anthro in the news 12/26/17

An arm bracelet from Nabwageta Island, Papua New Guinea. The names of the people who have owned the bracelet are written on it. It was part of a gift exchange network called the kula in which gifts are kept for a while and re-gifted. Credit: Brocken Inaglory/Wikimedia Commons

gift-giving is a key to culture

The Guardian published a piece on gift-giving and culture: “Exchanging stuff – as gifts or economic transactions – and reciprocating those exchanges in a socially acceptable way – is a practice found in all human cultures. The rules and scope of the exchanges may be very different, but the fact of them is universal…French anthropologist Marcel Mauss doesn’t attempt to explain the politics and practice of the office Secret Santa (alas) – instead, he describes “archaic societies” in Melanesia, Polynesia and the north-west coast Native American peoples who practiced ‘potlatch’, a ceremonial gift-giving and feasting ritual characterised by competitive shows of conspicuous giving and consumption. These, Mauss says, are systems of gift-giving that aren’t just about gifts, but carry legal, economic, spiritual and moral significance that saturates the whole social fabric…In these societies, items given as gifts take on the spiritual significance of the giver. The value of the relationship is embodied in the thing given.” Mauss’ insights are relevant to societies, of course, because any gift is a social thing, with embedded social meaning.

new wave of anti-Semitism in Sweden

Synagogue in Malmo. Credit: jorchr/Wikimedia Commons

The Washington Post published commentary by Aje Carlbom, associate professor of social anthropology at Malmö University in Sweden, on the resurgence of anti-Semitism there: “During anthropological fieldwork here in Sweden’s third-largest city 20 years ago, I interviewed a young Palestinian man who thought it was a shame that the “Nazis didn’t get to finish their job with the Jews” during World War II. This is of course an extreme example of one man who does not speak for his community. Unfortunately since then, Malmö — with its significant community of Muslim immigrants — has become infamous for its growing anti-Semitism, which has prompted many Jews to leave. More recently, Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem has provoked attacks on synagogues in Sweden as well as openly expressed threats to kill Jews.”

remembering Puerto Rico

The Riverdale Press (New York) reported on a conference about the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico held at Lehman College in New York City. The gathering marks a refusal to let the commonwealth fade into the background.  Rima Brusi, cultural anthropologist, organized the conference with Lehman’s Center for Human Rights and Peace Studies, said: “This is a humanitarian crisis unfolding right here in the states,” said “These are American citizens dying because of an ineffective response…” Although the official death toll is more than 60, Brusi says those figures are under-reported because it fails to take into account the people who died because the island lacks the electricity to power medical devices like oxygen machines or provide refrigeration to store medicines like insulin.

ethnicity in Sri Lanka: it’s not so binary 

An article in The Hindu (India) noted the need to beyond the Sinhalese-Tamil ethnic binary in Sri Lanka and the relevance of a recent book by Gananath Obeyesekere. The Doomed King: A Requiem for Sri Vikrama Rajasinha sheds light on Telegu-speaking Nayaka people on the island.  According to Obeyesekere, the Nayakas were a warrior class from Andhra Pradesh who established themselves as overlords in Tamil Nadu, in places like Thanjavur and Madurai, from where many of the Kandyan queens hailed. “Unfortunately, most Sinhala people were ignorant of Telugu and simply called the Nayakas Tamil.” Today, most Nayakas in Sri Lanka live near large cities where they work as laborers.

what would Edmund Leach say?

Earlier this month, the City Council of Rochdale, part of greater Manchester, in England, proposed a ban on public swearing with a hefty fine for offenders. In response, a newspaper article commented on the difficulty of defining swearing and thus enforcing the ban.  In response to that response, The Independent (London) published a letter from anthropologist Sean Carey, contributor to anthropologyworks: “In his piece on Rochdale’s failed attempt to fine people for swearing, Simon Kelner asks, ‘what actually constitutes a swear word?’ There is a cultural consensus on this matter. All known cultures have swear words and, as the social anthropologist Edmund Leach pointed out, such “dirty words” are almost invariably associated with blasphemy, animals, sexual or excretory functions, identities, objects or products,  which are classified as taboo. Rather than supply a list of words with asterisks, I am confident that readers will be able to compile their own.”

kudos to activist anthropologist

The San Diego Tribune carried an interview with medical anthropologist Konane Martinez, associate professor of anthropology at California State University in San Marcos. For nearly 20 years, she has carried out research on how immigrant and border communities in California navigate health and social service agencies. She is a founding member of the Farmworker CARE Coalition, which includes more than 40 agencies that work to improve the health and lives of farmworkers and their families. This past November, she was appointed to the California Office of Binational Border Health advisory group, which works to improve health care through building better communication and coordination between health officials and professionals in California and Mexico.

take that anthro degree and…

…become a television broadcaster, journalist, and writer. Mary-Ann Ochota is a free-lance specializing in presenting anthropology, archaeology, social history and outdoor adventure. On her website, she says: “For me, it’s all about discovering and telling people’s stories in the most exciting and compelling way – on TV, radio, in print and in person. From the heart of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster zone, to conflict zones in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the slums of Dhaka, the backstreets of Swansea, and the high fells of Britain’s Lake District. I’m a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a Hillwalking Ambassador for the British Mountaineering Council, and a GetOutside Champion for the Ordnance Survey.” She is author of two books: Britain’s Secret Treasures & Hidden Histories: A Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape and Hidden Histories: A Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape

from parking lot to protected monument

According to reporting from National Public Radio (U.S.), the car park in Leicester, England, where the remains of King Richard III were discovered five years ago, is now a protected monument. The location has been given scheduled monument status and described as “one of the most important sites in [the U.K.’s] … national history.”

from the archives

The Times (London) carried an article describing how the renowned archaeologist, V. Gordon Childe, was  under suspicion by the British government for many years:  “He was one of the best-known archaeologists of the 20th century — a long-time professor at Edinburgh University famous for his insights from excavations he oversaw at Skara Brae, who joined the dots of European prehistory. But for MI5 he was a 40-year enigma. Now new research has shone a spotlight on a curious episode in the gifted, mysterious, muddled life of Vere Gordon Childe, when famous figures in the Scottish archaeology and art scene took on the security services and the wartime Scottish establishment, and won. In 1942 Childe, an Australian-born Briton, professor of archaeology at Edinburgh for 15 years and the country’s leading archaeologist, was blocked from a commissioner’s seat on the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Now part of Historic Environment Scotland (HES), the royal commission was the body recording — and protecting — the country’s historic buildings, monuments and archaeological sites. That year he published What Happened in History, one of the most widely read archaeology books ever written.”


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