALS
  7. 6: UNSPOKEN RITUALS
  8. 7: PLAY RITUALS
  9. 8: GRIEVING RITUALS
  10. 9: RITUALS OF RENEWAL
  11. 10: RITUALS OF TRAVEL & MIGRATION
  12. NOTES
  13. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
  14. ABOUT THE AUTHOR