Why the Porcupine Is Not a Bird is a comprehensive analysis of knowledge of animals among the Nage people of central Flores in Indonesia. Gregory Forth sheds light on the ongoing anthropological debate surrounding the categorization of animals in small-scale non-Western societies.
Forth's detailed discussion of how the Nage people conceptualize their relationship to the animal world covers the naming and classification of animals, their symbolic and practical use, and the ecology of central Flores and its change over the years. His study reveals the empirical basis of Nage classifications, which align surprisingly well with the taxonomies of modern biologists. It also shows how the Nage employ systems of symbolic and utilitarian classification distinct from their general taxonomy. A tremendous source of ethnographic detail, Why the Porcupine Is Not a Bird is an important contribution to the fields of ethnobiology and cognitive anthropology.
"Why the Porcupine Is Not a Bird is an important contribution to our knowledge of the folk-zoology of island Southeast Asia by an experienced and industrious ethnographer of the Nage."
– Roy Ellen, Professor Emeritus, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent
"Why the Porcupine Is Not a Bird is a breakthrough. Gregory Forth's innovative account of Nage animal categories and taxonomies demonstrates that the Nage people possess not only symbolic knowledge of animals but also empirical knowledge and skeptical minds compatible with international scientific practice."
– Scott Simon, Professor, School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies, University of Ottawa
Note on Orthography
Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. Investigating Folk Knowledge: A Methodological Prospectus
Chapter 3. Animals, Humans, and Other Mammals
Part 1: Mammals
Chapter 4. Animals of the Village: Domestic and Partly Domestic Mammals
Chapter 5. The Giant Rat of Flores and Other Never Domesticated Mammals
Chapter 6. Symbolic and Utilitarian Dimensions of Mammal Categories: Varieties of Special Purpose Classification
Part 2: Non-mammals
Chapter 7. Birds, or “Creatures that Fly High in the Sky”
Chapter 8. Snakes: The Life-form Nipa
Chapter 9. Neither Fish nor Fowl: A Non-mammalian Miscellany
Chapter 10. Things with Tails but without Backbones: Invertebrates in Nage Folk Zoology
Part 3: Comparisons and Curiosities
Chapter 11. What's in an Animal Name: Comparative Observations on Animal Nomenclature, Classification, and Symbolism
Chapter 12. When Birds Turn Into Mammals and Mammals into Fish: Nage “Beliefs” about Animal Transformation
Chapter 13. Animal Mysteries and Disappearing Animals
Chapter 14. Concluding Remarks
Appendix 1. Terms for Human and Animal Body Parts
Appendix 2. Growth Stages in Several Wild Animals
Appendix 3. Nage Invertebrate Categories
Appendix 4. Animal Names Used as Personal Names in Central Nage
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Gregory Forth is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alberta and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.