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Red de Revistas Científicas de América Latina y el Caribe, España y Portugal
INDIANA 29 (2012): 9-23
Ernst Halbmayer
Debating animism, perspectivism
and the construction of ontologies
The contributions to this dossier provide a discussion of new animism, perspec-
tivism and multinaturalism. In the last twenty years these concepts have emerged
as central theoretical innovations of classical structuralist assumptions
in Lowland
South American anthropology (Århem 1996, Descola 1992, 1996, 2005, Stolze Lima
1999, Viveiros de Castro 1998). They reformulated outdated evolutionist notions of
such as the “deep-lying doctrine of Spiritual Beings” (Tylor 1871: 384)
“which so forcibly conduces to personiFcation” and “can give consistent individual
life to phenomena that our utmost stretch of fancy only avails to personify in con-
scious metaphor” (Tylor 1871: 260). These new theoretical concepts
have created
a speciFc and powerful paradigm in South American anthropological scholarship
(Costa & Fausto 2010). By proclaiming a shared relational frame of interaction
between humans and non-humans, they decentre the Western nature/culture distinc-
tion and associated notions of universalism and relativism. These re±ections have
thus opened up fresh perspectives on personhood, sociality, and human-animal rela-
tions. In recent years these axioms have been broadened to a general discussion of
different ontologies (Descola 2005) and have formed part of a so-called onto logical
turn in the social sciences. These axioms have also been applied to other regional
settings and cross-fertilized with ethnographic work and theoretical positions devel-
oped in North America (Ingold 2000), Siberia (Willerslev 2007, Pedersen 2001),
India (Bird-David 1999) and Papua New Guinea (Strathern 1988, Wagner 1991,
2001). Moreover, they entered into a fruitful dialog with disciplines like science
and technology studies (Latour 1993, 2004), archaeology (Alberti & Bray 2009,
Holbraad 2009, Witmore 2007) and the study of religions (Harvey 2002, 2006).
Finally, they generated a renewed discussion of the comparative method and what
has recently been called comparative relativism (see the special issue of
For a critical examination see Turner (2009).
Tylor borrowed this term from the German proto-vitalist chemist, physicist and physician Georg
Ernst Stahl (1708). See the critical discussion of Stahl’s work provided by Lemoine (1864).
Hallowell’s paper on Ojibwa ontology (1960) played an important role in the development of these
The anthropological debate on these terms also moved out of academia into
public exhibitions and art events, such as “La fabriques des images” at the Musée du
quai Branly (Descola 2010; see also Karadimas in this volume). In this exhibition,
fgurative strategies and Forms oF representation based on Descola’s Four ontolo
gies (2005) were illustrated, including European landscape painting (naturalism),
aboriginal painting (totemism), animic masks and depictions of human interiority
(animism), and Chimeras composed of various elements connecting microcosms
and macrocosms (analogism). Other examples include the discourse surrounding the
avant-garde music theatre, “Amazonas: Music theatre in three parts”, composed for
the 2010 Munich Biennale (see Kapfhammer in this volume), and the “Animism” art
exhibitions curated by Anselm Franke in Antwerp, Berne, Vienna, Berlin and New
York between 2010 and 2012. However, the latter project focused on and criticized
a rather traditional notion of animism in the sense of Tylor and Freud’s primitive
narcissism without creatively using the pluralistic ontological potential of the current
anthropological debate.
Perspectivist ideas were originally developed by philosophers such as Gottfried
Wilhelm Leibniz and Friedrich Nietzsche. The impulse for early perspectivist for-
mulations was the spread of the city in the early eighteenth century. Leibniz wrote
in 1714:
And as one and the same town viewed from different sides looks altogether different,
and is, as it were, perspectively multiplied, it similarly happens that, through the infnite
multitude of simple substances, there are, as it were, just as many different universes,
which are however only the perspectives of a single one, according to the different points
of view of the monads (Leibniz 1714: Section 57; translation by Rescher 1992).
