anthro in the news 1/15/18

Flag of the Republic of Haiti. Credit: Wikipedia

Haiti pride

The Haitian Revolution defeated the army of Napoleon Bonaparte and established the only country in the world based on a revolt of enslaved people — a lot to be proud of. Yet, some Americans see something other than a country that has overcome and continues to overcome extreme adversity. The Huffington Post published a piece by Mark Schuller, associate professor of anthropology and NGO studies professor at Northern Illinois University and a Haiti solidarity activist. He writes: “On Thursday, the day before the eighth anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti that killed at least 230,000 people, President Trump called Haiti – as well as a single, undifferentiated ‘Africa’ – ‘shithole countries.’ Of course, the president’s first impulse was to deny the statement, just as he had denied the statement made public through an anonymous source to the New York Times that ‘all Haitians have AIDS.’ Triggering the conversation is his administration’s denial of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 58,000 people from Haiti currently living in the U.S., some for as much as thirty years. His comments speak to the callous attitude of an individual that feels no accountability, who thinks he can rewrite history as is convenient.”

claiming indigeneity in India

Sispara peak and trail. Lithograph after Stephen Ponsonby Peacocke c. 1847. Credit: Wikipedia

The Times of India reported on the effort of the Badaga people of India’s Nilgiri Hills region to gain indigenous status. Their effort has received support from Paul Hockings, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Hockings, who has done research among the Badaga. He is quoted as saying: “the tribe despite its sketchy history is as indigenous to the Nilgiris as the English are to Britain… The length of time in their abode has no particular bearing on their indigeneity. The Badagas today have no cultural roots outside the district, which is also true of the Kotas and Todas, and it is in this sense that all three communities are indeed indigenous.” This determination comes as a relief for the community because, in fact, it was Hockings’ statement in the 1960s about the possibility of the Badagas originating in another state that added fuel to the debate on the tribe’s ethnicity.

tribes gaining U.S. federal recognition 

The Williamsburg-Yorktown Daily (Virginia) reported that six American Indian tribes of eastern Virginia are one step away from federal recognition. The legislation will extend federal recognition to the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Monacan, and Nansemond tribes. The tribes have received recognition from the Commonwealth of Virginia. A seventh tribe, the Pamunkey, received federal recognition in 2016. The College of William and Mary held an event to celebrate the news.  “A number of us at William & Mary have worked closely with these groups,” said archaeologist Martin Gallivan, professor of anthropology at the College of William & Mary. “But the Chickahominy, Monacan, Rappahannock, Nansemond, Eastern Chickahominy and Upper Mattaponi deserve all the credit for persevering with recognition, long past the point when others would probably have given up.”

rethinking university admission in Japan

An article in The Atlantic described the highly competitive process of admission to elite universities in Japan. It quoted Gregory Poole, professor of social anthropology at the Institute for the Liberal Arts of Doshisha University in Kyoto: “Anybody can get into a university in Japan at the moment.” But only the country’s top-tier public and private universities can guarantee young adults promising prospects. For admission to such universities, much rests on an applicant’s score on the so-called Center Test. Center Test success can feel to those taking it like a marker of their worth in society and like the end-all of their academic and professional careers. The Ministry of Education is planning an ambitious reform that seeks to transform the test’s role in the university admission system, the way aptitude is measured, and how students are trained for their professional lives.

Clovis site in Ohio

The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio) reported that the archaeological record of Ohio has been enriched by the discovery of Clovis artifacts at a site in the southeastern part of the state by  Metin Eren, assistant professor of anthropology at Kent State University, and several colleagues. While hundreds of Clovis points have been found across Ohio, most of the sites are in the major river valleys of central Ohio. Some archaeologists conclude from this that the Clovis people chose to avoid the hill country, favoring instead the flatlands, where it was easier to hunt mammoths and mastodons. But the new discovery suggests that the Clovis culture exist in the southeast, but it is harder to find. The team studied nine stone tools found at the site, including an unfinished Clovis point, four fragments of other points, a scraper and three other tools, as well as 118 pieces of chipped flint. They examined 33 of the artifacts under high-powered magnification to determine whether and how they had been used. Results are published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

Homo erectus site in Israel

The Guardian and other media covered the discovery of an abundance of artifacts from 500,000 years ago found at a site called Jaljulia in central Israel. Maayan Shemer, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: “Coming to work in Jaljulia, nobody expected to find evidence of such an ancient site, let alone one so extensive and with such impressive finds…There are only two sites [in Israel] whose estimated age is close to Jaljulia in the Sharon, or central Israel: one in Kibbutz Eyal, approximately 5km to the north, and the other, dated to a slightly later cultural phase, at Qesem Cave located approximately 5km to the south. The findings are amazing, both in their preservation state and in their implications about our understanding of this ancient material culture.” Ran Barkai, of Tel Aviv University, added: “This extraordinary site will enable us to trace the behaviour of our direct prehistoric ancestors, and reconstruct their lifestyle and behaviour on the very long journey of human existence.“


anthro in the news 1/8/18

#ICantBreathe Rally & Protest – Washington, DC (via NBUF & #DCFerguson), 2014. Credit: fuseboxradio

police violence also kills with trauma and loss

AlterNet published commentary by Christen A. Smith, associate professor of African and African diaspora studies and anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. She writes: “The sting of the premature death of 27-year-old Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, is still fresh. On Christmas Eve, Erica Garner suffered a massive heart attack which caused extensive brain damage. She died on Dec. 30. This latest loss emphasizes something we have known: Black women are dying from the trauma of police violence and this issue must be grappled with before more die. When I heard the news of Erica Garner’s heart attack, a wave of familiar shock and pain ran through me. I immediately recognized the correlation between her heart attack and her father’s death because I had seen it before. As an anthropologist who studies the impact of police violence on black communities in Brazil and the United States, I was familiar with many stories like Erica’s. My research examines the ways that police violence kills black women slowly through trauma, pain and loss.”

