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CICADA co-investigator Eduardo Kohn has partnered with a Runa community to explore alternate ways of knowing and being in relationship with the environment:

Eduardo Kohn, McGill University.
Eduardo Kohn, McGill University.

“My recent book, How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human, is an ethnographic/ontographic exploration of how certain humans, the Amazonian Runa, relate to the beings—animals, ghosts, and spirits—of a tropical forest. This book is called, How Forests Think (Ontology1, perhaps), not How the Runa Think Forests Think (Ontology2). In this book I am not just telling you how it is that forests think (bad Ontology1). Rather, I’m attempting a kind engagement with Runa thinking with thinking forests such that this sort of sylvan thinking (which is no longer human, and therefore not just Runa or mine) can think itself through us—making us over in ways that could make us otherwise (Ontology3).”
What an Ontological Anthropology Might Mean in Cultural Anthropology

An Interview with Kohn (University of California, with Carla Nappi, 2013):

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“How should we think with forests? How should we allow the thoughts in and of the nonhuman world to liberate our thinking? Forests are good to think with because they themselves think.

Photo: Eduardo Kohn

-How Forests Think: Towards an Anthropology Beyond the Human





READ MORE: National Geographic feature with Eduardo Kohn on How Forests Think



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In his book How Forests Think, Eduardo Kohn reflects on his experience partnering with a Runa community in Ecuador, and he explores the ways in which the Runa have an intimate and highly attuned relationship with the forest.

“This village at first might seem an unlikely choice to signify shamanic power in the figure of a jaguar. Its inhabitants, as they would be the first to insist, are anything but “wild.” They are, and, as they invariably make clear, have always been Runa— literally, “human persons”—which for them means that they have always been Christian and “civilized.” One might even say that they are, in important but complicated ways (ways explored in the final chapter), “white.” But they are, some of them, also equally— and really— puma.” -How Forests Think : Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human.

Kohn’s experience with the Runa incites queries about “the connections we have with lives that lie beyond us”.

“The Runa live [in] an ecology that is firmly rooted in a forest realm that reaches well beyond the human but which also catches up in its tendrils the detritus of so many all-too-human pasts.



Centre for Indigenous Conservation and Development Alternatives