Hallowell, A. Irving “Pete”

Hallowell, A. Irving “Pete” (1892–1974) – Anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania whose research among the Ojibwe of south-central Canada between 1930 and 1940 led him to coin the influential phrase “other-than-human persons” to speak of Ojibwe understandings of the nature of a thoroughly relational, animist world inhabited by persons both human and otherwise. Given the care with which he notes that persons of all kinds have transformative abilities, some more developed and practiced than others, it is important to realize that human may also be a fluid term: Someone who appears human at one point may take on a different shape at another time. It remains true, however, that the most radical challenge to Western notions of personhood is the Ojibwe and broader Algonquian understanding that humans are not the definitive type of person. In some cases, of particular importance to the work of shamans, human persons are weak and need the considerable help and/or protection of other-than-human persons. Hallowell’s respectful approach to the people he studied led him to argue for the necessity of taking their worldviews seriously, and his publications include careful and insightful discussions with regular reference to the authority of his informants and friends, especially along the Berens River, Manitoba, and especially Chief Berens, whom Hallowell regularly cites as a coresearcher and significant intellectual influence. In addition to work that provides a good foundation for understanding the animist context in which shamans live and work, and in which their knowledge fits with their wider culture, Hallowell also discussed more specifically shamanic ceremonial complexes such as Midewiwin, “Shaking Tent,” and Wabanowiwin. There is some difference of opinion about whether the publication or even discussion of some of these ceremonies and associated narratives is appropriate, although Hallowell certainly gave away fewer details than some other writers and it is evident that his discussion was motivated by respect throughout. Also, Hallowell engaged carefully with the changing cultural, socioeconomic, political, and environmental situation of those he studied. He did not reify the “traditional” past as the only topic of importance to scholars, and he notes indigenous agency in evolving forms of both traditional practice and Christianity to suit the changing times.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007