Long-Term Research Projects: integrating research, writing, and film.
Living with Herds: human-animal coexistence in Mongolia (2004-2008)
Domestic animals have lived with humans for thousands of years and remain essential to the everyday lives of people throughout the world. In this book, Natasha Fijn examines the process of animal domestication in a study that blends biological and social anthropology, ethology, and ethnography. She examines the social behavior of humans and animals in a contemporary Mongolian herding society. After living with Mongolian herding families, Dr. Fijn has observed through firsthand experience both sides of the human-animal relationship. Examining their reciprocal social behavior and communication with one another, she demonstrates how herd animals influence Mongolian herders’ lives and how the animals themselves are active partners in the domestication process.
A Multispecies Etho-ethnographic Approach to Filmmaking
Within the Humanities Research journal:
'Through a description of the stylistic and logistic techniques employed while filming these key video segments, this paper demonstrates an original approach to the study of humans and other animals in the production of video-based, multi-species etho-ethnography, accompanied by a description of how filmmaking can be used in conjunction with participant observation as a means of engaging in this kind of cross-disciplinary research in the field. My approach includes an orientation towards phenomenology and an attention to bodily and sensory ways of being in the world.
This second segment of 'Khangai Herds' features Saikhanaa the herder interacting with yak calves during milking time in the mountains of Mongolia. He indicates which calves belong to their respective mothers, showing a good knowledge of the genealogy of the yak herd.
Lkhagva the Herder
Lhagva sings a song about her venerable mother. She explains to me the importance of cattle in her life, how she names them and nurtures them from birth. This is followed by a scene of a cow giving birth to a calf in a snow storm in spring. Lhagva names the newborn calf 'Menget' meaning 'Birthmark'.
Training for Naadam
The eighth segment of Khangai Herds features the training of racehorses for the national festival of Mongolia, the Naadam. A feisty two-year-old horse is ridden by the young herder Saikhanaa in preparation for a Naadam attended by local herding families in the mountains of Mongolia.
Encountering Animals: connections between Yolngu and significant animals in Arnhem Land (2011-2014)
Over millennia, Aboriginal Australians from Arnhem Land have lived in distinctive ways with animals, developing intertwined histories during an exceptionally long period of engagement. Northeast Arnhem Land is home to Yolngu, who live in remote communities and on country that is remarkably ecologically intact in comparison with other parts of coastal Australia. The Encountering Animals project encompasses observational filmmaking and the use of other visual material as research tools to investigate social, cultural and ecological relationships between individual Yolngu and significant animals. Ultimately the intention is to provide a greater insight into Yolngu ontology and world view with regard to animals.
Sugarbag Dreaming: the significance of bees to Yolngu in northeast Arnhem Land
Bees, with their ability to make sweet tasting honey, have been highly valued across many human cultures spanning thousands of years. In relation to western husbandry techniques, honeybees (Apidae) have been domesticated by humans to produce honey in large quantities for human consumption. The focus of this paper is not on the well-known, widespread honeybee but a close family relative of the Apidae, the smaller, stingless bee (Meliponidae). For Yolngu living on country, in the homeland communities of northeast Arnhem Land, Australia the relationship with these local, endemic bees is quite different from the large-scale beekeeping industry used to pollinate major agricultural crops. A highly anticipated activity is sugarbag season where Yolngu men, women and children undertake excursions into the bush in search of these tiny bees to extract honey. The bee is celebrated through “Sugarbag Dreaming”: in song, dance, painting and ceremony. This paper examines some of the ways that people and bees converge in Arnhem Land. Through the many layers of meaning, the paper aims to demonstrate how Yolngu philosophy recognises bees as being an integral part of an interconnected and complex ecology.
Living with Crocodiles: engagement with a powerful reptilian being
As an animal, crocodiles loom large in the human imagination. Crocodiles also grow to very large sizes in the real world, large enough to consume humans. Eco-philosopher Val Plumwood came to the realisation, while being churned under water within a crocodile’s jaws, that for the crocodile she was food, merely a piece of meat. The intention of this paper is to instigate thought on how views can differ from the portrayal of the crocodile as a primitive monster. In northeast Arnhem Land, the saltwater crocodile is commonly encountered as a moving shape out on the water, or through fresh signs of large lumbering tracks upon a beach. For individual Yolngu, whose clan totem includes the saltwater crocodile, or Bäru, this being is an integral part of social existence. Bäru features in ceremony, within song, dance and in bark paintings. I examine how Yolngu negotiate with the saltwater crocodile as a very real threat to human life; but also how Yolngu have a deep respect for the crocodile through a mutual essence and connection to country.
Domestication Gone Wild: politics and practices of multispecies relations
The 'Yolngu Dogs' video segment will feature within this paper that will be part of an edited book entitled 'Domestication Gone Wild' published by Duke University Press in 2018.
The chapter explores how human cosmologies matter, literally, for dogs. By comparing two modes of relating to dogs, Natasha demonstrates how differences in ontological frameworks and multispecies assemblages come together to shape the ears, snouts, and tails of dogs. In Yolngu communities in northeast Arnhem Land, Australia, dingoes—perceived as ancestral kin—have not been kept or bred in captivity. Allowed to roam freely and select their own mates, dingoes have not developed the floppy ears, shortened snouts, and other traits associated with breeding and domestication. In contrast, in seminomadic herding encampments in the Khangai Mountains, Mongolian dogs—who have specific roles as guard dogs—have been selected for traits such as loyalty. In the process, these dogs have developed several physical changes to their faces and tails that are considered signs of domestication. By tracking divergent stories of biosocial connections between humans and canines, this chapter describes the embodied effects of cohabiting relationships beyond those of European domestication. How, it asks, do different worldviews produce markedly different forms of human-dog relations?
Multispecies Medicine in Mongolia (2016- )
Mongolian herding communities have developed unique forms of multispecies medical knowledge: taking the human family, the extended family of herd animals and the surrounding ecology as a basis. This knowledge across species is still practiced today and contributes to the health and wellbeing of local nomadic herding communities. This collaborative project aims to investigate Mongolian medical practices in humans and other animals through the lens of One Health, employed within biomedicine and veterinary sciences, in conjunction with a multispecies approach gaining momentum within the social sciences. We intend to investigate how Mongolian communities have perceived cross-species illness and disease over time and how Mongolian medicinal knowledge supplements biomedical knowledge. Through observations and interviews with herding communities and medical practitioners, in conjunction with text based studies, our interdisciplinary team will explore how multispecies knowledge is conveyed across generations, how such an approach may have changed over time and the foundations for this knowledge.
Refer to 'Two Seasons' under Film Work for a trailer to the documentary 'Two Seasons: multispecies medicine in Mongolia'.