Archive for February 24, 2017

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Paula Tallman

Students from the Universidad Cayetano Peru Heredia (UPCH) signing in the conference participants

While a doctoral student at Northwestern University Paula Tallman received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2012 to aid research on “Stress, Health, and Physiological Functioning in the Awajun of the Peruvian Amazon” supervised by Dr. Thomas W. McDade. Following that Dr. Tallman received an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2015  to aid engaged activities on “Vulnerability & Health Outcomes in Amazonia: An Innovative Conference Engaging Peruvian Scholars, Policy-Makers, & Indigenous Community Members”.

On the morning of Feb. 25th, 2016 representatives from academic, non-governmental, and indigenous organizations converged on the campus of the University of Cayetano Peru Heredia (UPCH) in Lima, Peru. Edilberto Kinin, an Awajún community member and an economist working for the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment arrived in full traditional regalia. His necklaces, made from Amazonian Huayruro seeds, clinked together as he expressed his excitement at presenting at our conference, “Vulnerability and Health Outcomes in Amazonia”, which was sponsored by the  Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant and UPCH’s School of Public Health.

Results of the collaborative workshop on the 2nd day of the conference

Drs. Paula Skye Tallman (The Field Museum of Natural History) and Armando Valdés-Velasquez (UPCH) organized the event and aimed to cross cultural and institutional boundaries in the pursuit of three objectives. First, we sought to bring together scholars from across the globe to share their most recent research on vulnerability in the Amazon. To that end, we opened our conference with a greeting from UPCH’s Director of Science and Technology, Carlos Zamudio, and we heard presentations from academics from Tulane University (U.S.), the University of Geneva (Switzerland), and UPCH (Peru). Specifically, researchers Giuliana Sanchez and Alejandra Bussalleu discussed their work investigating vulnerability in relationship to dietary changes, public health scientist, Dr. Gabriella Salmon, detailed her team’s research on vulnerability among communities living on the Inter-Oceanic Highway, and neuroscientist David Chaupis Meza spoke about the timely issue of how oil spills create neurodevelopmental vulnerability among indigenous peoples.

Dr. Armando Valdes-Velasquez of UPCH gives an opening speech for the conference.

Second, I wanted to ensure that indigenous voices were central to these discussions, alternating between academic and local perspectives during the presentations. Thus, the presentations were kicked off by Mr. Diogenes Ampam, an Awajún community member and the chief manager of two national parks in the Northern Peruvian Amazon. Mr. Ampam connected environmental concerns to vulnerability through his presentation on “The Forest is Our Life and Our Sustainable Development”. Mr. Ampam’s colleague, Mr. Edilberto Kinin, also a chief manager of a park and indigenous communal reserve, presented later in the morning and focused on how vulnerability is being created by climate change in Awajún communities. Specifically, Mr. Kinin highlighted the vulnerability of women who are often responsible for providing water and food for the household, which are becoming scarcer with climate change.

Collaborative workshop on day 2

Later in the afternoon, Mr. Leonardo Tello, a spokesperson for the radio station Ucamara in the Amazonian city of Nauta, gave one of the most dynamic and provocative presentations of the conference. Mr. Tello explored the spiritual repercussions of large-scale development projects such as the hydrovia (water highway) for the Kukama people. Particularly, he explained that Kukuma people envision that the spirits of their ancestors live in the rivers and that when the rivers are polluted or compromised through infrastructure development, the well-being of their ancestors is threatened. This presentation yielded new perspectives on how indigenous health goes beyond the physical body. It also provided an exciting path forward for connecting cultural beliefs to government policy as Mr. Imaina is creating cultural and spiritual maps of the Marañon River to argue that the indigenous cosmovision should precede infrastructure development in the rivers.

