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Post  eddie Wed Nov 23, 2011 5:24 am

Claude Lévi-Strauss by Patrick Wilcken - review

The lure of the groundbreaking French anthropologist is irresistible

Nicholas Lezard, Tuesday 22 November 2011 09.00 GMT

Anthropology Levi-Strauss-by-the-Amazo-007
Always unconventional: Lévi-Strauss in Amazonia circa 1936. Photograph: Apic/Getty Images

How can you not warm to Claude Lévi-Strauss when you read the opening words of his first book, the wonderfully named, and untranslatable, Tristes Tropiques? "Je hais les voyages et les explorateurs." This, in a book about voyages and exploring. (For those without French, "je hais" means "I hate.") A song by the famous Brazilian singer/songwriter Caetano Veloso, "O Estrangeiro", contains the memorable lines (which sound even odder in Portuguese): "The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss hated Guanabara Bay / It seemed to him like a toothless mouth."

Anthropology Claude-L-vi-Strauss-The-Poet
Claude Lévi-Strauss: The Poet in the Laboratory
by Patrick Wilcken

Lévi-Strauss didn't, in the end, spend much time in the field at all. About eight weeks in total, yet his career as an anthropologist lasted for more than half a century – and his life a whole one. He may have conducted most of his research in his Paris flat, communing with the native artefacts and listening to Wagner and Debussy operas (in the belief that they unconsciously tapped into ancient mythical structures), but when the influential French magazine Lire asked 600 French intellectuals who the top dog was, Lévi-Strauss won convincingly, beating Foucault, Barthes and Lacan. (And he outlived them all, too. As for Lacan's theories, when Lévi-Strauss and Merleau-Ponty went to Lacan's for lunch, they avoided talking about them: they agreed they "didn't have the time" to understand them.)

But Lévi-Strauss's influence was profound. For all that he was touted as a proto-structuralist, he was not only quite capable of being withering about structuralists, he was very capable of writing intelligibly for, comparatively speaking, a mass audience. Tristes Tropiques may not have been the first book to describe the observer's own influence on his observations, but this was certainly not the done thing in anthropological circles. Nor did works of anthropology go into long digressions about sunsets, or what it means to have the motif from a Chopin étude going round and round inside your head when hitherto you had much preferred Debussy. And one was meant to avoid such declarations as "The first thing we see as we travel round the world is our own filth, thrown into the face of mankind."

He became a darling of the radicals for sayings such as "Mankind has opted for monoculture; it is in the process of creating a mass civilisation, as beetroot is grown in mass"; and he provided a ringing denunciation of racism in his book Race et histoire. Asked by Unesco to reprise this in 1971, he dismayed the organisation by wondering whether the fight against racism was not, in some way, contributing to a kind of cultural decay – that "monoculture" again. He was not being racist, in the way we understand the term these days – it was more a case of "vive la différence" – but it was certainly off-message, and as he got older he could be mistaken for an arch-conservative. But he was never mindless, as many arch-conservatives are, and it always paid to listen to what he said, even if it outraged the bien-pensants. He certainly had a gift for the memorable statement. My favourite line is this: "I don't mean this disparagingly, quite the contrary, but fieldwork is a kind of women's work (which is probably why women are so successful at it) … I had neither the interest nor the patience for it." It's not as sexist as it looks at first. Or is it?

This is an excellent biography, given extra authority because its author had plenty of contact with its subject. It's unexpected that an anglophone should devote himself to Lévi-Strauss, but Wilcken doing so means that if you are unfamiliar with the work you will not be at a disadvantage. For example, the account of his flight from wartime France is actually more conventionally coherent in the biography than in Tristes Tropiques, even though the details are the same. He was never conventional: the poet in the laboratory indeed, a man who never felt comfortable with the description of anthropology as a science, even though he tried to make it one. He once remarked: "I forget what I have written practically as soon as it is finished. There is probably going to be some trouble about that."

Last edited by eddie on Sat May 05, 2012 3:38 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Post  eddie Sun Apr 22, 2012 6:58 pm

'They're killing us': world's most endangered tribe cries for help

Logging companies keen to exploit Brazil's rainforest have been accused by human rights organisations of using gunmen to wipe out the Awá, a tribe of just 355. Survival International, with backing from Colin Firth, is campaigning to stop what a judge referred to as 'genocide'

Gethin Chamberlain

The Observer, Sunday 22 April 2012

Trundling along the dirt roads of the Amazon, the giant logging lorry dwarfed the vehicle of the investigators following it. The trunks of nine huge trees were piled high on the back – incontrovertible proof of the continuing destruction of the world's greatest rainforest and its most endangered tribe, the Awá.

