Anthro in the news 8/19/13

• In Cairo: the Morsi camps

Supporter of President Mohamed Morsi
A supporter of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Aug. 12, 2013. VOA/Reuters

Early this week, Voice of America reported that supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi were defiantly remaining at their protest camps in Cairo, despite days of warnings that the government would soon move on the sites. The article quoted Saba Mahmood, associate professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, who told VOA the interim government has not broken up the camps because the resulting bloodshed would be a “very serious political cost.”

But she says Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood is facing bigger stakes than getting him back in office: “So there is that issue that if indeed they back down, they’re going to not just simply lose Morsi, but they’re going to lose even the basis — the political, social basis — they have built over the last 40 years.”

[Blogger’s note: since then, much blood has been shed and are yet to see what the political costs for the military government will be].

• A probable first in history of anthro: U.S. President fist-bumps anthropologist

While on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, according to the Boston Globe, U.S. President Obama played golf with World Bank President Jim Kim.

[Blogger’s note: Jim Kim, as most aw readers know, is not only the president of the World Bank but also a medical anthropologist, doctor, health advocate, and former university president].

President Barack Obama and World Bank President Jim Kim
President Barack Obama and World Bank President Jim Kim playing golf on Aug. 14, 2013. Darlene Superville/Associated Press

• When cultural anthropologists go to war

The Daily Beast/Newsweek carried an article about the U.S. Human Terrain System, noting the prominent role played by cultural anthropologist Montgomery McFate in its development:

“The Human Terrain System owed its creation to many different people, but one of the key players was a renegade anthropologist named Montgomery McFate. McFate was the product of contradictions: California beatnik counterculture, a familial fascination with the primitive ‘other,’ and a quiet but persistent strain of military DNA that was as mainline American as it got,” according to the article:

Born in 1966 to a mother who made and sold faux ethnographic artifacts and a father who was a former Marine, she had grown up on a barge in a radical, chaotic houseboat community in Richardson Bay, near San Francisco … McFate eventually attended community college, then Berkeley, then Yale, where she got her Ph.D. in anthropology. But even before she finished her dissertation, she had grown tired of anthropology. “I wanted to do something in the world, not just write about it,” she told me. She went to Harvard Law School, where she met the young Army officer who would become her husband when he visited for a weekend. They moved to Germany, where he was stationed, before relocating to Washington, D.C. McFate took a contract job with the CIA, traveling to Europe to conduct research. She was not a clandestine agent, but neither did she tell her interview subjects that she worked for an intelligence agency. She moved on to the RAND Corporation, and in 2003, to the Office of Naval Research…

By this time, McFate had started to wonder in earnest how anthropology might contribute to the needs of a military she had grown to respect. She began a concerted networking campaign. During a conversation with the commander of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, McFate suggested that cultural misunderstandings had caused difficulties for Marines in Iraq. “I don’t have any facts about that,” she recalled the general telling her. “I’d like you to do a study.” She started interviewing Marines, and later soldiers and sailors, returning from Iraq. Somewhere along the way, she heard the name of a Pentagon science adviser and wrote it down, but she never got around to calling him. One day, out of nowhere, he called her. Could she come to the Pentagon?”

• Chagos in the world

AW’s contributing blogger, Sean Carey, cultural anthropologist and research fellow at Roehampton University, published an article in The Mauritius Times on the demography and location of Chagossian refugees. Exact numbers are lacking for the current Chagossian population-in-exile. As Carey notes:

A Chagossian and his final coconut harvest, 1971/Wikipedia

The Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) believes that today there are around 700 native islanders alive in Mauritius and the Seychelles, down from 850 in 2002. As a result of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, all Chagossians born in the Islands and their children were granted British citizenship. The current CRG estimate for those who claim to be Chagossian is 6000. This might be an overestimate, but it is probably not far off.


Wherever Chagossians have settled the number within different local populations is determined by the relative number of births and deaths. As the Chagossian population in the UK has a significant proportion of young families, it is to be expected that the population has shown some growth since the first settlers arrived in 2002. Allowing for the small number of migrants who have left and settled in other countries, a reasonable estimate is that around 1400 first, second and third generation Chagossians are currently resident in the UK, roughly 25 percent of the global population. Assertions by the Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) that around half the global population of Chagossians live in the UK is exaggerated, but then the CCT has its own motives for talking up this figure. The majority of Chagossians still live in Mauritius, and it is probably they who will be keenest to resettle in Chagos. A further 250 Chagossians live in the Seychelles, mainly on Mahé, Praslin and La Digue.

• Crushing cost of day care in the U.S.

