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5 Children´s Recycling of Phrases

5 Children´s Recycling of Phrases

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K. Sonoda

Fig. 9.6 Two adolescent girls

works at a burrow and several

children watches them

from “Smell (it)” which was said by Yi in line 73. It is

possible that these utterances were attempts by these two

children to attract the adolescents’ attention.


Mutual Attention Among Children

The following excerpts exemplify the children’s recycling of

phrases originally uttered by adolescents. N, a young girl,

continued to try to participate in the adolescents’ exchange

in lines 90. She suddenly noted that the burrow was deep and

asked, “how even surface was it?” in line 90. N arrived at

this question by listening to the adolescents talk rather than

by examining the burrow itself. Then, another boy, C, started

repeating “Even surface” in line 92. Thus, both lines involve

the recycling of what the previous speaker had uttered.

Although these two lines appear to be similar in structure

to lines 84 and 85, they differ in a crucial way. In lines

84 and 85, the children, R and N, repeated what the

adolescents uttered. In contrast, in line 92, C repeated what

another child had previously said. Interestingly, both these

repetitions were used effectively. In line 91, Yi also repeated

what Be had said. In this instance, “move” was taken from

Be’s “he already moved” in line 89. It appears that this type

of repetition reflects each participant’s recipiency toward

each of the speakers. Using this strategy, adolescents clearly

“excluded” children from this social situation. Nevertheless,

they did not constrain the children’s conversation in that

C did not stop talking. This shows that these children, who

accessed the idiomatic phrase “even surface,” drawn from

the practitioners’ conversation, were actually following that


This section focused primarily on the children’s organization of action based on their access to the specific nouns

and the idiomatic phrases. First, children easily accessed

resources while activities were being performed. The

resources related to child’s own experience were acknowledged and shared by adults to create a variety of knowledge.

In contrast, those that appeared in exchanges between adults

and adolescents were freely used by children to reflect the

recipiency of children and to pose questions to adolescents.



My aim in this article was to evaluate the participation of

children of modern hunter-gatherer group in the hunting and

gathering activities. Providing the examples of the organization of oblique transmission, we illustrated how knowledge

was made in accordance with the ongoing situation. Examination of these practices enabled us to deconstruct the easygoing aspects of adults’ and adolescents’ reactions to

children’s participation in activities related to hunting and

gathering. Upon entering these social situations, children

were not only acknowledged and given access to various

resources, and they also learned to adopt a social and cooperative stance toward the ongoing activities. From another

perspective, it can be said that knowledge about these


Constructing Social Learning in Interaction Among the Baka Hunter-Gatherers

stances could be identified by the timing of the adults’ and

adolescents’ preparation for children’s access. Within the

ongoing social situation, the specific nouns and idiomatic

phrases, which are considered among the frequently used

resources, were systematically employed by children to ask

adults or adolescents questions about the activities in progress; these were also repeated by adults or adolescents to

endow the child’s experience with knowledge. Finally, even

outside social situations, children were able to access the

specific nouns and the idiomatic phrases used by adolescents

for use in their own conversations. In summary, although it

should be noted that hunting for large mammals may differ

from the examples discussed herein due to the risk and

difficulty associated with the former, children were given a

space of action within which they were able to access

activities. My data indicate that adults’ and adolescents’

easygoing nature did neglect children during a certain activity but rather constituted an action that enabled children to

access a variety of resources (participants, phrases in activity, objects, tools, immediate environment, etc.). In this way,

context-specific knowledge of the environment was

generated. A wide range of research on verbal instruction

as a means of subtle teaching has been introduced in this

article. These types of instruction among hunter-gatherers

have been little focused on so far.

The knowledge-making processes in the ongoing

activities of the Baka seemed to emphasize the actual experience of children. Actual hunting experience appears to be a

prerequisite for the ability of children to accumulate knowledge about hunting and gathering. Why is this kind of

experience important? Let us consider the school-based

“expressed-guess” pedagogical strategy in which learning

and understanding are pursued through the articulation and

testing of hypotheses (Sterponi 2010). If the expressed-guess

strategy were used during actual hunting, the expedition

could fail because this strategy often involves an interruption

of ongoing activities. This should be avoided even when the

knowledge in question is indispensable to children. Indeed,

this may explain the easygoing nature of adults and

adolescents while they are hunting and gathering.