Yet as they travelled through the jungle early this year, the small team from Funai – Brazil's National Indian Foundation – did not dare try to stop the loggers; the vehicle was too large and the loggers were almost certainly armed. All they could do was video the lorry and add the film to the growing mountain of evidence showing how the Awá – with only 355 surviving members, more than 100 of whom have had no contact with the outside world – are teetering on the edge of extinction.

It is a scene played out throughout the Amazon as the authorities struggle to tackle the powerful illegal logging industry. But it is not just the loss of the trees that has created a situation so serious that it led a Brazilian judge, José Carlos do Vale Madeira, to describe it as "a real genocide". People are pouring on to the Awá's land, building illegal settlements, running cattle ranches. Hired gunmen – known as pistoleros – are reported to be hunting Awá who have stood in the way of land-grabbers. Members of the tribe describe seeing their families wiped out. Human rights campaigners say the tribe has reached a tipping point and only immediate action by the Brazilian government to prevent logging can save the tribe.

This week Survival International will launch a new campaign to highlight the plight of the Awá, backed by Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth. In a video to be launched on Wednesday, Firth will ask the Brazilian government to take urgent action to protect the tribe. The 51-year-old, who starred in last year's hit movie The King's Speech, and came to prominence playing Mr Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, delivers an appeal to camera calling on Brazil's minister of justice to send in police to drive out the loggers.

The Awá are one of only two nomadic hunter-gathering tribes left in the Amazon. According to Survival, they are now the world's most threatened tribe, assailed by gunmen, loggers and hostile settler farmers.

Their troubles began in earnest in 1982 with the inauguration of a European Economic Community (EEC) and World Bank-funded programme to extract massive iron ore deposits found in the Carajás mountains. The EEC gave Brazil $600m to build a railway from the mines to the coast, on condition that Europe received a third of the output, a minimum of 13.6m tons a year for 15 years. The railway cut directly through the Awá's land and with the railway came settlers. A road-building programme quickly followed, opening up the Awá's jungle home to loggers, who moved in from the east.

It was, according to Survival's research director, Fiona Watson, a recipe for disaster. A third of the rainforest in the Awá territory in Maranhão state in north-east Brazil has since been destroyed and outsiders have exposed the Awá to diseases against which they have no natural immunity.

"The Awá and the uncontacted Awá are really on the brink," she said. "It is an extremely small population and the forces against them are massive. They are being invaded by loggers, settlers and cattle ranchers. They rely entirely on the forest. They have said to me: 'If we have no forest, we can't feed our children and we will die'."

But it appears that the Awá also face a more direct threat. Earlier this year an investigation into reports that an Awá child had been killed by loggers found that their tractors had destroyed the Awá camp.

"It is not just the destruction of the land; it is the violence," said Watson. "I have talked to Awá people who have survived massacres. I have interviewed Awá who have seen their families shot in front of them. There are immensely powerful people against them. The land-grabbers use pistoleros to clear the land. If this is not stopped now, these people could be wiped out. This is extinction taking place before our eyes."

Anthropology Deforested-areas-in-Brazi-001
Deforested areas in Brazil. Illustration: Giulio Frigeri

What is most striking about the Funai undercover video of the loggers – apart from the sheer size of the trunks – is the absence of jungle in the surrounding landscape. Once the landscape would have been lush rainforest. Now it has been clear-felled, leaving behind just grass and scrub and only a few scattered clumps of trees.

Such is the Awá's affinity with the jungle and its inhabitants that if they find a baby animal during their hunts they take it back and raise it almost like a child, to the extent that the women will sometimes breastfeed the creature. The loss of their jungle has left them in a state of despair. "They are chopping down wood and they are going to destroy everything," said Pire'i Ma'a, a member of the tribe. "Monkeys, peccaries, tapir, they are all running away. I don't know how we are going to eat – everything is being destroyed, the whole area.

"This land is mine, it is ours. They can go away to the city, but we Indians live in the forest. They are going to kill everything. Everything is dying. We are all going to go hungry, the children will be hungry, my daughter will be hungry, and I'll be hungry too."

In an earlier interview with Survival, another member of the tribe, Karapiru, described how most of his family were killed by ranchers. "I hid in the forest and escaped from the white people. They killed my mother, my brothers and sisters and my wife," he said. "When I was shot during the massacre, I suffered a great deal because I couldn't put any medicine on my back. I couldn't see the wound: it was amazing that I escaped – it was through the Tupã [spirit]. I spent a long time in the forest, hungry and being chased by ranchers. I was always running away, on my own. I had no family to help me, to talk to. So I went deeper and deeper into the forest.

