Shaving the Beasts

Wild Horses and Ritual in Spain

2020
Author:

John Hartigan Jr.

Shaving the Beasts

A vivid first-person study of a notorious equine ritual—from the perspective of the wild horses who are its targets

Wild horses still roam the mountains of Galicia, Spain. But each year, in a ritual dating to the 1500s called rapa das bestas, villagers herd these “beasts” together and shave their manes and tails. Shaving the Beasts is a firsthand account of how the horses experience this traumatic rite, producing a profound revelation about the durability of sociality in the face of violent domination.

Deftly pushing against three-quarters of a century of ethnographic tradition, John Hartigan Jr. creates an earnest multispecies anthropology rich with methodological and theoretical promise. He decenters the human, entangles ethological and ethnographic method and first-person narrative, and invites us to imagine a truly multispecies social theory. The horses remain the focus amid the enticing and challenging assertions about how we could (should) be ‘doing’ anthropology with other-than-humans in the Anthropocene.

Agustín Fuentes, Princeton University

Wild horses still roam the mountains of Galicia, Spain. But each year, in a ritual dating to the 1500s called rapa das bestas, villagers herd these “beasts” together and shave their manes and tails. Shaving the Beasts is a firsthand account of how the horses experience this traumatic rite, producing a profound revelation about the durability of sociality in the face of violent domination.

John Hartigan Jr. constructs an engrossing, day-by-day narrative chronicling the complex, nuanced social lives of wild horses and the impact of their traumatic ritual shearing every summer. His story generates intimate, individual portraits of these creatures while analyzing the social practices—like grazing and grooming—that are the building blocks of equine society. Shaving the Beasts culminates in a searing portrayal of the inspiring resilience these creatures display as they endure and recover from rapa das bestas.

Turning away from “thick” description to “thin,” Hartigan moves toward a more observational form of study, focusing on behaviors over interpretations. This vivid approach provides new and important contributions to the study of animal behavior. Ultimately, he comes away with profound, penetrating insights into multispecies interactions and a strong alternative to humancentric ethnographic practices.
Shaving the Beasts

John Hartigan Jr. is professor in the Department of Anthropology and director of the Américo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies at the University of Texas, Austin. His most recent books include Care of the Species: Races of Corn and the Science of Plant Biodiversity and Aesop’s Anthropology: A Multispecies Approach (both from Minnesota).

Shaving the Beasts

Deftly pushing against three-quarters of a century of ethnographic tradition, John Hartigan Jr. creates an earnest multispecies anthropology rich with methodological and theoretical promise. He decenters the human, entangles ethological and ethnographic method and first-person narrative, and invites us to imagine a truly multispecies social theory. The horses remain the focus amid the enticing and challenging assertions about how we could (should) be ‘doing’ anthropology with other-than-humans in the Anthropocene.

Agustín Fuentes, Princeton University

In this sympathetic account of Galician wild horses and cultural rituals, John Hartigan Jr. offers an important multispecies intervention into how we conceptualize sociality and subjectivity. His clear and lively prose captures the nuance of horse interactions and relationships, making this book a pleasure to read and teach.

Laura A. Ogden, author of Swamplife: People, Gators, and Mangroves Entangled in the Everglades

Shaving the Beasts

Contents

Introduction: Horse Sociality

1. Into the Field: Techniques of Observation

2. Bands: Social Life on the Range

3. Ritual Shearing: Dissolution and Chaos

Conclusion: Species-Local Analysis

Acknowledgments

Notes

Bibliography

Index