Monday, September 28, 2009

216. Deconstructing the Postmodern Condition 16 -- Myth and Counter-Myth

While much in Grinker's preliminary critique of Turnbull strikes me as empty revisionist posturing, when he finally focuses in on certain specific issues he does have some things to say that are well worth considering. A key issue for him, as for Turnbull, is the notion of "dependence."
Turnbull wishes to demonstrate that the Mbuti are separate and independent of the farmers, but, at the same time, he says that the Mbuti are actually dependent upon the farmers for cultivated foods, iron, pottery, and fire, among other things. . . Nonetheless, Turnbull gets around these sticky facts by adopting the Mbuti classification of the world into two spheres, the village and the forest world. In the village, the Mbuti choose to be dependent upon the farmers; in the forest they are totally independent of the farmers (p. 7).
This is the beginning of an interesting and meaningful argument, but before continuing with it, I'd like to comment on the validity of the above characterization. First of all, I see nothing "sticky" about the Mbuti being dependent on the farmers for farm produce, iron and pottery, since these are items they can -- and do -- live without. As far as fire is concerned, Turnbull reports that they do not know how to make fire and must keep embers burning at all times in order to ensure access to fire when needed. While they know how to use matches, the forest environment is too damp for them to be reliable. One would assume that under such conditions their hearth fire embers might all go out from time to time and that they might then be dependent on their Bira partners to build fresh fires for them, which would, indeed make them dependent on the Bira, at least to that extent.

Interestingly, a similar situation exists in the Andaman Islands, where the Onge and Jarawa foragers have lived in a similar rainforest environment in total isolation for thousands of years without knowledge of how to build a fire:
In their humid climate - with a rather damp "dry season" and a truly wet "wet season," merely to keep a fire going was no mean achievement. Uniquely among living human groups, the Andamanese did not know how to kindle new fire. . . [my emphasis]

"They are very careful of their fires, always carrying smouldering logs with them when they travel either by sea or land, and so sheltering the stock log that even in the most inclement weather the fire does not become extinct. Should such a mishap however befall a village, the people would go to the next encampment and obtain fire from there. According to a story resembling that of Prometheus, fire was stolen from Heaven and has never been allowed to become extinct since." (George Weber, The Andamanese, Chapter 17).
If the Andamanese could survive in their island rainforest in total isolation for thousands of years without knowing how to build a fire, there is no reason to assume the Mbuti could not have done the same -- and if that were the case, they need not be dependent on the Bira for fire. Though Grinker cites studies suggesting that humans cannot survive in a rainforest environment without carbohydrates provided by agricultural produce (see p. 28), this theory is also refuted by the Jarawa and Onge, who have in fact managed to survive as hunter-gatherers in exactly that sort of environment. There is consequently no reason to assume that the Mbuti are dependent in any way on the Bira farmers for any of life's necessities.

For Turnbull, it is simply common sense to concur with the Mbuti's own view that they are not really slaves or servants of the Bira because they could, if they wished, at any time move permanently into the forest and survive very well there as "pure" hunters and gatherers (and by "pure" Turnbull clearly means, very simply, that all their food with no exceptions would be harvested from the forest). Since there is no evidence the Bira would have been either capable of or willing to follow them into the forest to retrieve them, it's difficult to see any flaw in this reasoning. Yet, Grinker insists that this is an ideological argument, based on an "essentialist" romantic fantasy: "In sum, Turnbull enshrines the opposition between the village and the forest." I see no sign that he's "enshrined" anything, or even set up some sort of formal opposition. He is simply being logical -- and practical.

Grinker is more interesting when he presents his own view of the village-forest dichotomy:
We can see the forest-village dichotomy as an ethnic division in which the Mbuti define themselves in terms of the Bila [sic]. In this case, the local model is analyzed as a product of intergroup relations rather than group autonomy. . . Precisely because these groups "depend" upon one another, I resist Turnbull's reification of the village and the forest, indeed of the foragers and the farmers. The essentialist definition of these domains threatens to prohibit us from seeing them as mutually constitutive (p. 9).
The above analysis is based on one of the central themes of his book, as expressed in the preface:
I take issue with the fact that [earlier] studies usually stress the terms "forager" and "farmer" as markers of ecological adaptations rather than as markers of ethnicity. Material culture is assumed to be the independent variable in the construction of group boundaries, and the exchange of material goods resulting from subsistence practices is accepted as the dominant discourse of interaction. As a consequence, the ideas and belief systems underlying the interactions between these foragers and farmers . . . have been largely ignored [my emphasis] . . . My major concern is with the ways in which the Lese culturally represent their relations with one another and with the Efe . . . (p. xii).
On this point I couldn't agree more. Anthropologists have placed far more emphasis on the study of material culture and subsistence practices than cultural representations, symbolism and value systems -- what Grinker has termed "ethnicity" -- and as a result much that is essential has been lost. Though Turnbull provides rich and deeply meaningful descriptions of a great many aspects of Mbuti non-material culture, his principal argument hinges nevertheless on material considerations, especially subsistence techniques, which become the defining difference between the forest and the village. Thus the question of whether the Mbuti can truly be regarded as "pure" hunter-gatherers or not would appear to override all other issues.

Grinker makes a great deal of sense, therefore, when he decides to focus on "ethnicity" (i.e., cultural symbolism and identity) rather than subsistence, and has a very interesting point to make when he suggests that the real issue could be one of mutual definition rather than the simple opposition of two totally different subsistence types. Thus Grinker proposes the notion of "ethnic process" as "the ways in which these groups [the Lese and the Efe] define themselves in opposition to each other" (p. 13).

So far so good. There is definitely an insight here, based on a rare understanding of culture as a semiotic process. Unfortunately, revisionist dogma trumps common sense when Grinker insists that by defining themselves in this "mutually constitutive" manner, the two groups literally become one, and can be understood only as a single social unit: "My view, the opposite of Turnbull's, is that these groups are integral parts of one another -- indeed, that they share the same ethnically differentiated social system" (xi). Or, as he later puts it, "this ideology of inequality bears directly on the argument that the two groups must be considered as one" (p. 87 -- my emphasis).

While there is some sense in such a claim, which can certainly be considered as one way of looking at such relationships, Grinker appears to be insisting that it is the only aspect, that all other possibilities and all other possible oppositions are necessarily false or beside the point. This is all too convenient from the revisionist standpoint, as it does the exact opposite of what Grinker claims Turnbull is doing: it enshrines the forager-farmer relationship as a mutually defined, timeless whole, as though social structure could be reduced to pure semiotic logic. Within the workings of such a rarefied system, history no longer has any meaning, since what really counts is the "mutually defined" opposition between two static cultural ideals that have always since time immemorial defined themselves in this manner. Under such a regime, there is no longer any point in even considering the possibility that the Mbuti or Efe might at one time have led an independent common existence simply as Pygmies, because the only source of their identity as Pygmies is their mutually opposed and thus mutually defining "relation of inequality" with farmers.

It does something else as well, and here I think we get to the heart of the matter. It completely eliminates what I see as the real key to the entire problem: the all important role of tradition.

(to be continued . . .)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

215. Deconstructing the Postmodern Condition 15 -- Myth and Counter-Myth

Operating under the dubious assumption that Turnbull's view of the Mbuti has somehow been undermined by his own research on the Efe-Lese relationship, Grinker mounts a full scale attack, beginning on p. 6 of his introductory chapter. The heart of his criticism is presented in a quotation from an earlier Grinker essay:
I continue to be struck by the persistence with which anthropologists embrace Turnbull's romantic characterization of the Mbuti. . . Turnbull's work presents few data to support the ways in which he represents Mbuti life and thought; there are few or no narratives, analyses of mythology, or cultural descriptions based on a knowledge of the native Mbuti language. . .
To my knowledge, no subsequent fieldwork among the Mbuti or Efe, including my own, has revealed indigenous conceptions of the forest as a soul or life-force. Furthermore, as in this paper [he is reviewing a paper by Nurit Bird=David], the Mbuti are frequently appropriated as immediate returners without including in the analysis the Bila [sic] farmers with whom they live, and without a knowledge of the cultural constitution of the Mbuti and Bila economy.
First of all, as I've already made clear, I see no reason to characterize Turnbull's work overall as producing a "romantic characterization" of the Mbuti, though this is certainly not an uncommon view. Turnbull does bear the responsibility for rather shamelessly idealizing his subject in a very few brief passages from the first chapter of The Forest People, and Grinker certainly has a right to challenge those passages. However, as I have already demonstrated, the book as a whole, along with its successor, Wayward Servants, very clearly presents the Mbuti warts and all, replete with bloody violence, wife-beatings, child beatings and more, and, contrary to a very commonly held opinion, Turnbull does not argue on behalf of some quintessentially primeval status for the Mbuti -- on the contrary he makes clear his belief that their lifestyle at the time he encountered them is probably very different from the way it was in the past.

Secondly, it's very hard to believe that anyone who'd read the almost 400 pages of Wayward Servants could claim that Turnbull presents "few data to support the ways in which he represents Mbuti life and thought." This book is full of data, presented in great and sometimes numbing detail. Thirdly, I see no basis for Grinker's accusation that Turnbull had no knowledge of the "native Mbuti language" (actually there is no such thing -- the Mbuti spoke a version of the Bantu language of their Bira "masters"). If there is some evidence to support such an assumption he never presents it. Nor does he make any attempt to explain how Turnbull managed to translate the two Mbuti legends presented in the appendix to Wayward Servants (pp. 303-310) if he had no knowledge of the language -- each line of the text is presented first as spoken by an Mbuti, with its English translation just underneath. If he didn't translate these texts, then who did?

