05/03/13 ANTHROPOLOGY NOTES (AFTER MIDTERM)
II. Questions of Biology, Blood, and Belonging
Date: Feb 25/26
Film: Wan Naes Wan (time permitting)
(1) The Trobrianders, Chapter 4
(2) Cultural Anthropology, pages 183-184 ("Body Image and Gender Hierarchies")
(3) "Ideal" (PDF)
Reading #1: The Trobrianders, Chapter 4
Youth and Sexuality
Waiting and Watching
When villagers talk about giving, they are talking about caring and generosity.
Giving also implies planning for the future; that is, giving expresses not only caring but
Giving things communicates a person‟s desires and plans, but it also may be an attempt to
control others by establishing a debt.
Each act of giving is at once a pledge of caring and an act of obligating another person
A villager who presents someone with a basket of yams cannot ask for something in
o He must give and then wait
A degree of chance exists in even the closest kin relationships
To maintain one‟s autonomy, a villager keeps her or his thoughts about others private, but
in the form and style of one‟s giving are messages about the giver‟s intention.
Ruth told me that if her brother gave her yams that were small and soft, she would know
that he did not truly want her to have them.
These thoughts remain private, but they also provide the basis for waiting and watching.
With young people, the strategies for influencing others are sharply developed during
Adolescents learn to deal with the will and plans of others through their own sexuality.
Their abilities to negotiate their sexual desires and seductive intentions are backed by
their youthful physical and social beauty, made even more potent with love and beauty
o Clothes, decorations, even the flowers and herbs thrust into armbands and hair
heighten the aura of seduction
By the time children are seven or eight years old, they begin playing erotic games with
each other and imitating adult seductive attitudes
Young people change partners often
o During this time, young people usually do not sleep in their parents‟ houses
o In this way, they have the freedom of their own sleeping quarters to which they
can bring their lovers
During adolescence, young people are watched by older villagers, who evaluate their
potential as productive adults
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While older villagers watch and wait for young people to come of age, they also give
them great scope for participating in their own activities
Although they help with household tasks, their responsibilities are limited and they have
much freedom to pursue their own adventures
Only when villagers are married, have children, and are fully committed to economic and
political endeavors will they be considered adults.
Young women are just as assertive and dominant as men in their pursuit or refusal of a
The harvest season provides an arena for all-night village dancing, cricket matches, and
large feasts, where young people gather and seek new lovers.
It is important to look attractive and to act in a manner that conveys independence and
Individual arrogance gives a message of overt competitive behaviour
A person‟s intentions are carried out covertly through magic spells that explicitly define
the intensity of rivalry and the power of seduction
Even when a young woman (or a man) is complimented, for example, for her beauty, the
compliment must be repaid so that the favoured person does not become “too proud”
At a dance, Weteli tied a string around Boiyagwa‟s arm, symbolizing her beauty and
In cricket marches, regardless of the actual score, the host team must always win
Yam exchanges exacerbate rivalry between villages
Young men must give betel nuts and tobacco to the women they want, expressing their
ability to continue to give presents as long as the relationship lasts
In seduction, giving is not enough; finally love magic must be used to overcome strong
Just as young people cannot become “truly” beautiful without the help of older people, so
too, their access to magic spells is limited
The most common way for young people to obtain magic spells is to learn from their
older kin by giving food, tobacco, and money
o This giving must be generous and must last for many years if the younger person
hopes to learn all his or her mentor‟s spells.
A married woman sometimes may learn very important spells from a lover who is
visiting from another island
Magic spells may also be bought from others
The words for beauty magic are chanted into coconut oil, which is then rubbed on the
skin or into flowers and herbs that decorate armbands and hair
The spells are directed toward heightening the visual and olfactory effects of a person‟s
body to create erotic feeling on the part of a lover.
The performance of such magic links each young person to his or her father‟s sister is an
important way “Truly, Bogunuba is very good to me, because she made magic with a
pearl shell for me when I was small”
When young people reach their mid-teens, their lovers‟ meetings take up most of the
night, and a new affair may last for several months or longer
About this time, some seriousness may enter into these meetings, for within a few years,
marriage will be the next important step
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Trobrianders believe that each person‟s mind is inviolate.
