Today The Appendix (“a quarterly journal of experimental and narrative history”) published my piece “The History of Mana: How an Austronesian Concept Became a Video Game Mechanic“. I’m very happy with the piece (tho there are a few typos I want to fix), which is meant to be accessible to a broader audience — i.e. ‘public anthropology’. I wanted to blog about it here in order to get people to read it and to draw attention to a great young journal with a lot of energy behind it. But more importantly, I wanted to talk about how this article happened, and what the production process says about public anthropology and scholarly workflow. Continue reading
Carl Hoffman is a travel writer who has recently turned his attention to New Guinea, where he produces grisly stories of cannibalism, murder, and The Smell Of Men. Jared Diamond is a scientist with decades of experience visiting New Guinea whose books attempt to humanize the people who live there. As an expert on Papua New Guinea, I was really surprised to find that I was much more impressed with Hoffman’s understanding of Melanesia and its people than I was Diamond’s. So how could I like a cannibalism-obsessed journalist more than a scientist who admired Papua New Guinean’s parenting skills? Continue reading
In 1928 Margaret Mead published Coming of Age in Samoa with William Morrow & Company. She did not copyright her book, possibly because copyright was only a few years old in the US and the idea had still not sunk in. However, when it became clear that the book would be a consistent earner, she did copyright it, and it has been locked up tight since then.
Luckily, the good folks are archive.org have a scan of the original 1928 edition without a copyright mark. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that this text is essentially now free for all, provided you use and circulate this edition.
This is just one example of the many, many important works of anthropology that are legally available for circulation, but which people haven’t located, or done due diligence to make sure that the pieces truly are open access.
So when was the last time you actually sat down and read Coming of Age in Samoa? Why not download it today and try a chapter or two?
A doomed genius taken before his time. One of the last line of ancient Roman noblemen revealing his secrets. Hidden writings once known only to an elite few, now revealed for all to see. It sounds so much like a Dan Brown novel that you mistake it for an April fools joke, but it’s not. There were so many fake announcements and releases on April first this year that one thing got lost in the shuffle: the actually really real release of the second monograph in HAU’s “Classics of Ethnographic Theory”, Rites and Annals: Between History and Anthropology by Valerio Valeri. Valeri’s work deserves to be widely read today because of its own intrinsic quality, as well as for the kind of rigorous, sophisticated, and humanistic approach to anthropology it exemplifies. Valeri’s work combined ethnographic erudition with high-level theorizing, wrapped up with a sophisticated prose style and a commitment to scholarship that exploded American binaries of science versus the humanities, objectivity versus subjective expression. For that reason, the release of Rites and Annals gives us a chance not only to read Valeri’s work, but to think about how it fits into the current approaches our discipline is taking.
Most major criticisms of World Until Yesterday have focused on Diamond’s description of ‘traditional societies’ as violent and dangerous. Diamond, Critics clam, over estimates the dangers of living in a traditional society, underestimates the benefits of living in a modern state, and drastically overlooks the evils of colonization, and the way that colonization shaped the people Diamond considers typical of ‘traditional societies’. If you scroll down long enough, Jason Antrosio has a nice society by society breakdown of how Diamond’s examples of traditional violence are actually people whose lives have been fundamentally and tragically shaped by colonialism. Or (in some cases) the ethnographers that Diamond relies on were just nuts. I like Antrosio’s blog entry a lot, but I think his section on Papua New Guinea could use a little elaboration. So that’s what I’ll do here.
Diamond knows the PNG literature a lot better than works written about other areas, mostly because he knows the people who wrote it and about whom it is written. Most of his sources come from authors who are well-respected for their ethnographic chops: Polly Weissner and Akii Tumu, Malinowski, Jane Goodale, and Roy Rappaport. Some of the other anthropologists he cites are considered problematic in some way, but are generally considered to be excellent ethnographers: Mervyn Meggitt had some issues analyzing his data, and Roy Wagner is currently not on the same planet as the rest of us — but despite these issues most Melanesianists recognize that Meggitt and Wagner produced very detailed and reliable ethnography.
And then there are the Berndts.
I spend a lot of time on this blog extolling the virtues of open access publishing, so I thought I should take a minute to extoll the virtues of for-profit publishing and the role they play in the scholarly endeavor.
