anthro in the news 10/10/16

Land rights are key in Colombia

Indigenous people want land rights. Source:
Indigenous people want land rights. Source:

The Washington Post published an op-ed by cultural anthropologist Omaira Bolaños, Latin America program director for the Rights and Resources Initiative. She argues for property rights reform: “One of the most devastating aspects of the war for me was to see indigenous, peasant, and Afro-Colombian communities who spent their entire lives investing in and caring for their territories suddenly left with nothing. Displacement has a particularly destructive impact, leading to the loss of livelihoods, languages and cultures, and to the tearing apart of social fabrics — in addition to the lives lost to violence. For a lasting peace to take root, the legal recognition of collective property rights for indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities would be an important step in addressing the war’s damages and in continuing a process of comprehensive land reform.”

Disney-ification of Tibetan culture

Tibetans perform for tourists. Source: Getty Images/Kevin Frayer
Tibetans perform for tourists. Source: Getty Images/Kevin Frayer

An article in The Washington Post described the effects of the ever-growing number of Chinese tourists in Tibet. It quotes P. Christiaan Klieger, a San-Francisco-based cultural anthropologist, historian, and writer:  “It is very similar to how the United States treated its developing West 100 years ago…They are commodifying the native people and bringing them out as an ethnic display for the consumption of people back east.” Other critics point out that such domestic tourism is part of a plan to bind Tibet ever more tightly into China. Tourism development trivializes Tibet’s culture, marginalizes its people, and pollutes the environment. Tibetans are neither consulted nor empowered in this process. The top jobs and most of the profits go to companies and people from elsewhere in China.

Help for Haiti

As covered by The New York Times, additional released emails from Hillary Clinton include one to Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist and co-founder of Partners in Health. As he was preparing to go to Haiti in 2010 to help with the relief effort, in which the Clinton Foundation played an important role, Clinton wrote: “We have much to do, my friend, and I’m sending strength and blessings to you and the Haitian people….If we’re falling short in our efforts, pls yell. Love, Hillary.” [Blogger’s note: It’s time to yell again and again].

Psychological torture in Tehran

CBC News (Canada) reported on the experiences of Homa Hoodfar, emerita professor of anthropology at Concordia University, who was recently released from several months of detention in Iran. She says members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard psychologically tortured her during dozens of interrogations over 112 days in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison: They threatened “they would send my dead body back to Canada…I was prepared I might face a few years in prison, or as they said 15 years, maybe I would never be released.” The worst part, she said, was when they played music from the funeral of her husband, who died in December 2014. They had found the music on Hoodfar’s iPad.

The world’s biggest fish (market) story

A review of the documentary Tsukiji Wonderland in The Japan Times includes commentary from Ted Bestor, professor of cultural anthropology at Harvard University, on the planned – but now delayed – move of the market to a new location:  “On some sentimental level, I am glad that Tsukiji may survive for a little longer, but I recognize that a new marketplace is necessary…my attachment and my engagement is nothing like the attachments and engagements of the people who have lived their lives in the market.”

She who goes down to the sea in ships

10916-3The Port Townsend Leader (Washington State) carried a piece about a book by Margaret Willson, a cultural anthropologist, which is based on her research of Icelandic women sea captains. She discovered the topic when on a trip to Iceland where she saw a plaque marking the winter fishing hut of Thurídur Einarsdóttir, one of Iceland’s greatest fishing captains. It stated that she lived from 1777 to 1863. Wilson said, “She?” And thus began Wilson’s quest. The book offers accounts about the excitement, accidents, trials, and tribulations of fishing in Iceland from the historic times of small open rowboats to today’s high-tech fisheries. The seawomen’s voices to speak directly with strength, intelligence and knowledge of how to survive.

Take that anthro degree and…

…become a photographer.  Erika Diettes is a Colombian photographic artist whose latest exhibit Sudarios, shows the faces of 20 women who witnessed the torture and deaths of loved ones during Colombia’s long civil war. Diettes began her career as a visual artist and decided to get a master’s degree in anthropology: “In anthropology, I learned to ask the question. If you know exactly the question you’re asking, it’s easier to have the visual tools that you need to tell the story.”

…become a professional working in social development and land rights. Omaira Bolaños is the Latin America program director for the Rights and Resources Initiative. She provides strategic support and knowledge on the socio-political context of the region in order to envision opportunities for RRI engagement. She has an M.A. in Latin American Studies and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Florida. Prior to joining RRI, she worked extensively in development and community-based conservation, watershed management, gender equity, and indigenous peoples’ tenure rights in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Colombia.

More than just a weed

Archaeological research in China, as covered by Tech Times, reveals the use of cannabis plants as a burial shroud in a prehistoric tomb dating to 2,400 and 2,800 years ago. Archaeologist Hongen Jiang, of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and colleagues, described the burial of a man with Caucasian features in the journal Economic Botany. About 35 years old at the time of death, he was laid out on a wooden bed and reed pillow. Thirteen cannabis plants measuring up to nearly three feet long each were placed diagonally across his chest. The tomb is in the Turpan Basin in northwest China, an important stop on the Silk Road. The discovery adds to a growing number of archaeological studies showing the prehistoric use of cannabis across Eurasia.

Launch of NYC archaeology archive

The New York Times reported on the launch by the Landmarks Preservation Commission of the Nan A. Rothschild Archaeological Research Center, devoted to New York City’s archaeological collection of more than one million artifacts. It will be open to researchers and scholars by appointment, and a digital archive is available. The Center is named after Nan A. Rothschild, professor emerita of anthropology at Barnard College and member of the faculty of Columbia University.

A very bad idea: Race

The Chicago Tribune carried an article about the concept of race, referring to it as “perhaps the worst idea ever to come out of science.” Although deriving from classifications made in the 18th century, the categories still provide “…the feel of scientific legitimacy to the prejudice that haunts the 21st.” The article quotes Daniel Lieberman, professor of evolutionary anthropology at Harvard University: “Race is a scientifically indefensible concept with no biological basis as applied to humans.”

How old can we get?

NEWSFIX (Houston) noted findings from an analysis of the human lifespan in 38 countries showing lack of progress recently in extending longevity. The results are published in the journal Nature. It appears the oldest people were living longer and longer until the 1990s when things plateaued at 115 years. “It’s because we’ve reached the limits of what our bodies can regenerate, so we can’t really reverse or extend the aging process,” said Rebecca Storey, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Houston.

In memoriam

Victoria Lockwood, associate professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University, died in October. Known for her research in economic development, globalization, and gender relations, she was the author of Tahitian Transformation: Gender and Capitalist Development in a Rural Society and co-editor of Contemporary Pacific Societies: Studies in Development, and Change, Globalization and Culture Change in the Pacific Islands, as well as several articles and chapters. She taught courses on Cultures of the Pacific Islands, Contesting Development, and Gender and Globalization: Cultural and Ethical Issues. She was also director of SMU’s Health and Specialty Program.


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