Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Dead Birds" Revisited

A report from Australian television on the changing face of warfare in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

View Dead Birds, the classic ethnographic film about traditional warfare among the Dani of the highlands of New Gunea:

And here's another take on warfare in the highlands. The Dani live in West Papua, now part of Indonesia.

Now there is a new kind of war going on.

The story today is about international mining. Colonialists of our time, the multinationals have made and continue to make huge profits from exploiting the riches of West Papua. These companies, if called into question, can hire top lawyers to protect their interests. They can curry favor with politicians. They can win support from the military.

But the West Papuans, now, have more than bows and arrows, though their arsenal is still small by comparison with that of the big companies. They are organizing and enlisting international political support against the depredations of the mining companies. They are using an indigenous concept, merdeka (freedom) to express their wish for both regional autonomy and social justice.

Starting with the intrusion of the Dutch and continuing to today’s Indonesian control, many West Papuans have suffered from a politics of violence that makes the ritual warfare of Dead Birds look like child’s play.

If one were to film a documentary of conflict in West Papua today, the line-up would be very different from that depicted in Dead Birds. The mining companies would have a star role. Their employees are dressed up nicely. But they don’t stop shooting after wounding just one person.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Springsteen grasps the essence of Benedict Anderson's 'imagined communities'

The chorus of Springsteen's "We Take Care of Our Own," goes:

Wherever this flag's flown 
We take care of our own

This is about as succinct a summary of Anderson's notion of "imagined communities" as you can get. Of course, Springsteen's song is critical of our government's abysmal failure to take care of our own in New Orleans, in the wake of Katrina. But he's not critical of the essential notion of USA nationalism, based on what Anderson calls "horizontal comradeship," which, for Springsteen, has democratic and emancipatory. Rather, he's critical of failures, especially at the moment Katrina, to fulfill such noble and moral ideals.

The full lyrics of the song are here.

And here's the vid:

Monday, May 21, 2012

NATO, G-8, Global Hunger

From an op-ed by Vijay Prasad, writing in the Denver Post (May 20, 2012):

NATO and the G8 have used their political and military power to impose their social and economic vision on the planet. Their economic agenda (neoliberalism) has tilted the social wealth of the planet toward the global 1 percent and put the interests of finance above that of social needs. This is the reason the Global Hunger Index of 2011 finds that every year 2 million children die of chronic malnutrition (that's four children every minute). It is the reason one-fourth of the world's children do not get enough nutrients to grow properly, including to develop their intellectual capabilities.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sterilization, Eugenics, Intelligence, Poverty and Race

Great piece by Nell Irvin Painter, taking on Charles Murray, from the New York Times, March 25, 2012.

"The stigmatization of poor white families more than a century ago should provide a warning: behaviors that seem to have begun in the 1960s belong to a much longer and more complex history than ideologically driven writers like Mr. Murray would have us believe."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Voodoo in the USA

From the New York Times, April 10, 2011. Read the entire piece here. (Wish they had spelled it voudoun.) An excerpt:

Long misunderstood and maligned in Western popular culture, voodoo has become a spiritual anchor in New York City’s vast Haitian community and in Haitian enclaves across the country as practitioners look for comfort after the devastating earthquake in the impoverished Caribbean nation last year.

In New York, where there are roughly 300,000 people who were born in Haiti or are of Haitian descent — the largest concentration in the United States — richly painted basement voodoo temples are sprinkled around Harlem and in parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Mambos, or voodoo priestesses, say they can barely keep up with “demann,” or prayer requests; spiritual love recipes to lure recalcitrant lovers are the most popular. Voodoo prayer circles in which practitioners meet to commiserate have also proliferated, with a notable intensity in the months since the earthquake.

"Bushmen" of the Kalahari

photo: AFP

From the New York Times, Nov. 5, 2010, by Barry Bearak. Read it here. It's unfortunate that the term "Bushmen" is used in the headline, even if the article does acknowledge that the people in question often consider the term demeaning. Anthropologists abandoned this term ages ago, first adopting !Kung, and more recently, Ju/wasi.

The article deals with the "Bushmen" of Botswana and their struggle for survival, and the struggle of some against resettlement.

Here's an excerpt.

However humble their lives, the Bushmen of Botswana’s central Kalahari are well known to the world, the subject of books, films and anthropological studies. They are frequently portrayed — or, as many say, romanticized — as classic hunter-gatherers, a living link to humankind’s collective beginnings.

But for decades, they have been entrenched in a tug of war over their fate that has often gone unnoticed, a saga now replete with edicts and court cases, with alcohol abuse and sundered families, with an aboriginal people despairing about the uncertainty of their future.

Since the 1980s, Botswana, a landlocked nation of two million people, has both coaxed and hounded the Bushmen to leave the game reserve, intending to restrict the area to what its name implies, a wildlife refuge empty of human residents. Withholding water is one tactic, and in July a High Court ruled that the government had every right to deny use of that modern oasis, the borehole. An appeal was filed in September.