As scholars, we anthropologists subscribe to the idea that knowledge should be free and spread as widely as possible. Of course, there are important qualifications to this: we understand that anonymity and confidentiality are important when we right and do research, and so forth. But overall, the goal is to make our work universally available. The problem with contemporary publishing, we claim, is that too many people put profits ahead of accessibility, costs are high because production methods are outdated and publishers can’t or won’t innovate, and the social system of prestige and career advancement tied to publishing disincentives open access. Publishing, we argue, needs to be done for a wider audience, for the right reasons, and in a way that gets the information out there. The bajillion successful open access projects in anthropology today demonstrate that this can be done.
But it can’t be done all the time. I was absolutely delighted to meet the people behind the University of Papua New Guinea press when I visited Port Moresby over the summer. The press has done absolutely fantastic work bringing back into print important work from the independence era of Papua New Guinea, such as the Pocket Poets series. They are republishing work in the public domain — one small piece I saw was a missionary-produced ethnography. A staff member told me there were four of the original print run left, mostly in libraries. The press is not only making the piece available to modern readers, they’re saving it from extinction. They are publishing new books, aggressively seeking subventions to support new authors and scholarship. Their authors are academics and amateur scholars, priests and activists. I was incredibly impressed by the quality and amount of work they were bringing out.
All of this work is valuable, but none of it is free. The press is very smart about outsourcing publishing to companies in Singapore and India (PNG doesn’t have a publishing industry to print their stuff), balancing their list to include textbooks (which sell) and rarer works (which don’t), making their works available on Amazon. But there’s no way around that fact that, for them, for-profit is the only way to go. They simply don’t have the resources to go open access.
Sometimes people like to pummel a straw man version of open access which holds that any attempt to ever make money is an evil obsession with filthy lucre. Clearly, few actual people take such an uncompromising stance. There are many situations when the right business model is to charge money to keep your head above water.
Now, perhaps I don’t understand the UPNG Press’s business model and history — I was only there for a weekend. But it seems to me that the example of this successful, small, boot-strapped press should make us think: just how much like the UPNG Press are closed-access publishers? If a third-world university with few resources can get things off the ground, then what does it say about first-world publishers who claim there is no cheaper way to get their works available than to charge US$100 for a monograph? If Papua New Guineans can do it well and on the cheap, we ought to be able to do so as well.
I recently read on the Pacific Anthropology listserv of the passing of Ali Pomponio, an ethnographer of Papua New Guinea. I only met Ali once, at a conference, but she she cut a bella figure and was pretty hard to forget. Intense and energetic, being caught up her in wake was like suddenly finding yourself in a strange mashup of Moonstruck and Growing Up In New Guinea. She told me her student job was selling used cars — something apparently she told everyone since it figures largely in people’s remembrances of her. She was critical of my contribution at that conference, very critical, but also very enthusiastic about its revision and improvement. She managed to be warm, helpful, incredibly picky, and blunt at the same time. Even though my entire encounter with her lasted all of twenty minutes, she became a bit of a role model for me: she had figured out how to be a healthy, contributing member of the academic community in her own unique way, and people like that are always worth learning from.
One thing that struck me about our meeting was that she appeared to think that she was the total master of all things Papua New Guinea and a very important person in our field. This struck me as odd since I’d never heard of her before, or of anything she’d written. So after our meeting I went back and read her ethnography Seagulls Don’t Fly Into The Bush. After that, I understood why she had such a high opinion of her work, because I now shared it with her.
I don’t know why Seagulls Don’t Fly Into The Bush didn’t become one of the classic ethnographies of the early nineties. Maybe because it was marketed as a teaching ethnography? I mean sure, it has problems: there could be more sign-posting and it has a “you only get it if you already got it” title. But overall the book is superb: it’s clearly and engagingly written, and deals with classic early-nineties concerns with the continuity of tradition as it changes and how modernization/globalization impacts peripheral people. But it also sinks its teeth deep into myth — you can’t get more anthropological then that. And of course the setting, a small island off the coast of New Guinea, is real wind in the palm trees stuff. The book really has it all: tradition and modernity, well-written and not too long. People on this blog often complain that there are no accessible ethnographies, or ask people to list their favorite ones. Well, this one should definitely be on anyone’s list.