This idea was reframed as the multiple perspectives of animals, spirits and humans in
Amerindian perspectivism. Leibniz’s perspectivism was labelled an “objective” one,
in that it assumed that, despite the seeming multiplicity of perspectives, there was
still only one overarching perspective or universe which was identical to God’s total
perspective. Nietzsche, for whom as we know God was dead, in contrast argued for
a more subjective and biologically grounded position. In place of “episte mology”, he
called for “a perspective theory of affects” (Nietzsche 1968: 255).
The accompanying publication by Albers & Franke (2012) provides the German translations of
papers by Bird-David (1999), Hornborg (2006), Latour (2009) and Viveiros de Castro (2004).
However, these contributions remain quite unrelated to the rest of the book and most of the art
Resulting in a perspectivism grounded in a “biology of the drive of knowledge” (
Biologie des Er-
) as the editors of “The power to will” called it in a subheading (Nietzsche 1968:
Ernst Halbmayer
Inspired by Stolze Lima’s work (1999) on Juruna wild boar hunting and ethno-
graphies like those of Baer (1994), perspectivism became the basis of an indigenous
Amazonian theory in the writings of Viveiros de Castro (1998). His perspectivism is
a perspective theory of physical affects, called “multinaturalism” and contrasted with
“monoculturalism”, which indicates a common human culture shared by humans
and animals based on a generalized notion of predation as the overarching and unify-
ing principle of Amazonian sociality.
Viveiros de Castro writes that perspectivism is
[...] an indigenous theory according to which the way humans perceive animals and other
subjectivities that inhabit the world – gods, spirits, the dead, inhabitants of other cosmic
levels, meteorological phenomena, plants, occasionally even objects and artefacts –
differs profoundly from the way in which these beings see humans and see themselves
(Viveiros de Castro 1998: 470).
While these beings see themselves as people, they perceive humans as animals or
spirits (prey or predator). Descola agrees that animals see themselves as humans in
animic ontologies; however, it is the particular claim of perspectivism, and not a
general aspect of animism, that animals see humans as animals or spirits (Descola
2005: 197f.; see also Latour 2009 for different notions of perspectivism).
Nowadays the concept of perspectivism seems to be everywhere in Lowland
South American anthropology, and at some conferences, talk about the “epidemic of
perspectivism” may be heard. Thus, it may be time to inquire about possible limita-
tions of current paradigms in the light of new ethnographic research and comparative
analysis of Amerindian and Lowland South American anthropological cases. What
is the current status and potential of approaches focusing on ontology and animism?
How may classical positions be refned, revisited and reassessed? What may we
learn by focusing on the animacy of material objects and plants, by conceptualising
means of communication with non-human beings, by specifying the axioms underly-
ing the “construction” of ontologies and by considering possible alternatives? These
questions were raised by Laura Rival in her keynote lecture at the September 2010
meeting of German-speaking South Americanists and Caribbeanists in Marburg,
Germany, and subsequently discussed in a workshop I organized entitled “Debating
Animism, Perspectivism, and the Construction of Ontologies”. Initial versions of the
papers published here were presented on this occasion.
As a whole, these papers seek to expand the focus of current approaches. They
make use of ethnographic data from Amerindian groups such as the Huaorani (Rival),
Miraña (Karadimas), Pemon (Lewy), Sateré-Mawé (Kapfhammer), Shipibo (Brabec
For alternative conceptions see for example Overing (2000), Hill & Santos-Granero (2002),
Santos-Granero & Mentore (2006) or Santos-Granero (2009).
Debating animism, perspectivism and the construction of ontologies
de Mori) and Yukpa (Halbmayer) and refer to comparative research across the conti-
nent (Karadimas) or within the Carib language family (Halbmayer) to develop novel
theoretical considerations. All the contributions demonstrate that Lowland Amer-
indian concepts and ways of perception are in signiFcant ways more complex than
generally assumed. This issue of complexity refers to the conceptualisation of beings
and animals as well as to the idea of environment, life or the world in Amerindian
cosmologies. The issue of complexity also refers to the question of perspective, per-
ception and one’s “point of view” and its theoretical implications. In addition, the pa-
pers refer to the differences and differentiation of various ontologies such as Western
naturalism, animism, totemism and analogism in the terms of Descola (2005). While
the authors agree that these are central topics about which further theoretical devel-
opment and empirical research is most promising and needed, the theoretical posi-
tions from which the authors approach these problems and the solutions they pro-
pose differ and sometimes contradict each other in signiFcant ways.
