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The Category of Person

Rane Willerslev reviews Yukaghir notions of personhood in this excerpt from his book, Soul Hunters: Hunting, Animism, and Personhood Among the Siberian Yukaghirs. Yukaghir hunters have sophisticated knowledge of the behaviors of the many species of animals they interact with in northeastern Siberia which helps them characterize these beings along a continuum of personhood; humans being just one among many varieties of persons. These rich and varied conceptualizations ramify more basic ideas about animism, demonstrating how indigenous traditions can be labeled “animistic” as a useful generalization, though this rarely means the same thing across different societies.