Dr. Paula Skye Tallman presents her research on the "Index of Vulnerability"

The third and final objective of the conference was to use the scientific perspective on vulnerability and the indigenous perspective on health to think through the potential repercussions of the construction of a series of hydroelectric dams on the Marañon River. Thus on the second day of our event we had a combination of scientists, community members, and indigenous leaders speak about the potential consequences of the proposed dams. Mariana Montoya from the Wildlife Conservation Society started us off by using interactive maps to show how the dams would disrupt the migration patterns of several types of fish that are central food sources for indigenous Amazonian peoples living downstream.

We also saw that the proposed dams would influence upstream mestizo communities as  Socorro Quiroz Rocha, from the community of Celendin, spoke of the social fragmentation that was resulting in her community as a result of preliminary work by the dam companies. Finally, Gil Inoach Shawit, former president of AIDESEP (the largest national indigenous rights organization in Peru) spoke of the ecological effects that the dams would have on the lives of Awajún and Wampi community members, but he put this issue into the larger context of ecosocial threats to the Amazon such as oil exploitation, mining, highway construction, palm oil cultivation, and hydrovias.

Dr. Tallman and Economist Edilberto Kinin, manager of the communal reserve Chayu Nain

These final presentations inspired the development of inter-institutional alliances that will allow differing stakeholders to work together towards a common cause. For example, members of Remando Juntos, an initiative led by kayakers and conservationists, presented a documentary on their work advocating for the protection of the Marañon River. Mr. Ampam, who works for the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment, invited Remando Juntos to screen their documentary in Awajún communities in the Marañon basin in the coming months. This alliance will bring grass-roots movements based in Lima together with local peoples in the Marañon basis to create awareness of the potential repercussions of the dams, alternative forms of development, and potential avenues for social change.

Post-conference we are creating three concrete products. First, we are working with the Wildlife Conservation Society to produce a one-page informational flyer on the potential social and biological repercussions of the proposed dams on upstream and downstream communities. We will partner with Remando Juntos to distribute these flyers to people attending the screening of their documentary. Second, we are writing an academic article, based on the conference, that is focused on the challenges of working across cultural and disciplinary lines to study vulnerability. And finally, this final report is being translated into Spanish and will distributed via university bulletins in Lima and via radio in the Marañon basin. The aim of distributing this summary is to continue to engage scholars and indigenous peoples in conversations about vulnerability and health in the Amazon and to strengthen the multi-stakeholder alliance that began with this conference.

NYAS @ WGF 2/27: Water and the Big History of the Pre-Columbian Mississippi Valley

Depiction of what the Moundbuilder society of Cahokia would have looked like at its prime

Join us Monday evening February 27th at 5:45 PM at The Wenner-Gren Foundation for the next great installment of the New York Academy of Sciences Lecture Series. Timothy R. Pauketat, Professor of Anthropology at University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign will be presenting, “Water and the Big History of the Pre-Columbian Mississippi Valley”. Dr. Severin Fowles from Barnard College will act as discussant.

Please note: the lecture begins at 6:30 PM, and while the event is free to attend pre-registry is required for entry into the building.

In rethinking the ontological bases of pre-Columbian North America, water emerges as the primary substance through which people lived their histories. Simplistic climate change and flood-event scenarios aside, the atmospheric water cycle enmeshed peoples in ways that explain Mississippi Valley agriculture, astronomy, religious practice, political development, and historical ties to Mesoamerica. The linchpin of such arguments is the greater Cahokia phenomenon (AD 1000s–1300s). Beginning with new large-scale archaeological excavations and a refined chronology in that region, I trace water-human relationships through local-to-continent-wide genealogies of maize cultivation, mussel shell use, and American Indian sweat lodges and other “water shrines.” There are theoretical implications for how we understand history and humanity.

-PLEASE NOTE EARLIER START TIME FOR DINNER AND LECTURE-

Buffet Dinner at 5:45 pm ($20 contribution for dinner guests / free for students).
Lecture begins at 6:30 pm and are free and open to the public.

Pre-registration is required to attend the lecture.