The conception of beings, life and the world
In current theories animism is understood as relational ontology including other-
than-human persons. The central focus is thereby mostly on relationships with
speciFc animals, seldom on those with plants and (their master) spirits and hardly
ever with “things” like stars, the sun and the moon, the wind, rain or rainbows.
Recently the focus on human-made material objects (Santos-Granero 2009), masks
(Taylor 2010; Goulard & Karadimas 2011) and wind instruments (Hill & Chaumeil
2011) and their forms of animacy or “occult” life was renewed and a speciFcally
ontological approach to things was developed (Henare, Holbraad & Wastell 2006).
Animist theories generally assume that animals are considered to be humans or
that animals consider themselves to be humans. Humans and animals form part of a
shared relational frame of interaction.
Thus in animic ontologies relations and inter-
actions with these persons are maintained through communication, mutual under-
standing and the possibility of transforming into and becoming the Other. According
to both Viveiros de Castro and Descola, animism inverts the Western nature/culture
dichotomy (see Halbmayer, this volume), whereby culture (soul or interiority) is
common to potentially all beings, who differ only in terms of nature (body or physi-
cality). From this perspective, animism is therefore characterized by a mono-culture
and multi-naturalism.
And of being in the world in terms of Ingold`s phenomenological position.
Ernst Halbmayer
In Viveiros de Castro´s somatic perspectivism, different physicalities create
different points of view and perspectives. While their common interiority unites be-
ings across inter-species borders, their physicality and affects divide them. In con-
trast, Descola states that physical difference in animism is not one of substance but
of form, since substances circulate across the world and between beings.
(this volume) similarly argues that defnitions oF species are made according to their
shape, which is based on neither the “physicality” nor the “interiority” of beings.
And Halbmayer argues that “substance” among Carib-speaking groups is more or
less material, ranging from physical liquids or food items to notions of energy, sun-
light and spiritual or soul matter. One may thereFore fnd among Carib-speaking
groups spiritual, form-logical and humoral-pathological idioms of transformation.
Several of the contributions raise doubts about Viveiros de Castro’s assumption
that, in contrast to naturalism, where humans are ex-animals, in perspectivism ani-
mals are ex-humans and that humanity is the shared original condition out of which
animals differentiated. Rival (this volume) argues that “[.
..] for the Huaorani, the
initial beings from which both contemporary humans and animal species derive were
not human; only contemporary Huaorani are humans”. Halbmayer likewise argues
that, among the Yukpa, animals were
the Yukpa but not Yukpa. He claims that
there are other-than-human persons which are human-like to varying degrees, but
not necessarily humans. Generally there are proto-humans who once fabricated or
manuFactured the frst human beings, ex-humans (e.g., animals who were once like
humans), and non-humans, mostly monstrous, “anti”-human beings who may never-
theless appear in human shape.
Brabec’s research also challenges the view of Viveiros de Castro. He found
that the Shibipo (
– real people) differentiate beings according to their con-
sciousness, their form of agency and power. A humanoid or human-like physicality
is common to conscious beings, “in contrast to human physicality as proposed by
This discussion and also the depiction of the manifest form of humans as envelope or clothing that
conceals an internal human form relates to ideas about “the motif of the envelope and the principle
of form” originally formulated by Fritz Krause (1929, 1931). In contrast to the contemporary uses
of the term “animism” he associated this idea with a non-animistic conception of the world. How-
ever, his original contribution has not been discussed and evaluated in detail in the recent discus-
sion. According to Krause, in animism, the soul is constitutive for the being independently from
its physical form while in non-animistic conceptions the form is constitutive for the being. In ani-
mism, transformations occur by being touched or possessed by the soul of another being independ-
ent of its visible form. In contrast in the non-animistic world view, life and being are associated
with the body. Bodily changes imply transformations and transformations occur through changes
in the bodily form. For Krause the form is connected to and inseparable from the substance (
A transformation relies on a change of form and substance (1931: 363).