Knowledge making can occur in any social situation.

However, we have seen that this is not a one-sided endeavor

but occurs through collaboration between experts and

learners. Downey (2010) argues from a neuroanthropological perspective that learning is not the internalization

of a shared sense, rather “the patient transformation of the

novice, the change of his or her muscles, attention patterns,

motor control, neurological systems, emotional reactions,

interaction patterns, and top-down self-management

techniques” (Downey 2010, p. S36). Knowledge can be

made in accordance with the immediate environment. As


shown here, among the Baka hunter-gatherers, the cognitive

and bodily state of learners and the trajectory of social

situations are considered by adults and adolescents so as to

maintain an “easygoing” learning atmosphere and facilitate

the (re)production of knowledge. Interaction and experts’

sensitivity to learners and context are distinct and key

characteristics of social learning in humans.


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Social and Epistemological Dimensions

of Learning Among Nayaka Hunter-Gatherers


Danny Naveh


This chapter explores patterns of knowing and learning, among Nayaka hunter-gatherers

(South India). I will argue that knowing and learning is embedded within two main contexts.

One is personal experimentation, which often involves processes of trial and error. The

second context is engagement with others in which learning is not a singularized event and

knowledge is not objectified out of actual experience and actual relations. In both contexts,

learning is characterized by firsthand experience, which includes adults’ appreciation of the

need; children have to learn for themselves through direct experience. The chapter draws

special attention to the importance of the epistemological aspect in social learning, the use of

questions and patterns of classification among the Nayaka and other hunter-gatherer groups.


Social learning  Epistemology  Nayaka  Hunter-gatherers  Childhood



This chapter deals with patterns of knowing and learning

among present day Nayaka – a hunter-gatherer group from

the forests of South India.1 Knowing and learning in this

This chapter is a revised version of a paper titled “Knowing and

Learning among Nayaka Hunter-Gatherers” published in Asian

Anthropology, 2014. In this version I address some local notions with

regard to learning that came to light while I was attempting to learn the

local language. These aspects as well as few other relevant examples

presented here were not dealt with in the earlier version.


The Nayaka lives in the lower northwestern slopes of the Nilgiri Hills

(the Nilgiri-Wynaad). The communities with whom I lived in 2001 and

mainly in 2003–2004 are settled along the Tamil Nadu – Kerala border.

Up until the late 1980s, they conformed to most of Woodburn’s (1982)

criteria for immediate-return hunter-gatherers (Bird-David 1990: 190).

Since the mid-1990s, they have increasingly engaged with small-scale

agriculture and animal husbandry as well as with continuing gathering

and hunting practices.

D. Naveh (*)

Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Bar-Ilan University,

Ramat-Gan, Israel

e-mail: naveh.d@gmail.com

group is embedded within two main contexts. The first one is

personal experimentation, which often entails processes of

trial and error, as well as adults’ appreciation of the need;

children have to learn for themselves through direct experience (see Gardner 1966, pp. 399–409 on “memorate knowledge,” see also Honko 1965; Morris 1976; Gardner 2000,

p. 217). The second context is engagement with others,

locally constructed as “relatives” (see Bird-David 1999;

2005). Here learning takes place not as a singular and

isolated event but as an integral element of “being together.”

These two contexts are certainly not disconnected, and

learning may flow from one context to the other, enriched

and stimulated by both. In this chapter I intend to shed light

on both of these contexts of learning. I also intend to highlight the importance of the epistemological aspect in huntergatherers’ social learning (see Hewlett et al. 2011 for summary and references with regard to the current discussion

concerning hunter-gatherers’ social learning). Nurit BirdDavid (1999, 2006) has argued that “relational epistemology” is the authoritative way of knowing among the Nayaka,

and that this way of knowing is common among many other

hunter-gatherer communities (see also Ingold 1996).

