[The following is an invited post by Scott Simon. Scott is Professor in the School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies at the University of Ottawa, Canada. Having conducted research in Taiwan for nearly two decades, he specializes in indigenous rights, hunting life-ways, and human-animal relations. His most recent book is Sadyaq Balae! L’autochtonie formosane dans tous ses états.]
In mid-December 2015, indigenous social activists protested across Taiwan with urban demonstrations and lighting of solidarity bonfires in rural communities. They were angry about the case of Tama Talum (Wang Guang-lu), a 56-year-old Bunun man slated to begin a 3.5 year prison sentence on December 15. In July 2013, at the request of his 92-year-old mother who wanted to eat traditional country food, he had hunted one Reeve’s muntjac (a small deer) and Formosan serow (a mountain goat).1 He was arrested and convicted in a Taitung court for illegal weapons possession and poaching. On October 29, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled against his appeal. Tama Talum’s case merits international attention for humanitarian reasons, but also because it reveals deeper human rights issues.
(This Thanksgiving I’m posting a short, edited snippet of pages 55-66 of Charles Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. In it Mann describes the history of Indian-European relations that existed before the arrival of the Mayflower by following the story of a single Indian, Tisquantum, and the role he played in the events leading up to the first Thanksgiving. This fair use reproduction is just a small chunk of Mann’s 500+ page book. If you’d like to read more about this topic — I’d recommend buying and reading all of 1491. It’s excellent. Happy Thanksgiving.)
I had learned about Plymouth in school. But it was not until I was poking through the scattered references to Billington [the author’s ancestor] that it occurred to me that my ancestor, like everyone else in the colony, had voluntarily enlisted in a venture that had him arriving in New England without food or shelter six weeks before winter. Not only that, he joined a group that, so far as is known, set off with little idea of where it was heading. In Europe, the Pilgrims had refused to hire the experienced John Smith as a guide, on the theory that they could use the maps in his book. In consequence, as Smith later crowed, the hapless Mayflower spent several frigid weeks scouting around Cape Cod for a good place to land, during which time many colonists became sick and died. Landfall at Patuxet did not end their problems. The colonists had intended to produce their own food, but inexplicably neglected to bring any cows, sheep, mules, or horses. To be sure, the Pilgrims had intended to make most of their livelihood not by farming but by catching fish for export to Britain. But the only fishing gear the Pilgrims brought was useless in New England. Half of the 102 people on the Mayflower made it through the first winter, which to me seemed amazing. How did they survive?
In the first of what I hope to be several reviews of ethnographic and documentary films, I want to write about Hu Tai-li’s excellent film Returning Souls. This film will be of interest to anyone teaching about museum anthropology, repatriation, and indigenous rights. Filmed over eight years, the story it covers goes back forty years to a typhoon in 1958 which destroyed an indigenous ancestral house in the Amis village of Tafalong, about forty minutes south of where I live in Taiwan.
While Amis are generally egalitarian, the owners of this house, the Kakita’an family, had a special place in the village, and their house “is the only recorded structure with carved pillars” among the Amis (from the study guide – PDF). While aristocratic families and carved pillars are common among the Paiwan, they are not otherwise known among the Amis.
When it rains it pours. In the past two days it seems like I’ve been deluged with quality open access anthropology. Perhaps open access is not the right word, since some of them have pretty traditional copyright on them, but the important thing is that they are all free to read, and all deserve to be read. Where to begin?
I wish I could recommend specific articles out of all these journals, but frankly I’m swamped — and eager to hear what you all have to say. Anything in here you’re particularly keen to read? Or what would you recommend, having read some of this stuff? The Internetz wants to know.
Just over a month ago a Peruvian indigenous federation circulated remarkable video footage showing about a hundred isolated (so-called “uncontacted”) Mashco-Piro Indians just across the river from a Piro indigenous village along the Rio de las Piedras in Peru. They appeared to be asking for food and trade goods like rope and metal tools. The Piro and Mashco-Piro languages are close enough to allow communication. Hoping to avoid direct contact and the possibility of disease contagion, forest rangers at Monte Salvado floated a canoe laden with bananas across the river. After a tense three-day standoff, the Mashco-Piro eventually disappeared back into the forest. No one is quite sure why the Mashco-Piro — who have so steadfastly avoided such contact until recently — suddenly showed up. Many suspect that illegal loggers active throughout the region have disrupted their usual migration routes.
In late 2011, a different group of Mashco-Piro living near the border of Manu National Park shot and killed Shaco Flores, an old Matsigenka friend of mine, with an arrow. Having lived among the Piro for many years and learned the Piro language, Shaco had been patiently communicating and trading with the Mashco-Piro for over twenty years, always maintaing a safe distance but slowly drawing them closer with his gifts, food and conversation. But something happened on that fateful day in late November: perhaps the Mashco-Piro were spooked by Shaco’s appearance with several relatives at the manioc garden on a small river island where he had been allowing the Mashco-Piro to harvest his crops; perhaps there was internal disagreement among the Mashco-Piro whether or not to accept Shaco’s long-standing offer to bring them into permanent contact. We may never know. Continue reading →