"I hope when my daughter grows up she won't face any of the difficulties I've had. I hope everything will be better for her. I hope the same things that happened to me won't happen to her."

The Survival campaign reflects growing international concern over the plight of the world's remaining indigenous tribes. Earlier this year the Observer revealed how police were colluding with tour operators in India's Andaman Islands to run human safaris into the jungle heartland of the protected Jarawa tribe. A video showing half-naked Jarawa women and girls dancing in return for food caused outrage in India and around the world. Further revelations followed, exposing human safaris in Orissa, in India, and in Peru, where tour operators are profiting from the exploitation of Amazon jungle tribes.

Meanwhile, drug traffickers are posing a threat to other Amazon tribes. Last year a previously uncontacted tribe was photographed from the air close to the Peru-Brazil border only to go missing a few months later after a gang of drug traffickers overpowered guards protecting their land.

The Brazilian embassy in London referred requests for a response to the president's Human Rights Secretariat, which did not respond. However, Brazil has recently been able to point to research that shows it has been making progress in tackling illegal logging. The country's National Institute for Space Research estimates that 6,238 sq km of rainforest was lost between 2010 and 2011, down dramatically from the 2004 peak of 27,700 sq km. The same year, Brazil pledged to cut deforestation by 80% by 2020.

The year-on-year fall last year was 11% and in March Brazil's forestry department raided and closed down 14 illegal sawmills on the borders of the Awá's land. Even so, the figures also show that two states recorded sharp rises in deforestation, and illegal logging is destroying the Awá's jungle at a faster rate than that of any other Amazon tribe.

In a statement, Survival urged the Brazilian government to give more support to Funai and to increase its efforts to shut down illegal activities in the Awá's territories. "Timing is crucial, and the timing of this is now, because while all hope is not lost an entire people are on the verge of being lost, most critically the uncontacted Awá. And we have a moral responsibility to act. EU and World Bank money has helped fund huge projects in Brazil that have exploited the Awá's land resources and made infrastructure ripe for developers."

The Survival International campaign will launch later this week at
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Post  eddie Sun Apr 22, 2012 7:01 pm

We can save the Awá tribe

As the successful survival of other Amazon Indian tribes shows, protecting their way of life rather than imposing that of the west is the best way to keep them intact

Stephen Corry

The Observer, Sunday 22 April 2012

Anthropology Aw--008
The Awá hunt, fish and gather forest produce such as fruit and nuts. Photograph: Domenico Pugliese/Survival

The Awá of Brazil are the world's most threatened tribe. Years of illegal logging and land grabs have brought them to the brink of extinction. But apart from the loggers and their guns, one of their biggest problems is the fallacy that Amazon Indians must inevitably conform to "modernity".

Although people have been saying it for generations, it isn't true: tribes are destroyed by labelling them backward, and pretending they stand to benefit from "civilisation". It's fundamentally racist, and the evidence points, glaringly, and to our shame, in exactly the opposite direction.

When land is taken, tribes simply don't survive. On the other hand, when it's protected, most of their problems evaporate. That can happen if no one else wants the land, it's inaccessible to outsiders or, most importantly, there's the political will and strength to ensure it remains with the Indians.

On their own territory, they can adapt to change as they wish. Some individuals might leave to explore the outside, but most will return home to its invaluable advantages: free food and housing, as opposed to scraping a living in shantytowns and slums, where life is usually nasty, brutish and short.

The "integration" of these peoples is the theft of their self-sufficiency, and their condemnation to the lowest rung of a steep and greasy ladder – or worse, death. However, we believe, profoundly, that there will still be Amazon Indians at the end of the century. It merely entails respecting the laws and rights which governments claim to uphold. Cynics might argue that it won't happen, that the fast buck will always triumph, but that's really an admittance that we are the savages, unfettered by any rule of law, common decency or humanity.

We have seen tribal peoples' lands protected repeatedly over the last 40 years. The largest little-contacted tribe in Amazonia, the Yanomami, survived because a 20-year campaign secured the protection of their lands in 1992. They remain steadfastly Yanomami.

The Awá will doubtless survive as well, but only if the campaign in defence of their land is similarly vociferous. In the words of Colin Firth, who is supporting our campaign: "One man can stop this: Brazil's minister of justice. He can send in the federal police to catch the loggers, and keep them out for good. But right now it's just not his priority.

"We have to change that before it's too late. We need enough people to message him that he takes notice… You, me, our friends, our families. Everyone counts. But we don't have much time. When the rains stop, the loggers will be back. This is our chance, right now, to actually do something. And if enough people show they care, it will work."

