anthro in the news 9/19/16

Trump’s chimp-style displays

A chimpanzee at the Taronga Zoo, Sydney, as Jane Goodall gives a press conference. Source: Getty Images/Jan Waldie
A chimpanzee at the Taronga Zoo, Sydney, as Jane Goodall gives a press conference. Source: Getty Images/Jan Waldie

Several media, including The Huffington Post, reported on primatologist Jane Goodall’s statement that U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump behaves much like a male chimpanzee:  “In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals…In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks…the more vigorous and imaginative the display, the faster the individual is likely to rise in the hierarchy, and the longer he is likely to maintain that position.”


Where have all the young men gone?

Punjabis at home. Source: Sent Away Boys press kit.
Punjabis at home. Source: Sent Away Boys press kit

The Indian Express carried an interview with cultural anthropologist Harjant Gill of Towson University in Maryland about his new documentary on the widespread out-migration of young men from Punjabi villages in India. Sent Away Boys explores the effects of their absence on the sending villages, including the development of a genre of folk songs sung for the departing male family member. Gill says: “A few years ago, during a visit to my maternal village, I decided to draw a kinship chart of my mother’s side of the family. I realised that, in the past 15 years, more than 75 per cent of my mother’s extended family had settled overseas.”


On African time

OZY published an article about a Nigerian entrepreneur who is seeking to change so-called “African time” by promoting punctuality, especially of workers. The article includes commentary by two social anthropologists: “I personally find the concept of ‘African time’ rather derogatory… it assumes that African people are lazy and unable to keep time,” says Marloes Janson, an anthropologist at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.“ Brian Larkin, chair of the anthropology department at Barnard College in New York, notes that there is nothing particularly African about it. In his view, “African time” refers to conceptions of time outside the capitalist ethos. Every society, he adds, including England’s, has found the transition into intensely punctual “modern” society deeply alienating.


Diapers or death

Flag of the Adult Baby/Diaper Lovers (ABDL) movement. Source: ABDL website
Flag of the Adult Baby/Diaper Lovers (ABDL) movement. Source: ABDL website

WBUR (National Public Radio Boston) carried a piece on perceptions of aging, debility, and death in the U.S. as revealed in a recent survey. One of the findings is that many elderly people view incontinence as worse than death. The article quoted William Peace, professor of cultural anthropology at Syracuse University and known as Bad Cripple to readers of his blog. Peace has been paralyzed since he was 18 and, since then, over more than 30 years, he has had three spinal surgeries and several body casts. He comments:  “I struggle to control my bowels and bladder…This can be a messy business. But it is a management issue and not a statement about the quality of my life or the life of others.”


Dogs in the postmodern present in Tel Aviv

The Jewish Chronicle reported on the importance of dogs in Tel Aviv, Israel, noting that the city held a festival of dogs last month and dog massages are popular. Orit Hirsch-Matsioulas, a doctoral student in anthropology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, comments: “We still have a very strong memory of our collectivist past, and dogs help us cope with the loneliness of the postmodern present…We opened the apartment door to dogs and made them part of the family. People understand their dogs as their own children.”


Take that anthro degree and…

…become a teacher. Justin Rickey is a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Instructor for the Peace Corps. A former Peace Corps volunteer himself, he has served as the regional representative for the Southeast region of Madagascar and as a mentor for incoming trainees to answer their questions about life as a Peace Corps Volunteer. He has a B.A. in anthropology, a B.A. in history and a Master’s in education from the University of Texas Arlington.

…become a sculptor. Southern California native Casey Parlette began sculpting at a young age. After graduating from college, he went to the Peruvian Amazon where he discovered two previously unknown species of fish, one of which has been officially classified as Rivulus parlettei. His travels and studies influence his art. He employs traditional blacksmithing techniques for the metalwork in his sculptures, and he chooses woods, metals, and stones for their natural patterning, texture, and color. Parlette has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of California Los Angeles.

…become a musician. Alex Etchart founded and directs the Sex Workers Opera, performed by real-life burlesque dancers. A musician who works with “youth empowerment” charities,” he is also active in social protests including participating in anti-fracking camps and the September 6, 2016, shut-down of a runway at London City airport in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. He has a B.A. degree in social anthropology and ethnomusicology from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

…become an artist. Melissa Stern is a New York City-based artist whose latest traveling exhibit, The Talking Cure, is concerned with the way art and storytelling intersect with perception and psychology. Over the past decade and more, she has had many solo and group exhibits. She has also worked as a contributor for the online art forum Hyperallergic, taught at New York University and Brooklyn College as an adjunct professor, and was an art critic for the New York Press. She has a B.A. in anthropology and studio art from Wesleyan University.  “You can see how my studies in anthropology influenced this work,” Stern said. “I studied why people want to make things.”

