anthro in the news 1/18/16


Source: Google Images/Creative Commons

Autism that can kill

Kim Shively, professor of cultural anthropology at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, published an article in the Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania) about how autism can be fatal to children. Her article notes a recent death by drowning of a five-year old autistic boy in Allentown. She focuses on the variety of autism that involves a tendency to wander away from home, arguing that it is the most dangerous, especially for non-verbal children. She notes that “public safety and health service providers in our area…have poor understanding of what autism is or how it is manifested.” She offers three recommendations.


Sons of a paramount chief, seated, with an African slave, 1904. The Guardian/Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies, Tehran, Iran

African slavery in Iran

Anthropologist Pedram Khosronejad is Farzaneh Family Scholar and Associate Director for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies at the School of International Studies of Oklahoma State University. He has embarked on a new and controversial topic in Iranian studies, developing a narrative on African slavery in Persia through archival photography, interviews, and texts. The African slave trade in the Persian Gulf began well before the Islamic period. Mediaeval accounts refer to slaves working as household servants, bodyguards, militiamen and sailors in the Persian Gulf including what is today southern Iran. In Iran’s modern history, Africans were integral to elite households.

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Interview with Tijo Salverda

By Madhukar Ramlallah, editor of the Mauritius Times [with permission from the Mauritius Times]

‘Franco-Mauritians have realised that their economic power is best served by staying away from politics’


* ‘I think that there is a certain awareness among Franco-Mauritians that their position can only flourish when other Mauritians also benefit economically’

Mauritius will make progress only if it asks free and frank questions about how well the different components which make society accommodate each other for sustained development and harmonious participation in national affairs. We asked Dr T Salverda, a Dutch anthropologist who has been researching Mauritian society for more than a decade, resulting in, among others, the recently published book ‘The Franco-Mauritian Elite: Power and Anxiety in the Face of Change’, how well has the Franco-Mauritian community kept adapting to the changing social, economic and political climate of Mauritius and how it will likely respond to events in the future. Dr Salverda works as research fellow at the University of Cologne’s Global South Studies Centre and was in Mauritius recently for the international conference held at the MGI to discuss about the Mauritian diaspora. Read on:

* ‘Home is where our Beach is’ – that’s the title of your talk at the Mauritian Diaspora international conference at the MGI, two weeks ago, that sought to look into the reasons for, to use your own words, “the Franco-Mauritians’ limited interest to emigrate”. There must however be more than the beach that have gone into their decision to stay back, isn’t it?

My intervention at the conference results from research on the Franco-Mauritians more generally, and I didn’t analyse the Franco-Mauritian Diaspora, or lack thereof, in all its details. At the same time as many wish to stay on the island, there are most certainly also Franco-Mauritians who migrate or stay abroad after their studies. But what I noticed was that many Franco-Mauritians I met expressed little desire to leave the island. Most of the students I interviewed in France and South Africa also expressed the wish to return – and from what I know, many have returned, indeed. This is in contrast to the argument that many Mauritians studying overseas don’t return after their studies because they would see more opportunities elsewhere – I don’t have the figures if this is the case, but I frequently heard this argument.

In the case of the Franco-Mauritians, it is certainly not only about the beach. Access to the island’s most powerful economic networks is central to their position. Most of the students seemed to worry little about finding employment once they would return. Why I referred to the beach, though, is that the attachment to the island is more than just economic privileges. Many of the students had fond memories of a relatively carefree upbringing and a youth often spent with their family and friends at the seaside. The alternative of a life elsewhere, without the Indian Ocean and the pampering of domestic service, is less appealing.

* Would there be some other “comparative advantage/s” for them to live more permanently in a place such as Mauritius? Their high social and economic positions in a small place like Mauritius? Mauritius has more to offer them and more readily so, than competitive places like France or South Africa, for example?

Yes, most certainly. An important aspect is that, for much of the island’s history, their high social status was symbolised by their white skin-colour. This legacy still lingers on and my feeling is that notwithstanding the criticism their skin-colour also attracts, it still gives them status. “More than” would probably be the case in South Africa and France. There, they would be one of the many whites. In these cases, most would not be part of the wealthiest section or enjoy the same privileges and pleasant lifestyle as in Mauritius. When you combine this with a life on a tropical and relatively well-organised island, it is understandable that they like to remain in Mauritius.

I think, however, that this would go for many Mauritians, as many stay on the island after all – and not against their will necessarily. The closest comparison would, of course, be other Mauritian elites, of which you have a number. Unfortunately I don’t have comparative data, but it would be interesting to find out whether they express the same wish to stay on the island or are more eager to leave.

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anthro in the news 6/8/15

  • Porn-driven female genital esthetics

The Globe and Mail reported on growing industry in women’s genital esthetics, illustrating its point with some details about genital-area waxing and skin treatment for women available in Toronto. The article quotes Eileen Anderson-Fye, the Robson Junior associate professor of anthropology at Case Western Reserve University: “Because of technological advances, we have greater access to pornographic images that explicitly and implicitly convey aesthetic and erotic ideals…“These images hold women to increasingly singular standards about beauty and desirability.” [Blogger’s note: there’s an even more serious question here about what drives porn to portray sexually desirable female genitals as child-like].

  • Culture, hormones, and menopause
Logo of the Women’s Health Initiative

A Reuters article describes findings from a survey about vaginal pain during intercourse in several Western countries. The results, which reveal substantial cross-country variations, will not be surprising to anthropologists. Researchers conducted an online survey asking 8,200 older men and women in North America and Europe how menopause affects their sex lives and relationships. While similar complaints were reported across all countries, the magnitude of suffering for vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and weight gain varied. According to Melissa Melby, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware, the findings are limited because the survey recruited only women with vaginal pain and men who experienced it with their partners. Even so, she continues, the cultural differences about menopause highlighted by the survey underscore how regional differences in diet, physical activity, attitudes toward aging, and expectations about menopause influence how women experience symptoms.