Seagulls Don’t Fly Into The Bush costs money to get hold of, but her edited volume Children of Kilibob: Creation, Cosmos, and Culture in Northeastern New Guinea is available open access from Pacific Studies, where it was published as a special issue. Her article in that collection, iirc, eventually became a chapter in her book.
Another common refrain we get on this blog is that anthropology is not ‘making progress’, something we hear about as often as the refrain “should we as a discipline be trying to make progress?” But Ali’s special issue, and the work of many other Melanesianists, demonstrates that we clearly are moving forward in our understanding. Here is a collection of scholars, all working in the same region, who have worked together to put together a synthetic regional picture of a mythic complex that has diffused widely across northern New Guinea. It’s a testament to the strength of our fieldwork tradition and collegiality in PNG studies, and a testament to Ali herself, who was an important part of that tradition.
In Freedom in Entangled Worlds, the first book by anthropologist Eben Kirksey, Mellon Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, the reader is presented with a history of the merdeka movement in West Papua. This tale of magic, nationalism, and human rights in an “out of the way place” unfolds on a global stage as the author treks from the secret hideouts of guerilla fighters in the highland bush country to the seat of corporate power at BP headquarters in London. Along the way we get a master class in how an academic activist might balance post-structural theory with the kinds of strong knowledge claims that may influence political decision makers.
Indonesia formally incorporated West Papua into its nation in 1969 with the fraudulent Act of Free Choice. Since that time West Papuan leaders have pursued independence, or at least increased autonomy, for their region through many, often contradictory, means. From political engagement with the Indonesian state to pleas made before the international community tribal leaders and educated city dwellers have risked their lives through armed resistance, peaceful protest, and magic pursuing their dreams of freedom. The odds seem insurmountable and the movement itself endures near constant crisis, thus the theme of crisis as a sign of hope runs throughout this short, adventurous ethnography.
In a revealing scene towards the end of the book, Kirksey, finding himself in the halls of Washington power (and the crosshairs of an FBI investigation), forms alliances with other activist organizations such as the East Timor Action Network. Frustrated that his investigation into the murders of some American school teachers outside a Freeport MacMoRan mine is largely being ignored by those in positions of power he learns an important lesson every anthropologist who wishes to speak truth to power must learn.
“Politics isn’t about facts but about stories,” the director of ETAN tells him. “Your story is too complicated.” Continue reading
The piece for discussion this week (actually, it should have been last week, but I got caught behind a couple of different eight balls) is Vincente Diaz’s “Voyaging for Anti-Colonial Recovery“. It’s a short piece with a few flaws — it lacks the informality and wit of Diaz’s other work, and feels at times one revision away from being really polished. But overall it is accessible, short, and a great window into a wider scholarly project that is happening in a lot of places, and in many ways similar to HAU’s. So perhaps a bit of background is in order.
Thanks to everyone to read and contributed to last week’s reinauguration of our ‘reading circle’ feature. This week I’d like to showcase some more great open access work by asking people to read an article from the open access serial Pacific Asia Inquiry: Voyaging for Anti-Colonial Recovery: Austronesian Seafaring, Archipelagic Rethinking and the Re-Mapping of Indigeneity by Vincente Diaz. Diaz is the author of Repositioning the Missionary published by the Pacific Island Monograph Series at the University of Hawaii Press. It’s a short piece but it does a good job of conveying where Diaz is coming from.
I think people will see interesting parallels with the ‘ethnographic theory’ I discussed last time, but the piece is coming from a very different subject position and intellectual heritage position. And best of all, it’s only seven pages long. Seven pages – surely you can manage to read seven pages and then drop by the site to talk about it. So download Voyaging for Anti-Colonial Recovery: Austronesian Seafaring, Archipelagic Rethinking and the Re-Mapping of Indigeneity
As usual, I’m posting this on Wednesday. I’ll write up my thoughts on Friday and open it up for comments after that. We can run through the weekend and then by next Wednesday we’ll be ready to move on to the next piece to discuss.
We complain a lot on this blog about how slow various scholarly publishers are in making their work available open access, so I thought I’d write a piece about open access done right: increasingly today, some of the most focused journals on anthropology and the Pacific are available open access.