# Springer Japan 2016

H. Terashima, B.S. Hewlett (eds.), Social Learning and Innovation in Contemporary Hunter-Gatherers,

Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans Series, DOI 10.1007/978-4-431-55997-9_10



Relational epistemology involves a form of knowing that is

inseparable from being with things/persons. To know them

in this epistemological frame is to know how to relate to

them and how to maintain the relationship with them, rather

than to find out their essential characteristics in and of

themselves2 (Bird-David 1999, 2006). At present, the discussion concerning the epistemological aspect of social

learning is still in its preliminary stages and may benefit, I

believe, from new data as well as from new interpretive


In what follows, I begin by exploring some local notions

of learning which surfaced in dialogues that took place while

I was attempting to learn the language spoken by the Nayaka

(to which they refer as nama basha – “our language”). In the

following section, I turn to describe a fairly typical learning

process as demonstrated by one Nayaka boy named Rajan,3

with whom I shared particular closeness, in his attempts to

learn how to lay down different types of hunting traps. Next,

I shall turn from the realm of acquiring skills, to the realm of

attaining budi (roughly translated as wisdom), exploring

Nayaka notions concerning the ways to attain budi, as well

as the purpose of attaining budi. I then show that, for the

Nayaka, similar guidelines underlay the acquisition of budi

among human as well as nonhuman persons. In the following section, I shall discuss the status of knowledge within the

framework of relational epistemology, arguing that knowledge is not objectified out of relations. The place of

question-asking in such an epistemological framework will

also be addressed in this section. In the final part of the

article, I shall turn to examine several themes in Nayaka

taxonomy and classification systems in light of the material

presented in earlier sections.

D. Naveh


Learning Language: Differences

Between the Local Approach

and My Own

Acquiring the skill to speak the local language was one of

the most difficult challenges I faced during my stay with the

Nayaka. I had found it difficult to keep up with their speed of

speech and their tendency to squeeze a few words into one

singularly pronounced phrase. The variation in the way the

Nayaka language is spoken in different areas was another

difficulty. At the same time, the process of studying the local

language allowed me numerous, often unexpected,

opportunities to learn about local notions with regard to


Two common themes reappeared throughout my attempts

to learn the local language. Whichever shapes our dialogues

in this context took, my Nayaka friends were talking from

within and about actual and immediate situations. Moreover,

they spoke from a perspective embedded within ongoing

engagement and togetherness in “making” this knowledge.

These tendencies recurred in the phrases they chose to teach

me as well as the phrases they chose to learn in English

(a short episode that I will not explore here for lack of

space). It also appeared in their reservations concerning the

way in which I chose to learn their language.

Let us examine a few typical examples:

October 22, 2003. Evening time at Velthan’s house [a Nayaka

man of about 50 years old]. About half an hour ago, I was sitting

with Rajan, [A Badaga man who was assisting me for a short

period] going over, and making corrections to the first collection of

simple phrases in the Nayaka language that I had entered into my

computerized dictionary sheets. Velthan came in and expressed

interest in what we were doing and then, slightly amused and

slightly curious, he asked me to read out loud the phrases written

on the sheets. Gladly, I started to read some of the phrases:

Nan biscuit tindyane: I am eating a biscuit.

Maley bantu: Rain is coming.

Nan sudu-near kurdtindyane: I am drinking hot water.

Nana(ge) gottu: I understand.

Nana(ge) gottu kane: I do not understand.

Nina(ge) mane h( y)eala?: Where is your house?

Nan Nayaka-basha kallieke: I want to learn Nayaka language.

Nayaka-basha Kalpade Kasta: It is difficult to learn Nayaka


• nin tindeva?: Do you want to eat?. . .


See Naveh and Bird-David for references concerning similar patterns

of knowing among other hunter-gatherer communities. See also Ingold

(1996) for similar analytical argument concerning hunter-gatherers’

way of knowing.


Fictive names are used for ethical reasons. Names like “Rajan”,

“Suresh” or “Sangitha” are not traditional Nayaka names, though

nowadays such designations are probably among the most common

given to Nayaka children. The tendency among Nayaka, as well as

other local groups in the research area, to give children common Tamil

and Malayalam names has been gaining increasing momentum over the

last 30 years. While using fictive names in the text, those that were

traditional were replaced by me with traditional names and the nontraditional were replace by nontraditional designations.

After a little more than a dozen phrases, Velthan stopped me

and in a raised tone told us: “I don’t understand this. This is a

tapu [in this context: a wrong way to be doing something], no? I

cannot understand how these phrases join with each other! It is

better to make it like this: ‘come, sit down on the mat with me.’

The next thing should be ‘where is your house?’ And then you

say: ‘I live on the other side,’ and then ‘how many families live

there?’ It should come in this way then only it would be right.”