As far as Turnbull's alleged failure to analyze the Bira villagers or his lack of knowledge of the "cultural constitution of the Mbuti and Bila economy" it's hard to understand how Grinker could have arrived at such conclusions, since The Forest People contains an entire chapter on "The World of the Village" and the economic relationship between the Mbuti and Bira is covered at great length and in considerable detail in Wayward Servants, which perhaps he never read.

Very unfortunately, Grinker continues in the same vein, presenting a caricature of Turnbull's work of the sort that has become all too typical:
The Forest People . . . is in many ways a thinly veiled attempt to use the idea of the "Pygmies" as a way to make universally valid statements about human nature. Turnbull played upon a deep-seated need throughout much of the West to invent a "primitive" and original form of human society [and here he cites Wilmsen, the most notorious of the angry revisionists], and toward this goal he draws an idealized picture of the Mbuti living a romantic and harmonious life in the bountiful rain forest of the Congo (p. 6).
The above can only be characterized as a cheap smear with very little basis in fact. The Congo rain forest is indeed bountiful and Turnbull does indeed describe it in such terms. Turnbull does indeed make some pointed comparisons between the simplicity and honesty of Mbuti life as compared with our own, and I fully concur, as would a great many others, especially at this time. As for the rest, there is no basis in any of Turnbull's books for such views, nor do I see the evidence for "a deep-seated need throughout much of the West to invent a "primitive" and original form of human society," which strikes me as far more "essentialist" and "reductive" than anything Turnbull ever wrote. It is in statements such as this that we find the postmodern "counter-myth" at its most dishonest and destructive.

214. Deconstructing the Postmodern Condition 14 -- Myth and Counter-Myth

Are we having fun yet? :-) I am. But I'm afraid everyone else may be either yawning or shrugging by now. After all, this is an old old issue no one cares about anymore, right? Wrong. (Actually this blog has been getting quite a few hits over the last two weeks, with a fair amount of people spending quite a bit of time here, so there must be some interest. Though there have been very few comments, which tells me most of you might be feeling somewhat intimidated, either by me or your anthropology/ ethnomusicology professors, or overly professorial colleagues -- professors always worry too much about saying (or thinking) something "dangerous.")

This used to be an old old issue, I admit. One of the reasons I left the field of ethnomusicology (though I never really left it completely) was that the things I found most meaningful were becoming more and more unfashionable. I wasn't part of the "old guard," it was my contemporaries who rejected comparative studies, but as far as I was concerned comparative studies were the only way to go, so I just got bored and dropped out, more or less. Became a "creative artist," i.e., part of the problem, rather than part of the solution (inside academic joke).

But things have changed rather dramatically over the last few years and anthropology is about to be shaken to its foundations -- though you'd hardly guess it from the current state of the literature. Actually, it's already been shaken to its foundations. Just like the economy has already collapsed. Only no one knows it yet. It's the old Wile E. Coyote syndrome:

Wile E. is puzzled because he doesn't understand how he could be so far from our friend the Road Runner and yet not be hovering in empty space. What he doesn't yet realize is that he IS hovering in empty space.

What's about to change anthropology forever (and would already have changed it if it weren't for all those Wile E. Coyote types out there) is the revolution I've already been writing so much about -- no, not the musical part, though that's important too. The genetics part. Armies of vampiric population geneticists have been drawing gallons of blood from innocent people all over the world for many years now, and for just as many years they've been using it to do research of an absolutely extraordinary kind into the deepest depths of human history. We've all heard about it -- and I've been writing quite a bit about it here, as my most faithful readers know. But the meaning of this research hasn't really reached the groves of anthropological academe as yet -- maybe everyone is still out in the field somewhere, negotiating identity or situating themselves in contexts.

What the new research tells us, for one thing, is that the revisionists who for some time now have ruled the anthropological roost, are very probably wrong. The Kalahari revisionists are almost certainly wrong (as I demonstrated in my Kalahari paper) and their faithful disciple, Roy Richard Grinker, has in all likelihood been misguided. The Pygmies and the Bushmen are very likely for real, they very likely do in fact represent exactly what we've been told they do not and cannot possibly represent. And I myself, right here on this very blog, have upped the ante considerably, to suggest that they may be even more for real than anyone could have imagined. Strange things are happening! So stop yawning and start telling everyone you know to read this blog.

But once again I'm getting ahead of myself.

(to be continued . . .)

213. Deconstructing the Postmodern Condition 13 -- Myth and Counter-Myth

Probably the best known and most often cited attempt to debunk the "Pygmy myth" can be found in Houses in the Rain Forest (1994), a study of pygmy-villager interaction by anthropologist Roy Richard Grinker (who was ultimately to write a relatively sympathetic biography of Turnbull). For anyone intent on deconstructing "the postmodern condition," this book makes a handy target -- for reasons that will presently become clear.

Grinker makes no secret of his revisionist intentions right off the bat, acknowledging on the very first page the influence of "anthropologists who criticize the anthropological fascination with foragers as windows to the Paleolithic, as living fossils, or models of a lost prelapsarian past" (p. ix). Fully in the spirit of the Kalahari revisionists (see post 64 et seq), several of whom he specifically cites, he writes that
The various Pygmy groups, and the San [the acceptable euphemism for "Bushmen" at that time, though now "San" is regarded as an insult], living in the heart of Africa, where we now locate our human origins, have been seen to exemplify the purest forms of a timeless hunting and gathering way of life shared by the first human beings, and yet we know that they live side by side with nonforager groups (pp. ix-x).
Acknowledging that "Turnbull's classic works addressed the question of forager-farmer interaction far more completely than any researcher before him," he declares that his view of that interaction is in opposition to that of Turnbull:
My study, in contrast, focuses on a group of farmers in the Ituri forest. My view, the opposite of Turnbull's, is that these groups are integral parts of one another -- indeed, that they share the same ethnically differentiated social system (p. xi).
And here we have arrived at the first deconstructible portion of the book. To understand the deconstructibility of such a statement, we need to better understand what it is that Grinker himself is attempting to deconstruct. This is going to be fun!

On page 28, after considering theories offered by Schebesta and Turnbull regarding evidence for an original Pygmy language, Grinker rejects such possibilities, accusing both of making unacceptable assumptions:
[T]here are too few data to support generalizations about prior unity, and the hypotheses are fueled less by scholarly investigations than by the assumptions that foragers and farmers entered the forest independently, and that all Pygmies were at one time a single, undifferentiated cultural group.
After considering the history of the relations between the groups he is studying, the Lese farmers and the Efe foragers, he goes on to conclude that "[it] is unlikely that the Lese and the Efe of today resemble those of yesterday." Indeed, pervading the entire length and breadth of the revisionist program is the warning that we cannot and must not extrapolate past "ahistorical" conditions from ethnographic evidence revealed in the present.

However: if foragers and farmers did not enter the forest independently, but were already closely bonded prior to their migration into the Ituri, as Grinker suggests; if the Pygmies were never "a single, undifferentiated cultural group," a theory the revisionists have unanimously rejected as a myth; if it is indeed "unlikely that the Lese and the Efe of today resemble those of yesterday," then, how is it possible for his view of Lese-Efe interaction to be in opposition to Turnbull's view of Bira-Mbuti interaction?

If the notion of "the Pygmies" as an integral group is simply a myth, if the various Pygmy bands were "always" attached to groups such as the Lese and Bira, and never had a prior identity of their own, then how can any pygmy-farmer alliance be compared to any other? Aside from the observation that both the Efe and Mbuti are shorter than the Lese and Bira, aren't we dealing with apples and oranges? And if you want to argue that in fact there are a great many similarities between each pair, and that even the differences are similar, how can that be if "the Lese and Efe of today" are different from the Lese and Efe of the past? And how could the Mbuti be opposed to the Bira in such a similar way to the way the Lese and Efe oppose each other, unless both Pygmy groups had a great deal in common, and the farmer groups as well. And how could such clearly opposed commonalities have developed unless the history of the Pygmies were fundamentally different from the history of the farmers?

Kisliuk makes essentially the same error when she assumes that her study of the Aka can function as a test of Turnbull's theories regarding the Mbuti. Such a test would make sense only if the Aka and Mbuti could be considered part of a unified "Pygmy culture," exactly the sort of idealized "essentialization" she rejects.

(to be continued . . . )

Saturday, September 26, 2009

212. Deconstructing the Postmodern Condition 12 -- Myth and Counter-Myth

Turnbull contends that the Mbuti of the 1950's remain "pure hunter-gatherers" despite their relationship with the Mbira farmers, a relationship that involves their spending some of their time in the village, when they work for the villagers and consume village farm produce. The logic behind his theory is remarkably simple: if it can be shown that the Mbuti are capable of living independently in the forest, consuming only meat, fruit and vegetable products gleaned from the forest, then it cannot be true that they are dependent upon the villagers. Whether this would make them "pure hunter-gatherers" in a literal sense is another matter, open to debate, but it would certainly demonstrate that they are capable of functioning as such if they choose to, which is the gist of Turnbull's argument.

Whether Turnbull is right or wrong, there is no way such a hypothesis can be dismissed as an idealized "projection into the past." First of all, he makes it clear that he has no interest in exploring the question of whether the culture of the Mbuti he's currently studying is comparable to that of Pygmy groups in the distant past; secondly, the hypothesis he presents is not only testable, but supported by a considerable amount of evidence, making it a legitimate scientific hypothesis. While it is true that many others have speculated regarding Pygmy culture as representative of primordial "stone age" peoples, and that such speculation is indeed based on an idealization, possibly grounded in a "romantic" outlook, this is clearly not the case with Turnbull, whose approach is based on evidence, not speculation.