These journals are small and specialized — despite the size of the Pacific, the scholarly community is pretty small — but despite this they are all being made more and more available online. Or maybe I should say because of this. I also think that we, like the physicists, are a group of people with a strong sense of community and a commitment to the values of our discipline — and the Pacific is a place where people value share and community.
I was absolutely thrilled to learn the other day, for instance that Pacific Studies has posted over thirty years of back issues available for free on its website. This contains a lot of great articles, including both ‘classics’ and work that is still relevant today.
Here at the University of Hawaii the Center for Pacific Island Studies has done a superb job of making its work available open access. This material deserves far more attention than it gets. It includes a occasional papers series that began with relatively staid titles like Pacific-Related Audiovisual Materials for Secondary Schools to truly new and exciting scholarship by Pacific Islanders such as Indigenous Encounters: Reflections on Relations Between People in the Pacific edited by Katerina Teaiwa and The Space Between: Negotiating Culture, Place, and Identity in the Pacific by Marata Tamaira.
Moreover, CPIS (yes, they call it ‘sea-piss’. Get over it) has put over twenty years of The Contemporary Pacific online as well for people to read and download. TCP (as its known) is more than an anthropology serial — it’s a deeply engaged journal committed to life in the Pacific and has led the way in Pacific cultural studies and in creating opportunities for Pacific Islanders to publish. It’s an incredible resource for anyone interested in our neck of the woods.
The University of the South Pacific is also moving forward to open up some of its journal the Journal of Pacific Studies (which is different from Pacific Studies, which is published by Brigham Young University-Hawaii). Pacific Studies currently has 8 volumes of its back issues available open access and has abstracts and tables of contents for the remaining issues online.
We have a long way to go — most of the Australian journals are in the hands of Wiley, for instance, but I think sometimes we wring our hands about the fate of our journals without reminding ourselves of the resources out there already. In the case of the Pacific, it seems more and more that the challenge is building software and tools that will help non-experts discover and use the content that is already available… and that is a great problem to have!
(Update: Pei-yi Guo points out that Pacific Asia Inquiry is also available open access. It’s young yet, but the second issue is chock full of great people. Back issues of the intriguing ISLA: Journal of Micronesian Studies are also available and I use them in teaching sometimes.
Also, although I totally forgot to mention it, the Journal de le Société des Océanistes is also available online for more or less all of its back catalog. Don’t be fooled by the accents aigus — a good chunk of the articles are in English and there are some classic and important pieces in there. Alternately if Dutch colonialism is more your thing, the Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde features more adatsrecht than you can shake a stick at, all open access.
And last but certainly not least, the mac-daddy of them all (is there a hyphen in mac-daddy?) the Journal of the Polynesian Society has an absolutely sick amount of material up on their website. )
Two books came our recently which both deal with the topic of Haoles (white people) in Hawai’i. Both are short, designed to be accessible, and appeal to a broad audience. Both summarize a great deal of recent research done on and in Hawaii, where I live and work, and both adopt an autobiographical tone. Unfamiliar Fishes by humorist Sarah Vowell, is a history of white people in Hawaii from the arrival of the first missionaries in the 1820s (the ‘unfamiliar fishes’ of the title) to the islands’ annexation by the United States seventy years later. Haoles in Hawaii is by Judy Rorher, a graduate of the University of Hawaii who studies the political economics of Haole presence in contemporary Hawaii. I adore Rorher’s earlier, autobiographical writings about growing up Haole in Hawaii, and detest the NPR Ira Glass/David Sedaris Culture Industry out of which Sarah Vowell emerged. As a result I expected to love Rohrer’s book and dislike Vowell’s, but in fact just the opposite happened: I was disappointed by Haoles in Hawaii and now recommend Unfamiliar Fishes to anyone visiting the islands to understand its history. Why my position switched says a lot about how to write for a popular audience, how to communicate expert opinion to nonexperts, and how to make moral judgments in your writing.
Unfamiliar Fishes is a popular history of American colonialism in Hawaii dressed up as a light travel narrative. Vowell builds her historical narrative up out of anecdotes of her own visits to Hawaii to research the book: tourist locations she goes to with her family, interviews she did with local scholars, interesting but not quite topical documents she found in the archives. Although the book is supposedly about New Englanders who traveled to Hawaii to preach the gospel, much of it is actually about Hawaii and Hawaiians itself, with long diversions about different aspects of the culture: hula, kapa, ahupua’a, and so forth. Along the way you also learn a lot of about 19th century American protestantism, of course, but it’s clear that Vowell’s goal is to provide a relatively detailed sketch of Hawaiian culture and history in its own terms, and she succeeds at this goal.