No one professes to know what another person is thinking or why someone makes a
decision in a particular way
For these reasons, young people may find it expedient to resort to the most powerful
kinds of magic spells, known and practiced by only a few adults, who must be paid for
The words of the strong love spells are chanted into betel or tobacco, the very things that
continually are given back and forth among everyone.
In order to “destroy someone‟s mind” this agent, that is, the betel or tobacco, must
transmit the words to the person.
Therefore, to take effect, the agent must be ingested or inhaled.
The force of the words is thought to enter a person‟s body so that the spell controls his or
o In this way, a person‟s autonomous behaviour is interfered with by the will of
Of course, the spell may fail.
o The words may not have been strong enough, and the lover may seek another
expert who has access to spells thought to be even more powerful
Trobrianders believe that the agent carrying the magic only becomes effective when the
words are chanted again and again throughout the night or for several days so that the
betel nut or tobacco absorbs its power from the act of speech itself.
o Additional payments finally may produce success
Attractive lovers is the first step toward entering the adult world of strategies, where the
line between influencing others while not allowing others to gain control of oneself must
be carefully learned.
Sexual liaisons give adolescents the time and occasion to experiment with all the
possibilities and problems that adults face in creating relationships with those who are not
Choosing One Lover
When a young woman begins to meet the same lover again and again and rejects the
advances of others, the affair takes on a measure of seriousness and everyone believes
that strong love magic has been used
The first cock‟s crow, just before daybreak, is a signal to all lovers that they must part.
o It is imperative that no one sees lovers entering or leaving each-others‟ houses.
A sensuous part of lovemaking is to bite off a lover‟s eyelashes or put scratches on each-
Lovers must never eat food in the company of one another
Peer constraints however may upset the privacy of the relationship
Jealousy is the most common problem
*READ PAGE 72 ON RUBENI‟S TEXTBOOK FOR SUB NOTES*
The choice of a lover can be difficult, and at times, one‟s freedom to have the person one
wants is curtailed by public reprimands and peer retaliation.
High status and rank provide added support for exerting one‟s will, but even young
people who are members of chiefly lineages face rejection
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As young people get older, however, and their interests turn to marriage, their
independence becomes more restricted.
Looking for a Spouse
Marriage is rarely considered only as a love match
It is an important political step that involves not just the two young people but many
other villagers as well
Through each marriage new affinal alliances are formed or old ones are re-established
between the members of the new husband‟s and new wife‟s matrilineages
To understand the kin and affinal connections that are linked through each marriage, it is
important first to understand the kumila, a matrilineal clan composed of many
But unlike matrilineages, there are no clan ancestors
Clans and lineages have different functions; a clan is not, as Malinowski reported, merely
a larger representation of a lineage.
There are only four Trobriand clans: Malasi, Lukuba, Lukwasisiga, and Lukulabuta
o Each clan has its own set of identifying totems (i.e.: bird, tree or flower) but owns
no property in common
Consequently Trobriand matriclans are of little overt economic importance to their
members, who never unite for a specific cause or event.
Villagers believe the lines on a person‟s palms can show the clan to which one belongs
When a person ravels to a village where he or she has no matrilineal kin or affines, the
only villagers that can be asked for food are those who belong to the same clan.
Clans are also important in helping to distinguish whom a person can and cannot marry
Marriage within the same clan is considered incestuous
The best marriage for any villager to make is to marry someone who is a member of her
or his father’s clan
Keyawa, which means “like the same matrilineage” for the word yawa is a synonym for
dala, the more common term for matrilineage
Keyawa have more responsibilities
o They now must help each other when either needs to give away yams and other
kinds of wealth for important exchanges
A man‟s choice of a spouse is watched over very carefully by his father
A man has the same opportunity for creating keyawa kin when his daughter marries
With a daughter, however, a man cannot be as direct in discussing her choice of a
husband because of the taboos associated with incest.