In Chapter 5 of his book, Liazos attempts to draw conclusions, based on Turnbull's field notes, regarding the relative length of time the Mbuti spend in either the forest or the village. Poring over the notes, he finds many instances where trips to the forest are interrupted by return trips to the village for provisions, where individuals take off on their own to the village, returning with ample supplies of village produce, and finds references to relatively long periods where both Turnbull and many of the Mbuti are based in the village rather than the forest.

He also finds, however, that, according to the field notes, "[o]n Dec. 28, the group returns to the village, after having lived in two forest camps since Nov. 18." This would constitute a total of 40 days spent in the forest, not a negligible period by any means -- but Liazos is more interested in recording the instances where certain dissatisfied individuals or groups leave the forest during that time to return to the village. He also records a great many comings and goings generally between village and forest, which, as far as the notes are concerned, produces a confusing, and inconclusive picture of who is where at any given time, and for how long.

[Added on Sept. 27: I just found two passages from Wayward Servants that might clear up some of the confusion over the various comings and goings recorded in Turnbull's field notes:
Within [an Mbuti] band each individual will also have personal exchange relationships with his villager kare brother, with his kpara, and with any other individual villager in the local village if neither his kare nor his kpara are there. . .

If his partner is within a day's walk or two he may visit him briefly, bringing a suitable gift of meat with him (pp. 176-177).
This would explain the numerous references in Turnbull's notes to individuals who leave the forest camp for the village from time to time. It also tells us that Turnbull is not attempting to hide such information, as implied by Liazos. Whether such comings and goings negate or weaken Turnbull's principal thesis is certainly a matter for debate. However, as it seems clear that such visits are voluntary and not enforced (how could they be?) I see no serious conflict with Turnbull's theory that the Mbuti are fundamentally independent.]

He adds, however, a parenthetic "reflection and warning":
(A reflection and warning. Unless one spends years and years on this project, it is impossible to be precise on how many days the whole group, or subgroups, or even individuals spend in each setting, the village and the forest. The information about individual and groups movements, for each day, is simply not in the field notes. A more complete account than I offer here may be possible with some sophisticated coding and computer programming of the information that is in the field notes.)
In other words, the field notes per se provide an inconclusive picture of how much time the Mbuti spend in the forest as opposed to the village. He makes the more telling point that Turnbull never actually presents in either his books or his notes a clear accounting of how much time the Mbuti are spending in either place, and as far as I've been able to tell, that is correct. Turnbull does, however, make the following significant observation, in Wayward Servants, which may or may not be an exaggeration:
[I]n the heart of the forest I have come across many bands that are too many days away from the nearest village to maintain any kind of supply line, and that have existed solely on forest foods for from three to six months, with ease (p. 149).
This would appear to be the only statement of this sort he makes in either book, and given the lack of more precise documentation regarding the specific Mbuti band he is studying, it is not completely conclusive -- though in my view it does come pretty close. As I've argued earlier, however, Turnbull's argument is essentially qualitative rather than quantitative, and it's not fair to evaluate it by attempting to count the exact amount of time the Mbuti spend in the forest or in the village. His argument hinges not on whether they are in fact living as independent hunter-gatherers, which they clearly are not, but whether 1. they could do so if they chose, which, if we are to accept the multitude of evidence he presents, they apparently could, and 2. whether they do in fact spend significant amounts of time living independently as hunter-gatherers, which they apparently do -- assuming 40 days can be considered sufficiently significant.

Is his argument completely convincing in all respects? That's hard to say. As Liazos demonstrates, Turnbull's reporting in his books is not always consistent with his field notes and there are certain statements in The Forest People that could be seen as misleading. Whether Turnbull's hypothesis is in fact correct may still be an open question, requiring a much more thorough examination of both his notes and the reports of others who also had an opportunity to observe the Mbuti at that time. It is very clear, however, that he is not presenting an idealized picture, of either the present or the past, nor is it acceptable, as I see it, to dismiss his carefully and critically considered view of Mbuti culture as a myth.

*It's necessary to point out a serious error in this chapter, where Liazos misquotes Turnbull:
Numbering about 40,000, the Mbuti "have taken to a specialized form of forest cultivation, growing both plantains and manioc as staples, some dry rice, beans and groundnuts." To grow their crops, they cut down the forest to create plantations, which are surrounded by the forest (Wayward Servants, pp. 19-21).
Turnbull is referring to the Bira farmers, not the Mbuti. This error is clearly an oversight, as it's obvious from the context that the Mbuti are not farmers, but it could lead some to draw totally false conclusions and should be corrected as soon as possible.

Friday, September 25, 2009

211. Deconstructing the Postmodern Condition 11 -- Myth and Counter-Myth

Alex Liazos appears to uncritically accept the revisionist counter-myth, though he is clearly not among those who substitute rhetoric for evidence, and his book on Turnbull is refreshingly free of jargon. Nevertheless, one wonders what evidence in Turnbull's field notes led him to characterize The Forest People as a misguided "projection into the past" (see Chapter 6, part C)?
Towards the end of the folder containing the field notes, in an unnumbered page entitled "Theory 1," Turnbull writes that we should study the Mbuti as a changing society. In many ways, The Forest People violates this advice. Turnbull seems to be imagining an ideal past, before the Europeans conquered the land, before even the villagers came, when the Mbuti must have lived entirely, or almost entirely, in the forest by gathering and hunting. . .

Intentionally or not, Turnbull projects into the past, to a time when all people did live by gathering and hunting, if we are to believe what anthropologists tell us. . .
It's true that Turnbull refers to the BaMbuti as "the real people of the forest," comparing them to "the other [non-Pygmy] tribes," who are "relatively recent arrivals," while "the Pygmies have been in the forest for many thousands of years." This is not baseless "projection into the past," nor the "imagining of an ideal past," but the reflection of a view commonly held among almost all anthropologists of that time. Turnbull supports this view by citing documented references to Pygmies living "in the great forest to the west of the Mountains of the Moon," dating to Fourth Dynasty Egypt, roughly four and a half thousand years ago. Moreover, "later records show that the Egyptians had become relatively familiar with the Pygmies, who were evidently living, all those thousands of years back, just where they are living today . . ." Additional ancient sources are provided, from Homer to Aristotle, who stated "categorically that their existence is no fable . . ." (The Forest People, p. 13-16).

Nor is there any debate regarding the relatively recent incursions of the various non-Pygmy groups into the Ituri region, as this too is a matter of historical record -- dating back nowhere nearly as far into the past, since these groups appear to have been forced into the Ituri region during the last four hundred years.

Be that as it may, a careful reading of The Forest People should make it clear that Turnbull is not attempting to project the various details of the life and culture of the particular Mbuti group he is studying back into the past -- there is, as far as I can see, no evidence of such speculations anywhere in the book, which is largely anecdotal and descriptive. In Wayward Servants, Turnbull spells out his intentions very clearly. While he asserts that "the structure of Mbuti society pivots around a powerful forest-oriented system of values," he immediately adds:
This is in no way to say that the structure to be found among the Mbuti is representative of an original pygmy hunting and gathering structure; in fact probably far from it, for the repercussions of the invasion of the forest by the village cultivators have been enormous (p. 16).
What Turnbull does claim is that "the peculiar structural development of the Mbuti does enable us to observe a pure hunting and gathering economy at work not only side by side with, but in opposition to, a cultivation economy" (p. 16-17). Such words make it clear that Turnbull is embracing a very different definition of "hunter-gatherer" than the extremely narrow one insisted on by the revisionists, whose views are echoed by Liazos as follows:
I do not know how long ago in the past the Mbuti were entirely gatherers and hunters. By the late 1950s, however, they seem a long way from that state. But they do gather and hunt for some periods, and during these periods it seems that much of their diet comes from forest foods. As a whole, however, the field notes do not support any claim of the 1950s Mbuti as a gathering and hunting people.
The word "pure" is, of course, guaranteed to raise the hackles of revisionists, who like nothing better than to work themselves up over this and similar terms, such as "pristine" and "quintessential," terms used almost exclusively by them, but presumed to express the essence of the "traditionalist" viewpoint. Nevertheless, Turnbull makes himself extremely clear in this regard, by defining hunter-gatherers, or if you insist, pure hunter-gatherers, according to a very specific, innovative model that he develops during the course of Wayward Servants (and to a lesser degree, The Forest People), a model in which a particular culture or lifestyle is defined in terms of long-standing traditions that have survived in spite of, and in opposition to, the forces of (to use Kisliuk's term) "modernity" currently arrayed against them. Under such a necessarily qualitative, rather than quantitative, definition, the amount of time the Mbuti spend in the village or the amount of village produce they consume is far less important than what they do and how they do it when they are no longer in the village, but living an apparently independent life in the forest.

Turnbull is fully aware of what he is up to, and makes it clear that he is reacting against the view, endorsed by Schebesta, that this particular group of Mbuti were too acculturated and dependent on the village-based farmers to represent a truly hunter-gatherer society. Turnbull feels confident he can demonstrate that this is not the case and, in Wayward Servants at least, presents literally a mountain of evidence to support his theory.

While it is true that, in this sense at least, Turnbull is projecting into the past, by refusing to accept that the Mbuti are no longer "pure" hunter-gatherers, it is also true that this is neither an idealization nor idle speculation, but an essential part of a carefully worked out and abundantly documented hypothesis that his entire project was designed to test.

(to be continued . . . )

210. Deconstructing the Postmodern Condition 10 -- Myth and Counter-Myth

So. From what we've learned so far, it seems clear that the Mbuti are living happy, carefree, healthy, mostly non-violent, lives, hunting and gathering cooperatively, sharing food and other resources equally among themselves, expressing themselves freely, with females having an equal voice in decision making and a complementary role in hunting activities and forest life generally -- while, at the same time, squabbling endlessly, hiding food and other goods so they don't have to share, beating their wives and children, and, from time to time, shunning, exiling or abandoning those who don't fit in or can't keep up. And if some of these attributes seem contradictory, I'd have to agree. What makes all this interesting is the fact that the same contradictions, more or less, crop up in so many of the descriptions of other Pygmy groups, and even the most traditional of the Bushmen groups, the !Kung (Ju/'hoansi), "exposed" by one of their most active supporters, Richard Lee, as violent and even murderous.

