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Monday, August 23, 2010


After working up in the Chiapas Highlands, we dropped back down to Tabasco for more field work with Chontal speakers near Nacajuca. We got some really great info from some brothers living up near the end of the road in Tecoluta. Then we walked around and watched Snail Kites (Local Spanish: Caracolero) catching snails and flying overhead (close enough to snap this photo with a point and shoot!).

Interestingly, when we had asked several Chontal speakers if there were different kinds of hawks (Chontal: a'i') they said yes, but they didn't have any names for them. They never brought up the Snail Kite once, until we got that local Spanish name and then they all knew the Chontal name for it. Doing ethnoornithological field work, you have to always be on your toes because you don't really know at first how the people you are working with are classifying or seeing the birds. While a Snail Kite might clearly seem like a kind of hawk to us, that apparently wasn't clear initially to our Chontal Mayan friends.

Also, just because birds are colorful and nearby doesn't mean everyone takes notice of them. We had Blue-gray Tanagers hanging out on TV antennas and must be there every day but people hadn't noticed them. And Tropical Kingbirds are literally everywhere, hanging out on wires and in city centers all over the place, but they don't merit much attention or even have their own name in most Mayan languages, including Chontal. On the other hand, if there is some inconspicuous bird with a unique call, it just might turn out to play in important role in their world. You just never know. That's why you have to get out there and spend the time to find out!

BTW, did you notice the dead pigeon hanging from the cheap netting used to try and keep them out of the church tower in the photo at the top of the post? Amazing what we don't notice until it is pointed out to us :-)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Impressive series of posts. Wish I could trade jobs with you for a week.

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