In an age where humanity strives to find ways to implement technology in all aspects of society, which builds further and further upon the development of the anthropocene, we often neglect the lives of the other organisms around us that, in fact, have forever co-existed with us. Whether we try to deny it or not, the fact is that all these species, and our relations with them, make life what it is (Harraway 2007: 15). Donna Harraway (2007:16) states that this is known as the ‘companion species’ in which an interesting relationship is formed around concepts of ‘co-constitution, finitude, impurity, historicity and complexity’. Furthermore, the companion species calls for a ‘kinship claim’ to which humans and non-humans form an intimate relationship that is ethically constructed by a continual awareness of ‘significant otherness’ and a sensitivity to each other’s interests (Harraway 2007:9,45,50). This bond, thus, is not built upon human narcissism, gain or control, but rather one knitted by co-evolution and co-constitution through a messy and committing process (Harraway 2007:32,33,35). Thus, a companion species is moulded by emergent naturecultures, in which relational labor propagates a certain satisfaction. This calls for rights and respect on both sides of the relationship, for example, as Harraway (2007:54) states, ‘if I have a dog, my dog has a human’.
From all this, according to Harraway, it is seen that the companion species figures a type of coherence that contrasts to the incoherent world that we live in (2007:62). Through the history that humans and non-humans have undergone together, it is thus important to take this matter seriously and consider our behaviour toward them (2007:1).
The following photographs and their captions aim to express this complex, yet rewarding, relationship of a companion species by investigating the bonds between the exemplified humans and non-humans.
The struggles have been a great many in this little dog’s life. Belle, a rescued dog, perceived the world of humans in a very distorted way due to her mistreatment, which caused many psychological issues of mistrust and unease. After being adopted, her ‘human’ has been there every step of the way, supporting her through the rough times and encouraging her to trust people once again. It has been a long and tumultuous journey, but together they have worked through it, and as a result have formed an invincible bond through overcoming this obstacle as well as through their willingness to serve one other.
Little is seen in this photograph of the journey these two companions have travelled.The horse, French Manor, was brought up for the sole purpose of racing. After he retired from that, he became a show-jumper of much potential. The young lady, preferred not to be named, soon took the horse under her wing and hoped to teach, as well as learn, him at her relatively experienced level. The two formed a beautiful bond of trust and sensitivity. Despite little success of awards or recognition, they have struggled together through the hard times of failing as well as celebrated in the times of doing their best.
These two have literally travelled miles together, moving from house to house, country to country. Pepper, the black cat, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States of America. There he was adopted by this young lady and they instantly formed a bond. As cats are quite independent, or least try to be, he nonchalantly accepted the kinship. Soon they moved across the States and later internationally to South Africa. Throughout their hard times of adapting to new environments, they have had each other, to find comfort and love where there was none for a while. They have found a happiness in being in each other’s presence peaceably. Constantly, they talk – him in meows and her in a soft voice – finding satisfaction in just being.
This little dove was found by my mom, stranded on the lawn, unable to fly, and about to be attacked by the dogs. In desperation and pity, she saved the little thing and began to care for him. He seemed to have some sort of injury or disorder with regards to his wings and he constantly toppled over in imbalance. She nurtured him with great care and encouragement, working through many issues of feeding, cleaning and flying. The two formed an incredible bond in overcoming each obstacle. She would literally feed him by sliding pea by pea into his tiny mouth. And the dove trusted her in doing so, gawking his mouth wide open in order to be fed. In return for her kindness, the dove would purr in excitement and joy when seeing her and hearing her voice. Over time, the little dove gradually healed from his disability and soon learned to fly short distances. He finally learned how to fly away, and the two parted in a beautiful way – each having benefitted from their relationship. My mom states, “Sometimes we need a little extra time to be and do what we are called to be and do”.
Evidently, it is seen that the companion species is a relationship that is often hard to explain, but by overcoming obstacles together, an inseparable bond is formed – one of respect, co-existence and co-adapation.
Haraway, D. 2007. The Companion Species Manifesto: dogs, people, and significant otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.