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Although an anthropologist’s first field experience may involve culture shock, Napoleon Chagnon reports that the long process of participant observation may transform personal hardship and frustration into confident understanding of exotic cultural patterns.
After reviewing the controversy surrounding Napoleon Chagnon’s fieldwork among the Yanomanö, the author concludes that the latest battle in the anthropology wars is journalistic spin-doctoring of what is, for the most part, solid science.
In transforming an anthropologist into one of their own, villagers of Punjab say, “You never really know who a man is until you know who his grandfather and his ancestors were.” In this way, Richard Kurin finds, selecting a village for fieldwork is a matter of mutual acceptance and mutual economic benefit.
Anthropologist Richard Borshay Lee gives an account of the misunderstanding and confusion that often accompany the cross-cultural experience. In this case, he violated a basic principle of the !Kung Bushmen’s social relations—food sharing.
Recent archaeological findings have led to revolutionary new theories about the first Americans—and to a tug-of-war between scientists and contemporary Native Americans.
When language is used to alter our perception of reality, its main function—that of communication between people and social groups—is in grave danger.
As fundamental elements in human communication, directness is not necessarily logical or effective, and indirectness is not necessarily manipulative or insecure. Each has its place in the broader scheme of things, depending upon the culture and the relationship between the speakers.
Since family members have a long, shared history, what they say in conversation—the messages—combine with meanings gleaned from past memories—the metamessages. The metamessages are formed from context—the way something is said, who is saying it, or the very fact that it is said at all.
It is often claimed that great literature has cross-cultural significance. In this classic article, Laura Bohannan describes the difficulties she encountered and the lessons she learned as she attempted to relate the story of Hamlet to the Tiv of West Africa in their own language.
The traditional hunters’ insights into the world of nature may be different, but they are as extensive and profound as those of modern science.
Living in the midst of tourist traffic and straddling two nations struggling to modernize, the Masai have retained their traditional culture longer than virtually any other group of people in East Africa.
Among the lessons to be learned regarding reciprocity is that one may not demand a gift or refuse it. Yet, even without a system of record-keeping or money being involved, there is a long-term balance of mutual benefit.
Modern-day egalitarian bands of hunters share their food—and their political power—as did their forebears. But when agriculture was invented, people settled down, produced surpluses, and began to accumulate private property. As control of a group’s resources fell to select individuals, big men, chiefs, and, eventually, presidents emerged.
While the custom of fraternal polyandry relegates many Tibetan women to spinsterhood, this unusual marriage form promotes personal security and economic well-being for its participants.
Anthropologists have long contended that the functions of marriage include the creation of the nuclear family, the continuation of the extended family over time, and the binding of otherwise separate kinship groups into a unified social network. But what happens in the institution of marriage does not even exist, even in the ritualistic sense? The Na of China show us.
In the shantytowns of Brazil, the seeming indifference of mothers who allow some of their children to die is a survival strategy geared to circumstances in which only a few may live.
Cross-cultural research in child development shows that parents readily accept their society’s prevailing ideology on how babies should be treated, usually because it makes sense in their environmental or social circumstances.
When a brother and a sister marry a sister and a brother, there is more than just the convenience of forgoing the bride price. The double wedding is part of the families’ strategy to forge and maintain favorable political and economic alliances.
Arranging a marriage in India is far too serious a business for the young and inexperienced. Instead, the parents make decisions on the basis of the families’ social position, reputation, and ability to get along.
The term “dowry deaths” refers to a newlywed bride who is harassed over the gifts and cash she brought to the new marriage, leading to her murder or suicide. Although the custom of dowry is rooted in marriage traditions, a full understanding must take into account the current state of India’s caste system and economy.
Paradoxically, Japanese families seem to survive not because husbands and wives love each other more than American couples do, but rather because they perhaps love each other less. As love marriages increase, with the compatibility factor becoming more important in the decision to marry, the divorce rate in Japan is rising.
Ernestine Friedl relates that the extent of male domination over women depends on the degree to which men control the exchange of valued goods with people outside the family. As women gain increasing access to positions of power in industrial society, they may regain the equality that seems to have been prevalent among our foraging ancestors.
Not all societies agree with the Western cultural view that all humans are either women or men. In fact, many Native American cultures recognize an alternative role called the “berdache,” a morphological male who has a nonmasculine character. This is just one way for a society to recognize and assimilate some atypical individuals without imposing a change on them or stigmatizing them as deviant.
Anthropologist Meredith Small’s study of the ritual of seclusion surrounding women’s menstrual cycles has some rather profound implications regarding human evolution, certain cultural practices, and women’s health.
Gender identity ceremonies may involve genital alterations. Practiced by many African women, these rituals are deeply embedded in people’s lives. A full understanding requires a consideration of the cultural factors involved.
In a rite of passage, some Nigerian girls spend months gaining weight and learning domestic customs in a “fattening room.” A woman’s rotundity is seen as a sign of good health, prosperity, and feminine beauty.
In virtually every society, certain rites and ceremonies are used to signify adulthood. This article describes the Maasai circumcision ceremony that initiates an individual into adulthood.
Unlike modern doctors, African healers take a “holistic” approach to medicine, treating both the patient’s spiritual and physical well-being. Western biomedicine cannot be imposed on Africans; it must be made consistent with indigenous African medical culture.
When someone we know or love dies, there seems to be a natural impulse to get the body back. Since the rituals and the reasons for them vary from one cultural setting to another, an investigation reveals much about the various ways people have lived and died.
In seeking scientific documentation of the existence of zombies, anthropologist Wade Davis found himself looking beyond the stereotypes and mysteries of voodoo and directly into a cohesive system of social control in rural Haiti.
The ritual beliefs and taboos of the Nacirema provide us with a test case of the objectivity of ethnographic description and show us the extremes to which human behavior can go.
Professional baseball players, as do Trobriand Islanders, often resort to magic in situations of chance and uncertainty. As irrational as it may seem, magic creates confidence, competence, and control in the practitioner.
When colonial governments force the conversion of subsistence farms to cash crop plantations, peasants are driven onto marginal lands or into a large pool of cheap labor. In either case, the authors maintain, they are no longer able to feed themselves.
The most deadly weapon that colonial Europeans carried to other continents was their germs. The most intriguing question to answer here is why the flow of disease did not move in the opposite direction.
The African herders’ lifestyle remained viable for thousands of years because they used effective strategies for coping with drought. Today, claims Brian Fagan, Western-style political and economic institutions have brought repeated crises and famines, marginalized millions of people, and killed thousands.
As traditional cultures are sacrificed to the process of modernization, tribal peoples not only lose the security, autonomy, and quality of life they once had, but they also become powerless, second-class citizens who are discriminated against and exploited by the dominant society.
The relatively benign use of psychoactive drugs, such as betel and kava in the Pacific Islands, is deeply rooted in cultural traditions and patterns of social interaction. Today, as a result of new drugs and disruptive social and economic changes introduced from the outside, a haze hangs over Oceania.
Just 25 years before this article was written, the Ibatan lived in near total isolation from the world. Now, they have running water, Christianity, satellite TV, and their own variation on the global divide between the haves and have nots.
The resurgence of the potlatch among the Indians of the Northwest Coast is a reflection of a renewed pride and identity. It also serves as visible evidence of the continuity of a people and of their ceremonial and artistic traditions.
The images of Native Americans conveyed in our educational institutions have resulted in ignorance and indifference on the part of the general public. To make matters worse, such self-serving stereotypes are being perpetuated by corporate TV sponsors.