One of the reasons that Vowell is successful is the circles she moved through. Throughout the book she recounts meetings with some of the premier scholars of Hawaiian history and politics, as well as sovereignty activists (who want to secede from the United States, basically) and of course missionary descendants themselves. She quotes from some of the most recent influential books on Hawaiian history (Aloha Betrayed by Noenoe Silva, for example) as well, which indicates that she’s done her homework. In sum,the book’s success is due in large part to the way Vowell has tapped into and reported on a pre-existing community of scholars and the body of work they’ve produced, some of whom are played by Keanu Reeves in the audiobook.
Haoles in Hawaii is even more a summary of local research in our islands. Rohrer worked closely with many of the people that Vowell cites, and her work presents a much more distilled and careful reading of their arguments — indeed, if you are an academic wanted a run-down (complete with citations) of contemporary critical scholarship on Hawaii, this is is the place to come. The topics she deals with are also very topical: lawsuits attempting to demonstrate that a Hawaiian-only school is unconstitutional, and the ongoing debate, fueled largely by white immigrants to Hawaii, about whether the term ‘Haole’ is itself racist — because for many of these people being on the receiving end of a minority identity is a major shock, apparently.
At times, however, Rorher’s book is too closely related to the literature she cites. One of the main audience of Haoles in Hawaii is haoles in Hawaii, and the book clearly wants to help them get a clue about the history that informs the race relations that they encounter when they arrive here. I don’t think Rorher succeeds in doing this in her book. To a certain extent this is because the tone is ‘too academic’. It lacks the autobiographical, vulnerable voice of “Haole Girl”, a genre-bending article of Rohrer’s that I often assign my students and while it is clearly written, it is still identifiable as an academic text.
And this is, really, the biggest issue I have with the book: the critical tone it borrows from ethnic studies, indigenous studies, and critical race theory that she draws on. It is one thing to write for scholars who oppose hegemonic anglo-protestant narratives, but it is another thing to write for an audience of hegemonic anglo-protestants. The book is too full unveilings and critiques to appeal to a readership that is simultaneously audience and target. So while I agree with what Rohrer is saying, I am afraid that her book will turn off haoles who read it, even those who go out on a limb and try to meet her halfway. Issues of style, rather than substance, may keep the message from getting across.
In contrast, Vowell is readable — at time even cloying. As a refugee of the early-oughts blogosphere explosion I recognize Vowell’s post-David Foster Wallace style and, frankly, it drives me nuts (perhaps this is the narcissism of minor differences at work). Additionally, much of the prose seems formulaic. There is a strong tendency, for instance, for every paragraph to end with a droll and incongruous sentence to make sure the reader decides to read the next paragraph. Still, Vowell calls it like she sees it morally, giving the thumbs down both to the terrifyingly close-minded missionary Hiram Bingham even as she condemns King Kalakaua (venerated in Hawaii for his support of traditional cultural activities) as spendthirft who subsidized his sybaritic lifestyle through the opium trade. Vowell’s frankness, and her ability to pain herself as a sympathetic narrative voice, make the normative elements of the book go down pretty easy.
The historical element in both books are strong. In fact, both authors take books that are ostensibly about Haoles and turn it into a history of Hawaii. But again there are differences, notably in terms of evidence. At time Rorher’s book focuses so much on the wrongs done to Hawaiians that the haoles of her title disappear from sight altogether and the books becomes a history of Hawaii. What little evidence she does use take the form of (oldish) newspaper clippings, rehashing the histories of court cases, or some extremely brief analysis of economics indicators — as a result there is little in the way of data bout the lifeworlds of Hawaii and where concepts of haoles (and the actual white people themselves) fit in. It may be that as a short introductory volume the book isn’t suppose to have much in the way of data, but a more skeptical audience would want to see more proof in the pudding.