…become a musician. Hannah Rose Baker, of Somerville, Massachusetts, is a fiddler, guitarist, and singer, and she also teaches fiddle at the Jalopy Theatre and School of Music for children. She studied classical violin as an elementary school student in Atlanta, Georgia, learned about traditional music in Ireland during four months there, and switched over to old time American music in college. She has a B.A. in music from Barnard College and an M.A. in cultural anthropology from the University of Texas Austin.

…become an artist. Alicia Piller is a sculptor and designer who makes wall hangings, jewelry, and more, specializing in the use of suede and recycled objects and materials. She also works as a gallery and public programs coordinator at the Center for Contemporary Arts. When she first came to New York City in 2005, she started a business selling hand-painted clothing on Manhattan streets. She said:  “I’d make $700 in a good week, $200 in a bad week.” She has a B.A. in anthropology and fine arts (painting) from Rutgers University.


First use of indigo dye

The Los Angeles Times and other media reported on the discovery of 6,000-year-old fabric in Peru that was dyed with indigo, making it the oldest documented use of indigo dye. It is more than 1,500 years older than the earliest known Egyptian fabrics with indigo-dyed borders and 3,000 years older than the first blue-dyed textiles in China, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances. The blue-tinged pieces of cloth were unearthed at Huaca Prieta, an ancient ceremonial mound on the north coast of Peru that was occupied between 14,500 and 4,000 years ago. Thousands of squares of the prehistoric textiles have been found at the site. Jeffrey Splitstoser, a textile expert in the department of anthropology at George Washington University, has examined 800 of them, all of which were fragments of cloth that had been cut, torn, or ripped from a larger piece of cloth. He says: “The preservation at the site is excellent, so their fragmentary nature is due to the fact that prior to being discarded, they were in that condition…If you go to the Andes today people will take a square of fabric about the same size as what we saw, put whatever they want to carry in the center and then wrap it up…I think they were carrying things in the bag to the temple and then ritually depositing or using them there and leaving the textiles there as well.” Many of the cloth fragments were found on a ramp that led to the top of what may have been a ceremonial temple, along with many smashed-up gourds. “I don’t think it is too big of a leap of faith to think the gourds were carrying liquid and the textiles were carrying the gourds.”


Dogs get it

The Japan News carried a piece about research on dogs’ understanding of words revealing that dogs understand word meaning in the left hemisphere of their brain like people do. The article quotes evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare of Duke University, who was not involved in the research, as saying that it is a “shocking” finding from the scientific perspective.


Which little piggy came first?

As reported in The Hawaii Tribune-Herald, DNA research shows that pigs did not first arrive in Hawaii thanks to explorer James Cook but rather with indigenous Polynesian people about 800 years ago.  The study is the result of a collaborative effort with Texas A&M, the University of Hawaii, and several other universities. It provides genetic proof that “the ancestry of feral hogs in Hawaii today can be traced back to Polynesians,” says Anna Linderholm, assistant professor of anthropology at Texas A&M. Another line of pigs was almost certainly brought by James Cook as well. Findings are published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.


Neuroscience research ethics in question

The Independent published a letter signed by many scientists, including Jane Goodall, arguing against “the controversial use of non-human primates in neuroscience research.” Given the significant level of suffering caused to the animals and the availability of human based approaches, the group signed an open letter of concern to those bodies in the United Kingdom and the European Union responsible for the funding and licensing of this type of research.

“We, the undersigned, are concerned at the level of suffering involved in many neuroscience experiments on non-human primates, especially where fluid deprivation and movement restraint is involved, and believe that there has now been sufficient progress in human-based alternatives to call into serious question whether further research of this type is necessary.”


In memoriam

picture4-091816Social anthropologist Elizabeth Colson died at the age of 99 years. She was professor emerita of anthropology at the University of California Berkeley. Her long-term research on the effects of forced relocation among the Gwembe Tonga of Zambia, which she started in the 1950s, established the importance of displacement/refugee studies in social anthropology and had effects beyond academia in development policy.  She also worked to promote women’s rights in academia, having herself experienced discrimination. David Leonard, a Berkeley professor emeritus of political science, said he admired the progress that Colson made for women in academia: “She would sit quietly in a meeting and listen…And then finally when the men had become really silly in their bombastic observations, she would really quietly but plottingly say something that got to the core of what was being discussed.” Colson had a four-and-a-half hour burial in Zambia, where she had been living for several years after her retirement from Berkeley, which included singing, drumming and dancing throughout. [Blogger’s note: I was privileged to be briefly acquainted with Elizabeth Colson in her role as final commenter at a six-day Wenner-Gren conference I organized on Sex and Gender Hierarchies, held in Mijas Spain. She was a quiet presence throughout and then gave a tour-de-force wrap-up that was both wise and generous, ending with the comment: “This was a good conference. We did not exhaust the subject.”]

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