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An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste

In Anishinaabemowin, the language of Anishinaabeg or Ojibwe people (Native Americans indigenous to the Great Lakes area), the grammatical animism of some words is indicative of something more profound. Here, words are not gendered as they are in European languages, but they are necessarily either “animate” or “inanimate.” This is certainly not a systematized or abstract complex, and speakers may not know why x is animate when y is inanimate, but it does arise from a broader culture in which one might speak with animate persons but only about inanimate objects. The possibility that gifts might be given to and received from those identified as animate persons is one indication of a “relational epistemology” (Bird-David 1999). Irving Hallowell’s (1960) discussion of Ojibwe ontology includes an important discussion with an unnamed “old man” about whether all rocks are alive and, since he avers that not all rocks are alive, how one might know which ones are. Contrary to the theories of Piaget (1933) and Guthrie (1993), this depends on more than the projection of personality or human-likeness onto allegedly inanimate objects. It is not just that some rocks “look human” (e.g., appearing to have a mouth), or that some are said to have moved of their own volition, but that some humans relate to some rocks in ways that indicate the recognition of life. These ways might include recognition of expressions of agency, will, intellect and so on, but are fundamentally about engagement in a cultural system of respect and reciprocity. Rocks are not mere “nature” in opposition to “culture” but are, or might be, persons who engage with other persons in particular ways. If humans give gifts to rocks, rocks not only receive gifts from humans but also give gifts that initiate relationships.