In contrast, Vowell has done a much better job of historical research than anyone could reasonably expect her to. It’s clear she loves quoting salacious bits from the archives — and in the case of the incredibly repressed Yankees who landed on Hawaii’s shores, it’s not hard to find salacious bits. In fact, Vowell accomplishes most of the work of denouncing the evils of colonialism simply by quoting the colonizers, who were frankly, shockingly brutal people. At times this tendency goes to far. The last third of the book pretty much gives up inserting bits of travelogue into her book and lapses into straight narrative history (think: book report). In fact, towards the end certain pages are mostly cut-and-pastes of legal texts.
In sum, I eventually came to like Vowell’s book because of its level of detail and its unique personal voice. Rohrer’s book will doubtless be taught more often here in Hawaii and probably works better in an academic setting, but it lacks ethnographic thickness and fails to meet skeptical audiences half way. The lesson I take from the two is that it is the how, not the what, of writing that makes it accessible to a broader audience. It is not that certain positions are unacceptable to the public, but rather that ways of conveying them and creating one’s self as an authoritative, trustworthy author are key to getting your message across.
I recently finished reading The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an anthropological controversy by Paul Shankman. I’m reviewing the book for Anthropological Forum and a full write-up will appear there, but I wanted to take a second to write up my impressions for Savage Minds since I think the book is definitely worth a nod.
Trashing of Margaret Mead is to date the most definitive and thorough analysis of the Mead-Freeman ‘debate’ that has been published so far. Most readers of the blog will be familiar with this debate: After Mead’s death Freemon wrote a scathing critique of her book Coming of Age in Samoa which claimed that she had totally misunderstood Samoa and (to make a long story short) this proved that a more sociobiological version of anthropology was needed. Things got extremely ugly, extremely personal, and extremely well-publicized as some people claimed Mead’s defenders relied on a knee-jerk political correctness, while others claimed the Freeman was an evil lunatic. And then…
Well as it happened the entire affair ground more or less to a halt under an increasingly heavy weight of arguments, counter-arguments, and evaluations. The take-away for most anthropologists was “Mead was right” and the take-away for everyone else was “Mead was wrong”. But it was difficult to see the forest from the trees as the literature surrounding the debate grew and grew.
Paul Shankman’s book is first book which steps back and covers the entire debate, rather than taking part in it. Or at least mostly. The book is half a history of the debate and half an analysis of the claims made in it — i.e. the book attempts to decide whether Freeman or Mead was ‘right’. Shankman, who works in Samoa, was involved in the debate and this work benefits from that involvement. As a result he demonstrates a thorough — really, comprehensive — knowledge of it from an insider’s perspective, and the piece reflects his own position within the debate. But his reflexive tone and mastery of the literature convinces me, at least, that he has written an impartial overview.
Impartial, but not noncommittal. Shankman describes the personal stakes and intimate social networks on both sides of the debate, and is frank in his assessment of how people’s personal commitments and backgrounds influenced their arguments. In addition, a major part of the book deals with the question of who is right about Samoa and this involves making judgments about the scholarly adequacy of Mead and Freeman’s work. As judicious as Shankman is, then, you still get a sense of where he stands.
And where he stands is overwhelmingly against Freeman. Freeman’s bizarre personal life — including his mental breakdown — is documented here in a scholarly monograph by a major press for (as far as I know) the first time. The stories that had been circulating about his atrocious behavior, such as contacting universities and demanding that they revoke the Ph.D.s of his opponents, finally get their full airing. Freeman’s arguments about Mead are shown not to hold very much water, and his own claims about Samoa don’t seem to stand close scholarly scrutiny either. At times one feels the book should be called The Trashing of Derek Freeman. But Shankman’s criticisms never seem vindictive and his discussion of Freeman’s psyche never degenerate into ad hominems — despite how easy it would be to do so. In reality, Freeman’s own worse enemy is himself — or at least himself and a scholar willing to rigorously document his actions.
Shankman is not uncritical of Mead and points out the ways in which Coming of Age reaches conclusions about American life that Mead quite liked but which were not really supported by the Samoan data. Still, it is clear from his book that Mead was basically a decent fieldworker and a careful scholar while Freeman was, frankly, a nutcake.
