taxonomic labels and orangs

John Grehan jgrehan at SCIENCEBUFF.ORG
Thu Jan 29 09:31:32 CST 2004

Barry Roth's observation sort of overlaps with taxonomy in a general way
(otherwise apologies in advance) in that it relates to that question of
taxon identity. This problem is exemplified by the current position of the
genetics people that humans and chimps should be in the same genus. Roth's
reference puts the orangutan in the same boat in mythic form.

The broader question of what is 'human' is reflected in the doubts often
expressed as to what is 'hominid' and then even the genus Homo apparently
lacking a decisive identity. Of course orangutans are quite different just
as are chimpanzees, but in many other synapomorphic ways they are also
quite as much the same.

The label 'orangutan' itself may be quite telling. It is often represented
in the literature as 'man of the forest' whereas I understand (any any
Malaysian member of the list might be able to confirm/repudiate)
'orang'  apparently means 'person' or 'reasonable being' and 'utuan' stands
for 'of the woods'. The Malaysian language acknowledges that there are
"reasonable beings" of both exes so 'orang perepuan' is woman, and "orang
laki-laki" is man, and "orang-utan" is a reasonable being of the woods -
reasonable enough to catch a bus it would seem!

John Grehan

At 06:32 PM 1/28/2004 -0800, Barry Roth wrote:
>I read this story to Parky and he told me that the legend goes (he was
>vague as to whose legend it was and how he happened to hear it) that long
>ago certain people misbehaved, and in their displeasure the ruling deities
>smote them by changing some of their character-states back to those of
>their (australopithecine?) ancestors.  This was how orangutans
>originated.  Other character-states -- such as, presumably, the ability to
>use public transportation -- the deities left intact, to send the message
>that by striving diligently these dis-evolved creatures (or rather, their
>offspring) could once again hope to achieve full humanity.
>So in this view, "humans" is a paraphyletic group unless orangutans are
>Works for me ...
>John Grehan <jgrehan at TPBMAIL.NET> wrote:
>I found what I thought might be an interesting example of a behavioral
>character that may or may not have phylogenetic significance depending on
>whether one recognizes morphology as informative in the first place, and
>behavior as a morphology in the second.
>Do you Yahoo!?
>Yahoo! SiteBuilder - Free web site building tool. Try it!

Dr. John Grehan
Director of Science and Collections
Buffalo Museum of Science
1020 Humboldt Parkway
Buffalo, New York 14211-1293
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