An opinion piece in The New York Times describing the high costs of day care in the United States as a “mother penalty” includes the case of cultural anthropologist Carla Bellamy, who is a professor at Baruch College in Manhattan.

Her salary is $74,000 and that of her husband brings their total income up to $110,000. She is quoted as saying: “Our entire disposable income goes to child care … It’s not a tragic story, but is tiring and tiresome. I have a career, I work really hard, and yet I get no break.” Bellamy fleetingly thought about spending her summer vacation working at a restaurant as a waitress or a host, but that is when academics typically do the research and writing that helps them get tenure.

• Speaking in tongues so the devil can’t listen

Cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann, professor at Stanford University, studies Christianity, especially charismatic varieties in the U.S. She recently spent time in Accra, Ghana, observing religious participation there.

In an op ed in The New York Times, she describes the practice of speaking in tongues throughout the service. She writes: “I went to services that lasted three hours and for most of which people prayed in tongues. People I interviewed spoke about praying by themselves in tongues for similar stretches of time. They said they did so because it was the one language the devil could not understand, but what I found so striking was how happy it seemed to make them. ‘We love to speak in tongues,’ one young Ghanaian woman told me with a laugh.”

• Book review: women and religion

Beyond Belief
Beyond Belief book cover

Cultural anthropologist Rachel Newcomb reviews Beyond Belief in the Washington Post.

The book “explores 26 different women’s entries to, immersions in and exits from communities where religion permeates all aspects of life. The editors, Susan Tive, a grantwriter who left Orthodox Judaism, and Cami Ostman, a blogger who was once a conservative Christian, have created a volume ‘to spark a conversation about the commonalities of women’s experiences in restrictive religions.’ Most of the essays are slice-of-life depictions of defining moments in these individuals’ religious lives and as such offer only brief glimpses into much longer journeys. Yet the moments are well chosen, illustrating in particular the conflicts women face because of gender subservience imposed by religion.”

• Donation of modern Nigerian art collection

According to The New York Times, Simon Ottenberg, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Washington, has donated his lifetime collection of modern Nigerian art to the Newark Museum.

Newark has one of the country’s oldest collections of art from Africa. And it has the greatest collection of Tibetan art in the world, complete with an altar dedicated by the Dalai Lama. Last year he donated 145 pieces, mostly works on paper. Two-dozen of these make up “The Art of Translation: The Simon Ottenberg Gift of Modern and Contemporary Nigerian Art,” a show modest in size but heavy with history, a history that no New York museum tells. It’s a story about the development of one version of modern art in a single West African country, a process that had its own timetable, its own priorities and its own range of contributing influences, of which Western art was just one.

• Tattoos: when counterculture goes mainstream

The National Post (Canada) carried an article about modern tattooing, formerly a counter-cultural statement, and how it is going mainstream in many places around the world, thus raising the possibility that tattoos will lose their countercultural meaning. Aging of the countercultural tattoo bearers is another factor. The article quotes Nina Jablonski, professor of biological anthropology at Penn State University: “On a global scale, tattoos are more common now than they ever have been before … I think that interest in tattoos — especially the big landscape tattoos — will wane as people get older and see that their 20- or 35-year old tattoos don’t look nearly as beautiful as they did when they were freshly done.”

• Take that anthro degree and…

…join the U.S. Human Terrain System in Afghanistan. Paula Loyd, a graduate of Wellesley College in anthropology, Army veteran, and development worker in Afghanistan, joined the U.S. Human Terrain System as a civilian. An article in The New York Times describes Loyd’s work and her death, in 2008, while working with the HTS.

• Neanderthal bone tools at the cutting edge

Newscientist reports on findings by a team of archaeologists indicating that Neanderthals were the first to produce a type of specialized bone tool, still used in some modern cultures today. The find is the best evidence yet that modern humans may have learned some technology tips from Neanderthals, according to Shannon McPherron at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

McPherron and Marie Soressi at Leiden University in the Netherlands, with colleagues, have finished excavating two sites in south-west France that are 45,000 and 51,000 years old and thus slightly predate the accepted first appearance of modern humans in Europe. At both sites, the team found specialized tools made of polished bone, similar to those used in some cultures today to process animal hides and make leather. Unless humans arrived in Europe earlier, the sophisticated bone tools can only have been fashioned by Neanderthals.

McPherron is quoted as saying: “We’ve added a whole new component to Neanderthal behaviour.” The idea that technologies or traditions passed from Neanderthals to humans has been raised before, says Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum in London: “For example, it is not clear which population first started the tradition of burial of the dead.”