Unquestionably there was a tendency among anthropologists up to and during the 50's, 60's and 70's, to idealize such societies while, at the same time, duly noting all the many behaviors that would appear to challenge that view, with the result that many of their reports are replete with unresolved contradictions. From the 80's on, however, a radical reversal has come to dominate anthropology, a lack of tolerance for contradictions of any sort, coupled with a strong tendency to see almost all the leading figures of the earlier generation as at best misguided and at worst outright frauds.

Over time, therefore, groups like the Mbuti, BaAka and Ju/'hoansi have come to be regarded in a highly cynical light, with any attempts to see them as representing traditional hunter-gatherer cultures of the past dismissed as "a myth." The word "myth" has indeed taken on almost "mythic" proportions among these so-called "revisionists," to the point that one might be justified in considering their position as a kind of counter-myth, i.e., a myth based on assumptions fully as questionable as the "myth" they are so eager to expose. Unfortunately, the revisionists have gotten so caught up in their own rhetoric that overused academic jargon too often substitutes for actual evidence, with the implication that the ideological issues are so obvious that evidence is almost beside the point. So focused, in fact, have the revisionists become on an array of fashionably post-modern certitudes that the most important new source of evidence to appear in a great many years, the revolutionary methods of the population geneticists, has almost completely eluded them.

As I see it, the contradictions encountered by the older generation (and here I am speaking of generations prior to my own -- though I am by no means a spring chicken, I belong to the generation that pioneered the more specialized, less speculative methodologies so dominant today) were actually, in themselves, very interesting, meaningful, and indeed potentially extremely fruitful. If committed researchers with minds of their own, such as Turnbull and Thomas, found it meaningful to extol groups like the Mbuti or Ju/'hoansi as carriers of a certain cultural ideal representing something of real importance, it's possible at this time to say, in the light of the new genetic research, not to mention my own explorations of the much-neglected musical evidence, that there was, indeed, a real insight behind their speculations, however weakened by tendencies toward idealization.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

209. Deconstructing the Postmodern Condition 9 -- L'Affaire Turnbull

In addressing the question of whether the !Kung Bushmen "are harmless or, in fact, murderous" (see previous post), Patricia Draper begins in a manner that would appear to outdo Turnbull himself in "idealizing" her subject.
. . . the !Kung are a people who devalue aggression; they have explicit values against assaulting, losing control, and seeking to intimidate another person by sheer force of personality. Furthermore, on a daily basis and over months of fieldwork one finds that overt physical acts by one person against another are extremely rare ("The Learning Environment for Aggression and Anti-Social Behavior among the !Kung," p 33).
However, Draper soon reminds us, as did Turnbull, that the objects of her study are no better or worse than any other people:
If the !Kung succeed in avoiding direct physical confrontation in most instances, they clearly experience the same emotions which, in other societies, would lead more quickly to hostile acts. The !Kung harbor hatreds, jealousies, resentments, suspicions—the full panoply of negative emotions. In fact, their oral traditions are remarkably violent and fratricidal for a people who, on the surface, maintain the appearance of simple communal harmony . . . The difference between the !Kung and other peoples is that the circumstances of their life are such that they must dampen their passions to manageable levels or, that failing, separate themselves from the people whose society they cannot tolerate (p. 34).
In other words, as with the Mbuti, there is only so much aggression and violence such a society can tolerate without literally falling apart.

She continues with an illuminating discussion of !Kung child rearing practices, which are in some ways quite different from those of the Mbuti, though remarkably similar, apparently, to those of the Aka:
!Kung children, like children anywhere, will argue, tease, cry, lose their tempers, and strike out at each other. . . The !Kung, however, have a special way of handling anger and physical assaults by one child against another. When two small children quarrel and begin to fight, adults don’t punish them or lecture them; they separate them and physically carry each child off in an opposite direction. The adult tries to soothe and distract the child and to get him interested in other things. The strategy is to interrupt misbehavior before it gets out of hand (p. 36).
This presents a very interesting contrast to the behavior of Mbuti adults, as reported by Turnbull, who are not above scolding and even beating children when they get out of line.

On balance, it would appear that, for the most part, the !Kung "core values" of non-violence and sharing are usually actualized in "varied and subtle ways":
Although the !Kung lack a system of formal sanctions against wrongdoing, it appears that they have compensated with a host of informal controls which normally work to keep people in line. They have a varied and subtle armamentarium suitable for squelching a variety of infractions; their repertoire is especially well-developed for dealing with arrogance, bragging, and attempts to manipulate others (pp. 41-42) . . .
. . . there are several factors which affect the expression of aggression in this society and in these respects the !Kung contrast markedly with other peoples. Physical aggression is not directly taught or subtly encouraged. Aggressive models are not readily available to inspire children or adults to violent display. Physical aggression and antisocial behavior are costly, given the social and economic interdependence of all people who live together (p. 48).
Nevertheless, despite their gentle methods of child rearing, and the relative absence of violence toward either children or adults, violence is certainly not unknown:
[The !Kung] are extremely wary of persons known to have violent tempers or unpredictable behavior. Such people are openly criticized and censored and eventually shunned. In former times, before the national system of justice impinged on these remote hunter-gatherers, some of the infrequent homicides were in fact political assassinations of people who had proven to be incorrigible . . . (p. 41).
I am here reminded of the old "witch" Sau's fate among her fellow Mbuti, as described in Turnbull's field notes with such disturbing detail. Note that it is not only "persons known to have violent tempers," but also persons who, like Sau, exhibit "unpredictable behavior" that are "openly criticized and censored and eventually shunned," as was the eccentric and unpredictable Sau -- who was also, by the way, suspected of extreme violence, enacted via witchcraft. The reference to "political assassinations of people who had proven to be incorrigible" is particularly disturbing, especially since neither the Mbuti nor the !Kung have ever had legal systems to investigate the circumstances behind such "incorrigible" behavior and arrive at a balanced judgment. Like the old and the infirm, violent or potentially violent troublemakers must apparently be eliminated, one way or the other, for the good of the majority.

Verbal aggression is commonplace among !Kung. In fact, the reason that goods are shared equitably and more or less continuously is that the havenots are so vociferous in pressing their demands. Are these a people who live in communal harmony, happily sharing all among all? Not exactly, but the interpretation of meaning in any culture inevitably founders on these kinds of ambiguities [my emphasis]. At one level of analysis, one can show that goods circulate, that there are no inequalities of wealth and that peaceable relations characterize dealings within and between bands. At another level, however, with some of the anthropologist’s etic conceptual categories put aside, one sees that social action is an ongoing scrimmage—often amicable but sometimes carried on in bitter earnest [my emphasis] (p. 46).
Returning, finally, to the principal question at hand, are the !Kung indeed "harmless" or in fact murderous, Draper recognizes the fundamental ambiguity lurking behind the many attempts to either "idealize" or "demystify" cultures whose values are so different from, yet also, in some strange way, so similar to, our own:
Are the !Kung aggressive or unaggressive? Are they more or less aggressive than certain other groups? Until the omnibus term, aggression, is refined and operationalized a comparison of !Kung and other people in aggressiveness will not be possible on an empirical and quantifiable basis. [my emphasis.] From my observation, the !Kung were extraordinarily successful in discouraging harmful and malicious behavior in young people. During the twelve months in which I lived with different camps in the ≠To//gana and /Du/da areas there were no conflicts between adults which led to serious injuries or homicides. Nor did such events occur among this population at camps at which I was not present . . .
It is possible that serious crimes against persons were more frequent in the past in part due to the fact that deviants, outcasts, and fugitives had nowhere to go and still make a living. They had to be retained within the society and tolerated or eventually assassinated. [my emphasis.] Today the situation is different for two reasons. !Kung can leave the close pressures of the bush camps and move to Bantu or mixed !Kung-Bantu settlements where life is different. In addition the authority of external governments can now penetrate the remotest !Kung band, and punishment for criminal acts can be achieved. (p. 49).
Draper's nuanced response may not be satisfactory to those who want to either assert that such groups do indeed live "happy and carefree lives," or dismiss the many reports of communal sharing and non-violence as "a myth." What interests me most is the striking similarities we find, not only among the various "positive" and "negative" aspects of so many Pygmy and Bushmen groups, but also among the many contradictions invariably encountered whenever anthropologists attempt to reconcile long-standing cultural values with specific, contextually influenced, behaviors.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

208. Deconstructing the Postmodern Condition 8 -- L'Affaire Turnbull

With regard to "core premises," "embedded values," ethos, etc., and the types of behavior that can either reinforce or undercut such cultural ideals, when we look at the literature on hunter-gatherers generally, we find what seems to be a mass of contradictions. As is well known, Turnbull describes the Mbuti as living a carefree life of egalitarian, non-violent freedom, joy and total independence in the bosom of their beloved Ituri forest. He also describes extremely violent, bloody fights, wife-beatings, child beatings, witch-baitings, banishments, jealousy, resentment, and patently selfish behavior, along with a surprising degree of dependence on Bantu "masters" with respect to an important initiation ritual and access to highly desirable agricultural produce. Such contradictions are not limited to Turnbull, however, but in point of fact pervade the writings of just about everyone who has spent much time with any Pygmy group.

