Anthro in the news 10/13/14

  • Ebola crisis is worse than statistics say
Aida Benton speaking at Brown University.

The Providence Journal (Rhode Island) reported on a teach-in on Ebola at Brown University.  Speakers included an anthropologist, an epidemiologist, a biostatistician, a community organizer and a representative from the Rhode Island Department of Health. Adia Benton, an assistant professor of anthropology at Brown who specializes in the medical anthropology of sub-Saharan Africa, said the crisis is worse than statistics indicate. According to Benton, health institutions in West Africa have been gutted by war and corruption. Medical services, where they exist, are devoted to diseases such as HIV-AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, and basic supplies are lacking. The solution is to build a health system in those countries, and that takes time.

  • Ebola in local and global context

The Columbian (Washington state) reported on the work of cultural anthropologists Barry Hewlett and Bonnie Hewlett, a husband-and-wife team at Washington State University Vancouver. They have worked with the World Health Organization in containing previous Ebola epidemics in Africa. The Hewletts are co-authors of a 2007 book called Ebola, Culture and Politics: The Anthropology of an Emerging Disease. They were asked by the World Health Organization to learn why people flee the hospital, the ambulances and the health workers trying to save them.

In a talk this week at the university, the Hewletts noted that the current Ebola outbreak is fueled by West African people’s long-standing mistrust of their own governments as well as actions of foreign powers and international aid organizations.

  • How to protect Syria’s cultural heritage? Answer: Stop the war

The New York Times “Room for Debate” section opened a discussion on: What is the most effective way to stop looting and preserve the ancient heritage of Syria? Respondents included Abdalrazzaq Moaz, the former Syrian deputy minister of culture and director general of Antiquities and Museums, is a visiting professor at Indiana University and a co-director of the American Schools of Oriental Research’s Syrian Heritage Initiative. Jesse Casana is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas and a co-director of the American Schools of Oriental Research’s Syrian Heritage Initiative. They said:

“It is critical to understand that the cultural heritage issue is simply one dimension of the much larger humanitarian crisis in Syria. Looting and damage follow on the heels of intense military conflict, regardless of which factions are fighting. Despite the fact that ideological destruction of the region’s extraordinarily rich cultural heritage could be considered a war crime, prolonged conflict inevitably results in looting and damage to ancient sites and monuments, for reasons of profit, desperation and tactical expediency.”

Their answer to the question: “The solution to the cultural heritage crisis is the same as the solution to the broader humanitarian crisis, and that is to find a comprehensive and just political resolution to the war. If we truly care about cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq or about the suffering of the people who live there, then our overall objective must be to advocate for a lasting peace.”

  • Football fusion: U.S. football warm-up meets Polynesian Haka dance

Fox News carried an article about whether or not the performance of a Haka dance as a warm-up to high school football games is an incitement to violent behavior. Some high school football teams in Utah perform the Haka dance before their games to energize themselves and their fans. Recent complaints that the chant is unsportsmanlike and disrespectful have prompted administrators to limit it to home games only. The Haka is an old Polynesian warrior dance, and made globally famous due to performances of it by the New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks.  The article quotes Adrian Bell, cultural anthropology professor at the University of Utah, who says that the dance at high school football games was never intended to incite violence: “Today, it’s being misinterpreted to mean something else, that it’s more violent…The Haka for Pacific Islanders would be the same as cheer leading for westerners.”

  • Cultural relativism gets a shout out in The Daily Beast

The Daily Beast reviewed the discussion (or “spat) between Ben Affleck and Bill Maher about Islamaphobia and other matters related to how non-Muslims can discuss or critique aspects of Islam. The article introduces cultural relativism:

“Here’s some quick history for you. First, the Enlightenment happened, and humankind developed the idea of universal rights. ’Round about the 1920s, some scholars in the then-newish field of cultural anthropology started to argue that all rights, or at least values, were not universal, and that we (the West) should be careful about imposing our values on societies with traditions and customs so removed from our own.”

[Blogger’s note: not a good idea to keep emphasizing the “so removed from our own” thing…there is a lot of shared ground as well].

  • U.S. school lunches: BigAgro power behind the lunch tray

The New Republic published an article by Kelly Alexander, a Ph.D. student in cultural anthropology at Duke University and author of a bestselling cookbook. She writes: “The problem with school lunch starts with an ecological question about the quality of our food, not with fear of obesity. The state has seized control of how we feed our children, and what has it done with it? Ceded it to ConAgra. We need to wrest that control right back. And we need to find our kids some better pizza.”

  • Cooking the Aleut way for health

The Alaska Dispatch carried an article about a new cookbook that compiles traditional Aleut recipes, Qaqamiigux: Traditional Foods and Recipes from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. It combines recipes for traditional foods with nutritional data, interviews with elders, historical and contemporary photos, and details about how to harvest and preserve the food. The National Indian Health Board presented a “local area impact” award to lead author Suanne Unger at its national conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in September. Douglas Veltrie, professor emeritus of anthropology at UAA is another main contributor to the book.

