Considering Long-held Perspectives of First Nations Towards Animals
“Since their mythical beginnings, the Chewong people of Malaysia have willingly shared the tropical rainforest ecosystem with myriad other life-forms. Over time, Chewong society has given rise to a singular vision—one at once pragmatic and poetic—of the fundamental similarities and differences between what Westerners would refer to as “human” and “nonhuman” animals.
The Chewong cosmos does not harbor a sense of human supe- riority. In fact, their language apparently does not even possess a term for that all-inclusive category “nonhuman animals”. The Chewong do, on occasion, use foreign words for “animal’ that they borrow from the dominant Malay language. And in their own lan- guage, they recognize certain categories of morphologically similar animals, such as kawaw (birds), kiel (fish), and taloden (snakes).
Nonetheless, within their traditional communities, many Chewong grant each animal in the Malaysian rain forest its own particular name and distinctive identity. The conspicuous absence of an all-embracing term for “nonhuman” creatures suggest that, in the world of the Chewong, human beings are only one species among many different kinds of animate creatures. As a result, the Chewong simply do not divide the world into human versus the rest of nature and supernature.
By refusing to partition the natural world arbitrarily into “hu- man” and “nonhuman” hierarchical components, Chewong soci- ety freed its collective imagination to explore the vast, uncharted terrain of animal consciousness” or “animal thinking,” as some modern biologists call it. They attach great significance to the notion that each species has its own perception of reality—an animal “worldview,” circumscribed by the limitations of its brain and central nervous system, that is very bit as valid and complete as that of humans. They are keenly appreciative of the fact that each kind of animal in the rain forest is equipped with its own singular array of senses on which it must rely to communicate this understanding, the Chewong have created an ingenious succinct, and biologically apt metaphor.”
—Knudtson and Suzuki, 2006