How Hunters Make Sense
Part One: Living Outside History
It had been a long winter’s hunting season with only a few partridge shot. We had spent it strenuously combing the countryside in the day whilst sleeping restlessly with anticipation at night. Waking well before any cocks had crowed or signs of day had risen, we trudged for hours through bracken and bushes, and over mountains. It was a sport but it was not fun. It was serious play.
I research hunters and hunting and have spent two years in total with hunters in Northern Cyprus. Throughout my research I have tried to crack the enigma of hunting, as something seemingly unfamiliar to myself, but one of Life’s longest running activities. A theme vying for my academic discipline’s (anthropology) top spot, both as hunting ‘back-there in prehistory’ and as hunting ‘over-there in the jungle’. However what I have been interested in is what can we learn from it right now, as a contemporary Sport that is participated in by approximately 1 in 70 people in Europe (FACE, 2010).
I have explored multiple explanations, running from a history of reliance on wild/free food, to blood-lust, the thrill of the hunt, masculine performance, to a lack of education. However the problem is, hunting is not so much an enigma to crack, as a process of enigma cracking. It is serious play through which hunters make sense of the world. Free-food, blood-lust, the thrill, masculinity and education are descriptions of dominant themes in hunting. However they are themes that hunters explore through the play of hunting. So I asked myself, how were hunters in Northern Cyprus making sense of their society by playing this serious sport?
The hunters I followed treated hunting as a ritual space in which people of differing backgrounds, jobs and lives, followed customary rules, though there were cheaters. These rules served to equalise hunters into the basic state of a man, his dog and a simple shotgun, situated in a field of free animals and potential encounters. This was in contrast to hunters everyday life, which mostly involved following prescribed and predictable patterns of activity, left relatively unquestioned or unquestionable.
On the one hand these predictable social patterns of everyday life allowed people to navigate the baffling complexity of existence, as well as the particularity of their local life. On the other hand following these patterns had itself become complicated by the bureaucracy entailed in being modern and compounded by the globalisation of local life. In short everyday life was liveable by retracing patterns of activity that had been set out over time, whilst often requiring one to give up freedom to the hierarchies that had taken hold in these patterns.
However when a person became a hunter they entered into a sport, through which they made sense of their society, by ritually experiencing life absent of prescribed social patterns. In experiencing this they educated themselves in recognising the subjective nature of their society, as they sought to know themselves outside of history and in what they understood to be as natural a state as possible. They were cracking the enigma of complex society by ritually living life outside it, if even for a brief moment.