Debating animism, perspectivism and the construction of ontologies
‘orthodox’ perspectivism” (Brabec, this volume). There are other beings addressed
(persons) who have human consciousness and obvious bodily differences.
They lack adequate competence of perception and action and are considered less
powerful than real people. Other animals are as powerful as the Shipibo and are con-
sidered to be true Shipibo males and Shipibo’s
. There are also very powerful
beings such as anacondas, jaguars, and dolphins. Finally, Brabec mentions the tech-
nologically advanced
, “considered ‘legendary’ but defnitely real people” (this
volume). Brabec shows different forms of mimesis and transformation in relation
to these different classes of beings ranging from joking to avoidance, and including
voice masking, concealment strategies and multiple positionalities a healer assumes
in relation to his audience and to the spiritual beings.
Rival, Halbmayer and Brabec agree that agency is not just humanized and person-
alized, but also non-personalized. Rival focuses on the notion of biological life inde-
pendent of social intelligence and argues that the Huaorani celebrate “the inherent
power that biological organisms have to grow themselves and be alive”. Halbmayer
mentions stones that contain forms of agency and power and that, although not per-
sonalized, attract animals and garden products. In contrast, Brabec shows that rocks
may be viewed as personalized among the Shipibo. However, for the Shipibo non-
humans are “mostly plants”, as well as (rather surprisingly) “fsh, who are not re
garded as persons (
)” and to which “no consciousness is ascribed” (Brabec,
this volume). Consequently, a full understanding of Amerindian cosmologies has
to include these non-personalized forms of life and agency. Rather than a simple
expansion of humanness to non-human realms, we seem confronted with a gradual
system ranging from fully personalized to the non-personalized along dimensions of
animacy, agentivity, consciousness, the ability to communicate and forms of physi-
cality. In other words, physicality or multiple natures are not the only aspects of
being that function as differentiators in animic ontologies. And there are aspects of
the environment which are not or only partly anthropomorphized and personalized.
That is exactly the chief argument of Laura Rival, who most clearly moves
beyond current theories of animism and generalized humanness. She discusses the
theoretical positions of Bennet´s post-human “vital materialism” and Ingold’s phe-
nomenological approach of being the world, as well as Descola’s and Viveiros de
Castro’s ontological animism. She rejects the separation of animism from biological
and scientifc knowledge and does not share the assumption oF Ingold, Descola and
Viveiros de Castro, who, “despite real differences in their theoretical approaches”,
all agree that animism is antithetical to modern scientifc knowledge. Rival Further
proposes a conception of biological life autonomous from social intelligence and so-
cially determined intentions in Amazonian anthropology. By focusing on processes
Ernst Halbmayer
of maturation, growth and self-regeneration, she argues that, even when conceptu-
alized as a “cosmic force that causes plants and animal and human bodies to grow
[...] life is neither singularised nor anthropomorphised” (Rival, this volume). For
the Huaorani, according to Rival, the forest’s natural bounty results “from the inter-
locking of animal, plant and human life cycles” and respecting “the continuity of
autonomous reproduction of social others, both human and non-human” (Rival, this
Rival focuses on the inclusion of multiple forms of environmental knowledge and
communication derived from observations and communications about the “objective
properties of the world” and the “people’s cultural heritage and history” inscribed
into the environment. She argues for an ecological approach in which human and
natural history as well as symbolic, historical and political ecology merge, including
the use of signs that are internal to biological dynamics such as indexical and iconic
forms of communication (as demonstrated by Kohn (2007)). As a result she criticizes
the limited interpretations of myths proposed by current theories of perspectivism
and animism as systematically excluding the ecological dimension and perpetuating
human exceptionalism.
Karadimas starts from myth and iconographic depictions, interpreting them not
merely as indicators of supernatural or mythological worlds, but rather as speciFc
depictions of reality that have to be understood and deciphered. He thereby seeks
to objectify myth. He discusses Viveiros de Castro’s notion of “point of view” and
the resulting subjective and relational deFnition of beings and their identity. While
Viveiros de Castro has argued that animals see themselves as humans and view hu-
mans as predative enemies, Karadimas argues that the main problem with this ap-
proach is that there “is no absolute way of gaining access to the interiority of other
beings: it is always an imputation of identities that occurs”. Anthropology does not
therefore address the point of view of non-human beings or animals but the “ways
in which cultures construct this imputation of interiority”. For Karadimas, Viveiros
de Castro confuses “the object with the category and thinks that categories create
the world although they just give a speciFc account of it” (Karadimas, this volume).