Missed the lecture? Listen to it here!

 

 

 

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Douglas V. Armstrong

 

Figure 1: Allisandra Cummins (Director of the Barbados Museum), Douglas Armstrong (Syracuse University) and Kevin Farmer (Deputy Director, Barbados Museum) at exhibit: “Landscaped of Power, Enslavement, and Resistance: Archaeology of the Early 17th Century Settlement at Trents Plantation, Barbados.” Funded by a Wenner-Gren Engaged Scholar grant.

Douglas V. Armstrong is a Professor of Anthropology at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. In 2012 he received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on “Archaeological Investigation of Early Transformations on Barbadian Plantations”. In 2014 Dr. Armstrong received an Engaged Anthropology Grant  to aid engaged activities on “Archaeology of the Shift to Sugar and Slavery in Barbados: Public Interpretation”.

As a follow-up to Wenner-Gren funded research on early-17th century plantations in Barbados I was asked by the Barbados Museum to organize an exhibit and public presentation of findings.   A Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant provided me with the resources necessary to organize an exhibit and related events aimed at conveying information on the research to the people of Barbados and engaging with the public.  An exhibit titled “Landscaped of Power, Enslavement, and Resistance: Archaeology of the Early 17th Century Settlement at Trents Plantation, Barbados.”  This exhibit was organized and installed at the Barbados Museum in March 2016 with the assistance of Keven Farmer, Deputy Director of the museum.  This exhibit was part of Barbados commemoration of its 50th Anniversary of independence (Figures 1-3)

Figure 2: Exhibit: “Landscaped of Power, Enslavement, and Resistance: Archaeology of the Early 17th Century Settlement at Trents Plantation, Barbados.” March to September 2016, Barbados Museum

The exhibit presented panels and artifact display cases projecting information recovered from three themes of archaeological research at Trents Plantation.  The text, photographs, and artifacts conveyed information on archaeological and historical research exploring the shift from a small-scale farming settlement (1620s-1640s) to a large scale sugar plantation (post 1640s).  This part of the exhibit described the historical research and archaeological studies that resulted in the identification of a pre-sugar settlement at Trents  and explored the cultural landscape of the pre-sugar era.  It used findings from the site to illustrate the small-scale nature of pre-sugar settlement as well as archaeological and historical data which combined to show how plantation farmers and laborers (including indentured Europeans and enslaved Africans) lived in close quarters during the pre-sugar era.   Visitors continued through the exhibit to review comparative data from contexts associated with the planter’s residence to data from the enslaved laborer settlement at the plantation (1640s-1838) and described the abandonment of that settlement at the time of emancipation.  The survival of an unplowed enslaved laborer settlement at Trents provides a unique opportunity to examine life and living conditions on a Barbadian plantation.  Finally, the exhibit presented an unveiling of artifacts from a newly discovered cave site on the property, Trents cave. Evidence from Trents cave, or the “cave of iron and steel”, provides a glimpse at a hidden place of African-Barbadian social interaction, ritual practice, and resistance.

Figure 3: Exhibit: “Landscaped of Power, Enslavement, and Resistance: Archaeology of the Early 17th Century Settlement at Trents Plantation, Barbados.” March to September 2016, Barbados Museum

Preliminary work for the exhibit began in the summer of 2015 when I worked with Keven Farmer to frame the scale and scope of the field work that was then just being completed.    Throughout the project the public was invited to visit the site to participate in the project and to learn about our findings.  In advance of the exhibit two articles on the project were published in the Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, and a third in the proceedings of the International Congress of Caribbean Archaeology.

Armstrong, Douglas V., 2015. Cave of Iron and Resistance: A Preliminary Examination.  Journal of the Barbados Historical Society. 61: 178-199.

Armstrong, Douglas V., 2015. Archaeology of the Enslaved Laborer Settlement at Trents Plantation: 2014-2015.  Journal of the Barbados Historical Society. 61: 146-177.

