Animals, Humans and Personhood
For many centuries the people of Malawi have lived ‘cheek-by-jowl’ with wild animals, particularly the larger mammals, and the relationship between humans and animals has always been close and intimate. Animals are the source of meat, of activating medicines, and, in being closely identified with the spirits of the dead, as essentially the source of fertility, and thus the continuity of the kin group. Wild animals thus form a crucial point in the on-going cyclical processes of life and social regeneration. But animals are also seen as fundamentally hostile and antagonistic to human endeavour. Humans and wild animals in Malawi have always co-existed and the relationship between humans and animals has always been one that is complex, intimate and multi-faceted. Attributing personhood to animals, usually the sense of seeing them as the embodiment of spiritual agencies, only takes place in specific contexts. In the 1990’s there was a resurgence of interest in cultural conceptions of the person.