Forest insects, personhood and the environment: Harurwa (edible stinkbugs) and conservation in south-eastern Zimbabwe

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This study critically examines the possibilities for the mutual, symbiotic coexistence of human beings, biological organisms (a unique species of insects), and natural forests in a specific environment, Norumedzo, in the south-eastern region of rural Zimbabwe. Based on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken in the aforementioned region between December 2011 and December 2012, the study interrogates the enlightenment modernist paradigmatic oppositions such as science versus indigenous knowledge and nature versus culture and as such forms part of a major epistemological shift in Anthropology towards rethinking the binaries created by enlightenment modern thought which have for so long served to confine anthropological attention to the social. The study advances the argument that modernist divides/binaries are artificial and impede understanding of environmentalities, especially of relationships between social ‘actors’ in any given space, given that mutual relationships and interactions between humans and other beings as well as between diverse epistemologies are an effective proxy of nurturing ‘sustainable’ conservation. The study demonstrates how some aspects of the emerging body of literature in the post-humanities and relational ontologies can work to grasp the collaborative interactional space for different social “actors” in the environment through which knowledge communities can be extended. Given that the post-humanities approach advanced in this work focuses attention on relationships among people, animals, ancestors, and things, it rethinks the enlightenment modernist division of the world into subjects and objects, that is, into humans and things. Rethinking those divisions enables fresh conversations between the [Western] sciences and other knowledge forms especially indigenous epistemologies. In this study, the rethinking of those divides is facilitated by an anthropological exploration of the social interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of rural Zimbabweans, forest insects known as edible stinkbugs (harurwa in vernacular) and the natural forests which, in fact, are critical to understanding the eco-systemic knowledges upon which livelihoods of many rural Zimbabweans are hinged.

Includes bibliographical references.