  • Good news: First woman president in Mauritius

Anthropologyworks’ Sean Carey published an article in the New African on the election in Mauritius of its first woman president, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, an eminent scientist specializing in ethnobotany. She will also serve her country as its ceremonial Head of State, a move that has caused some controversy but also much support. She vows to be an “apolitical president.” Well, let’s see says Carey, a longtime observer of politics in Mauritius. Continue reading “anthro in the news 6/8/15”

Anthro in the news 10/27/14

  • Viewpoint: Rethinking Ebola death risk

Slate Magazine commented on an article in the London Review of Books by renowned medical anthropologist and physician, Paul Farmer. He argues that:

“An Ebola diagnosis need not be a death sentence. Here’s my assertion as an infectious disease specialist: If patients are promptly diagnosed and receive aggressive supportive care—including fluid resuscitation, electrolyte replacement and blood products—the great majority, as many as 90 percent, should survive.” In other words, the survival rate for the disease in the U.S. and other high income countries with good health systems should be close to that. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 10/27/14”

Hare Krishnas lose legal battle against McDonald's in Mauritius

By Sean Carey

The on-going legal battle between the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and McDonald’s over the right to sell hamburgers at the Jumbo Phoenix shopping mall in Vacoas, Mauritius, a site opposite the organization’s temple, highlighted in a previous post has taken a new turn.

The interim injunction in force since 26 February 2013 prohibiting the sale of beef products by McDonald’s was lifted on 27 March. Judge Prithviraj Fecknah was persuaded by members of McDonald’s legal team that the beliefs of religiously observant Hindus on the Indian Ocean island, the descendants of indentured labourers, about the protected status of the cow cannot trump the interests of an international fast food business.

Nevertheless, last Friday lawyers representing ISCKON, including Rama Valayden, a former Mauritian Attorney General, submitted new legal arguments to the Supreme Court, which will be heard on 18 April.

Meanwhile, last Wednesday the festival of Holi was celebrated by Hindus in residential areas (see video below), including at the Holyrood football stadium in Vacoas. Somduth Dulthumun, President of the Mauritian Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation, who has backed ISCKON in its dispute with McDonald’s, told the crowd: “We must live as one family forgetting and differences. Every Hindu has obligations to his religion. Nothing is free in life, and you have to make sacrifices to promote your religion.”

Shaking the political kaleidoscope in Mauritius

by Sean Carey

The London-based Africa Report recently provided a brief but excellent analysis of Mauritius’s three main political dynasties –- those of Ramgoolam, Jugnauth and Duval, whose family members are associated with the Parti Travailliste, Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien (MSM), and the Parti Mauricien Social-Démocrate (PMSD) respectively.

Paul Berenger
Paul Berenger. Source/Wikipedia
But the big news revealed at a press conference last Wednesday, is that Paul Bérenger, the veteran leader of the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM), the largest opposition party, is suffering from early stage cancer in his left tonsil. He was widely praised by other politicians, the press and members of the public for his openness and candour. On Monday, he flew to Paris for what is expected to be three months of medical treatment.

Bérenger, a Franco-Mauritian from a middle-class family, graduated from the University in Wales, Bangor in the mid-1960s. He then spent a period in Paris soaking up the student and union-inspired radicalism of the time. On his return to Mauritius, Bérenger became a trade union organizer before forming the MMM in 1969. In alliance with the now-defunct Parti Socialiste Mauricien (PSM) led by Harish Boodhoo, the coalition won all 60 seats in the general election 1982. Subsequently Bérenger served as finance minister.
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Go fish in Mauritius

By contributor Sean Carey

Sit on a beach in Mauritius and face the lagoon on a sunny day when the tide is out. Chances are you will see several young Creole men with harpoons or spears walking near the reef in search of fish of one sort or another.

Most of what they catch is eaten by their families, although they may sell some to hotels and restaurants in the vicinity. Put simply, such no-cost and freely available seafood is an important part of the diet and sometimes provides much-needed cash for low-income households.

Fishermen in Mauritius

In other parts of the island, there are a significant number of small fishing communities. Around 60 fish landing stations punctuate the 205 km coastline. Tamarin, in the south-west part of the island, part of the Riviere Noire district, is one such place. The village, which lies at the mouth of a river estuary, is gaining a global reputation for big-game fishing, dolphin watching and surfing. It has a significant working-class Creole population, and the menfolk typically make their livelihoods from artisanal fishing using small boats within and just outside the lagoon.

The big challenges for the Tamarin fishermen are to ensure the sustainability of fish stocks and to find ways of adding value to the catch. As elsewhere in Mauritius, fish are often sold on the beach-side by middlemen to people from other ethnic groups who make up the island’s near 1.3 million population – Hindu, Muslim, Chinese and French Mauritians – as well as tourists in self-catering accommodation.

When I visit Mauritius, I am struck by the difference in taste and texture of fish that has just been landed compared with fish which has been lying around in the heat for several hours, even when protected by the shade of a tree.

Fish in Mauritius. Flickr/anna-qu

When I purchase pole- and- line or long-line caught yellowfin tuna at my local supermarket in the U.K., I marvel at its quality, especially when taking into consideration that the produce will have been caught either in the Pacific or Indian Ocean, airfreighted to Gatwick or Heathrow and then transported by trucks around the country. Although the tuna in the supermarket doesn’t quite match the condition of the fish that can be obtained before noon at the beach in Mauritius, it is very definitely better quality than fish purchased in the afternoon.

Why? The difference is all down to refrigeration.

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