Notes and reflections

Marrying rituals with the mundane

Dr. Wall Kimmerer tells the story of when she would go camping by canoe with her family. Each morning, her father would give thanks by pouring a little coffee into the earth before pouring any for his family. She asked him how this started, expecting a story about a ritual that’s been passed down for generations. It turned out that it started as a matter of practicality: the first bit of coffee always had chunks of grounds in it, and needed to be poured out anyway.

This made me think of a reading we did in an anthropology class that suggests that there may not be any fundamental distinction between spontaneous and formal behavior that is typically associated with the mundane vs. with rituals, respectively. Sometimes, rituals can spring from the mundane, and that helps realize the self.

The language of animacy

When discussing Potawatomi, the language spoken by the indigenous people of the same name, Dr. Wall Kimmerer talks of the sheer number of verbs. This is in contrast to English, which is much richer in nouns – a perfect language, she notes, for a people who value material things. In Potawatomi, there isn’t a word for a bay on its own, rather, the word is being a bay.

This reminds me of Alan Watt’s similar observation of English being a noun-based language, which impacts how English speakers think about objects as being permanent. This is contrasted with a language like Japanese, where objects are moreso seen as processes. A fist is a noun in Enligsh, whereas it’s a verb in Japanese. Off the top of my head, Japanese seems much more noun-based than Potawatomi, but given the animism of the shinto religion, I’m curious to uncover more ways where Japanese is more process-oriented.