- President Obama in Indonesia: The son of an anthropologist
That’s meant to be a compliment! The Washington Post and other media covering the President’s trip to Asia noted that President Obama appeared to be especially comfortable during his visit to Indonesia:
“While Obama often utters a few halting words in the language of the countries he visits, he tossed off Malaysian phrases with ease during a state dinner in Kuala Lumpur. He also broke into a spontaneous exchange in Indonesian during a town hall meeting the next day. His personal connection to the region showed up in more subtle ways as well, as when he slowed his pace to keep in step with Malaysia’s king — a move many Malaysians saw as a cultural gesture of respect for an elder.”
Obama lived in Indonesia between the ages of 6 and 10. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was a cultural anthropologist whose second husband was Indonesian. Their daughter, Maya Soetero, is President Obama’s his only sibling. Dunham spent two decades living in the region doing anthropological research on local artisans. She died at the age of 52 in Honolulu.
- Vetiver: Wealth from Haiti’s land whisked away
According to an article in Reuters, the vetiver plant, a tropical grass, is a little-known Haitian agricultural treasure, producing one of the most prized essential oils for high-end perfumes. The crop is a major employer in southwest Haiti, where farmers have harvested vetiver for decades but earn little from it. Production of the plant in Haiti collapsed in the late 1960s during the three-decade-long dictatorships of Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc) and Jean-Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc). Pierre Léger, a Haitian agronomist, revived vetiver farming in the 1980s. Léger took samples to the top French and Swiss perfumers. “The quality was so good, they couldn’t believe it was from Haiti.”
The question now is: given the global value of Haitian vetiver, how can Haitian farmers benefit from it? Critics say the fair-trade system may not help the farmers enough given the precarious situation of vetiver famers. Cultural anthropologist Scott Freeman, a visiting scholar at George Washington University and author of a 2011 paper on Haitian vetiver, said events often force farmers to dig up immature roots to cover medical care, school fees or a funeral: “When they find themselves in a tight squeeze, they dig up the vetiver.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 5/5/14”