recommended reading re Iran protests

The Napa Valley Register (California) carried an article about how people can better understand the protests in Iran: “If you want to understand what has provoked days of protests in Iran and where they might be heading….To understand the frustrations driving the young, working-class Iranians who began the protests, I recommend reading [anthropologist] Shahram Khosravi‘s “Precarious Lives: Waiting and Hope in Iran,” published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.”  Khosravi is professor of social anthropology at Stockholm University.

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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.”

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anthro in the news 12/18/17

Hashtag #MeToo, December 2017. Credit: Wolfmann/Creative Commons

sexual harassment survey

U.S. News and World carried an article about the results of a recent survey of thousands of women in the U.S. about sexual harassment. A much higher percentage of younger and college educated women reported personal experience of sexual harassment or by a female family member. The article includes commentary from Hillary Haldane, associate professor of anthropology at Quinnipiac University, who thinks that two federal policies have shaped awareness of gender-based violence and harassment: “Young women in college now were all born near or after the signing of the Violence Against Women Act, and they’ve always had Title IX, which more recently has been used as a bulwark against gender violence on college campuses…During their formative years, they’ve heard public service announcements, and services have always been provided to them. Plus, there are documentaries and social media…They’re not necessarily experiencing more sexual harassment — they’re just far more aware of how they can come forward.”

the meanings in a gift

Untitled. Credit: Pixabay

An article in The Detroit News addresses the author’s quandary of holiday gift-giving, especially the choice between fun gifts and practical gifts. The discussion draws on the work of the pre-eminent scholar of “the gift,” Marcel Mauss, and concludes with the thought that a person’s gift-giving choice conveys their personal/social identity: “Marcel Mauss was a French anthropologist and sociologist who in the mid-1920s published his book, ‘The Gift,’ which made the argument that gifts are never free. His work was based on studying several cultures and he identified several obligations: giving, which is the first step in forging and maintaining a social bond; receiving, which means refusing a gift would be to reject that social bond; and reciprocating. According to Mauss, giving gifts requires reciprocation. And without that reciprocation, relationships can be threatened.” Therefore, a holiday gift-giver’s choices reveal his or her identity and is a way of saying, “this is who I am, and do we still have a relationship?” Whether the gift is a fun gift or a practical gift.

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experiencing fine Indian dining in Mayfair

By Sean Carey

“Why do you want to go to a posh Indian restaurant and spend a small fortune when you can go to the Lahore or Needoo’s in Whitechapel and get a really good two-course meal for £15?” I asked my Nairobi-born British Punjabi friend, Kamal, after he expressed a keen interest in a high-end Indian dining experience.

“Don’t worry about the cost,” he reassured me with a smile, “it’ll be my treat.”

That conversation explains why the two of us recently ended up at Gymkhana, part of the fast-expanding JKS Restaurants group, which is located in Albemarle Street, Mayfair, a stone’s throw from the razzle-dazzle that is Piccadilly Circus. Since its opening in 2013, Gymkhana has won high praise from many food critics. The Times’ often acerbic restaurant critic, Giles Coren, proclaimed, “Gymkhana is the best restaurant I have ever been to.” The Observer’s Jay Rayner declared that we should “give thanks” for Gymkhana “which manages to be glossy and yet still deliver food with a serious kick and intent”.

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anthro in the news 12/11/17

Kutupalong, the world’s fastest growing refugee camp, is located in Bangladesh’s Chittagong province. Credit: U.K. Department for International Development/Flickr [no changes were made to this photo]

we were going to be killed

The Toronto Star reported on the research of Nasir Uddin, professor of anthropology at the University of Chittagong in Bangladesh, who spoke at the Asian Institute at University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. He has recorded the stories of over 500 Rohingya who have fled to Chittagong. He asked them where they lived, what situations they left their home in, and how they crossed the border. When he asked why they fled, the answer was always: We were going to be killed. The narratives are filled with instances of unimaginable trauma.  “This is 2017.” said Uddin. “This is the twenty-first century, this is not Middle Ages…and we’re not doing anything substantial to solve the problem.”

power to the person of the year

December 14, 2017 cover of Time. Credit: Time.

The Salt Lake Tribune (Utah) published a piece about Time magazine’s naming of The Silence Breakers as 2017 Person of the Year. The author discusses the silencing of women in many cultures, drawing on insights from cultural anthropology: “In the mid-1970’s, social anthropologist Edwin Ardener noted that fellow anthropologists claimed they had ‘cracked the code’ of a society they had been studying without actually talking to any women of that society or culture. Ardener pointed out that the ‘high status groups of a culture largely determine the communication system of that culture. At the same time, subordinate groups in the society are rendered inarticulate.’ In other words, they were silenced. Muted.” He and his colleague Shirley Ardener “…came to realize that the group or groups were silenced not because they lacked language but because they lacked power…muted group theory holds that people belonging to anything but the dominant class are disadvantaged (muted) when communicating, either orally or in written form. Power, therefore, belongs to those who control communication.”

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