To Father Paul Schebesta, the first to systematically study the African Pygmies, the pygmy is "congenitally a carefree fellow, with a very optimistic outlook on life. This accounts for his jollity and cheerfulness so long as he is not molested and left in peace. And on account of this carefree and cheerful attitude towards life -- an attitude which we civilized folk have lost, the Bambuti are most decidedly to be envied" (Revisiting My Pygmy Hosts, 1936, p. 55). Sound familiar? Then this too will sound familiar:
Pygmies lose their temper so unexpectedly and on such slender provocation that their impromptu squabbles frequently end tragically. When two pygmies show signs of getting heated in an argument you will see the shrewd old people in the camp quietly hiding any bows and arrows or spears that may be lying about. Pygmies are only all too prone to fly from violent words to violent deeds (ibid., p. 208).
Such behavior seems inconsistent with a "carefree and cheerful attitude," to say the least. Schebesta immediately reassures us, as follows:
If, however, there is any danger of two men suddenly attacking one another, neighbors immediately separate them, knock them down, and keep a firm hold on them until their fury has spent itself. And it spends itself just as suddenly as it has started. Presently the combatants have completely forgotten what they were bickering about (ibid.).
If such constraints on violence are as reliable as he makes them sound, then how is it that "their impromptu squabbles frequently end tragically"?

And if, on the one hand, "Pygmies are very punctilious about avoiding the risk of trespassing on the territories of their neighbors," nevertheless "Hostilities frequently break out between Pygmy groups as the result of poaching on each other's hunting preserves" (p. 151).

We find similar contradictions in Michelle Kisliuk's Seize the Dance, where, for example, she illustrates the egalitarian spirit of the Aka as follows:
On another occasion I brought a tomato to the Bagandou camp . . . I gave a wedge to Bandit sitting beside me, expecting him to pop it in his mouth. Instead, he proceeded to call for a knife and cut the wedge into about sixteen tiny pieces, sharing it with everybody in sight (p. 132).
Although I often perceived BaAka to be "egalitarian" in their interactions, people's deeds did not always fit that ideal, or at least my perception of it. Sandimba once concealed some peanuts I had bought even though I asked her to distribute them to everyone in camp (p. 132-33).
I've already discussed the very interesting contradiction between Kisliuk's determination to "debunk" Turnbull's "reified" and "reductive" view of Pygmy life and the many occasions on which she finds her own experiences in accord with his nevertheless.

Interestingly, we find very similar contradictions among those who have studied various Bushmen groups. For instance, the authors of the article on the Ju/'hoansi Bushmen in the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers sound almost as upbeat as Schebesta and Turnbull:
Overall, the quality of Ju/'hoan life as hunter-gatherers was relatively good. Their diet and level of exercise have been characterized as among the world's healthiest . . . They had few of the "civilized" world's diseases . . . They suffered mainly from introduced infectious diseases like tuberculosis. Thus, Ju/'hoansi contradict the popular belief that hunting and gathering is a risky or unreliable form of existence. Though strenuous at times the way of life involves plenty of leisure time. . . This led Sahlins . . . to call Ju/'hoansi and other hunter-gatherers "the original affluent society" ("The Ju/'hoansi of Botswana and Namibia," by Megan Biesele and Kxao Royal-/O/OO, p. 206).
In a similarly positive spirit, they point out that "the frequent visiting and sharing among the different groups smooths out local disparities. Groups related by marriage cooperate," and "when food is brought into camp, it is distributed widely. Many hxaro gifts of tools and clothing are given and received among group members, so that an individual can still rely on the community's resources" (p. 206-207). As far as gender is concerned, it is noted that "divorce, not infrequent, was usually initiated by women," and that the Ju/'hoansi "are known for their gender egalitarianism" (p. 207).

In terms that similarly echo almost word for word what has so often been observed among various Pygmy groups, the authors note that
Ju/'hoan political ethos abhorred wealth and status differences. No one should stand out from the rest of the group. If someone returned from a successful hunt showing excessive pride, he was put firmly in place, even if the kill was large. Emphasis on sharing and lack of status roles produced a high degree of egalitarianism. . . . Anger and resentment were low as each person's opinion was respected. Conflicts could be terminated by a disputant leaving to join another group (p. 208).
Nevertheless, the same authors note the presence of "drunkenness, and violence among Ju/'hoansi" since the 1970's, though this is attributed to their involvement in South Africa's civil war, "soldier's pay and alcohol" (p. 209).

Richard Lee, a noted authority on hunter-gatherers generally and Bushmen in particular, and his collaborator Richard Daly, note that
Hunter- gatherers are generally peoples who have lived until recently without the overarching discipline imposed by the state. They have lived in relatively small groups, without centralized authority, standing armies, or bureaucratic systems. Yet the evidence indicates that they have lived together surprisingly well, solving their problems among themselves largely without recourse to authority figures and without a particular propensity for violence (Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers, Introduction, p. 1).
However, as Alex Liazos has pointed out, Lee himself uncovered "evidence of conflict and violence among the Ju/'hoansi [that] seemed to contradict the general description of them as "harmless people" (Opening of Chapter Three).

Patricia Draper has written a fascinating study of exactly this sort of contradiction, as applied to the Bushmen group most intensely studied by anthropologists, especially Lee, the !Kung (aka Ju/'hoansi):
The !Kung have been described as a “harmless people” by [Elizabeth Marshall] Thomas (1958) in a book-length account of the social life and cultural values of !Kung who lived in South West Africa. An opposite characterization of !Kung emerges from an unpublished study by Richard Lee. This study, based on interviews and examination of genealogical records collected in the field, reports on incidents of homicide among !Kung. The murder rate, according to Lee, is rather frequent for a people purported to be harmless and unaggressive. . . The !Kung, therefore, are a provocative case study; a controversy exists as to whether they are harmless or, in fact, murderous. ("The Learning Environment for Aggression and Anti-Social Behavior among the !Kung," in Learning Non-Aggression: The Experience of Non-Literate Societies, Ashley Montagu, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978, p. 31).
(to be continued . . . )

Sunday, September 20, 2009

207. Deconstructing the Postmodern Condition 7 -- L'Affaire Turnbull

When we cast our gaze away from Turnbull (who may or may not, depending on one's point of view, be guilty of undue idealization) to the Mbuti themselves, it's clear, in the light of Lazios' research, that we need to reconsider certain commonly held assumptions, including some of those I've quoted earlier on this blog. Given what can be learned from Turnbull's field notes, which may or may not be adequately represented in his books (Liazos feels sure they aren't, I tend to think they are), just about everything we've come to accept about Pygmies generally and the Mbuti in particular can be called into question.

Can a society be regarded as egalitarian if wife and child beating are accepted practices, if women are excluded from important rituals, if someone unjustly accused of witchcraft can be systematically persecuted, if certain individuals and groups, such as Cephu and his family, can be ostracized? Can a society be considered non-violent if minor incidents can accelerate into bloody fights, wives and children can be beaten? Can the Mbuti truly be considered hunter-gatherers if most of their food comes from village farms and they participate in a money-based economy? If Pygmy culture is characterized by a high degree of cooperation, then why is there so much squabbling? If individual autonomy is encouraged, then why are certain "strange" individuals, such as Sau, treated so badly? Finally, if the equal sharing of resources is such an essential aspect of the Mbuti lifestyle, then why does the "lazy Pygmy," Pepei, feel it necessary to steal food, and what does it mean when Turnbull asserts that "it would be a rare Mbuti woman who did not conceal a portion of the catch in case she was forced to share with others . . ." (Wayward Servants, p. 198)?

Regardless of whether Lazios has been completely fair to Turnbull, his relentless focus on such details of everyday life, too often overlooked when broad generalizations are formulated, forces us to think more clearly about what it means to characterize a certain population as conforming to one or another pre-established category. Is it acceptable to claim, for example, that a particular group is "egalitarian" or "non-violent," or "gender-equal," when we have no way of knowing exactly how certain individuals may behave in situations we might not have anticipated? On the other hand, do we have the right thereby to simply dismiss all attempts at generalization simply because we can't anticipate every possible exception?

What all of the above tells me is that there is a significant difference between the systematic study of the social structure and culture of a community as a whole, and the psychology of individual behavior and personality. The two realms can never be completely separated, of course, but there are significant differences. Which returns me to the issue first raised back in post #193, regarding the importance of "core premises and embedded values," as so eloquently expressed by Cornelia van der Sluys. What determines whether the Mbuti can be regarded as egalitarian is not the question of whether each and every Mbuti is "naturally" endowed with an acute sensitivity to the needs and feelings of his or her fellows and behaves accordingly, but, on the contrary, the inference, based on the consensus of just about everyone who has lived among them, that the Mbuti have inherited powerful cultural traditions that promote egalitarianism regardless of individual proclivities that might from time to time break through the culturally sanctioned bonds.

Thus the important role played by women in Mbuti life, fully complementary to that of men (though certainly not identical); the freedoms they enjoy, to participate actively in the hunt, to choose their own mate, to freely explore their sexual inclinations, both before and after marriage, to speak up freely and participate openly in decision making, even to fight back when challenged by their husbands, as Turnbull claims is expected of them; is a role enshrined by tradition -- but not necessarily guaranteed in each and every individual case. If it is considered "a good thing" for men to occasionally beat their wives, this may well be, as Turnbull suggests, a reaction against the same egalitarian tradition, as a means of making sure the women don't take their independence too far. But that same independence is enshrined in tradition, which would explain why they are expected to fight back. While women's relative lack of physical strength can often make them victims of male agression, that has no bearing on the fundamental tradition which guarantees their socially sanctioned and reinforced right to assert themselves, nonetheless. And if there are any doubts regarding the efficacity of the values behind that tradition, one has only to compare the role of women in Mbuti society with their role in almost any other society one could name.

