Olfaction in a hunter-gatherer society: Insights from language and culture


According to a widely-held view among various scholars, olfaction is inferior to other human senses. It is also believed by many that languages do not have words for describing smells. Data collected among the Maniq, a small population of nomadic foragers in southern Thailand, challenge the above claims and point to a great linguistic and cultural elaboration of odor. This article presents evidence of the importance of olfaction in indigenous rituals and beliefs, as well as in the lexicon. The results demonstrate the richness and complexity of the domain of smell in Maniq society and thereby challenge the universal paucity of olfactory terms and insignificance of olfaction for humans.

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