Ekila

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= a theory to maintain abundance, amongst the Yaka in Congo

Description

Jerome Lewis:

"For Yaka, people should be successful in their activities because nature is abundant. If they are not, it is because they, or somebody else, has ruined their ekila by sharing inappropriately. Sharing is fundamental to sociality. Yaka share even when there would seem to be no need to share, for instance, when huge amounts of fish are captured by everyone in the dry season; and they still share even if this means the producer remains with almost nothing. They explain that if they didn’t share, their ekila would be ruined and they would no longer catch fish or find food.

Ekila regulates Yaka environmental relations by defining what constitutes proper sharing. For example, by not sharing food, especially meat, properly among all present, a hunter’s ekila may be ruined so that he is unsuccessful in future. A hunter who is too often successful may stop hunting for a while for fear that his successes will attract envy and ruin his ekila. If either a husband or wife inappropriately shares their sexuality with others outside their marriage, it is said that both partners have had their ekila ruined. A menstruating woman is said to be ekila and her smell will anger dangerous forest animals. She must share part of her menstrual blood with forest spirits in order that her male relatives continue to find food. Even laughter, a highly valued activity, should be properly shared. Whereas laughter shared between people in camp during the evening makes the forest rejoice, laughing at hunted animals ruins the ekila of the hunter.

If ekila has been ruined it causes men to miss when they shoot at animals, and for women it causes them to have difficulties in childbirth. If parents eat certain ekila animals when their children are still infants, this can provoke illness in their children and even death. Failure or difficulties in the food-quest or procreation are discussed in relation to ekila rather than to inadequacies in human skill or the environment’s ability to provide. People recognise each other’s skills, but in this egalitarian society it is impolite to refer to them. Rather, success or failure may be discussed in terms of ekila.

A whole area of forest may become ekila. This becomes apparent when hunting is consistently unsuccessful, and successive misfortunes befall those who camp in or pass through a certain area. Yaka hunters from the clan responsible for that area will place leaf cones stuffed with earth on all foot paths leading into the ekila forest. This warns other Yaka that the forest is dangerous, and that they should not attempt to find food but turn back or simply pass through quickly. Despite a non-scientific reasoning, the effect of this allows degraded areas of forest to be left in order that their resources increase to sustainable levels again.

Although couched in unfamiliar idioms, ekila is a theory for maintaining abundance. Adherence to these practices, and their explanation, has established a relationship with resources that has assured Yaka people have experienced the forest as a place of abundance for the entirety of their cultural memory. Ekila teaches that by not sharing properly resources become scarce. By sharing properly, resources will be experienced as abundant." (http://www.radicalanthropologygroup.org/new/Journal_files/journal_02.pdf)