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.

Continue reading “anthro in the news 1/18/16”

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.

Continue reading “Interview with Tijo Salverda”

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.
Continue reading “Shaking the political kaleidoscope in Mauritius”

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.

Continue reading “Go fish in Mauritius”

Mauritian food gets its first Masterchef champion

By contributor Sean Carey

Shelina Permalloo

Last Saturday, just days before this week’s final of the BBC’s amateur cooking competition, Masterchef, I was standing outside Hammersmith underground station in London, talking to a Mauritian Muslim friend. He was convinced that one of the competitors, Shelina Permalloo, born in Southampton of Mauritian Hindu Telugu parentage would win. He reckoned he had spotted how much the two judges, Australian-born restaurateur John Torode and his Cockney co-presenter, greengrocer Gregg Wallace, appreciate her Mauritian-inspired food as well as her personality.

Up until this point, I thought 29-year-old Shelina, a resident of Tooting in south London, had a very good chance of being crowned champion as she had made it through to the final three of more than 20 contestants. But my Mauritian friend convinced me that not only would it be good for Shelina, but it would also be good for the TV series as the former charity worker brought a point of differentiation to the food on display through her creative use of spices. And, as he pointed out, Wallace kept repeating that Shelina “brings sunshine to a plate.” Quite an endorsement.

And so it came to pass. Yesterday evening, Shelina Permalloo was duly crowned U.K. Masterchef 2012 champion. She very gracefully gave a great deal of credit to her widowed mother, claiming that she was really just her mother’s “sous chef.” Shelina added:

“I only ate Mauritian food growing up as it gave our family that affinity of being close to the island. Mauritian food is very frugal which is great in these economic climates but at the same time full of flavour, heady with aromatics, nutritional and damn tasty.”

Continue reading “Mauritian food gets its first Masterchef champion”

Football drives health education among schoolchildren in Mauritius and other African nations

By contributor Sean Carey

Like the populations of many African countries, Mauritians are football mad. The game played in stadiums and streets all over the palm-fringed Indian Ocean island is a legacy of 19th century British colonialism — administrators, missionaries, soldiers and sailors introduced the game to locals — whereas in other African nations it was popularized by the Portuguese and French.

Mauritius football players
Mauritius football players. Flickr/llee_wu

Traditionally, Mauritius split into two more or less equal groups — those who supported Liverpool and those who supported Manchester United. Now, because of increased television coverage and the easy availability of football merchandise, especially branded t-shirts, other UK Premier League teams like Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City are gaining support as younger people choose different football clubs as vehicles for sporting and other identities appropriate to their age sets.

But Mauritians from all of the country’s diverse ethnic groups — Hindu, Muslim, Creole, Chinese and French — know that a Frenchman of Mauritian descent — in fact, of Hindu Telugu heritage — Vikash Dhorasoo, a member of the French team at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, was one of the most gifted midfielders in modern times.

The former AC Milan, Lyon and Paris St Germain player is also the most prominent footballer of South Asian descent in the history of the game, and very well known for his views on the importance of combating racism, homophobia and gender discrimination in sport. The regret among Mauritian football fans is that Dhorasoo never played for a Premier League team before his retirement in January 2008. However, he did visit Mauritius in May 2009 to promote FIFA’s Grassroots programme, which was inaugurated on the island.

The Mauritius football team did not make it to the current African Cup of Nations, the finals of which are being co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. But the country is following the championship closely through local and international TV channels and local press coverage.

Significantly, Mauritius along with Zimbabwe, another former British colony, has been part of the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre’s research into “11 for Health”, a football-based health education programme for young and teenage children. It had previously been piloted in a smaller study in Khayelitsha township in South Africa in 2009.

Vikash Dhorasoo playing with school girls from Birmingham, Flickr/Housing and Sport Network

In Mauritius, 389 schoolchildren, boys and girls, aged 12-15 years, at 11 secondary schools took part in eleven 90 minute sessions which combined learning or refining a football skill with linked information about 10 health issues – for example, heading a football and avoiding HIV infection, defending well and washing one’s hands, shooting for goal and vaccination for self and family, building fitness and eating a varied diet, and good teamwork and fair play. The study was conducted between February and June 2010.