An incest taboo prohibits sexual intercourse between a woman and her father or her
brother, but the taboo equally prohibits a woman‟s father or her brother from having any
discussion with her about her love affairs.
The sister-brother incest taboo is the most serious rule about social relations that exists in
Not only is the rule about mentioning sexual matters in front of a brother and sister an
intensely dangerous one to break, but also infringement of the sister-brother sexual incest
taboo is perceived to be so horrifying that its occurrence in a famous myth forced the
couple to commit suicide.
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The social relationship between a woman and her brother is extremely close
o Once they each find a spouse, their relationship provides the foundation for a
o Even though a woman‟s marriage has great consequences for her brother as well
as for the other members of her matrilineage, her brother plays no role in
discussions and decisions about selecting a spouse
The rule of incest between a woman and her father, however, follows a different pattern.
o Villagers make fun of the men who found themselves overwhelmed by the beauty
of their daughters.
o Incest taboo between fathers and daughters is far less rigid than that between a
sister and brother.
Politically, as discussed, it is to a man‟s advantage to have his daughter marry someone
who is a member of his clan so that her husband‟s mother and mother‟s brother will
become keyawa kin to him
A young woman‟s marriage is also of paramount importance to her matrilineages because
once she has children, especially girls, the continuity of the lineage and its connection
with ancestors is assured, as is a future economic base for matrilineage events
A girl‟s mother plays the central role in decisions about her daughter‟s marriage
o Until the couple tries to announce their marriage, the mother cannot stop her
daughter from continuing to sleep with him
Eating Yams Together
In the Trobriands, there is no traditional marriage ceremony
The reason that such a strong taboo exists about lovers being seen together in the same
house or eating food together is because these acts make a marriage official
If the girl‟s mother and mother‟s brother approve of her choice, her mother quickly cooks
yams and carries them to her
When she and her lover eat these yams together, the marriage is officially recognized
If the young woman refuses to go, they pull her out of the house and drag her away from
Yet the girl can still have the final word
Often if a woman is determined to marry her original choice, she can arrange a secret
meeting with him
Then together they go to the beach and live there for several days
Once they live openly with each other, their parents must accept and respect the marriage
Even chiefs, whose marriages are arranged for political alliances, enter into some
marriages for love in just this way
On the day that a marriage is announced, after the couple eat yams together, the young
man‟s sister brings three long skirts to her new sister in law.
Both she and her husband take off their red shell necklaces, for to continue to wear them
indicates that they are still looking for lovers.
Gaining lovers is not merely a frivolous adolescent pastime
o It is the first step toward entering the adult world of marriage
o It is no accident that on the first day of married life, yams and women‟s skirts
figure centrally as the symbols of a couple‟s changed status and their life ahead.
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The struggle between individual independence and the demands of others is clearly
articulated in the way magic is used to influence and seduce someone
Sexual freedom and independence of choice run counter to jealousy, pride and the
emotions of others
After marriage sexual freedom is curtailed, but the style of social and political
interactions for women and men remains the same.
PDF READING: IDEAL
Setting: Among desert Arabs in Niger, a country that borders Nigeria in the south and
Algeria in the north.
These Arabs have for centuries cultivated an ideal of what Westerners would consider
obesity in women, and girls are force-fed in order to achieve this ideal.
Body ideals are still very important
Attempting to achieve the fat body ideal did not seem to create the same feelings of
personal anguish for these Arab women that striving for the thin body ideal seems to for
many women in the West.