One of my favorite parts of the book is the middle section that deals with the reception of Coming of Age in Samoa in Samoa. Here Shankman documents how Mead’s book was received and understood both amongst people who read it (not very many) and those who heard of it secondhand (most). Although not exactly a Pacific Island voice (since Shankman is not himself a Pacific Islander) it is great to see the community where Mead worked get some coverage. Most Samoans, apparently, are pretty upset that Mead portrayed them as frisky and promiscuous since Samoa is really a pretty church-going kind of a place. What is nice about Shankman’s book is he demonstrates the difference between Mead’s presentation of the Samoan past, the Samoan past as Samoans imagine it, and as it looks through the lens of the broader scholarly literature. He does more than just report on the book’s reception: he explains the complex patterns that have shaped it.
At some point in the future some scholar may sit down and write an extensive archive-based analysis of the Mead-Freeman debate and all of the participants therein. But until that day comes, Shankman’s book is the closest thing we have to a definitive account of the controversy and, frankly, the more scholarly version might not read as well as The Trashing of Margaret Mead. If you’re interested in getting to the bottom of Mead-Freeman, this is the place to look.
This post is an occasional contribution by Futuru C.L. Tsai. Futuru recently got his Ph.D. in July 2010 from the Institute of Anthropology at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. His dissertation is entitled Playing Modernity: Play as a Path Shuttling across Space and Time of A’tolan Amis in Taiwan. He was a training manager in a semiconductor corporation originally but quit to pursue a Ph.D. in anthropology. Futuru is also an ethnographic filmmaker and writer, who has produced three ethnographic films including Amis Hip Hop (45 min, 2005), From New Guinea to Taipei (83 min, 2009), and The New Flood (51 min, 2010), and a book: The Anthropologist Germinating from the Rock Piles (Shiduei zhong faya de renleixuei jia) (Taipei: Yushanshe, 2009).
Kapah (Young Men) /Lyrics & Music: Suming
Are there any young men who can sing out there? Are there any men who can dance? Are there any men who are good in school? Are there any men who are good at making money? Are there any men who are good at planting crops? Are there any men who are good at gathering? Are there any men who are good at spearing fish? Are there any men who are good at cooking? Are there any fun men out there? Are there any strong men? Are there any hard workers? Are there any men that work together? Yes, there are the young men from A’tolan!
A brand new music album with complete Amis lyrics by the Amis artist, Suming, was released in May 2010. It is not the first Amis music album but is the first one attempting to crossover into popular music market in Taiwan, combining indigenous melodies such as Amis polyphony and flutes together with techno-trance, hip-hop, and Taiwanese folk music. Among these songs, “Kapah,” which means “young men” in the Amis language, is the theme song. Lungnan Isak Fangas, a documentary filmmaker, who is also an Amis, made two music videos for this album, one of them is Kapah. Both the song and the music video not only represent aspects of local A’tolan Amis culture but also attempt to make this culture appealing to Taiwanese society at large.
There are currently 14 indigenous ethnic groups (referred to as “Aborigines”) officially recognized by the Taiwan government. The Amis is the largest of these austronesian speaking ethnic groups in Taiwan. There are two conspicuous characters of Amis society and culture relevant to understanding this video: One is that it is widely considered a matriarchal society, although its status as such is still under debate. Nonetheless, the image of the mother holds a central place in Amis society. The other one is the age-grade system with its rigid regulations. Age sets are organized around males who have passed the coming of age rites in the village within a given time period. Each age set (kapot) will include men born within a few years of each other. It is the main political unit, handling the affairs of both outsiders and insiders.
The song Kapah differs from earlier indigenous music in its depiction of indigenous modernity. Continue reading
Despite the fact that it is my area of expertise, I do not normally comment on the mining and petroleum scene in Papua New Guinea. Despite having studied the industry for more than a decade, I will never know as much as my ‘informants’ — the people actually living with mines and oil projects. This is particularly true for current affairs, when the ‘real story’ of what happens on the ground is often much different from reports circulated by the press. Nevertheless, I do feel compelled to say something about the shameful events that have recently taken place in country — and the way they are being received by the anthropological community and others.
The government of Papua New Guinea recently amended the country’s Environment Act to make it illegal to appeal permitting decisions made by the minister. The immediate reason for this change is clear — the national government relies on large, internationally-financed resource developments to fund it budget. The Ramu NiCo mine in Madang province, majority-owned and operated by a Chinese firm, is planning to dispose of tailings by dumping them into the sea — a move that many, many people in Madang oppose. When anti-mining groups got an injunction against the mine, the government responded by making it illegal to oppose their decision to let the mine go ahead.
