What is this resource about?

This database brings together the fascinating and interconnected worlds of “more-than-humans” in West African landscapes. Within it we include studies about people, flora and fauna as well as the social, cultural and ecological roles of supernatural entities and natural features, which in West Africa are sometimes personified through practices, culture and religious beliefs (Frazão-Moreira 20161; Horton 19672). We refer to the human-wildlife collective of interactive beings as “more-than-humans” – a term which groups together people, animals, plants and supernatural beings in a single broad category across social, physiological and ecological scales. This idea is in-keeping with progressive anthropological thinking which, rather than succumbing to archetypal "textbook" environmental dialogue,endeavours to establish a post-humanist inquiry through the application of multispecies ethnography (e.g. Kirksey and Helmreich 20103; Kohn 20134) and in Ingold's (20135) description of an anthropological thinking “beyond the human" that accounts for the dynamics between beings who share the world.
In a similar vein this collection showcases the work of researchers who adopt creative and engaging methodologies as they examine multispecies systems and discover tangible ways of minimising risk and restoring communities in the wake of environmental and social adversity. The authors explore complex and diverse economic, political and spiritual systems which endow meaning upon landscape. They illustrate how people conceptualise, represent, engage with and administer environmental knowledge in different ways, through relationships with other-than-humans. At a time where we find ourselves contemplating the consequences of increased consumption, spiralling ecological devastation and growing concerns over disease transmission, this significant collection lays the groundwork for further research on more-than-humans, which will similarly pay attention to the consequences of multispecies competition over space and resources. Understanding the manifold pressures and perceptions which shape these relationships (and incorporating these into policy and practice) has never been more important. This area of research opens up possibilities for constructive intercultural-interspecies narratives to arise. It provides the foundation for collaborative conservation innovation and has the potential to bring about positive long-term outcomes for people and wildlife (e.g. Waters et al. 20196; Washington et al. 20177; Kopnina 20168).

How can this resource be used?

We anticipate this resource will be used by students and researchers from multiple backgrounds and disciplines, fostering interest in multispecies ecology specifically, and the interconnected worlds of more-than-humans more broadly. From research exploring environmental historiography, interspecies conflict and strategies for long-term coexistence, to the social and sacred dimensions of nature - this collection examines the interplay between humans, nature and the supernatural, economics, politics and culture. Often informed by participant-led explanations of coexistence, resilience and reciprocity several of these studies highlight the overlap between multifaceted intersections of culture, nature and society. By acknowledging the collective role of more-than-humans in landscapes this database provides a platform for multispecies research and can be used to inspire new lines of inquiry which may prove key to generating a deeper understanding of shared landscapes. It pushes conservation research in a strictly interdisciplinary direction, exploring questions such as; i) How is meaning (in its multiple forms) bestowed upon landscapes? i.e. through history, resource competition, disease transmission and interspecies interactions; ii) What are the politics of environmental protection and environmental control? and what are the impacts institutions, agriculture and healthcare?; iii) How does local knowledge play a role in sustaining biodiversity, healthy societies and cultures?; iv) What are the wider implications of human-wildlife coexistence for community, conservation and culture in ecologically fragile and politically unstable regions such as West Africa?

Why is it important?

More-than-humans are innately and immutably linked through complex ecological networks engrained in Earth’s history and sharing assimilations and interactions of interest (Locke 20139, 201710; Jost Robinson and Remis 201411,12). These relationships evolve and adapt over time (Johnson et al. 201613) and are shaped by religious and cultural belief systems, political and social ideologies and ontological reasoning which manifest in multifarious ways in terms of conservation, sustainability and individual, community and ecosystem health (Parathian et al. 201814). As people and wildlife share space and resources on increasingly intense scales, growing pressure to seek new ways of tackling health, poverty and environmental crises brings the study of human-wildlife coexistence into the forefront (Barrett 202015). Conservationists are frequently criticised for failing to encompass the complex socio-ecological issues of “The Anthropocene” and yet the current conservation rhetoric continues to be dominated by mainstream ideologies of the Global North which do not take political economic realities seriously (Büscher and Fletcher 202016). It is estimated that our failure to act efficiently and effectively has led to ecological, social and cultural transformations at a local and planetary level which have contributed to the extinction of 60% of wild animals since the 1970s (WWF 201817). An interdisciplinary, multispecies approach promises to provide a crucial missing piece of this conservation puzzle (Keil 201618). By acknowledging the importance of local environmental perceptions, cultural diversity and how people interact with wildlife, this cutting edge area of research embraces studies on gender and race (Haraway 198919); indigenous ecological perceptions (Brightman 199320; Morris 199821; Tanner 197922); between species conflict (Wenzel 199123; Zehnle 201524); and the neoliberal dimensions of conservation (Forrest 199225, 200326; West et al. 200627). Such a diverse array of works gives testimony to the fact that the exploration of more-than-human ecologies is of paramount importance with great scope for further study and debate.