Karadimas follows the transformations and depictions of relationships starting
from a Miraña myth to iconic representations across the continent. The iconic repre-
sentations are understood as an objectiFcation of the human and not the animals’
perspective. His focus is on the analogical transfer of relations between beings. If
Amerindians say that “jaguars see humans as peccary, they mean that humans are
sometimes eaten by jaguars as if they were peccaries (thus [.
..] ‘they are sometimes
the ‘peccaries’
of the jaguar’ [.
..])” (Karadimas, this volume). From such a relational
deFnition, the Amerindians transform the position of humans into that of peccaries
Debating animism, perspectivism and the construction of ontologies
but their identity remains human. It is the relation, not the identity, that becomes
anthropomorphized. “Perspectivist” theory as Karadimas understands it therefore
depicts an imputation of human behaviour to something that is not human. In other
words, it is an expression of anthropomorphism which Karadimas considers an an-
thropological invariant (in accordance with Descola (2005)).
Halbmayer’s concern is to generalize some insights of a comparative study
of how Carib-speaking groups tend to differentiate the world (Halbmayer 2010)
His question does not concern the relationship between myth and nature; rather, he
focuses on socio-cosmological notions of the person and the world. He argues that if
there are different ontologies, it is likely that there are also different mereologies or
relationships between parts and wholes and between multiplicity and singularity. It is
therefore itself an ontological decision if other ontologies are on higher classiF catory
level ordered according to a nature/culture or physicality/interiority distinction.
Halb mayer therefore asks for alternatives to the inversion of the nature/culture rela-
tionship that underlies Viveiros de Castro´s and Descola´s theories of perspectivism
and animism. Referring to different Carib-speaking groups, he shows the indigenous
conceptualizations of humans and the universe are multiply constituted, establishing
a multiverse of co-existing worlds and multividuals that are related to and partially
encompass different aspects of the multiverse. This multiplicity may be expressed
by the circulation of spiritual substance and by different “spiritual aspects” of the
person located inside and outside the body, as well as in body parts associated with
different aspects of the multiverse. Hence, human persons usually do not rely on a
nature/culture (body/soul) duality, often transforming into different beings with dis-
tinct eschatological destinies after death.
Lewy focuses on Pemón ritual and music. His position is (like that of Brabec
below) less cognitively oriented, concentrating more on Pemón
) specialists and their expressions of transformations in ritual agency.
He asks what happens during potentially transformative ritual sequences: “‘How
do spirits or non-human beings hear?’ or to say it more re±exively: ‘How do Pemón
think non-humans hear?’” (Lewy, this volume). He analyzes how these rituals and
accompanying experiences and perceptions are acoustically and verbally enacted
and communicated, especially through music and singing. Myths and sound record-
ings from Koch-Grünberg and his own recent Feld research are used to answer this
question. Like Brabec, Lewy is sceptical with regard to perspectivism´s inherently
visual focus and argues that hearing, singing and soundscapes are at least if not more
important for understanding communication with non-human Others and for deter-
mining the perspective of “acting humans”.
Ernst Halbmayer
Lewy demonstrates that seeing among the Pemón is associated with the differen-
tiation of beings and species, while hearing, singing and music establish a common
mutual inter-species recognition and communicative understanding across different
kinds of beings. While spirits “see” the world differently than humans, what they
“hear” of the world is the same. To illustrate his claim, Lewy focuses on sound
symbols and intonation practices used in a formalized style to attract a supernatural
agent. Among the Pemón, a shaman’s performances are consequently a “radio play”
in which hearing and sound symbols are used to communicate and interact with other
beings. Such an interaction becomes impossible and turns into predation as soon as
these other beings are seen. Therefore descriptions focusing on the visual turn out to
be in Lewy’s understanding just one side of the coin, lacking the opportunities for
communicative understanding across species acoustically expressed and perceived.
