*Sensitive Content - Viewer Discretion is Advised - TW: Hunting*
Hunting frogs with gigs of all sorts to cook and consume the legs of the anurans is a widespread tradition practiced by some communities in the United States. While hunting seems to be an act of violence, anthropologists have argued that hunting often reflects some sort of sociality and reciprocity between human persons and the non-human persons that they hunt. The reciprocal relationship of giggers with the frogs that they hunt and eat is a perceived act of violence could forma similar relatedness. There is a global amphibian crisis with a huge threat of mass extinction looming around frogs, and understanding how frogs and humans relate can help us navigate through it.
With the community of giggers and their interaction with the anurans, I ask what is the sociality like? What does this tell us about the global amphibian crisis, at large? This multispecies ethnography project in Indiana aims to answer these questions and communicate the findings using participant observation, ecological studies and photography as my methods.
Fieldwork is currently ongoing through support from the Purdue University Anthropology Department.
Background // Grounded Theory:
There are communities in the United States that engage in a multi-generational practice of Frog Gigging. Frog Gigging is the act of hunting frogs with gigs – multi pronged spear-like tools. In the town of Corydon in southern Indiana, a few enthusiasts dedicatedly participate in this activity for a few months each year. Within this community, gigging is a non-commercial and purely recreational activity associated with generational traditions, nostalgia and a complex sociality and relatedness – the myriad ways in which the potential and outcome of life always unfolds in relation to that of another (Schneider 1984, Carsten 2000) - with the frogs and other animals that they hunt.
Many hunting peoples conceive of hunting as a process of reciprocal exchange between hunters and other-than-human persons, and anthropologists have tended to view such accounts as purely symbolic or metaphorical (Nadasdy 2007). In the last couple decades, however, the exploration of multispecies worlds has emerged as a niche discipline within anthropology, where these often-complex entanglements between human and non-human actors give us insight into a multi-specific, collaborative nature of being of biodiversity and evolution. Multispecies ethnographic works by Anna Tsing (2015), Radhika Govindrajan (2018), Chie Sakakibara (2020) and Brad Weiss (2016), among others, demonstrate that non-human species are arguably as much part of the human experience as their human counterparts. Interspecies entanglements that once seemed the stuff of fables are now material for serious discussion among biologists and ecologists, who show how life requires the interplay of many kinds of beings (Tsing 2015). The mountaineer John Muir quoted, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Multispecies sociality constitutes a similar relatedness, where humans and non-humans are hitched to each other in their interactions.
Field Site & Interlocutors:
Corydon is a small town of just over three thousand people in the south of Indiana in Harrison County, bordering Kentucky. Briefly from 1813 to 1816, the town served as the Capital of the Indiana territory. The town is surrounded by the O’Bannon Woods State Park, within the Harrison-Crawford state forest. The Harrison-Crawford State Forest serves as the primary field site for this study. It is about 24,000 acres of rugged hardwood forest. The state forest serves as the primary field location for this study.
Wyatt Dayvault is a twenty-four-year-old gigger. He works at the O’Bannon woods state forest, and is an expert at controlled wildfires. He travels all around the country as an employee of the DNR, to states like Montana and Idaho to conduct controlled wildfires in the forests there. I got in touch with Wyatt through a chain of contacts. In my first time reading about him from a source, he was described as a dedicated frog gigger. That word immediately caught my attention. As I would learn in my time spent with him, it was an apt description. Wyatt grew up in Corydon and loves the place, especially the forests nearby. Besides brief stints for travel, which he said is something he really wishes to do a lot of in his life, he never expressed a desire to move out of Corydon.
Frog gigging here is a multi-generational family tradition. Wyatt first went out gigging with his grandfather as a young boy of six, and now it is a meaningful part of his life. Talking to Gerald and Lois, Wyatt’s grandparents, was one of my favorite parts about my fieldwork. As Wyatt and I pulled over to their house in a pickup truck, Gerald was out in the verandah outside the entrance to their house doing some carpentry. His work with wood was art; pleasing for me to watch and enjoyable for him to do. I was introduced as “the student from Purdue here to study gigging,” and their already warm demeanor towards me turned warmer with the mention of gigging. Gerald had introduced a bunch of people to gigging through his life, and a new prospective in form of a nineteen-year-old student seemed to make him really happy. Lois also expressed excitement about what we were about to spend the next few days doing. After hearing that I’m from India, she mentioned that her daughter visits India quite often for work – just another testimony of our globalized world and of the different attachments with Corydon within the family.
Carsten, J. (Ed.). (2000). Cultures of relatedness: New approaches to the study of kinship. Cambridge University Press.
Govindrajan, R. (2018). Animal Intimacies. University of Chicago Press.
Nadasdy, P. (2007). The gift in the animal: the ontology of hunting and human–animal sociality. American ethnologist, 34(1), 25-43.
Sakakibara, C. (2020). Whale Snow: Iñupiat, Climate Change, and Multispecies Resilience in Arctic Alaska. University of Arizona Press.
Schneider, D. M. (1984). A Critique of the Study of Kinship. University of Michigan Press.
Tsing, A. L. (2015). The Mushroom at the End of the World. Princeton University Press.
Weiss, B. (2016). Real pigs: Shifting values in the field of local pork. Duke University Press.
PWL ANTHROPOLOGY IRB-2021-440