Changing the way I looked at the body was one of the hardest cultural leaps
Stepping on the Scale in Niger
All the diverse ethnic groups in the area wanted to be fat: Hausa, Zarma, Fulani, Tuareg,
and the local Arabs
The Nigerien nurses would occasionally weigh themselves, just like women in the West
might do when they find themselves in the vicinity of a scale
They nonchalantly picked up their shawls, sweaters, and any other loose items of clothing
they had with them before stepping on the scale
o They did whatever they can do gain weight
The hope is always that one will be bigger, not smaller
The ideal of fatness was almost a reason d‟etre for women
Nigerien Arabs and the Fat Female Ideal
The unwieldy bodies of the village Arab women, extreme even among peoples whose
women all strived for wide girth, was achieved through the more or less forced
consumption of food in childhood
She had indeed undergone his fattening process as a child, which had endowed her with
what she called the “beautiful” stretch marks on her arms
A number of African peoples have had traditions of secluding girls before marriage and
Nigerien Arabs and Mauritanian Moors seem o be the only ethnic group that begins
fattening girls in early childhood
Under the close watch of a female relative, girls begin ingesting large quantities of milk
and porridge everyday, starting when they lose their first teeth and continuing until they
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The pudginess they develop is thought to hasten the onset of puberty and the possibility
Ideally, girls in this society are married in early adolescence
By then, women told me, girls have “learned the value of fatness themselves”
To talk a lot about fattening was to risk casting the evil eye on the young girls whose
central purpose in life at this stage was to make their blossoming young bodies sexually
attractive and beautiful.
These bony protrusions brought to mind only unflattering images of scrawny cows!
These Nigerien Arab women spent a much time as possible sitting or lying down, letting
servants do the work of carrying water and cooking
Whenever they did raise themselves, they took the opportunity to show their large bodies
off to advantage
Buttocks is the most important feature of a women‟s charms
Men told me that they could identify any women at a distance form her walk and her
“I was considered so skinny that the Niger women I lived with did not, in fact, consider
me fully a woman”
o With what they considered my sticklike body, I was clearly abnormal
As Nigerien Arab men tend to be thing and wiry, constantly on the move
It was not easy for me to learn to appreciate the Nigerien love of stretch marks
o All young women hope to acquire them on their legs and arms as well
o Stretch marks on your arms and legs are a real achievement
Both men and women told me that they no longer liked very fat women as they used to in
the old days
o Although in less remote areas of West Africa, where Western values and images
have made inroads, Western body ideals are contending with fatter traditional
ones, the Nigerien Arab women I knew never believed my seemingly self-serving
claims that women where I came from wanted to be as thing as possible.
o PAGE 15 ON THE 2 ND NEW PARAGRAPH DESCRIBES HOW ARABS
LOOKED (BACKGROUND INFO INCASE YOU WANT TO READ
MORE ABOUT IT)
But to gain weight to comply with a foreign aesthetic felt like betraying myself and
giving up my identity in a ay that none of those other adaptations to local culture did
The bodily shapes and sizes that societies idealize are not so much fashion as they are
physical manifestations of beliefs and practices that are anchored in a wider set of
For me, the sleek, streamlined female body I had been conditioned to emulate carried
connotations of self-discipline, strength, industry, and general virtue
To change from wanting to look thinner to looking fatter was not like changing my taste
o Much more was at stake: a whole set of values that I could not just shake off were
fundamental to the cultural world from which I came
What women (and men) were most fascinated with were their own ideals of beauty,
inculcated largely in initiation ceremonies
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According to Nancy Etcoff, ideals of body shape and size have probably been around as
long as modern humans have.
o There is a degree of arbitrariness to the ideals
But body ideals are also grounded not only in cultural values but
environmental/economical orders as well
Fat bodies are appreciated where food is hard to come by, and thing ones are admired in
places where food is abundant
Since food abundance has been relatively rare historically, it is not surprising that,
according to one estimate, around 80% of human societies on record have had a
preference for plumper women
Because humans evolved in environments of scarcity, they developed a desire for fatty
foods and the ability to store fat easily-for women, in their behinds and stomachs
Today modern Western ideals of slenderness seem to be sweeping across the world.
