Is anthropomorphizing a human universal? Do people in all cultures ascribe human attributes to animals and plants, as well as to objects that have never been alive? (The preceding question was intended as rhetorical, but Wikipedia says YES!
Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human entities and is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.))
In the U.S. Southwest, some people look at a saguaro cactus and see human qualities.
The saguaro is the cactus most people think of when they think of a desert, especially U.S. desert. Interestingly, according to Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum website, saguaros grow only in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico, with few stray plants found in southeast California. Anyone who imagines saguaros in New Mexico or Nevada or Utah has it all wrong!
I met a woman in New Mexico who had traveled throughout Arizona. She’d grown up in New England, but had been charmed by the saguaros she saw in the Sonoran Desert during her early travels there. She took a lot of photos (back in the days of film and negatives and prints) of saguaros she thought looked like people doing people things. She was still tickled by the cacti when she pulled out her photo album to show me.
She had several dozen photos, one saguaro after another, sometimes two or more saguaros “interacting.” Each photo had a funny little caption describing what human activity she imagined was taking place. There were “hugging” cacti and several jokes about saguaros with droopy arms.
She said she had a photo album with pictures she’d taken of a “wedding party” made up entirely of saguaros, but she wasn’t able to find it during my visit.
The funniest story of the personification of saguaros I’ve ever heard was told to me a couple of years ago. I was talking to a woman who’d grown up in New Jersey, and she told me about her first visit to the U.S. Southwest. When she drove into Arizona and saw her first saguaros, her first thought was, Those plants are flipping me off!
I look at a saguaro and can image it waving at me, welcoming me to the desert. Leave it to someone from New Jersey to think the saguaros were aiming rude gestures at her.
I took all of the photos in this post. All were taken near Ajo, AZ, in the Sonoran Desert. None of the saguaros look like people to me.
I think people anthropomorphize saguaros because they seem a lot like us: they usually just stand there (whether they’re thinking or not is hard to tell), sometimes they’re solitary and other times they’re part of a crowd, they’re prickly, sometimes they wear funny hats (owls, hawks, a cluster of smaller birds, plastic grocery bags), sometimes they have a natural funny crown on their head that may make them think they’re better than the other saguaros. But they can’t dance AT ALL!
Ha! Funny! Thanks for this light-hearted response.