1. Frazão-Moreira, A. (2016). The symbolic efficacy of medicinal plants: practices, knowledge, and religious beliefs amongst the Nalu healers of Guinea-Bissau. Journal of ethnobiology and ethnomedicine 12(24), 1-15.

2. Horton, R. (1967). African traditional thought and western science. From tradition to science. Part I. Africa, 50-71.

3. Kirksey, S. E. & Helmreich, S. (2010). The emergence of multispecies ethnography. Cultural Anthropology 25, 545-576.

4. Kohn, E. (2013). How Krensky, S. 2007. Anansi and the Box of Stories: A West African Folktale. Millbrook Press. Pp. 48.

5. Ingold, T. (2013). “Anthropology beyond Humanity”, Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 38(3), 5-23.

6. Waters, S., Hel Harrad, A., Bell, S. et al. (2019). Interpreting People's Behavior Toward Primates Using Qualitative Data: A Case Study from North Morocco. International Journal of Primatology 40(3), 316-330.

7. Washington, W., Taylor, B., Kopnina, H. N., Cryer, P. & Piccolo, J. J. (2017). Why ecocentrism is the key pathway to sustainability. Ecological Citizen 1(7), 35-41.

8. Kopnina, H. (2016). The victims of unsustainability: a challenge to sustainable development goals. International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology 23(2), 113-121.

9. Locke P., & Münster U. (2015). Multispecies Anthropology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

10. Locke P. (2017). Elephants as persons, affective apprenticeship, and fieldwork with nonhuman informants in Nepal. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7, 353–376.

11. Jost Robinson C. A. J. & Remis M. J. (2014). Entangled realms: Hunters and hunted in the Dzanga-Sangha Dense Forest Reserve (APDS), Central African Republic. Anthropological Quarterly 87(3), 613–633.

12. Tsing, A. (2015). The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. US: Princeton University Press.

13. Johnson, J. T., Howitt, R., Cajete, G., Berkes, F., Louis, R. P., & Kliskey, A. (2016). Weaving Indigenous and sustainability sciences to diversify our methods. Sustainability Science 11(1), 1-11.

14. Parathian, H. E., McLennan, M. R., Hill C. M., Frazão–Moreira A. & Hockings, K.J. (2018). Breaking through disciplinary barriers: human–wildlife interactions and multispecies ethnography. International Journal of Primatology. Special Issue: Primatology in the 21st Century 39(5),1-27.

15. Barrett, H. C. (2020). Towards a Cognitive Science of the Human: Cross-Cultural Approaches and Their Urgency. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 24(8), 620-638.

16. Büscher, B., & Fletcher R. (2019). Towards convivial conservation. Conservation & Society 17(3), 283-296.

17. WWF Press Release, WWF Report Reveals Staggering Extent of Human Impact on Planet. October 29, 2018.

18. Keil, P. G. (2016). Colonising in the footsteps of elephants: Interspecies pathways through North-East India and beyond. Paper presented at SOAS Elephant Conference, Centre for Ecological Sciences [CES], Indian Institute of Science [IISc], Bangalore, 4–6 April 2016.

19. Haraway, D. J. (1989). Primate visions: Gender, race, and nature in the world of modern science. Psychology Press.

20. Brightman, R. A. (1993). Grateful prey: Rock Cree human-animal relationships. University of California Press.

21. Morris, S. C. (1998). The crucible of creation: The Burgess Shale and the rise of animals. Peterson’s.

22. Tanner, A. (1979). Bringing home animals: religious ideology and mode of production of the Mistassini Cree hunters (23). [St. John's]: Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

23. Wenzel, G. (1991). Animal Rights. Human Rights: Ecology, Economy and Ideology in the Canadian Arctic. Pp. 43-60.

24. Zehnle, S. (2015). Of Leopards and Lesser Animals: Trials and Tribulations of the “Human-Leopard Murders” in Colonial Africa. In: S. Nance & J. Colby (eds). The Historical Animal. New York: Syracuse University Press. Pp. 221.

25. Forrest, J. (1992). Guinea-Bissau: Power, Conflict and Renewal in a West African Nation. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

26. Forrest, J. (2003). Lineages of State Fragility: Rural Civil Society in Guinea-Bissau. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

27. West, P., Igoe, J., & Brockington, D. (2006). Parks and peoples: the social impact of protected areas. Annual Review of Anthropology 35, 251-277.

This database was created in the scope of the post-doctoral fellowship of Dr Hannah E. Parathian (CRIA/04038/BPD/DASE) financed by FCT (UID/ANT/04038/2013). Funded by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia I.P., in the scope of CRIA's strategic plan (UIDB/04038/2020).

Citation: Parathian, H. & Frazão-Moreira, A. (2022) People, Culture & Conservation in West Africa: Studies of Multispecies Coexistence. Online Database. CRIA (Centre for Research in Anthropology).
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