Non-violence can be understood in essentially the same terms, as a culturally determined value, sustained through a tradition passed on over countless generations, which places strong social sanctions against overly assertive or aggressive behavior. The fact that psychological tensions due to certain unresolved conflicts may result in violent behavior nevertheless, by no means contradicts the basic principle, since cultural values are expressed by the society as a whole, not necessarily by every individual. Again, any doubts one might have will easily be dispelled if one compares the generally pacifist behavior of literally all Pygmy groups, where we find no warrior class, no weapons of war, no history of warlike behavior, with the behavior of so many other societies, with long histories of conflict with neighboring groups, out and out warfare and the glorification of war.

Hunting and gathering are similarly part of a value system so powerful that it persists even in the face of all the many forces opposing it, from the influence of neighboring farming societies, to the inroads of a modern money-based economy. Which is one of the principal points expressed over and over again by Turnbull in both books. The failure of the Mbuti to conform to a very narrow definition of what foragers ought to be doing most or all of the time is beside the point when we consider the foraging tradition as an enduring, though admittedly endangered, way of life.

More or less the same considerations can be applied to values such as cooperation, individual autonomy and the sharing of resources. And once again, it is when we compare both Pygmy traditions and overall behavior with the traditions and behavior of just about any other people anywhere on the globe, the enduring importance of these traditions becomes obvious. When a society values both cooperation and individual autonomy, squabbles are going to emerge inevitably, and from time to time they could turn violent. This does not by any means negate the importance of both cooperation and individual autonomy as socially sanctioned values, as has been documented for so many Pgymy groups. And if it's not unusual for certain individuals to hide away certain items for fear they might be expected to share, this is the sort of exception that not only proves the rule, but demonstrates its power.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

206. Deconstructing the Postmodern Condition 6 -- L'Affaire Turnbull

The Forest People is a book written in the 1950's, but read, for the most part, during the 1960's and 70's. If it is now seen as a typical product of 60's idealism, that may have more to do with the mindset of its readers than its author. Upon studying the field notes on which the book is based, Alex Liazos felt "an obligation to communicate with other readers and admirers of the book, and tell them that the Mbuti of the field notes led more complex, difficult, and different lives than did the Mbuti of The Forest People. The Mbuti did not live in the idyllic paradise the book presents."

In fact the book does not present the Mbuti as living in an idyllic paradise, far from it. Though it may very well seem that way. For reasons that require an explanation.

When Liazos writes, in his Introduction to the web site, that "Many of us have been inspired by Turnbull’s message that a simple and peaceful life is possible, one where social equality, sharing, cooperation, and carefree living are possible," is he actually summarizing Turnbull's book, or his own subjective impression, influenced by the Zeitgeist of a period when a great many Americans were themselves contemplating the possibility of "a simple and peaceful life" imbued with "social equality, sharing cooperation and carefree living . . ."?

When Liazos refers to the tensions that "seem to pervade both village and forest camps," he acknowledges that "Turnbull does mention them in the book. In fact, he devotes all of chapter 6 to the discussion of three incidents of disputes and conflicts."
He adds, however, that "even after many readings of the book and of chapter 6 through the years, I did not find these disputes problematic or upsetting. They did not challenge the portrait of a happy people living mostly in forest camps." Was it the book itself that misled Liazos in this respect? Or was it the mindset he, like so many others during the Sixties and Seventies, brought to the book, at a time when so many were dreaming of a lifestyle free from conflicts, tensions and disputes?

Not that Turnbull bears no responsibility whatsoever. His first chapter does a lot to set the tone for how the reader will respond to what follows, and this chapter does indeed, without question, present the Mbuti in an idealized, romanticized light. It's as though Turnbull is trying as hard as he can to compensate for all the many portraits of Africa as a fearfully primitive "heart of darkness," filled with every imaginable sort of savagery, depravity and barbarism. For whatever reason, and it is not easy to determine his motives, he does lay it on pretty thick, with phrases such as "beauty and truth and goodness," "for them it is a good world," "simple, unaffected people," and finally, the lyrical description, as misleading as it is memorable, of Pygmy life as "a wonderful thing full of joy and happiness and free of care." There is one passage in this chapter where Turnbull pulls in the reins a bit, reminding us that "the Pygmies are no more perfect than any other people, and life, though kind to them, is not without hardships." If one's life is "not without hardships," then it is certainly not going to be "free of care," but such a blatant contradiction may have been lost on the majority of his readers.

Dark clouds appear in the very next chapter. We are introduced to Sau, the "witch," who "certainly seemed sinister, as she gazed without blinking, taking in everything that was going on, not moving hour after hour." Maybe no one ever told her that her life was "a wonderful thing full of joy and happiness and free of care." We learn that "essentially a camp is a happy-go-lucky, friendly place, but it is also full of all sorts of little tensions that can suddenly become magnified out of all proportion and lead to full-scale disputes." We learn of Cephu and his family, who "keep to themselves" at night, "seldom venturing into the main camp. They sat around their own fire, offended, aloof, and rather unhappy . . ." But how can this be? Don't they appreciate their life in Utopia?

As Turnbull settles into his story, it seems to me that most if not all of his idealizing tendencies have been spent, and he is, for the most part, writing honestly -- though of course, since this is a "trade publication" and not an academic tome, always making an effort to engage his readers by turning sometimes disturbing material into amusing anecdotes, a tendency which Liazos finds disturbing and I agree. If, in chapter Four, "The Song of the Forest," he waxes perhaps a bit too lyrical over the power and beauty of Pygmy music, I can hardly blame him, since his recordings of their music had a very similar effect on me. The following chapters, which I've already described, bring us back to reality with a thud -- but perhaps many readers never got that far, or preferred to skim over the more disturbing incidents, which might have jarred too harshly against the utopian images impressed on their minds by chapter One.

All in all, as I see it, The Forest People taken as a whole presents a reasonably realistic picture of Mbuti life, though certainly, as Liazos attests, many examples of violence and injustice, as presented in the field notes, are omitted. It's not necessary, however, to look to the field notes to find glaring contradictions between genuinely disturbing facts of Pygmy life, such as wife and child beatings, mixed with other forms of violence and discontent, and Turnbull's all too lyrical idealizations -- they are already there in the book. Thus, while it is possible to accuse Turnbull of sometimes romanticizing and idealizing the Mbuti and their "utopian" life in the Ituri forest, it is unfair to ignore the fact that many other passages in the same book give the lie to that view, and that the book as a whole is reasonably honest, at least for a work of that genre.

Turning to his other major work on the Mbuti, the far more thorough Wayward Servants, there is no longer any question that Turnbull is presenting an honest and realistic, unvarnished picture, which in its almost compulsive accumulation of facts, both raw and interpreted, is probably among the most thorough and complete studies of any such group in the anthropological literature. In its almost 400 pages of densely packed detail, it's hard to believe that anything of importance in the field notes has been omitted -- but I'll leave that accounting to Lazios, as I don't (yet) have access to those notes. If there is any bias in this work, it is in Turnbull's presentation of his theory that the Mbuti are basically independent of their village "masters," a somewhat romantic hypothesis I suppose, which is nevertheless very carefully and logically argued, and supported with a wealth of factual evidence, based for the most part on direct observation. Whether right or wrong in this respect, Turnbull's theory is clear, coherent and reasonable -- and he is certainly entitled to his opinion.

I would now like to respond to certain other accusations and assertions of a somewhat different sort that should not be ignored. From Liazos Introduction:
•There is the persecution of Sau, an old woman who is accused of being a witch.
For my response, see previous posts.

•There is Turnbull’s implied and stated claim that the Mbuti are a gathering and hunting people. They are not. They rely as much or more on grown food from village plantations as they do on food they hunt and gather.
Whether the Mbuti can be characterized as "hunters and gatherers" is dependent on the definition one gives to this term. If it's defined as people who live solely or mostly on food either hunted or gathered in the forest, then the Mbuti are not hunter-gatherers. But then neither are almost all the other peoples so often described as such in the Anthropological literature, since very few have been unaffected by relatively recent encounters with farming or pastoralist groups. Even Roy Grinker, notorious for his dismissal of Turnbull as a hopeless romantic, often refers to the Pygmy group he's studied, a branch of the Mbuti called the Efe, as "foragers" (Houses in the Rainforest, pp. ix - xiv). This despite his efforts to demonstrate their heavy dependence on and interaction with the Lese, who supply them with considerable amounts of farm produce on a year-round basis. If neither the Mbuti nor the Efe are still foragers or hunter-gatherers in the narrowest sense, it seems clear that both groups still exemplify hunter-gatherer traditions that cannot easily be denied. And if we define the term as representing people whose only mode of food production is through hunting and gathering, then both groups are unquestionably hunter-gatherers still.
•A strong impression in The Forest People is that the Mbuti live primarily in forest hunting camps. They do not. Dates in the field notes show that they live as long or longer in the village next to the forest.
This is, for me, an especially troubling aspect of Liazos findings, because his very careful attention to the timing of events as described in both the field notes and the books is difficult to dispute. It would appear as though the impression Turnbull gives, that the Pygmies spend most of their time in the forest, is indeed misleading. There are many instances in the notes where Pygmies drop what they are doing in their forest camp to make excursions to the village for provisions, either purchased or stolen.
•Turnbull says that the molimo celebration of a beloved old woman who died while he was there lasts for three uninterrupted months. It does not. Turnbull’s dates and descriptions of people coming and going show that on many nights there is no molimo celebration. On many other days and nights many, often most, people, including Turnbull, are in the village, not in the forest.
Again, Liazos has unearthed convincing evidence that Turnbull is not being completely honest. It's difficult, however, to understand why it was so important to him that the molimo celebration should be uninterrupted, especially since he goes out of his way to characterize the Mbuti's lifestyle as informal and ad hoc.
•Turnbull seriously misrepresents where and how he spends his time with the Mbuti. The Forest People takes place mostly in forest camps, giving the impression that the Mbuti live primarily in the forest. But during his major stay, September 1957 to October 1958, he lives in forest camps with the Mbuti a total of at most three months. While in forest camps, he never stays more than two consecutive weeks in any one of them.
Again, Liazos has uncovered what would seem to be incontrovertible evidence of deception on Turnbull's part. And again, it's difficult to understand his motives, though Liazos suspects it has something to do with his desire to minimize the importance of the village, which is certainly possible.