Twenty-five elders were interviewed about hunting, gathering, preserving and preparing traditional foods. Their personal stories and remembered legends were collected, along with the recipes, to put the food into cultural context. Archival photos of people butchering whales or drying fish were sought out. New photos of people turning raw products into table-ready meals were taken. Linguists supplied the names of the food in different dialects of Unangam Tunuu, the Aleut language.

  • Forgotten farm workers in the U.S.

National Public Radio North Carolina reported on a documentary and photo exhibit, Faces of Time/ Rostros del Tiempo which documents the story of Mexican migrant workers to the U.S. and their continuing protests for justice. It is part of this year’s North Carolina Latin American Film Festival. From 1942-1964 about five million Mexican guest workers were brought to the United States as part of a federal program to help with the post-war labor shortage. These workers were known as Braceros, “strong arms,” and they harvested crops throughout the country. When they were done, the U.S. government took mandatory deductions from their wages, promising a retirement fund for them when they returned to Mexico. Decades later, many of them have still not received all of their retirement money. The film and photo exhibit

In the program, host Frank Stasio talks to Charles Thompson, professor of cultural anthropology and documentary studies at Duke who created the documentary.

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become a professional photographer. McNair Evans wants to tell a complex emotional story with his photography exhibit, Confessions for a Son, on display in LaGrange, Georgia. Evans found his niche in photography while doing his B.A. degree in cultural anthropology at Davidson College in North Carolina. While studying abroad in Guatemala, he realized he became interested in how photographs conveyed a universal, shared human experience rather than division of cultures. Later, while living in Wyoming, he worked as a photojournalist and stringer for local and national newspapers in the Rocky Mountains and then became a commercial and editorial photographer focusing on outdoor sports and adventure travel, including photographing a fly fishing assignment in Patagonia and snowboarding in Tibet. He then moved to San Francisco and continued learning about how to communicate through his work. In 2009, Evans received a call from his sister, to whom the traumatic effects of their father’s death was becoming troubling. It made him realize that his photography was not only conveying his personal emotions about his father’s death but the broader psychological effects it had on his family. In 2010, nine years after his father’s death, he moved back to his home town of Laurinburg, North Carolina, and began the project of compiling family photographs and letters. They form the exhibit that Evans created to convey his relationship with his father. Evans hopes the exhibit will help people relate to their own personal or family struggle.

…become a world renowned cellist. When Yo-Yo Ma was young, he found inspiration in silence. He lost himself between the notes and discovered something new about music and its relationship to the world. Not everyone could easily make a connection between playing Bach now and how that affects society. Ma studied anthropology at Harvard University. He is a cultural and intellectual omnivore:  “I’m a human first, a citizen second, a musician third, a cellist fourth,” he once told a reporter at the Harvard Crimson.

…become an oil executive who supports indigenous arts in Australia. Peter Brokensha, who recently passed away, was “a good man who did good things”, said a friend and partner in efforts to turn the nascent Aboriginal art movement into a viable business. Brokensha, a business executive, wanted a place where indigenous arts could be displayed and sold. With his support, the Argyle Arts Centre opened in 1970, housing the first dedicated “primitive” art gallery in Australia. Brokensha did an anthropology degree including fieldwork with the Pitjantjatjara in the Great Victoria Desert and published a report based on his research, The Pitjantjatjara and their Crafts.

  • Talking feet: Foot length and gender in forensic anthropology

The length of a human foot can help identify victims of mass disasters like bomb blasts and natural calamities. Research conducted by Kewal Krishan, a senior assistant professor of anthropology at Panjab University, India, shows that foot length ratios can tell the forensic expert whether the victim was male or female:  “Many studies have been conducted on finger ratios (2D:4D digit ratios), which is a well-established gender determination parameter of the human hand morphology. But there is none that talks of the foot length ratios,” Krishan said.

  • In memoriam

Anthropologist Chen Chi-lu, renowned for his anthropological research, died Oct. 6 at the age of 92.

“Chen Chi-lu was a pioneer in Taiwan’s cultural establishment,” Minister Lung Ying-tai of the Ministry of Culture said. “If it were not his foresight in setting up a specialized agency at central government level, there would be no Ministry of Culture today.” After receiving a doctorate in sociology from Japan’s Tokyo University in 1966, Chen carried on with his work in anthropology as a professor at National Taiwan University. A decade later, he became an academician of Academia Sinica, the highest research institute in the country. Named the first head of the Council for Cultural Affairs in 1981, Chen helped preserve traditional architecture, proposed establishing folk art parks and hosted fine art exhibitions during his seven-year term. But it was the Customs of Taiwan columns penned by Chen during his time with Public Opinion Daily he considered his most valuable work. Chen eventually published his four-volume magnum opus, Customs of Taiwan, in 2013. Liu Yi-chang, a researcher of history and language at Academia Sinica, said Chen’s book on Taiwan’s customs gathered together the anthropological expertise of scholars from Taiwan, Japan and mainland China to build a complete knowledge system of post-1945 Taiwan.


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