Joao Zilhao at the University of Barcelona in Spain has argued that the fashion among early modern humans for wearing pendants of animal bone and teeth originally came from Neanderthals. He says he has no problem, in principle, with humans learning new tool technologies from our extinct cousins. In general, though, most researchers — including Stringer and McPherron — think that most of the knowledge passed the other way, from humans to Neanderthals.

The obvious reason, says Fred Coolidge at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs: humans had much more to offer. At archaeological sites across Europe, the remains of early modern humans are associated with an array of sophisticated artefacts – including projectile weapons, cave paintings and sculptures – not found at Neanderthal sites. Findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

• Some apes can swim

Asian Correspondent reported on the first video-based observation of apes swimming and diving. Instead of the usual dog-paddle stroke used by most terrestrial mammals, these animals use a kind of breaststroke, possibly related to earlier adaptation to an arboreal life. For many years, zoos have used water moats to confine chimpanzees, gorillas or orangutans. When apes ventured into deep water, they often drowned.

swimming ape
Swimming ape/Asian Correspondent

Some argued that the inability to swim indicated a definitive difference between humans and apes. It turns out that this distinction, like so many others, is not absolute. Renato Bender, who is working on a Ph.D. in human evolution at the School of Anatomical Sciences at Witswatersrand University, and Nicole Bender, who works as an evolutionary physician and epidemiologist at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Bern, have studied a chimpanzee and an orangutan in the U.S.

These primates were raised and cared for by humans and have learned to swim and to dive: “We were extremely surprised when the chimp Cooper dived repeatedly into a swimming pool in Missouri and seemed to feel very comfortable,” said Renato Bender.

• In memoriam

Keith H. Basso
Keith H. Basso/Wikipedia

Keith Basso, cultural and linguistic anthropologist, died at the age of 73 years. He was known for his study of the Western Apaches, especially those from the community of Cibecue, Arizona.

A professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of New Mexico, Basso had a B.A. degree from Harvard University (1962) and a doctorate from Stanford University (1967).

“He devoted his life’s work to understanding and bringing to the appreciation of others the rich cultural traditions of contemporary Western Apache peoples, most notably their linguistic forms of expression — their verbal creativity.

He is most closely associated with the White Mountain Apaches who live at Cibecue, one of the more remote communities on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in east-central Arizona,” according to a post from the National Museum of the American Indian.

The post adds:

Basso taught at the University of Arizona, Yale University, and, most recently, at the University of New Mexico, where he was University Regents Professor of Anthropology. He served as president of the American Ethnological Society in 1984 and editor for linguistics of the journal American Anthropologist. Basso also served on the board of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) from 1992 to 1995. Tangential to that work, Basso recently played an instrumental, behind-the-scenes role for the Western Apache NAGPRA Working Group—a consortium representing the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the Tonto Apache Tribe, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, and the Yavapai Apache Nation—in their efforts to see their sacred objects repatriated from several U.S. museums, including the NMAI…Basso was a fluent Apache speaker, as well as a linguist, and his numerous essays and books on the Western Apache reflect his intimate knowledge of their language. His publications also reflect the depth of the many personal friendships that he nurtured and maintained with Western Apaches for over fifty years. Basso started working among the Western Apache as a sophomore in college in 1959 and continued to work with, and for, them for the rest of his life. One of his early books, Portraits of “The Whiteman”: Linguistic Play and Cultural Symbols among the Western Apache (1979), captured both his delight in witnessing Apaches jokingly imitate “the Whiteman” and his insights into the complexity of their form of joking and what it revealed about Indian–white relations.

Basso was extremely well versed in Western Apache history, religion, language, and culture, and put his knowledge at the service of Apache people. He provided expert testimony in numerous state and federal legal proceedings involving tribal members. Among the many works for which Basso is well known are his essays dealing with Western Apache place names. Stemming from his related field research, Basso worked with the White Mountain Apache Tribe to linguistically remap their reservation and to restore for all tribal members Apache place names for special features in the natural landscape. These toponyms not only have deep cultural significance, but, as Basso revealed, moral meaning as well. Honored to be asked to be involved in the remapping project, Basso once explained, “I began to see how superimposing an Anglo language on an Apache landscape was a subtle form of oppression and domination.”

It is fitting that one of Basso’s most recent works is an oral history by White Mountain Apache elder Eva Tulene Watt (1915–2009), which Basso was responsible for getting recorded and published: Don’t Let the Sun Step over You: A White Mountain Apache Family Life, 1860–1975. Based on Watt’s family narratives, it covers a period in Western Apache history that has received little attention. Outside of Basso’s work, little has been written about the lives of Apaches in the 20th century.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s