In the 2001 Miss World beauty contest, Nigeria, after performing poorly for years,
entered a tall, svelte young woman whose skinny appearance appealed to few Nigeria
o She won
o Since then women began adapting to the Western-inspired ideal (esp. in urban
An elite Arab woman‟s achievement of weighty immobility signals her ability not to
work-indeed makes it impossible for her to work
o Their economy is also based on the herding of animals and long-distance trade, all
carried on by men
o Women‟s bodies thus constitute a convenient and symbolically potent place for
men to invest their earnings
A capitalist economic order like that of the West, on the other hand needs both male and
female bodies as workers and as consumers
But since capitalism encourages- indeed, requires the never-ending expansion of markets
and the purchase of the commodities that are produced for those markets we are also
exhorted to consume and indulge
Men are still the prototype of the productive worker, but women are now expected to
both work outside the home and remain the primary shoppers and consumers
And yet neither the environment nor economics determine bodily ideals entirely:
otherwise all people who live in deserts and herd animals for a living would have the
same beauty ideals which they don‟t
Social orders and cultural values also play their part in making one type of body seem
more pleasing than another
For Nigerien Arabs, for example, overarching notions of male make fat women and
skinny men seem natural and desirable
A thin woman is considered “like a man” just as rounder men are considered slightly
To be not too hot an not too old means having a body that is quite “closed off” to the
world around it, rather than “open” to all the winds and spirits that could enter it
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When you are open, you get “cold” and women find themselves in the unfortunate
position of being open all too often, notably when they have sex, when they menstruate,
and when they give birth
Getting fat helps make one closed off and hot
If our body ideals are not entirely arbitrary but embedded in many aspects of our lives,
then this explains, at lease in part, why we are held so deeply in the thrall of how we
think our bodies should look- in the West as in remote Niger
Clearly male desire, media images and advertising have a lot to do with why women go
to great lengths to make their bodies look particular ways, why they feel intense pressure
to do so, and why they may suffer greatly trying to meet the ideals
While it seems counterintuitive that those thing, willowy models staring down from
billboards aren‟t somehow the engines behind the compulsion we women in the West
have to look sleep and slim, my four years living in a culture without any media images
whatsoever, but with a body ideal every bit as pronounced and sought after as ours in the
West, has convinced me otherwise.
Reading the Body: Fat is Sexy
I came to see the body as a potential object of beauty, and as an object of sexual allure
The fattening that these Arab women engaged in was certainly a kind of cultural work,
expressing in physical form many cherished values and reflecting the social order
o Aesthetics is also an aspect
Biological realities, economic circumstances, gender constructions and conceptions of
health and the body underlie Nigerien Arabs‟ appreciation of fat women
„fat is ultimately about sex‟
As girls flesh out their bodies, creating the contours of Rubeseque, fertile womanhood
through their unceasing ladleful‟s of porridge, they are expected to become ever more
silent and still
In other words, while fatness is highly arousing, it also imposes an immobility and
closed-off-ness on women hat is thought to protect them from the potential dangers of
Individualism and Body Ideals
Yet in the west today, the slender body ideal is experienced by many women as deeply
oppressive, morally wrong and a menace to young girls, even as women continue to
Why did Western women, with more opportunities and more power than women have
had at any time in history, feel so threatened by their beauty ideal, whereas Nigerian Arab
women, with seemingly less agency in their lives, do not seem threatened by their equally
extreme body ideal?
I believe the pressure women feel from body ideals in the West has to do with the social
context in which we try to live up to those ideals.
If a Nigerien Arab woman fails to get fat, this is thought to be due to her innate
constitution, or because she is ill, or because someone has bewitched her.
In the west, on the other hand, where we have the freedom to develop an individual
identity, we also have the personal duty to do so
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If a woman fails to live up to the ideal, it is thought to be her own fault
Who a women‟s father is, what village she lives in, what social group she belongs to-
these are the things that define the parameters and possibilities of her life in this Nigerien
society, not her own efforts and ambitions, although they, of course, may also affect her
identity and the outcome of her life.
Free at Last?
Our contemporary western bodily ideals are just one of many possible sets of ideals
Thin women started to appear severe and manly to me, as if their bodies were denying
life rather than affirming it, pulling back from sexuality rather than celebrating it
Most of all, however, I have come to feel that body ideals, as recurring aspects of human
societies both historically and cross-culturally, are a part of important cultural work
humans engage in
Working to live up to a bodily ideal is to engage in making life meaningful and bringing
the pleasure of beauty into the world, however one‟s particular society defines it
It is a shame that it has become such an odious, even illness-inducing task for so many
women in the West today
o But, fat or thin, it may be difficult to eliminate the ideals themselves
III. Questions of “Progress”, Questions of Power
The Meaning of Progress and Development
Date: March 4/5
Topic: Primitives and Moderns?