[Added 10-1-09: Liazos also accuses Turnbull of claiming to have spent three years among the Mbuti, instead of the period of slightly more than a year reported in his notes (Sept. 1957 to Oct. 1958, as reported above). I have been able to find no reference to such a claim in either the Forest People or Wayward Servants. In the first chapter of Wayward Servants he states that "Field work was undertaken between the summer of 1957 and the late winter of 1958 (p. 6)." Given that the latter segment of his field work was spent traveling to other regions of Africa (op. cit., p. 6), I see no discrepancy between his reported stay and the dates recorded in his notes.]
  • Women and men have equal status, according to Turnbull. Why does he say this? Do you agree? Why are women excluded from the Molimo? What does it mean that women "tie up" the men at the end?
Liazos makes the perfectly valid point that women are not treated equally among the Mbuti, as evidenced by the frequent references to wife beating, as well as the fact that women are forced to retreat to their huts every evening during the course of the "great" molimo ceremonies, which can last for months at a time. But what does Turnbull actually say?
The woman is not discriminated against in BaMbuti society as she is in some African societies. She has a full and important role to play. There is relatively little specialization according to sex. Even the hunt is a joint effort (The Forest People, p. 154).
The above can certainly give a misleading impression, but strictly speaking it does appear to be, more or less, correct. Women are not discriminated against in our own society either, at least technically. Yet there are many instances of wife abuse, as is well known. And there are many roles that women are still expected to play, though many object to such stereotyping. Note also that Turnbull is comparing the role of women among the Mbuti to their role among other African groups, where discrimination, mistreatment and control of women can often be severe. While Mbuti women clearly do not have equal rights, as the book itself makes clear, they do appear to have considerably more freedom, including sexual freedom, than women in most other societies, including our own.

The only other significant point I can think of at the moment is what Liazos has to say about the Pygmy's involvement with money, and a money economy, which he accuses Turnbull of downplaying. Turnbull does mention money, to be sure:
I found that several of my old friends were working either at the Animal Station or the motel, buying their food with money at the local stores, instead of freely roaming the forest hunting and gathering for their needs (TFP, p. 29).
Whether the above reference is sufficient, or whether Turnbull is deliberately giving us a false impression of Pygmy independence from the modern world is difficult to say. At least he does not ignore the role of money, but perhaps he does tend to minimize its importance.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

205. Deconstructing the Postmodern Condition 5 -- L'Affaire Turnbull

While Turnbull's treatment of Sau's persecution, in both The Forest People and Wayward Servants, seems both inadequate and surprisingly insensitive, we simply don't, in my opinion, have enough information to question his credentials as a reasonably unbiased reporter on this basis (see previous post). As for the behavior of the Mbuti, that is another matter. If the field notes are accurate, and we have no reason to believe they aren't, then the Mbuti do seem to have behaved both violently and unfairly toward a woman who seems clearly to have been unjustly accused. In their defense, however, I think we need to put this incident into perspective. While we in the "developed" world no longer take accusations of witchcraft seriously, this is only a recent development. Witches were burned, in America and Europe, well into the 18th Century, and accusations of satanism can still to this day have very serious consequences -- witness the McMartin daycare case. Just imagine how a typical American community would react if a child had been kidnapped and found murdered, and a neighbor who had long been suspected of pedophilia emerged as a prime suspect. While such a parallel cannot excuse the very disturbing hostility and violence directed at Sau by her fellow Mbuti, at least it can help us understand it as a natural human reaction to a tragic set of circumstances.

As for other instances, while it is undeniably true, as Liazos insists, that "there is more violence in their lives than the book indicates," it is also true that some very serious conflicts and violent incidents are in fact reported by Turnbull. Chapter Five of The Forest People, "The Crime of Cephu, the Bad Hunter," tells the story of how "old Cephu," who "committed one of the greatest sins possible in the forest," became the center of a very serious dispute which could have led to violence had he not finally apologized, after being thoroughly humiliated. In the meantime we learn, in the same chapter, of how cruelly the Mbuti behave toward animals, mimicking the death throes of dying prey with great hilarity, "singeing feathers off birds that were still alive," and kicking their hunting dogs mercilessly. He also informs us that "there is, as often as not, a great deal of squabbling over the division of game, but that is expected . . ."

In the next chapter, "The Giver of the Law," we learn of the "unexpectedly casual, almost carefree attitude" of the Mbuti, with "little specialization," "no chiefs or formal counsels." But the bulk of the chapter is devoted to the description of additional conflicts and how they are resolved -- and some of these incidents are definitely violent. Young Kelemoke is accused of incest (for having sex with what we would regard as a cousin). Knives are drawn, a hut is burned down, he is attacked with a burning log and eventually driven into the forest, though he returns in two days and all is ultimately forgiven. A "great fight" breaks out between two brothers over a wife's insult. Blows are exchanged and then spears are drawn, though no one is actually injured. When one of them insists that his brother should be thrashed, everyone laughs, because "only children and youths get thrashed, and Masalito was a father." So in addition to threats of assault with a deadly weapon, we learn that the Mbuti also practice child abuse. In another case, Pepei, a "lazy pygmy," is caught stealing ("from old Sau"), "so the men ran out of their huts angrily and held Pepei, while the youths broke off thorny branches and whipped him until he managed to break away." We learn of Ekianga, who makes love to his wife while she is nursing a child, a violation of a strong taboo that angers her brother, who hurls a spear at him, starting "one of the most dramatic fights I have seen in a Pygmy camp . . ." Ekianga then drags his wife out of their hut and smacks her in the face, after which she beats him over the back with a burning log. Then "the two wives begin fighting tooth and nail, quite literally." Others take sides, "and it looked as though fighting were going to break out all over the camp."

Turnbull's point in telling all these horrific stories is to illustrate how the Pygmies manage to resolve all these potentially devastating disputes through gentle ridicule and group cooperation rather than the active intervention of pre-designated authority figures. But they are disturbing examples of violence nonetheless, and they certainly contradict some of the earlier statements he has made regarding the carefree nature of Pygmy life. Almost in spite of himself, Turnbull reveals the underlying tensions of Pygmy life through anecdotes designed to illustrate admirable methods of conflict resolution. We learn in this way that a father or husband confronted with a recalcitrant daughter or wife, "will try to settle [the matter] himself, either by argument or by a good beating, but if this fails he brings everyone else into the dispute so that he is absolved of personal responsibility." Nice. In this way we learn that the Pygmies, in addition to being child abusers, are wife beaters as well.

All of the above, and more, appears in The Forest People, which, taken as a whole, cannot by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as an attempt to "romanticize" or "idealize" its subject. Much more of the same appears in its far more detailed sequel, Wayward Servants, which contains a chapter innocuously titled "Government: Internal," divided into sections titled "Disputes Concerning Food" (in which we learn that "it would be a rare Mbuti woman who did not conceal a portion of the catch in case she was forced to share with others . . ."), "Disputes Concerning Sex," "Disputes Concerning Territory," "Disputes Concerning Trivia," "Disputes Concerning Theft," and "Disputes Concerning the Village" (pp. 181 - 217). Turnbull dutifully catalogs them at the end, in a table on p. 216: 67 disputes over food, 37 over sex, 11 concerning the village, 5 concerning theft and 4 over territory. Taking both volumes into account, there is no way Turnbull can be accused of minimizing the conflicts and instances of violence in Mbuti life, including both wife and child beating.

That said, there is also no denying that certain statements in The Forest People give a very different impression, and this is, as I see it, the crux of the matter. It's not so much that Turnbull presents a distorted, idealized view of Pygmy life -- in my opinion he does not. It's that he is himself conflicted regarding the meaning of what he has observed. It may indeed be true (or not) that "the BaMbuti are the real people of the forest. Whereas the other tribes are relatively recent arrivals, the Pygmies have been in the forest for many thousands of years. It is their world, and in return for their affection and trust it supplies them with all their needs." It may also be true that "the BaMbuti roam the forest at will, in small isolated bands or hunting groups. They have no fear, because for them there is no danger. For them there is little hardship, so they have no need for belief in evil spirits. For them it is a good world." Perhaps it is. But when he concludes this first chapter by describing them as "a people who had found in the forest something that made their life more than just worth living, something that made it, with all its hardships and problems and tragedies, a wonderful thing full of joy and happiness and free of care," then he is indeed shamelessly distorting, idealizing and romanticizing; and he is, by virtue of his own testimony, not only in his field notes, but later in the very same book, clearly wrong.

