Tag: anthropology

We Are Still Exterminating Indians

PLEASE NOTE: “We” is used in the broadest sense to include all of the Americas.  I haven’t bothered with the AmerIndian distinction or Native American semi-obscenity.

Wonk war has broken out again with publication of Napoleon Chagnon’s latest ouevre:


Wonk wars rarely claim a casualty among the participants but often exacts a huge body count among the targets and collaterals as Iraq, above all, symbolizes today.

The book’s subtitle perhaps sums up [Chagnon’s] attitude to both groups: “My life among two dangerous tribes – the Yanomamö and the anthropologists.”


Whatever faults or merits one might find in Chagnon’s scholarship matters not a whit.

I was taken long ago when somehow I knew even less than I do now by a constant raging wonk war in far more tolerant times between the fire breathing liberal Alexander Cockburn and the dinosaurs on the facing page over the attempt of the Russians to quell the Afghani rebellion against the Communist dictators.  

We know now how that turned out but never got the message.

More to the point the wonk war was over purported scientific evidence of germ warfare that turned out to be false, if not fraudulent.  As far as I know now nobody cared enough to do a truly definitive study.

War is what embroils the brain, not so much science.  Truth is of little importance in such contests.

I was then confused by Cockburn’s denunciation of Tibetan culture and semi-approval of conquest by China.  Cockburn’s portrayal of the brutal treatment of women and children in Tibetan culture was directly opposed to the praise showered on a portrayal of an idyllic peaceful culture that persists to this day.

Things are seldom much like opposing viewpoints.

The wonk war brought up memories of an anthropologist who married a Yanomami woman and installed her in a house in an American suburb where they had two children.  The two girls were still in school when the Yanomami woman escaped her unsatisfactory situation to return to the Amazon jungle.  She found a mate who beat her, life was hard, heat and insects and the usual discomforts of the jungle bore down on her but most anything was better than the lonely life in an American suburb apparently.

At least she escaped before having to endure the internet.

Best,  Terry

Ancient and Worldwide

If one were to track the commentary on articles which focus on a transperson in singular or transpeople as a group, one would nearly universally discover someone stuck in opposition to our existence because transgender is “new” and/or a western/American phenomenon.

But it is neither new, nor western in origin.

The only thing that is relatively new is the fact that there are now medical procedures to treat the transgender condition.  And the word itself, I guess.  Etymology online dates it to 1988, although it dates the word “transsexual” to 1957.  The derogatory “she-male”, on the other hand, dates to the 19th Century.

Not surprisingly, it’s an English term…which is what probably spurs the thought that it is a Western phenomenon.  But the words for the phenomenon in non-western cultures are ancient.  In ancient Rome some of us were the Gallae, the castrated followers of the goddess Cybele.

Cybele’s religion was a bloody cult that required its priests and priestesses as well as followers to cut themselves during some rituals.  The cult was a mystery religion, which meant that it’s inner secrets and practices were revealed to initiates only.  The priests castrated themselves at their initiation; there was wild music, chanting, and frenzied dancing.  Cybele’s retinue included many priestesses, including Amazonian, transgendered female priests as well as traditional masculine functionaries such as the dendrophori (tree-bearer) and cannophori (reed-bearer), and transgendered males known as the Gallae.


Some Learning Curves are Longer than Others

In recent conversation with a friend, we discussed the means by which any organization or group might best enlighten those who cling to bigoted, ignorant, or otherwise offensive points of view.  It is a conversation no different from the very same ones we have in a multitude of related corners, spaces where abstract theorizing has to take the place of hard fact.  As an anthropologist, my friend is constantly aware of the intersection where intellect and biological construction meet and couches her views from that point.  As she puts it, evolution of any sort is a tediously slow process.  We have, for example, still not really advanced to the point that we have gotten the hang of this whole walking upright issue.  The human body’s propensity to arthritis is but only one of those most visible examples of this fact of reality.  If our skeletal construction are but unfinished business, it would stand to reason that many others are too.