When I try to analyze my own approach in the first few

weeks of my fieldwork, I think that I tried to decode and


Social and Epistemological Dimensions of Learning Among Nayaka Hunter-Gatherers

secure linguistic “islands,” which I saw as essential for every

day communication. With these “islands” I hoped to keep

the daily interaction going and to use it as a bridge for further

exploration of the Nayaka language. In the eyes of my

Nayaka interlocutors, such an approach, which focused on

single words and non-situated phrases, was quite puzzling

and peculiar. While I was trying to map this foreign linguistic terrain from a bird’s eye point of view, Velthan, from a

perspective that is fully anchored in engagement, was

encouraging me to advance step by step in the same way

that people form relationships – from an eye-to-eye perspective (see Ingold 2000, p. 220–237). He just could not make

any sense of my detached perspective, which had nothing to

do with actual and immediate engagement.

The process of learning the Nayaka language had naturally produced many situations in which I asked people

questions such as “how do you call this?” or “how do you

say this or that in Nayaka language?” The answers I got

included, almost without exception, the name of the objects I

was asking about contextualized within actual relations (see

Bird-David 1990 for additional details with regard to this

aspect). For example:








How do you call this (pointing at a


This is our konale (plate).

And how do you call that (pointing at a

machete-like knife)?

That is Sundaren’s kati (knife).

And that (pointing to a duti – a cloth

worn as a skirt)?

This is a red color duti that my elder

brother gave me in the wet season.


Rajan’s Experimentations with Trapping

During the first 10 months of my fieldwork, 10-year-old

Rajan lived with his parents in KK. He was their only

child. His father, Sundaren, spent more time and energy

hunting than any other man in the community. He was

indeed the most successful and skillful hunter in the community – a fact recognized and accepted by all. Rajan’s

family lived in the same hut in which I lived, together with

two other families. With time a special bond developed

between us – a bond that allowed me numerous opportunities

to observe him as he acquired both skill and budi (wisdom).

March 12, 2004, 08:45 AM. It is now the third day during which

Rajan and his friend Balan [about 11 years old] are

experimenting intensively with setting up traps along the narrow

brook that separates the wetlands cultivated by Mathen and

Velthan. The brook and these wetlands are situated down the

hill below our hut. Rajan and his friend hide their traps in the tall

grassy plants that grow along this brook. Over the last few days,

unwatched kaka5 goats have been regularly raiding the freshly

sprouting rice in Velthan’s wetlands. Noticing this, the boys

decide to try and catch one of these goats by laying traps.

Yesterday, they had noticed that forest fowls had also started

to raid these wetlands. Since this morning they have been trying

to assemble two types of traps aimed at catching all of these

animals. Till now they had caught nothing. It seems that the

reason is to be found in technical deficiencies in their traps.

Rajan has now returned to our veranda after reassembling a

broken trap. Again they sit here together, with hands on each

other’s shoulders, and excitedly watch the animals below get

closer to their traps.

09:30 AM. The boys returned to the veranda after a goat had

stepped onto one of their traps but was not caught by it. They

told me that they had reset the trap and had also made

some changes in the way they tied the rope to the bended

twig. In addition, they had decided to put bait in the

forest-fowl’s trap. With great excitement they found some

leftovers from yesterday’s evening meal. “Now it is definitely

going to work.” said Rajan, while running down to place

the bait.

• From that side to this side we came to this house. We

came to join together to a koota (koota means ones who

have joined).

• In darkness you need a lamp [while handing me an oil

lamp which indeed I was in need of].

KK is one of the two main Nayaka communities I studied. I lived there

for a period of 8 months.

Do you want it?

Now you can say: I like it very much.

Take the lamp.

Now, we will go and come back.

Here as in the above examples, each of the chosen phrases

arose out of the immediate situation which took place that

evening. The phrases, each in its own way, revolved around

togetherness in the making. Each phrase, as well as the

rationalization for their unusual act, contained a kind of

latent dialogue between two subjects getting closer through

acts of caring.

Generally, Nayaka men and women avoid any kind of

direct teaching even between parents and children. The

following example is one of two rare occurrences that took

place throughout my fieldwork within which my friends in

KK4 took the initiative to teach me a little bit of their

language. At the time, they were fairly eager to speed up

my language studies. One of them explained their unusual

act by saying that only by doing so, “our joining will be more

enjoyable.” The phrases that they chose to teach me were:




Kaka is a local term for Muslim people. Some of them now live on

deforested lands.

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