In How Forests Think, Eduardo Kohn relates how the Avila of Ecuador enter into reciprocal semiotic relationship with the animals of the forest, in order to hunt them better. The hunters not only need to place themselves in the position of the creature in order to think where they might be at any one time, or what their next move would be in a given situation, but need to think how the animals perceive and interpret them (how humans are seen by the forest). Crucially, in regard to the forest jaguars, they must not turn away and show their backs, as this allows the jaguar to see them as ‘meat’, as prey. Instead, humans must stare back at jaguars, meet their gaze, to instill upon them that they are equals.
This reciprocity, while practiced primarily for instrumentalised and bloody reasons, spreads out and influences the Avila understanding of the diversity of lives that surround them as multiple centres of meaning and interpretation.
Modern Western anthropocentrism likes to see human beings as alone in their stature as thinking, meaning-making creatures. But perhaps it was only recently thus (since we did away with all the predators in our forests?). Browsing on a ‘Countryside Encyclopaedia’ from 1988 by Richard Muir, I alighted upon this description of a ‘duck decoy’ – “During the Middle Ages ducks were caught by gently driving the birds into the narrowing arm of a lake, around which nets were suspended. Subsequently the techniques were refined, and by the early 19th century designs had more or less standardised on the form of a steep sided, shrub-fringed artificial pond, with narrow, curving, tapering artificial arms, or ‘pipes’, usually three or four, leading off from its corners.Nets were hung over a pipe, and rectangular wicker screens were erected at regular intervals along the sides of the pipe. A dog, often of the Golden Laborador type, was trained to walk in a weaving manner in and out of these screens. Ducks floating on the pond were fascinated to see this appearing and vanishing ‘fox’ and their curiosity attracted them further and further towards their fate int he narrowing nets.”