Of all the authors presented in this volume, Brabec’s position is the most closely
aligned with Viveiros de Castro’s multiple perspectives, despite also having signi-
fcant diFFerences. He especially Focuses on the phenomenological experience oF
and argues that “all senses and modes of expression [.
..] must
be considered when intending to understand indigenous ontology” (Brabec, this
volume). Brabec underscores Karadimas’ point that there is no way of gaining access
to the interiority of other beings when he writes that he does not “intend to specu-
late about e.g., a jaguar’s perceptions of its body and its surroundings”. Rather, he
wants “to show how perceptions by
Real People who experience what it is like be-
ing e.g. a jaguar
”, usually obtained during
-induced visions, “differ from
perceptions obtained during their everyday states” (Brabec, this volume). For Bra-
bec, experiencing what it is like to be an Other is a basic human capacity. Among
specialized Shipibo
this capacity relies on singing during altered states
of consciousness induced by fasting and hallucinogenic substances. Becoming an
Other from this phenomenological perspective is not an imputation of human inte-
riority to the non-human realm but a frsthand experience associated with solid evi
dence among the Shipibo. Such an experience is not “compatible with third-person
observation, as long as we stay within the Western scientifc paradigm” (Brabec,
this volume). He describes in detail how Shipibo
communicate their expe-
riences to their audience, using strategies such as voice masking and song lyrics to
conceal their own positionality. In doing so, he goes beyond Viveiros de Castro’s
somatic perspectivism and argues for a sonic perspectivism encompassing the whole
of “nature” and not just the nature of the (human or non-human) body: “Focusing
on the visual, it is impossible to understand the agency of
(or ‘shamans’)
Debating animism, perspectivism and the construction of ontologies
affecting the
”. The Shipibo concepts of
(the frameworks that are
manipulated through song, extending audibly but also synaesthetically visible from
the singer to the world) and
(the specifc environment or “atmosphere” around
any being) are in this instance of central importance.
Thus, while Karadimas objectivises myth, Brabec focuses on the personalised
experience of shamans being an Other. This difference comes close to Viveiros de
Castro’s argument cited by Rival: “[F]or Amerindian shamans to know is to per-
sonify, moderns need to objectify - or desubjectify - in order to know”. The frames of
interpretation of these two papers are based on both objectivied third-person obser-
vation and on shamanic frsthand experience oF being an Other. Whereas the frst
position supposes a naturalistic discontinuity of “interiorities” without any means of
access to the interiority of non-humans (Karadimas, this volume), for the shamanic
position “other minds” do not pose a problem (Brabec, this volume). We are thus
confronted not just with different ontologies but with different epistemic logics that
create notions of evidence and truth in quite distinctive ways. Obviously such dif-
ferent positions are reproduced and contested within anthropology. We are facing
not a distinction between emic and etic approaches but are confronted with different
ontology-specifc epistemic logics.
In his paper, Kapfhammer stresses not only the different perceptions and pro-
jections of the West and indigenous Amazonians, but also tracks Western animism
as an “alternative occidental philosophical tradition contesting the much maligned
Baconian and Cartesian dominance” (Kapfhammer, this volume). He further focuses
on the co-existence of different environmental perceptions among the Sateré-Mawé
and the historicity of their emergence in the course of confrontation with the Western
world. He highlights the importance of ontological transformations and the histo-
ricity of Amerindian ontologies by focusing on the historical experience of extractiv-
ism among the Sateré. The transformative potential of the rubber boom and slavery
re±ected in Miraña myth is also mentioned by Karadimas. Lewy also deals with the
appropriation oF Christian in±uences and western songs into Pemon perFormance
practices and interprets them in terms of a continuity underlying the transformation
of healing and hunting rituals into contemporary
By taking up Glenn Albrecht’s neologism “solastalgia”, referring to the pain one
experiences “if the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate as-
sault”, Kapfhammer argues that many indigenous peoples “suffer from ‘solas talgia’
given the fact that large portions of the Amazon region already have fallen victim
to Western environmental pathology”, while “from a Western perspective the Ama-
zon is still presumed to be an edenic landscape [.
