The Study of Human-Animal Interactions The CAIRC Scholarship Program Summary of the Past Researches
Summary of the Past Scholarship Research
From "Letter from CAIRC" July 2001
Research Theme: "The Tibetan Outlook on Animals: A Comparison of the Naming for Domestic Dogs and Cattle"

By Takayoshi Yamaguchi, Prof. Hisao Furukawa

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 dog.

"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 individual names.

"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."