(to be continued . . . )

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

204. Deconstructing the Postmodern Condition 4 -- L'Affaire Turnbull

Alex Liazos has written a remarkably thorough and painfully honest review of Colin Turnbull's classic, The Forest People, in the light of his careful examination of Turnbull's own field notes. His assessment of both Turnbull and the book can only be described as ambivalent -- or perhaps conflicted would be a better word:
Writing The 1950s Mbuti has been a hard experience for me, but also unavoidable and necessary. I hope that some people who read it are inspired to visit the Avery Research Center and read Turnbull’s field notes and other material themselves, and challenge, debate, and disagree or agree with my conclusions. Those of us who loved The Forest People owe it to ourselves, and to Turnbull, to have a long, spirited, and honest debate on the relationship between the book and the field notes.
In accepting this challenge, I want to state at the outset how much I appreciate and value what Liazos has accomplished. Unlike so many others, he has refrained from the usual revisionist rhetoric, replete with the jargon of academic postmodernism (e.g., stereotyped characterizations such as "essentialized," "reified," "situated," "reductive," etc.), though he is not, perhaps, totally immune to its influence. Nor has he succumbed to the usual revisionist rancor, but has, on the other hand, expressed sincere dismay and regret at what he has unearthed, along with a healthy measure of honest self-doubt. My intention here is not so much to contradict Liazos as make an attempt to honestly assess -- and digest -- the significance of his revelations. To be frank, a significant part of my concern at this point is not with his book per se, but the use to which Liazos' well intentioned probings will be put by those all too eager to bury, completely and forever, both Turnbull and his book, along with the notion, highly disturbing to some, that indigenous peoples like the Pygmies and Bushmen might, as Turnbull argues, represent more than what meets the eye.

The first and most basic thing that needs to be said in Turnbull's defense is: let he who is without guilt cast the first stone. Critical comparisons between polished, heavily edited, published documents and the raw field notes on which they are based are rare, to say the least. It's not really fair to judge Turnbull on this basis until we've had the opportunity to make similar comparisons regarding many another highly acclaimed "classic." And any anthropologist who might wish to use Liazos' book as a club to beat Turnbull over the head with should be expected to make his own field notes public first, if he dare.

The next, and second most basic thing to be said is that The Forest People is what is called in the industry a "trade publication," i.e., a book intended for the general public. Unlike Wayward Servants, the much more extensive and scholarly document published a few years later, based on Turnbull's doctoral dissertation, it is presented, for the most part, as a series of stories intended to hold the attention of the average reader. Why Turnbull chose to present his ideas in this format is an interesting question, but it would be a mistake to expect too close an adherence to the author's field notes in such a work. Not that this justifies outright deceit or the omission of essential information, but I do think we can allow for a certain amount of "poetic license" in a publication of this kind. It's also important to understand that in a book of this nature, the editor is king. The book was edited by Michael Korda, who went on to have a formidable career in publishing and was no doubt a formidable person to work with. We have no way of knowing what Korda's role was, how much rewriting he might have done, or how much of the original manuscript might have been cut by either the editor or the publisher. There is a standard rule of thumb that each publisher has for the length of a trade book, which must be neither too short nor too long, so it stands to reason that cuts would have been made that Turnbull might have had little or no control over. Liazos did in fact contact Korda in an attempt to get access to the original manuscript, but had no success. So this remains an open question.

I will now attempt to address specific discrepancies between the book and the notes that Liazos has found particularly questionable, starting with the most disturbing case, the persecution of the old "witch," Sau. Liazos quotes seven brief references to Sau in the book, which he then balances against a long list of incidents recorded in the field notes, ranging from relatively minor, to disturbing, to heartless and cruel. I'll have to refer you to Liazos's book for the details (see Chapter Four), but in sum, after a suspicious death, Sau, a rather strange and sometimes disruptive "character," is accused of witchcraft, not by her fellow Mbuti but their Bantu "masters," and, after subsequent illnesses and deaths that seem to confirm the verdict in the mind of her fellow pygmies, urged on by the Bantu, who believe she should be killed outright, is brutalized, both verbally and physically (though mostly verbally) and ultimately, after many painful episodes, banished from the group. Turnbull, who claims the Mbuti don't really believe in witchcraft, records each insult in some detail in his notes, but in his book seems disturbingly detached regarding the whole matter, the significance of which he tends, in Liazos's opinion, to minimize. For Liazos, Turnbull has deliberately softened the horror of Sau's ordeal since it contradicts his idealized image of the Mbuti as non-violent. While the story of Sau told in Turnbull's notes is highly disturbing, and I can certainly understand Liazos' indignation, I cannot agree with his assessment of Turnbull's motives.

First, it's important to understand that "the Negroes," i.e., the Bantu villagers (the Bira) were the ones who decided that Sau must be a witch, and urged the Pygmies from the start to do away with her. And while the Pygmies eventually appear to accept their accusation, Turnbull's opinion that witchcraft is not a part of their culture per se must at the very least be taken seriously, though he could of course be wrong.

The list of brief quotes that Liazos offers as evidence of Turnbull's relative indifference to Sau is a bit misleading, as some of the quotes are in fact excerpts from longer passages. The first reference to Sau begins on p. 35 of The Forest People. Here is a longer quote from this passage:
His skinny old mother, Sau, was not without a fame of her own. Old and infirm people, amongst the Pygmies, are regarded, not exactly with suspicion or mistrust, but with apprehension. In a vigorous community of this kind where mobility is essential, cripples and infirm people can be a great handicap and may even endanger the safety of the group. Hence there are numerous legends of old people's being left to die if they cannot keep up with the group as it moves from camp to camp.
Upon reading the above, a moment's reflection will make clear to any thoughtful person that such "legends" must indeed be based on harsh truth, since any group such as the Mbuti, who regularly and rapidly move on foot from place to place, are not in a position to deal with those too old and/or infirm to keep up. So right off the bat, even before he has much to say at all about Sau, he informs us of an even more disturbing fact about the people whose "carefree, happy life" he has been extolling in such extravagant terms. As I'll be pointing out shortly, there are other stories in the book that very clearly demonstrate disturbingly violent behavior on the part of the Mbuti. Though Liazos is correct in accusing Turnbull of neglecting the most disturbing aspects of Sau's story, it's hard to accept the avoidance of violence as his motive, since there is so much violence, either stated or implied, in so many other passages and even entire chapters, as I will discuss below. I think it much more likely that there was only so much room in a "trade publication" for incidents of this kind, and since the long story of Sau's abuse could easily have occupied an entire chapter of the original, it may well have been cut by the editor. What I will say at this point, at the risk of getting ahead of myself, is that The Forest People is in itself a highly ambivalent and self-contradictory document, as a careful reading of the entire text will reveal. As I see it, therefore, many of the contradictions Liazos finds between the book and the field notes can also be found in the book itself. Again, I am getting ahead of myself here, but the point needs to be made.

It's important to realize that a genuinely disturbing, if also somewhat "amusing" account of Sau's persecution does appear in the much fuller and more detailed Wayward Servants, Turnbull's "official" and more scholarly report. Sau's whole sad story is in fact summarized in this book, in a long passage taking up most of the section on "Witchcraft," pp. 234-237. Liazos refers to this passage in his book, but finds it inadequate, as though it were incumbent on Turnbull to recite the entire story more or less as it appears in the field notes. What especially disturbs Liazos is Turnbull's apparent lack of sympathy for Sau, which comes across more to me as ambivalence. He says, for example, that "Sau played her role with zest," and, later, that "she made all the usual protests, and performed the usual trick of stabbing herself with a knife, but holding it carefully so that it just nicked the skin sufficiently to draw impressive-looking streaks of blood." In the field notes, as quoted by Liazos, the "suicide" incident reads as something far more serious and genuinely pathetic, but in Wayward Servants Turnbull presents it in a very different light, which is admittedly disconcerting. Turnbull does in fact appear disturbingly callous with regard to Sau and her fate, concluding, surprisingly, that "She remained a scapegoat, but her right to stay with the band was never seriously challenged, nor were the respect and affection with which she was regarded ever diminished." Even her exile is presented in an "amusing" light: "Exile was suggested instead [of being beaten to death], and Sau was duly exiled, and departed for her own village in great spirits, laden down with foodstuffs." Such passages do seem in blatant contrast to the clear instances of unjust persecution and victimization we see in the field notes and one does have to wonder at Turnbull's need to turn such a disturbing story into a kind of amusing anecdote. On the other hand, he was the one who was actually there, he was the one who wrote the notes in the first place, and as far as I'm concerned, he was therefore entitled, after giving the events some thought, to form his own ultimate opinion of what happened, and why.

Another angle on this story is provided from an unexpected source I happened to encounter by coincidence recently, while doing some research on Bushmen violence (on which I intend to report when the opportunity arises), The Learning Environment for Aggression and Anti-Social Behavior among the !Kung, by Patricia Draper. The story in this case does not involve witchcraft, but the case of a !Kung Bushmen matchmaker who too eagerly arranged a wedding without the permission of the couple's parents:
Some took the parents’ side and agreed that Tsebe had been high-
handed. Others thought that the marriage itself was good, but that Tsebe should have waited for the couple’s parents to return. No matter which interpretation, Tsebe received much criticism. She took to her bed and refused to eat. Two days later she made a few superficial cuts in her thigh and rubbed arrow poison into the wounds. She became quite sick and confessed that she had, in effect, attempted suicide. [My emphasis.] That evening and the following evening the people held a trance dance for her. All the medicine owners, the men who are capable of trance and healing in their trance state, worked on her. Everyone attended and joined in the singing and dancing on Tsebe’s behalf. She recovered soon afterward, mainly because her suicide attempt had been essentially symbolic; only minuscule amounts of poison must have entered the wounds. [My emphasis.] In the days following a kind of reconciliation took place between the injured parties. More significantly, open talk against Tsebe and her behind-the-scenes manipulation had ceased.
In the light of the above, one might speculate that there could be aspects of Sau's story that may not have been obvious from the bare bones field notes, but that might have meant something more to a trained observer, such as Turnbull. I can understand, nevertheless, Liazos' indignation regarding Turnbull's treatment of Sau and must confess that his callous "amusement" at her fate does seem both inappropriate and cruel. The story also illustrates an intriguing parallel between Pygmy and Bushmen behavior that might or might not have some significance.

(to be continued . . . )