Stephen Corry is the director of Survival International
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Post  eddie Sat May 05, 2012 3:36 pm

US should return stolen land to Indian tribes, says United Nations

UN's correspondent on indigenous peoples urges government to act to combat 'racial discrimination' felt by Native Americans

Chris McGreal in Washington, Friday 4 May 2012 23.46 BST

Anthropology US-should-return-stolen-l-008
A Native American at his home on Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, which has some of the US's poorest living conditions. Photograph: Jennifer Brown/Star Ledger/Corbis

A United Nations investigator probing discrimination against Native Americans has called on the US government to return some of the land stolen from Indian tribes as a step toward combatting continuing and systemic racial discrimination.

James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said no member of the US Congress would meet him as he investigated the part played by the government in the considerable difficulties faced by Indian tribes.

Anaya said that in nearly two weeks of visiting Indian reservations, indigenous communities in Alaska and Hawaii, and Native Americans now living in cities, he encountered people who suffered a history of dispossession of their lands and resources, the breakdown of their societies and "numerous instances of outright brutality, all grounded on racial discrimination".

"It's a racial discrimination that they feel is both systemic and also specific instances of ongoing discrimination that is felt at the individual level," he said.
Anaya said racism extended from the broad relationship between federal or state governments and tribes down to local issues such as education.

"For example, with the treatment of children in schools both by their peers and by teachers as well as the educational system itself; the way native Americans and indigenous peoples are reflected in the school curriculum and teaching," he said.

"And discrimination in the sense of the invisibility of Native Americans in the country overall that often is reflected in the popular media. The idea that is often projected through the mainstream media and among public figures that indigenous peoples are either gone or as a group are insignificant or that they're out to get benefits in terms of handouts, or their communities and cultures are reduced to casinos, which are just flatly wrong."

Close to a million people live on the US's 310 Native American reservations. Some tribes have done well from a boom in casinos on reservations but most have not.

Anaya visited an Oglala Sioux reservation where the per capita income is around $7,000 a year, less than one-sixth of the national average, and life expectancy is about 50 years.

The two Sioux reservations in South Dakota – Rosebud and Pine Ridge – have some of the country's poorest living conditions, including mass unemployment and the highest suicide rate in the western hemisphere with an epidemic of teenagers killing themselves.

"You can see they're in a somewhat precarious situation in terms of their basic existence and the stability of their communities given that precarious land tenure situation. It's not like they have large fisheries as a resource base to sustain them. In basic economic terms it's a very difficult situation. You have upwards of 70% unemployment on the reservation and all kinds of social ills accompanying that. Very tough conditions," he said.

Anaya said Rosebud is an example where returning land taken by the US government could improve a tribe's fortunes as well as contribute to a "process of reconciliation".

"At Rosebud, that's a situation where indigenous people have seen over time encroachment on to their land and they've lost vast territories and there have been clear instances of broken treaty promises. It's undisputed that the Black Hills was guaranteed them by treaty and that treaty was just outright violated by the United States in the 1900s. That has been recognised by the United States supreme court," he said.

Anaya said he would reserve detailed recommendations on a plan for land restoration until he presents his final report to the UN human rights council in September.

"I'm talking about restoring to indigenous peoples what obviously they're entitled to and they have a legitimate claim to in a way that is not devisive but restorative. That's the idea behind reconciliation," he said.

But any such proposal is likely to meet stiff resistance in Congress similar to that which has previously greeted calls for the US government to pay reparations for slavery to African-American communities.

Anaya said he had received "exemplary cooperation" from the Obama administration but he declined to speculate on why no members of Congress would meet him.

"I typically meet with members of the national legislature on my country visits and I don't know the reason," he said.

Last month, the US justice and interior departments announced a $1 billion settlement over nearly 56 million acres of Indian land held in trust by Washington but exploited by commercial interests for timber, farming, mining and other uses with little benefit to the tribes.

The attorney general, Eric Holder, said the settlement "fairly and honourably resolves historical grievances over the accounting and management of tribal trust funds, trust lands and other non-monetary trust resources that, for far too long, have been a source of conflict between Indian tribes and the United States."

But Anaya said that was only a step in the right direction.

"These are important steps but we're talking about mismanagement by the government of assets that were left to indigenous peoples," he said. "This money for the insults on top of the injury. It's not money for the initial problem itself, which is the taking of vast territories. This is very important and I think the administration should be commended for moving forward to settle these claims but there are these deeper issues that need to be addressed."
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