The issue is actually more general than this. Landowner groups and others who oppose mining and petroleum developments often challenge environmental permitting in order to pressure or halt operations. Mining leases are rarely reviewed and renewal is largely a matter of course, but water use permits (for toilets on site, for instance) more regularly come up for renewal — and miners need toilets. The Ramu case is just one instance of a much broader tactic used by people opposed to mining.
The big picture is that Papua New Guinea is torn — between politicians in Moresby who are want to use mining revenue to enrich and develop the nation, and grassroots Papua New Guineans who don’t see why they should suffer so others can gain the benefits of mining revenue. When Papua New Guinea became independent in 1975, the country inherited the benevolent paternalism and technocratic confidence of its colonizers — the first generation of educated Papua New Guineans were going to lead the country forward and help develop the grassroots in the name of national progress. Now the worm has turned and Papua New Guinea’s leadership seems to see Papua New Guineans as ungrateful and stubborn — after a peaceful protest organized by Transparency International outside parliament, the prime minister called those who participated “satanic and mentally insane”.
In an article I am working on right now, I examine newspaper coverage of these issues in order to understand contemporary transformations of nationalism in Papua New Guinea. My conclusion – which at this rate will not be published until my kids head off to college! — is that Papua New Guinea is torn between two different idioms to express this conflict between grassroots and the political elite. Within the country, the language used is that of the nation: ironically, the nation-making project of the independence period was so successful that many Papua New Guineans now see themselves as uniting against the state in the name of national unity. Externally, however, the language used to describe these conflicts is that of indigeneity. Coverage of recent events by a UN-sponsored website, for instance, describe the problem as one in which “indigenous people lose out on land rights”.
What I do not say in the article — since it is all scholarly and everything — is how incredibly disappointed I am in the government of Papua New Guinea. Democracy is not fun or easy, and the paralysis induced by lawsuits can be a huge pain, but the solution to these problems is not and can never be removing people’s rights to participate in the processes that will affect their lives. This is particularly true in the case of Ramu, where environmental concerns are justified and deeply felt, not simply cynically used as tactics in a political process. Transparency, accountability, and participation are all incredibly stupid and ridiculously ineffective ways to run a government — but we chose them because democracies put people’s rights ahead of convenience or practicality.
Additionally, I am very uncomfortable with labelling this as a conflict featuring ‘indigenous’ people — despite the fact that I know appealing to international forces using the idiom of indigeneity is often yields useful leverage in political contests like the one at Ramu. But in fact Papua New Guineans are indigenous only in the (often oppressive) eco-authentic sense: they are brown, they have ‘exotic’ languages and cultures, and they live in a place full of endangered species of animals. They are not, however, ‘indigenous’ in the much more important political-emancipatory sense: there is (and was) no real settler colonialism in Papua New Guinea, no large scale expropriation of land, and not even an ethnic majority to oppress minority groups. Despite how easy it is for outsiders to shoe horn Papua New Guinea into popular and easy paradigms of indigenous struggle, such a construal of Papua New Guinea’s story does not do the country justice.
Eco-authentic definitions of indigeneity perpetuate stereotypes of Papua New Guinea as savage backward by giving them a positive moral valuation. They obscure from sight the large number of educated Papua New Guineans, and they stigmatize Papua New Guineans’ decisions to take part in urban, cash-based economies as an abandonment of precious indigenous heritage.
Most importantly, however, these idioms tempt Papua New Guineans to give up on their country and its government. With corruption in the civil servant rampant and elections in Papua New Guinea too-often a mere shadow of genuine democracy (there is video footage of political henchmen unapologetically — and literally — stuffing ballot boxes), it is easy these days for Papua New Guineans to opt out, to declare the government an illegitimate opponent of the grassroots rather than to hold it to account as the voice of the people. Perhaps they do not need the ‘indigenous alternative’s’ help in abandoning any conception of state legitimacy. But I think Papua New Guinea loses something important when it gives up on its dreams of independence and self-government. Even though it may require people to dig deep, I would urge Papua New Guineans not to give up on the light at the end of the tunnel, and to insist that they are citizens, not indigenes, of Papua New Guinea.