..] based on ‘sound’ relationships
Ernst Halbmayer
between what we call ‘humans’ and what we call ‘nature’” (Kapfhammer, this vol-
ume). He rightly asks if thinking about the cosmologies of marginalized cultures
in order to “animate” or “re-animate” hegemonic Western cosmology is not just
another abuse of indigenous cultures.
Ontological differences and their relationship
Standard theories of animism and perspectivism strove to differentiate dissimilar
ontologies that were generally viewed as internally homogenous. The papers in this
collection argue for a more nuanced view and question the assumption that animism
is strictly antithetical to modern scientifc knowledge or naturalism. Karadimas
stresses the existence oF analogical and animic classifcations in naturalism and oF
analogical ones in animism. Moreover, Halbmayer states that cosmologies are able
to integrate different ontological positions, at least at their peripheries. Even if the
core of Lowland Amerindian cosmologies is based on animic assumptions, there are
areas of non-personalized “nature” in animic ontologies. The cosmologies of Carib-
speaking groups, although generally understood as animic, establish elaborated
partial – analogical and fractal – similarities across different scales of the multiverse.
Kapfhammer focuses on the relationship between different ontologies in a far-
reaching manner by tracing animism within Western art, opera, environ mental
psychology and everyday life. Karadimas likewise locates animism in modern
graphic art and in concealed Form in the use oF Latin in the scientifc classifcation oF
species. Furthermore, Halbmayer mentions animism as a feature of modern esoteric
religions. AFter rejecting the idea that animism is antithetical to scientifc knowledge,
Rival argues in the opposite direction and claims that current theories of animism ex-
clude biological life and the existence of non-humanised agency among indigenous
groups which should form part of an ecological perspective.
In sum, while the aforementioned authors oppose a strict separation of onto logies,
how they conceive their connections differs. Although not referring to onto logical
distinctions, Rival points out that indigenous ways of interacting with, trekking
through and talking about the environment do not just express animic personifca
tions but also detailed historical, biological and environmental knowledge which has
to be taken seriously. This knowledge is an expression of natural and human history
shaped not only by predation but also by natural abundance. She writes, “It is in the
nature of trees and other plants of the forest to give continuously to humans without
asking anything in return” (Rival, this volume).
Kapfhammer focuses on the co-existence of what he calls different “environ-
mental ethics” among the Sateré-Mawé and their historicity. Relying on concepts
developed outside Amazonia (Bird-David 1998; Peterson 1993), he argues against
Debating animism, perspectivism and the construction of ontologies
the common focus on predation. According to him, the Sateré-Mawé have more than
just a notion of a toxic, poisonous or predatory environment; rather, they saw the en-
vironment, as mediated between shamans and animal masters, also as a giving one.
Shamans could exert a pressure for generosity on animal masters to provide meat
unconditionally in a non-reciprocal relationship with hardly any moral obligations.
The relationship to the wider environment, the Western world and consumer culture
is based on the same attitudes. The
‘demand-sharing’ mode of human-nature-relationships carries over from the relation
between shaman and animal mother to the relation between
and river traders,
from recent political leaders tapping the funds of government agencies or international
NGOs to common people as benefciaries oF social benefts (KapFhammer, this volume).
Both Rival’s and Kapfhammer’s statements indicate that there may be more to say
about environmental relations than the current focus in Amazonian anthropology on
predation and balanced reciprocity suggests.
By debating animism, perspectivism and the construction of ontologies, the pa-
pers of this dossier pose a series of questions for further research concerning the
“many different universes” and how we can understand them and make them com-
prehensible. The solutions proposed range from a universal anthropomorphi zation of
relations (Karadimas) to different visual and acoustic versions of the world (Lewy),
to a sonic perspectivism (Brabec). They further comprise the logic of partial encom-
passment in a differentiated multiverse of co-existing worlds (Halbmayer), the eco-
logical interlocking oF animal, plant and human liFe beyond personifcation (Rival)
and the co-existence of different environmental ethics and their historicity (Kapf-
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