The Bororo People and Descartes

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Anthropology attempts to understand the question “what does it mean to be human?” The Bororo people of South America create meaning for their individuality as humans by associating each clan with a specific totem, one being a red-breasted parrot. A Bororo male’s declaration that “I am a red-breasted parrot” is essentially different than a Western individual saying “My professor is a strange bird” because calling themselves “red-breasted parrots” is something more than just a name given to the Bororo. Instead, it is a spiritual totem that a Bororo clan associates itself with. These spirits are thought to be immortal and immaterial. They are the ideal type, the essence, the more real than real name of a Bororo’s social identity. The significance of the Bororo resides in the fact that they seem to express a completely different notion of identity than a western thinker. What the Bororo are trying to express is actual identity; that they can be both human beings and birds at the same time. Primitive mentality in cultures like the Bororo have no problem believing that life as a human being and as an animal can exist as one and at the same time. By doing this, the Bororo people’s belief that a man is a red-breasted parrot objects to the non-universality of western rationalism. According to western though, the self asserts its identity, discovers proof of its existence, and becomes aware of its existence in an encounter with its other. On the other hand, the Bororo people believe that the two species of man and animal are identified as one or another aspect of a single whole such as the clan or some universal spiritual substance. Having man and animal exist as a single but dualistic spiritual entity is the Bororo people’s way of reaching the spiritual cosmos. The man/animal dichotomy unites to bring the Bororo people spiritual freedom. This mystic mentality that cultures like the Bororo practice is a large and important aspect for savage cultures. Although the...
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