This research project focuses on the
ethnic Tibetans who live in China's northwestern Yunnan province. It is
a study of the circumstances surrounding the Tibetan practice of domestically
breeding dogs and cattle, and the terms used to name them. In the 1970s,
anthropological reports included consideration of the individual names
given to animals. These reports were based on the idea that the outlook
on animals within a given culture is reflected in the system of individual
names given to them. Mr. Yamaguchi approaches the subject from this point
of view as well, in this case studying the view of animals among the partially
agricultural, partially pastoral lifestyle of Tibetans.
"I conducted a questionnaire survey of items such as the individual
names of dogs and their meanings and the individual names of milking cattle
and their meanings. As a result, I discovered that in many cases, the
names of individuals of yak, cow, and interspecies yak-cow hybrid described
the outward physical characteristics of the individual animal, and that
each expression corresponded to individual characteristics.
"On the other hand, the names for dogs were found to be relatively
simple, and the same name could be used for a great many dogs. In addition,
these names were very difficult to associate with the outward appearance
of the individual dog. Conspicuous were names comprising expressions of
personality traits, such as "Jengo," meaning "most vicious
dog," which do not directly describe the personality of the individual
"Tibetans, who have the expression 'good dogs bite people,' also
name dogs 'Doja,' or 'dragon-like dog,' and 'tilin,' or 'long life.' I
think these names are an indication of a perceived desire. In considering
the relations between people and the domestic raising of dogs and cattle,
it seems that domestic cattle are raised with the objective of optimizing
production. The shades of meaning in their names tend toward the increase
of material production, and thus they are given extremely utilitarian
"The names given to dogs, on the other hand, reflect a recognition
of the fact that they are companions sharing a common purpose with humans.
That is, that they are not the objects of management by humans, but play
a role in the management of these other animals."
The handling of dogs by Tibetans, however, is certainly not
overflowing with affection. In rural villages in particular, virtually
no concern at all is shown to them, and it is said that many households
were observed keeping them tied up in their yard for two or three days
at a time without being fed. Thus, a wide gulf was observed between the
conceptual view of animals visible in the individual names and the actual
circumstances of their management.
"Still, I think the fact that this is a gulf sensed by
outsiders is very important. Behaviors, which we see as being inconsistent
could be based on their consistent view. We can think of this as something
that embodies the outlook on animals that Tibetans have."