Questionnaires assessed participants’ pre and post-intervention health knowledge as well as views about the “11 for Health” programme. The results carried out in co-operation with the Mauritius Football Association and the Mauritius Ministries of Heath and Quality of Life, Education, Culture and Human Resources, and Youth and Sport were extremely positive. The results among a similar group of children in an out-of-school setting In Zimbabwe were also excellent. Continue reading “Football drives health education among schoolchildren in Mauritius and other African nations”

Mauritius joins the premier league of global democracies

By contributor Sean Carey

Mauritius is in the premier league of the world’s democracies, according to the newly released London-based Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. The Index, which monitors 167 nations ranks the small Indian Ocean island, with a population of 1.3 million, 24th out of 25 “full democracies,” just ahead of Spain.

Norway is in first place followed by three other Scandinavian countries—Iceland, Denmark and Sweden. Canada is eighth, Ireland is 12th, Germany is 14th, the U.K. is 18th, while the U.S. is ranked 19th.The remaining 90 countries which make it into the “democratic” category are divided into 53 “flawed democracies,” which includes France and Italy at 29th and 31st respectively. The next category consists of 37 “hybrid regimes” and includes Hong Kong (80th), Singapore (81st), Turkey (88th), Tanzania (90th) and Kenya (103rd). The remaining countries in the Index, including Bahrain, Chad, Fiji, Madagascar, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea, are described as “authoritarian.”

EIU Democracy Index 2011

The Index is based on five criteria: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation, and political culture. However, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that almost all of the “full democracies” belong to a group of the world’s advanced economies, whose populations are well-practiced in placing marks on ballot papers and tossing out unpopular or incompetent governments.


Little wonder, then, that Mauritius’s inclusion has caught the eye of some commentators. “In some ways, of the 25 ‘full democracies,’ Mauritius is now the most notable,” writes Neil Reynolds, economics correspondent for the Toronto-based Globe and Mail. Reynolds cities Mauritius’s endorsement by the World Bank as the best among African economies, and its top position in the Sudanese-born telecoms billionaire Mo Ibrahim’s Index of African Governance.

Reynolds also goes on to note Mauritius’s ascent in the Index of Economic Freedom jointly produced by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010, it was in 12th place of 179 countries. In 2012 it has moved up to eighth place. The piece finishes with a rousing cry: “Economic freedom is as much a prerequisite for democracy as voting. Let’s hear it for the prosperous little democracy with a dodo on its coat of arms.”

But free-marketeers are not the only members of the economic tribe to endorse Mauritius. Last year, for example, Joseph Stiglitz, after a brief visit, wrote an article for The Guardian, heaping praise on the country for the provision of free education, transport for schoolchildren and free healthcare, including heart surgery. The former chief economist at the World Bank, and a leading light in the neo-Keynesian “third way” movement, reckoned that North America and Europe could learn lessons from Mauritius in terms of how the country managed “social cohesion, welfare and economic growth.”

Despite the brevity of his stay, the Nobel prize-winning economist was observant enough to point to some of the island’s problems, especially the colonial legacy in inequality in ownership of land and other forms of capital which differentially affects the life chances of various segments of the polyethnic population.

Then there is the vexatious issue of the US base on Diego Garcia. The island, along with 54 other atolls that make up the Chagos Archipelago, was detached in breach of international law before Mauritius’s independence from the UK in 1968 to form the British Indian Ocean Territory. “The US should now do right by this peaceful and democratic country: recognise Mauritius’s rightful ownership of Diego Garcia, renegotiate the lease and redeem past sins by paying a fair amount for land that it has illegally occupied for decades,” argued Stiglitz. He should have added that those 1500 or so islanders, who were forcibly removed from the Chagos Archipelago in the late 60s and early 70s by the British authorities to make way for the military base and dumped in Mauritius and the Seychelles, should be allowed to return to their homeland if they so wish.