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Various Articles Synopsis

Three of the articles provided for review deal in some way with the economic and cultural consequences of the interaction of European cultures with so called primitive ones. The forth, which will be discussed at the end of the essay discuss ritual used by the North American Nacerina to try to cope with the diseases and other afflictions plaguing them. “Why Can’t People Feed Themselves? ” poses this question in relation to the plight of peoples who, in spite of being considered relatively primitive, had both fairly good arable land and sophisticated farming knowledge.

The answer according to authors Moore and Collins is colonialism. They state that before the white Europeans conquered them, the natives could at least sustain themselves with a variety of nutritious crops. They were forced by various means to exclusively farm a single type of crop, not to sustain themselves nor even their European masters, but to satisfy their niche demands, for example for cotton. These were known as cash crops and meant to satisfy the appetites of the conquerors upper classes.

This policy was enforced in a variety of ways ranging from brute force, enslavement and expropriation to more subtle but no less effective means such as targeted taxes and marketing boards, which gave the farmers very little payment for his produce since he had nowhere else he could sell it. If farmers previously owned their land they were often forced to give it up and lease instead since they could no longer get required services such as water. Finally, since they no longer produced their own nourishing food, they were forced to import it at high prices.

“Shakespeare In The Bush” details anthropologist Laura Bohamines’ difficulties in telling the story of Hamlet to her African hosts. Presumably because they have no written language, story telling is an important practice in the local culture as a means of disseminating the important events, traditions, mores and values to the population at large and to the descendants. The village elders urged the author to participate in this activity and eventually she did in order to ingratiate herself and learn more about the culture.

She selected Shakespeare’s Hamlet to tell and although she modified the story to some extent to make it more plausible to her hosts, she was frequently interrupted because of objections to the actions and motivations of the play’s characters. For example they were initially outraged when Hamlet wanted to kill his uncle who he thought had murdered his father, because in their minds older people are venerated because of their age no matter what they do. Interestingly, they later absolved Hamlet because he had been driven to madness.

The point of this article, I believe, is that our reactions to others alleged thoughts and deeds is colored by our own cultural background. “Eating Christmas In The Kalihan” by Richard Lee details the authors’ experiences when he tries to amend his frugal reputation with the Bushmen by buying a large ox for Christmas dinner. He is shocked when his best efforts are ridiculed. The Busmen claim that although the animal is larger, it is bony with little desired meat and fat.

When finding he is unable to obtain a substitute, he goes ahead with the Christmas dinner, and when the ox is cut open he finds it to be healthy with ample meat and fat. After some enquiries he finds out that this is the way Bushmen ensure that hosts show some humility in their gift giving and not act as if they were doing something especially generous, since similar gifts were commonplace among the Bushmen. The author in this article was I believe showing how the Bushmen culturally controlled the donor’s status.

Finally, “Body Ritual Among The Nacerima” by Horace Miner describes the sadistic/masochistic tendencies of this little known North American tribe. Since they don’t have the benefit of modern scientific medicine, they attribute disease and other afflictions to issues with their bodies, and in particular with their faces and mouths. They ritually mutilate themselves and construct shrines in their homes in order to try to fend off calamities.

People are assisted in exchange for generous gifts by a hierarchy of religious officials headed by medicine men in elaborate periodic ceremonies obviously very painful to the recipients. These practices have persisted in spite of limited efficacy. Perhaps there is a psychosomatic element where there is some success simply because the recipients will it. In any event, I believe that before the advent of modern medicine, people resorted to some kind of ritual religion in their effort to control their environment.

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