I happened to read a great paper by Vanessa Grotti (in this volume) about the way Christianity and one's feeling of oneself as a body interact among sedentarised tribes of the Amazonia. After the first pages, the paper is really a page-turner and raises many interesting issues. Beside the political ones (such as the legitimacy of the missionaries' intervention in pre-existing societies), I have been captured by the thematic core of the article, i.e., that one's body is not a stable entity.
"Wild people" and young children seem to be (yet) able to shift into another body. For instance, a "wild man" cannot be seen in the forest, because it becomes something else, perhaps an animal; and a young children is assumed to be able to become a monkey. Becoming sedentary (which is tantamount to become Christians, in that context) implies, on the other hand, becoming "educated" and, hence, loosing the possibilities an instable body can grant. The idea is really fascinating and it made me re-think our culturally loaden concept of "body". Nowadays, we might be inclined to think that a body is just an external object, clearly distinguished from others. The fact that living beings have bodies and that inert matter can be said to have a body only in a metaphorical sense, might add the idea that a body is an external object wherein organic processes take place. But this is not the only possible understanding of body. "Mainstream" Indian authors (Mīmāṃsakas, Nyāya-Vaiśeṣikas, Vedāntins…) tend to speak, instead, of the body as the receptacle of fruition, i.e., the place where experience (bhoga) can take place.
What is a "body" for an Amerindian? If I understood correctly V.G.'s article, it is a vehicle for experience. The inner "soul" can move from one body to another. But this "soul" seems to be just "animation". The characteristics of one's personality depend, by contrast, on the body one is using. A "wild man" becomes "educated", if we accepts the bodily habits of "educated" people. But he will turn back into a "wild being" if he goes back into the forest and, consequently, turn into an animal. In this sense, one's "soul" seems to be capable of descending in different bodies as a medium would do it, i.e., assuming all the features of the body s/he is entering.
To put it short, "body" is an ambiguous word and its understanding is culturally loaden. Do anthropologists engage with this sort of objections or is "body" a well-established anthropological term?
Photo found in http://www.ucsf.edu.
On plants' "bodies", see here. On the conclusion that plants do not have bodies, since they cannot experience, see here. On bodies as conceived by Materialists in Indian philosophy, see here.
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