Film: Couple in a Cage
(1) Cultural Anthropology, Chapter 2- Pages 40-65 ONLY
(2) The Dobe Ju/’hoansi, Chapters 12
Introduction- What Do We Talk about when we talk About Progress?
10,000 years ago, all human beings lived in small, nomadic groups of 30 to 100 people,
gathering wild vegetable foods and hunting large and small game as they had for
thousands of years
Today, no human beings anywhere in the world live exclusively by foraging (hunting and
The riddle is this: why, after thousands of years of living as foragers, did some societies
begin to change their way of life?
Should we assume, as many have and still do- that human beings chose to abandon a
nomadic, foraging life because they discovered better ways of living?
Should we assume that the few remaining small scale tribal societies are remnants of an
inferior way of life and that given the opportunity; their members would adopt modern
farming, wage labour, or urban life?
Should we assume that we can explain the world‟s division of wealth by saying that some
nations have progressed while others have not?
Or is the concept of progress- the human history has been a steady advance from a life
dependent on nature‟s whims to a life of control and domination over natural forces-a
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fabrication of contemporary societies based on ethnocentric notions of technological
Sedentary: a mode of livelihood characterized by permanent or semi-permanent
Progress: the idea that human history is the story of a steady advance from a life
dependent of the whims of nature to a life of control and domination of natural forces
Question 2.1: How and Why Did Foraging Societies Switch to Sedentary Agriculture?
a thumbnail sketch of what we know about the course of cultural history, modes of
livelihood, and social organization will provide a useful starting point for understanding
the meaning of progress and development
at some point in history, some foragers began to plant crops and domesticate wild
they practised slash-and-burn or swidden agriculture (a mode of livelihood in which
forests are cleared by burning trees and brush and crops are planted among the ashes of
the cleared ground)
villages consisted of extended family groups, and people organized themselves into clans
(a unilineal descent group whose members claim descent from a common ancestor)
Now that leadership roles had developed, members of some groups were ranked in
Later in history settlements combined themselves under common leaders to form states
(a form of society characterized by a hierarchical ranking of people and centralized
political control) consisting of many thousands of persons.
The development of agriculture intensified, and slash-and-burn techniques were replaced
by plough or irrigation agriculture (a form of cultivation in which water is used to
deliver nutrients to growing plants).
Leader organized labour for the purpose of constructing public works such as roads (the
Inca Highway), fortifications (the Great Wall of China), and the religious structures
(pyramids in Mexico, cathedrals in medieval Europe)
As technological complexity increased, people began to develop specific skills and to
specialize in occupational tasks (Ex: herder, baker, butcher, warrior, potter); that
occupational specialization led to increased trade and to the evolution of a merchant
Culture Change: the changes in meanings that a people ascribe to experience and
changes in their way of life.
Bands: a term used by anthropologists to refer to egalitarian units of social organization,
found mostly among foragers that usually consist of fewer than 100 people.
CHECK OUT TABLE 2.1 ON PAGE 44
Does the Idea of Progress Help Us Understand the Shift from Foraging to Sedentary?
As we have seen the shifts in modes of livelihood from foraging to horticulture to
agriculture were accompanied by major social and cultural shifts
One possible explanation for why societies transformed themselves in this way is that
human invention resulted in better ways of doing things; in other words, human culture
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Two early and influential anthropologists, Lewis Henry Morgan and Leslie White, who
developed explanation of culture change based on the idea of progress
We discuss the work of anthropologists who argue that agriculture is not the easiest mode
of livelihood, nor is it the most efficient
Evolutionary Explanations for Culture: Lewis Henry Morgan and Leslie White
One possible reason why foragers chose at some point to settle down and domesticate
plants and animals is that sedentary agriculture w