Hunting: A no-woman’s land?

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Hunting is the practice of killing living organisms for food, pleasure or business. Hunting has been in history since the origin of humanity and seems to be the oldest friend of human race. Today a sport, hunting needs proper hand and mind coordination and concentration. The living organisms that are hunted are referred to as ‘game’ in the sports language. Removal of vermin via pest control can also be termed as a part of hunting. Discoveries suggest that our earliest ancestors might be omnivores and even depended on larger animals for survival, and hunting might be one of the reasons for the extinction of many Holocene mega fauna.

As religion, culture and literature came into being, hunting became a theme for folklore, literature, myths and even religious rituals which involved animal sacrifices. Domestication of animals and the rise in agriculture came much later in history, about 11,000 years ago, before which we lived only by our hunting expertise. By 18,000 years ago i.e. by the Mesolithic age, our hunting strategies had diversified with the invention of the bow and the domestication of dogs, does not come into the picture for another 3000 years. Ancient scriptures, paintings and scrolls, especially from Mesopotamia, kings are illustrated as hunting big ‘game’ like lions or tigers from beautiful chariots. Indian mythic tales such as Ramayana too shows that hunting was a sport enjoyed for recreation, as Rama tries hunting the golden deer for his wife- Sita.


During a phase in history, 1960-1970s, the phrase ‘Man the Hunter’ became widely popular and even today wooing is considered and act of hunting, specifically reserved for men. Many historians believe that women in stone-age took care of her children and stayed at home whereas the man went to fetch food for his family. Chimpanzees are the closest relatives to man kind in history and it is possible that our ancestors hunted like them before they could stand upright. A recent journal, Current Biology, produced a historical piece of work: ‘Female Chimpanzees hunting with spears”. This journal is mind boggling in two respects. Firstly, Though Chimpanzees are capable to use stones to break nuts or other such activities using stones and sticks, the discovery of them making spears and using them for hunting is a wonder even though it isn’t conclusive about Homo sapiens origin. Secondly, Out of the 22 Chimpanzees who were using spears for hunting, only one was male. This seems to be a complete gender reversal in the belief of ‘Man the Hunter.’

The traditional concept of man being the sole hunter in history is being questioned as women come into the picture. Arizonian scientists Steven L. Kuhn and Mary C. Stiner in an article in ‘Current Anthropology’ in 2006 suggest that the gender based roles of men risking their lives in the hunting ground whereas woman staying at home might be a ‘modern’ development. Archaeological evidence from India as well as around the world supports the view of women as hunters, no matter how restricted this role may be.

Folklore and puranic myths represent mother goddesses as killers of major wild animals, such as:

China: Lady Yue was a famous swords-woman.
Burkina Faso (Africa): Yennenga was a warrior woman skilled in spear and bow and was considered as the mother of the empire by the Mossi people, natives of Burkina Faso.
Greek Mythology: The famous Amazons were ancient women warriors who were placed by Herodotus in a region bordering Scythia and Sarmatia.
India: Goddess Kali was a woman goddess who slayed the demon Raktabija to save the world.


There are many more similar examples from many more parts of the world along with examples of queens shooting tigers and panthers. During the colonial era, when hunting had taken the form of a status symbol, there were sportswomen, both Indian and British. A rare fest or tribal hunt survives as evidence of women’s role as hunters and is known as jani shikar which is held every 12 years by native women of Jharkhand, when they go out to hunt wild animals, mainly minor. Thus, in spite of a million prohibitions on women, there are women still involved in hunting.

Hunter-gatherers had an equal and uncensored social culture, though the settled hunter-gatherers might be an exception. Women were equally powerful and involved in hunting practices as men. Though, there are many proofs that women used to doing all the gathering while men were into big ‘game’ but that hardly signifies oppression because childcare was a collective activity involving multiple mothers and male care takers, hence the domestic sphere was an empowering place for them rather than a privatized world. But, even then there were several cases where women hunted the same kind of animals as men and at times did the hunting with men.

Some say that the world initially was matriarchal while some believe that men have always been the superior and powerful gender but, history, time and again shows that patriarchy was born yesterday and that the world was an egalitarian space for both genders as can be proved via the most basic historical evidence about hunting through epochs and lands.




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