Animistic epistemology: Why do some hunter-gatherers not depict animals?

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This paper addresses the question of why certain hunter-gatherers (of the 'immediate-return' type in Woodburn's terms) have little interest in visual art. Their lack of interest is striking in comparison with the elaborate traditions of painting and carving in Australia and the circumpolar North, which Ingold (2000) compares, showing that they correspond to totemic and animic ontologies respectively. The 'immediate-return' class of hunter-gatherers is examined in relation to Ingold's typology, using the Nayaka of South India as a specific example. It is argued that their lack of interest in depictions corresponds to an ontology which is inseparable from their animistic epistemology (Bird-David 1999). This ontology differs from Ingold's animic and totemic types and can be added to his scheme.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-50
Number of pages18
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2006


  • Animistic epistemology
  • Hunter-gatherers
  • Nayaka
  • Visual art

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Archaeology


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