Showing posts with label anthropology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label anthropology. Show all posts

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Human contacts

This is an amazing and beautiful video of initial contacts, back in 1976, between Papua New Guinea natives and a white-skinned visitor.

We dream about meeting up with Martians. Meanwhile, some of our close cousins have met up with Martians who were simply… us!

CORRECTION: Sorry to disappoint my readers! This charming video is in fact a fake, which has nothing to do with Papua New Guinea. The white man you see in the video is a Belgian moviemaker, Jean-Pierre Dutilleux. The "Papua New Guinea natives" were in fact members of the Toulambi tribe of indigenous Amazonian "Indians" (what a silly word for people in South America). This fake "first encounter" between the natives and a white-skinned visitor was filmed around 1999. Before then, these excellent actors had played similar fake roles for at least three ethnologists: Jadran Mimica (in 1979), Pierre Lemonnier (in 1985) and Pascale Bonnemère (in 1987). Maybe, with the help of an imaginative film director such as Baz Luhrmann, this document might inspire acting careers among my Aboriginal cousins down in Australia. The only sad thing about this otherwise joyous document is that the Toulambis lived in a malaria-stricken zone of the Amazon jungle, and that Jean-Pierre Dutilleux might have been acting in a more humane fashion if he had paid his actors (most of whom have since died) with massive supplies of quinine tablets.

SECOND CORRECTION [Saturday, June 25, 2011] : I must apologize for an error in my interpretation of the French-language source of this story. The Toulambi tribe does in fact inhabit Papua New Guinea (not the Amazon, as I wrongly stated). But this error has no bearing on the fact that anthropologists have been shocked by this video, in which the Toulambis appear to be acting. I have heard, too, that they were in fact supplied with certain pharmaceutical products in payment for their acting. I should add that most of the individuals participating directly in the controversy stirred up in France by this video are anthropologists, with in-depth knowledge of Papua New Guinea, its peoples and its problems. As for me, I am not an anthropologist and I have never visited Papua New Guinea. So, I do not intend to pursue the question of this controversial video any further.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Moving ahead

The quality of relations between France and New Zealand sank to an all-time low after the incident of the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985. Today, judging from the volume of legs of New Zealand lamb in French supermarkets, business seems to be moving ahead.

The rest of this blog post is based upon an interesting French-language article of 6 May 2011 by Frédéric Lewino in Le Point [access].

Tomorrow morning, in the French city of Rouen, two women—a French member of parliament, Valérie Fourneyon, mayoress of Rouen, and New Zealand's ambassador to France, Rosemary Banks—will be coming together for a strange ceremony. The lady from the Antipodes will be taking custody of the tattooed head of an anonymous Maori warrior that has been reposing for 136 years in the local museum of natural history.

So-called moko face tattoos, indicating the genealogy of noble individuals, were a part of ancient Maori culture. The tattooed heads of deceased warriors—referred to as mokomai—were kept as precious relics. Following the arrival in New Zealand of the English navigator James Cook, the marketing of mokomai became a thriving business, enabling the Maoris to acquire European weapons. Apparently the very first purchaser of a moko was Joseph Banks, Cook's naturalist companion. The market value of these objects rose to such a level that certain unscrupulous indigenous communities did not hesitate to capture slaves, tattoo their faces with meaningless junk, kill and decapitate these victims, and transform their heads into highly-priced fake mokomai.

The phenomenon was brought to an end in the middle of the 19th century, but specimens were displayed, by then, in many of the world's great museums. There was even a famous private collector, a British soldier named Horatio Robley [1840-1930], seen here in a photo that dates from about a century ago.

Is there some kind of "moral logic" in returning such objects to their land of origin, New Zealand? Personally, I fail to appreciate why this is being done. These mummified hunks of DNA don't "belong" to today's indigenous population of New Zealand in any objective sense whatsoever. It's not as if the victims were abducted recently, and the absence of their bodily remains were preventing their Antipodean descendants from attenuating their grief. And, if anybody were to suggest that a moko head in some far-flung corner of the world contained an ethereal spirit (not to be confused with the head's DNA) that was yearning to return to the company of its descendants in New Zealand, I would be tempted to reply: "How sad. Too bad."

That's to say, maybe the heads should never have been severed in the first place. But, since they now exist, and since anthropologists and other people find them interesting, it would be silly to invoke supernatural reasons for putting them in one place rather than another, or doing one thing with them (exhibiting them) rather than another (say, burying them in the earth of New Zealand). Obviously, I would not talk this way if ever I were convinced that there are serious folk out in New Zealand who are genuinely upset, in an intense emotional manner, by the fact that mokomai are scattered throughout the world. And, when I speak of "serious folk", I'm obliged to exclude simple-minded individuals who believe in ancient spirits.

