Anthropology Research Paper on Personhood


           The concept of personhood among different communities is a rich source of culture that describes what it means to be a person. Personhood is more than a genetic composition of an individual. Rather, a person, being more than just a genetic structure, is a unique entity whose existence can affect the lives of other individuals. The fact that human beings are homo sapiens does not necessarily mean that they are individuals. Other creatures can also be described as having personhood in different circumstances. For example, in communities such as the Runa in Amazon, members of the community argue that jaguars are persons because they can see humans in the way other people view themselves (Kohn 2). For this reason, the community in Ruma calls the jaguar Runa Puma. Runa means person and puma mean predator. Therefore, the biological makeup of an individual does not account for personhood. Rather, for an individual to be referred to a person, the individual needs to have a free will with different desires compared to other characters. Furthermore, diverse communities around the world have different ideas and arguments about the concept of personhood. The concept of personhood is different in many cultures because different people practice different beliefs and doctrines (Appell-Warren and Laura 24). Therefore, the idea of an individual may not be similar across all communities. For example, religion and cultural practices among the various people can influence how people define ‘personhood.’ this paper will discuss the concept of personhood among diverse communities. The article will provide a different definition of the concept of personhood; it will show how it applies to diverse communities. Furthermore, the paper will also highlight how the idea of personhood helps communities to thrive.

Personhood among the Kiluna people

           The Kiluna people are Arawak-speaking native people living in Brazil. The total number of Kilunas residing in the Amazon is between 2500 and 3000 (Pollock 310). The Kiluna people refer to two major concepts when they discuss the idea of personhood. The two concepts are waidi and ettedi. Wadi means wild while ettedi means sociable. The two concepts also differentiate other important factors such as the wildness of the forests and the friendly village; collective activity and solitariness; gardening and hunting; man and woman and speech and silence (Pollock 312). Every factor in among the Kiluna people falls under the category of wadi or ettedi. Furthermore, the Kiluna people attribute the concept of personhood through natural substances. For example, the production of semen describes the wild character of the Kiluna men. Also, the production of breast milk among women represents the concept of ettedi. Among the Kiluna people, when children reach the adolescent stage, they are allowed to misbehave because of hormonal imbalances. During teen age, the Kiluna people understand that the boys are producing semen while girls are growing breasts. According to Pollock (315), the Kiluna people possess spirits when they are infants. When an individual dies, the spirit (kurime) settles in the underground realm of spirits where it is transformed to peccary, which is reincarnated in the human world. According to Pollock (326), the Kiluna people have no concepts to describe the mind, mental illness or mindful bodies. Among the Kiluna people, the men wear clothes with good smells to attract the women. They believe that good smells among the men signify less wildness while bad smells signify extreme wildness. Therefore, it is common for people to wear clothes with good smells to show the women that they intend to be caring.

The concept of personhood among the Igbo

           Among the Igbo people in Africa, the concept of personhood is embedded in a set of rights and responsibilities (Irele and Biodun 210). The rights and responsibilities are acquired through social recognition and participation in communal life. When a person is born, the individual moves from being referred as an ‘it’ to an ‘adult’ and ‘ancestor.’ After birth, an individual will go through a series of initiation rites before the community accepts to view the individual as a person. Furthermore, the concept of personhood does not stop after the community conducts initiation rites. However, other community practices and events such as procreation, old age, death and the journey to the spirit world all refer to the concept of personhood. Among the Igbo, the developmental stages of personhood do not represent age groups. However, the developmental stages towards personhood are marked by responsibilities within a particular age group (Irele and Biodun 212). It is impossible for an individual to be elevated to a higher form of personhood without performing the sacred duties and responsibilities that are required by the community in each age group. Also, communal rites such as marriage cannot occur if an individual has not satisfied the community that they have the knowledge and resource to take care of a family. Also, the Igbo people believe that achieving recognition and personhood depends on an individual’s ability to use community norms to make decisions. For example, an individual cannot hold the title elder because of old age. However, elder hood and personhood are synonymous to excellence and achievements in the community. Also, it is possible for younger adults to receive social recognition in the community because of their achievements. The Igbo people have a deeper understanding of concepts, such as personhood. Being referred as a man, father and husband among the Igbo men do not just describe the biological features of a man. However, the titles signify an understanding of mutual obligations. It is the responsibility of a man to protect and feed his family. Failure to meet the requirements as a man will prevent an individual from mutual acceptance as a person. Laziness and weakness are unacceptable among the Igbo people (Irele and Biodun 235). An individual should be able to contribute to the community. Therefore, for an individual to be achieving personhood in the community, they should be ready to work hard and meet the obligations and needs of the community.

           In conclusion, the concept of personhood varies among different communities. The difference in cultural attributes and obligations shows that the concept of personhood is not similar among different people. Cultural differentiation in regards to community practices and religion is a reason behind the difference in personhood. However, all communities have a concept of personhood that determines how individuals should behave and conduct their affairs in the community. The concept of personhood enables communities to identify the social roles of men, women and children. It helps communities to have a rich understanding of their obligations in the community. Without the concept of personhood, there would be no hierarchical structure in the community. The concept of personhood is a rich source of culture, which supports civilization.

Works cited

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Appell-Warren, Laura P. Personhood: An Examination of the History and Use of an Anthropological Concept. , 2014. Print.

Irele, Abiola, and Biodun Jeyifo. The Oxford Encyclopedia of African Thought: Abol-impe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

Kohn, Eduardo. How Forests Think. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013. Print.

Pollock, Donald. “Personhood And Illness Among The Kulina.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly, vol 10, no. 3, 1996, pp. 319-341.

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