You know what that movie reminded me of? Elfquest
January 31, 2010 4:43 PM   Subscribe

Ever since I saw Avatar, I've been wondering: are there any verified hunting traditions in which a successful hunter thanks the spirit of the dying animal as he kills it?

I studied anthropology in college, and read about it for fun to this day, so I'm certainly familiar with traditions that honor prey animals as spirits or deities. I am thinking particularly here of the Ainu brown bear sacrifice. I have read many books, and seen movies, in which a hunter thanks the spirit of an animal that he has just killed. But as to the actual practice at the moment of an animal's death, outside of any other ritual context . . . I suppose it's just my own cultural conditioning, but it seems so romantic, and so I am disinclined to believe it. Please advise.
posted by Countess Elena to Religion & Philosophy (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read Ernest Hemingway's The Green Hills of Africa? It presents IMHO a very fascinating interaction between a "modern hunter" and his prey. Of course you have to be able to appreciate Hemingway's prose, but I find his combination of respect for - and desire to hunt - certain animals bordering on love and worship.

I don't know about "at the moment" of death, though. Like last rites for an animal? I don't know; I haven't seen Avatar.
posted by carlh at 4:47 PM on January 31, 2010

Best answer: At the end of this video showing a persistence hunt (that's really amazing, btw), the hunter honors the dying animal.
posted by phunniemee at 4:47 PM on January 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: In "Winter Sea Ice Camp" - a documentary on the Netsilik eskimos, the people give the freshly killed dead seal fresh water by dripping water from melting ice into it's mouth. If I remember my college anthropology class right, they feel like this is a way to honor the animal. It lives in salt water, so it must be thirsty for fresh water.
posted by Ostara at 5:24 PM on January 31, 2010

I believe the Ainu do (did?) this when they kill something, be it hunting or sacrifice.
posted by Atreides at 5:40 PM on January 31, 2010

Anecdotal, but I always thank the lobsters right before I drop them into the pot.
posted by Ruki at 5:53 PM on January 31, 2010

Anecdotally, I have heard that some hunters in the Southern US do this if it is the (preumably young) hunter's first kill.
posted by Asparagirl at 6:07 PM on January 31, 2010

To my ears, this is what modern Christians are doing when they perform Grace before meals.
posted by surfgator at 6:08 PM on January 31, 2010

Best answer: I have witnessed it with Inuit hunters.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:16 PM on January 31, 2010

Best answer: Some of my thesis research occurs in Cree communities near Polar Bear Provincial Park in Northern Ontario. I have seen both hunting and fishing sessions where the First Nations members of these hunting parties offer thanks to the spirit of a hunted animal as it dies in front of them. Due to their remote location, relying on migratory game is a large part of their diet (milk can cost minimum $4/L there) so they are thankful for any source of meat (waterfowl, moose, polar bears, etc.) that they can eat (within regulation of course).
posted by carabiner at 6:26 PM on January 31, 2010

Response by poster: It's nice to see I am wrong. I do come from a Southern hunting family, so I guess I internalized an extremely results-driven attitude towards hunting.

Asparagirl, I never heard of that. when I was a kid in MS, and a boy got his first kill (around eight or nine), they would pour the deer's blood on him. I don't know how old that is or where it comes from. The hunters I've known are generally devout Christians, and they do respect deer (and other prey animals) very much as a population.

surfgator, in my experience, it's the Lord who is thanked for food at grace. Also interesting, but external, not the spirit of the prey.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:32 PM on January 31, 2010

I was always under the impression that at least some tribes of Australian Aboriginals did this, but am unable to find anything to verify it at short notice.

I did find this writeup of the practice as a TV trope, though.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:37 PM on January 31, 2010

Don't ask how I know..... frequently, when a fisherman releases a fish, he will give it a kiss.... Although this tradition isn't about a "dying animal", it seems related...

yes... i've kissed a few fish...
posted by HuronBob at 6:53 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I read once (I think in NatGeo) that the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo has a shrine dedicated to the souls of the fish.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:22 PM on January 31, 2010

When I kill mosquitoes or cockroaches, I usually wish them a more favourable rebirth - does that count at all, or are we only after ethnological traditions that might be the kinds of things recorded by anthropologists?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:33 PM on January 31, 2010

We always do when we hunt or even feed my pet snake. Although we have some Amerind ancestors, we don't really have any tales about why, except that it's polite, and a worthy thanks to a worthy adversary who will nourish our bodies and souls.

I would think most animistic or pre-christian type societies had this sort of behavior. Can't remember the books that discussed them exactly, but I have read several anthro and religious books that do describe such practices.
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 9:29 PM on January 31, 2010

I've heard that in Maori tribal culture it was customary to say a prayer in thanks for many acts - cutting down a tree is one I heard mentioned. Their culture was replete with various spirits and deities representing different components of the world around them, and respect for nature was apparently a big thing - though not big enough to stop them eating the Moa out of existence when they first got to New Zealand.
posted by schmichael at 1:13 AM on February 1, 2010

My father comes from an interesting background of comingled creole/cherokee/chocktaw and, as a child when we'd hunt and trap, we were dutybound to speak to the spirit of the creature upon its death. Turtles especially, because they live so long in nature. We were also duty bound to use as MUCH of the animal as possible, as it gave its life to us. This is why I have a turtle-vertebrae rattle and had, for a long time, a turtle shell drum w/ a deerhide drumhead.
posted by TomMelee at 6:37 AM on February 1, 2010

An interesting comment from Elfquest co-creator Richard Pini on the Elfquest-Avatar resemblances:

"Y'know, it's my perpetual secret sorrow that no matter how true it is that Elfquest had so many of the precursors to aspects of "Avatar," no matter how often we say "But Elfquest came first, no matter how many times we point to the long-pre-existing comics, the masses will remember that their first exposure to big-eyed, point-eared, in-tune-with-nature inhumanly beautiful creatures was Cameron's.

Which is why the EQ story - no matter in what format it's told - has to reach out and capture viewers' hearts and guts eight times more intimately and powerfully than Cameron's."

posted by beschizza at 9:40 AM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

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