No community, of course, neither here in France nor elsewhere, would ever think of appointing a guy like me to handle questions of tattooed Maori heads. Fortunately, therefore, what I have to say on this subject is of negligible importance.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Exotic elsewhere

I've always been intrigued by the way in which the curious mammals of the species Homo sapiens, known for their almost hairless skins and their bulky brains (whose weight obliges them to walk upright), often imagine their brethren who live elsewhere on the globe. When art was the only means of recording visions of Antipodean creatures, it was inevitable that a degree of weirdness should creep in. Here's how a European imagined a Tahitian couple:

An indigenous couple in the conquered territory of America merited better treatment than this:

Photography, when it arrived on the Antipodean scene, should have normally made things better. Sometimes, alas, the outcome was worse.

The cropped hair, fancy clothes, woolen stockings and shiny boots of these allegedly "wild Australian children" (in fact, a pair of microcephalic female adolescents) reflect the fact that equally monstrous specimens—unscrupulous and immoral businessmen—were exploiting these unfortunate individuals lucratively in the USA, in the late 1860s, as circus freaks. As they say in the classics: It takes all sorts of people to make a world.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Collection of papers on Ardi

Science is a journal published by the AAAS [American Association for the Advancement of Science], founded in 1848, which describes itself as "an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world by serving as an educator, leader, spokesperson and professional association". The stated mission of the AAAS is to "advance science, engineering and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people".

This journal has assembled a splendid collection of papers concerning the creature Ardipithecus ramidus, and this collection can be downloaded in PDF form. All you need to do is to register (free) at their website, which can be accessed by clicking the above banners. I've downloaded all their 15 files, and I find them relatively easy to read and totally fascinating.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Thank God the web exists

It's commonplace to warn users against things they might find on the Internet, which is not necessarily a synonym for perfect Information with a capital I. Wikipedia is not necessarily the biblical Word, nor Google, the Gospel. It's a fact that, in non-Macintosh circles, spam and viruses have given the Internet a bad reputation. The proliferation of hoaxes and urban myths has no doubt made many gullible folk believe that they should be wary of everything they encounter on the Internet. And sex, too, has often become a dirty word on the web, particularly when it veers towards nasty pornography and pedophilia.

In spite of all these negative connotations, I thank God daily for His creation of the Internet... even though it's only mentioned indirectly in the Bible, where we hear of evil Apple in Bill's luxurious garden of Eden. I'm convinced that, for once, God got his design work right, and gave us something infinitely more positive than the Crusades, the Inquisition, Nazism, Aids, etc. Thanks, God!

Seriously, people often suggest that TV is a far better medium for acquiring factual information than the Internet. Well, I disagree entirely. TV can often be rich in images and interviews, spectacular, captivating and highly persuasive. Even in France, though, TV transmits massive quantities of superficial bullshit. Why do I preface that last assertion with the qualifier "Even in France"? Well, if we were to talk about TV shows in many other countries [which I'll refrain from naming, so as not to offend any of my English-speaking friends], I would say that the bullshit degree often rises exponentially.

Here at Gamone, my satellite dish provides me with so many wonderful programs that I often have to force myself not to watch TV... otherwise I would never find time to get around to worthwhile tasks such as writing my Antipodes blog, or communicating with friends such as my dog Sophia and my billy-goat Gavroche, my donkeys Moshé and Mandrin, or Alison's dog Pif and her horses Bessy and Aigle [now quasi-permanent guests at Gavroche].

Last night, I watched what I thought to be an excellent program in the domain of paleo-anthropology named Search for the Ultimate Survivor, produced by John Rubin for National Geographic.

With the help of 36-year-old Louise Leakey, daughter of Richard Leakey, this documentary discussed the migration of Homo erectus beyond Africa. We encountered an alleged giant nicknamed Goliath, and an Indonesian midget known as Hobbit. All this was excellent TV, but I don't regret verifying things calmly, this morning, by in-depth web consultations. Maybe the ancient giants were simply well-fed creatures no bigger than modern humans, whereas the midgets might have resulted from nutritional circumstances. In both cases, it would appear to be unwise to talk of distinct subspecies of Homo erectus.

We've all seen the advertising punch line: You've seen the film; now you should read the book. An updated version: You've seen the TV documentary; now you should use the Internet to check the facts and put things in their proper perspective.

To conclude on a light note, here's a silly but delightful erectus joke:
In Australia, a visiting Japanese businessman is being interviewed by a young lady specialized in political journalism.

Journalist: In Japan, how often do you have major elections?

Japanese businessman: Me, have big election everly morning.