Tag Archives: native anthropology

The Anthropology of Being (Me)

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by guest author Paul Tapsell  as part of our Writers’ Workshop series. Paul is Professor of Anthropology, and Māori, Pacific, and  Indigenous Studies at the University of Otago. His research interests include Māori identity in 21st century New Zealand, cultural heritage & museums, taonga trajectories in and beyond tribal contexts, Māori values within governance policy frameworks, Indigenous entrepreneurial leadership, marae and mana whenua, genealogical mapping of tribal landscapes and Te Arawa historical and genealogical knowledge.]

The greatest challenge of being an anthropologist is being me. From one decade to the next I have been a cross-cultural island of self-consciousness, framed by the cross generational memories of wider kin. Wisdom comes in many forms, but as I tell my students, at least those who turn up to class, it cannot be found on the Internet. Somewhere between my father’s Maori generation of desperately trying to be English and my children’s reality of being overtly Maori you find… me.

Raised in the tribally alienated rural heartlands of Waikato naivety (built on 19th century confiscations at gunpoint), my view of the world was one of barefoot summers by the ocean, while the rest of the year was underpinned by frosts, fog, rugby and ducking for cover in a rurally serviced school surrounded by affluent dairy farms and horse studs. Right from the start teachers placed me neither at the front or the back of the classroom. Kids in the front were mostly fourth generation descendants of English settlers, while at the back were the ever sniffling Maori who had no shoes and walked five miles to school across farmlands, one steaming cow pat to the next. And there I was, from age five, placed right in the middle, on the boundary between a white-is-right future and an uncivilised dark skinned past. Continue reading

Zora Neale Hurston’s Gifts to Anthropology-Pt 2

Zora and Performance

I am most struck, however, by Zora’s recognition and analysis of the performative nature of Black culture. Years before performance theory was born, Zora Neale Hurston had been there and done that.   We will not find her insights, however, in the traditional scholarly publications. Zora’s discourses on the performative character of Black people are  in essays published in the then groundbreaking anthology, The New Negro edited by Nancy Cunard. There hold a wealth of analysis and interpretation of Negro/Black performativity, and are frequently overlooked.

Many academics today have come to recognize that there is significant intellectual value in having a “public voice” that reaches broader audiences beyond those attracted to our scholarly articles. The Savage Mind blog is a good example of the multiplicity of platforms available to anthropologists to speak their piece outside of the constraints of refereed journal articles.

Zora, like her contemporary Margaret Mead who wrote for RedBook, was a “cultural commentator” or what we call in today’s parlance, a “public intellectual” of the first order. Continue reading