Armstrong, Douglas V., 2015.  Archaeology at Trents Plantation, Barbados. Actas del 25to Congreso International de Arqueología del Caribe. Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueño, el Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe y la Universitad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras. Pp. 1030-1048.

During the summer of 2015 I began to organize the exhibit and I corresponded with Keven Farmer to define dates and to set up the timing of a public lecture.  Initially, the exhibit was set to open in May of 2016.  However, it was decided to integrate the exhibit into the opening of Barbados’ 50th Anniversary Celebration and to also organize a second exhibit examining Barbados’ slave revolt of 1816.   In January 2016 I spent a week in Barbados organizing the Trents – “Landscapes of Power, Enslavement, and Resistance” exhibit and also assisting with the “Freedom:  We Must Fight For It” exhibit.  In March of 2016 I returned to Barbados to work on the installation and on June 24, I presented a public lecture at the museum describing the research and explaining the exhibit.

The exhibit was well received and resulted in interest from organizers of the Smithsonian’s African American History Museum, who visited the exhibit. This has resulted in support for the installation of a permanent exhibit and a joint effort funded by the Smithsonian aimed at capacity building in the area of archaeology, digital databases, curation, public engagement.  This project will be coordinated by Kevin Farmer (Barbados  Museum) and I will coordinate instruction relating to archaeology during summer courses for Barbadian and Caribbean students over the next three years.

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Brendan Tuttle

Examining a photo from the Pitt Rivers Museum

Brendan Tuttle is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Brooklyn College. In 2009 he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Lives Apart: Diasporan Return, Youth, and Intergenerational Transformation in South Sudan,” supervised by Dr. Jessica R. Winegar. In 2014 Dr. Tuttle received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “New Histories for a New South Sudan: A Public Anthropology Project”.

For my Engaged Anthropology project I planned to return to my fieldwork site near Bor Town, the capital of Jonglei State, in what is today South Sudan.  When I was first there in 2009 and 2010, the town was a settlement of roughly forty thousand people.  Many had recently arrived after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, which formally ended Sudan’s long-running civil war.  My dissertation research examined the processes by which people in Bor were reconstructing their lives and trying to get by in difficult circumstances, making choices about where to settle, fashioning binding agreements with one another, and looking for humor in their predicaments.  Many people I spoke to emphasized the importance of ordinary routines and life trajectories.  During Sudan’s second civil war (1983-2005) this show of resilience in the face of disaster (riääk) was framed in Bor as a resistance strategy called gum ëlik (‘quiet suffering’ or steadfastness).  By attending to how people caught by violence pursued projects that extended beyond it, I sought to counter ideas of Dinka society as particularly prone to violence—an idea that has often served to elide the role of governments, petroleum companies, international NGOs and financial institutions in the insecurity and instability of the county by attributing violence to local cultural forces.

The outbreak of civil war in December 2013 prevented my return to Bor.  Hostilities began in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, and followed the fault lines of unresolved political divisions within the country’s governing party, the SPLM, and the army, the SPLA.  (Many journalists have evoked ‘tribalism’ and ‘deep ethnic divisions’ to explain this war.  It should be underlined that ethnicity was not the cause of South Sudan’s conflicts.  It was the outcome.)  During the following months, Bor and other state capitals in South Sudan changed hands several times in battles fought between government forces and the Ugandan army, on one side, and defected soldiers and armed irregulars, on the other.  By the end of January, 2014, the destruction of Bor Town’s market center was virtually total.  The town was deserted except for the soldiers stationed there to occupy it.

Gurae Map Seri Mario

All of the surviving participants in my dissertation research had evacuated Bor Town and the surrounding countryside by the end of December 2013.  Many relocated across the Nile to a large IDP site in Minkaman (Guol Yar).  Others had travelled south to Juba, and a few joined relatives in Kenya and Uganda; still others relocated farther afield.  In January, I stayed with my former research assistant in a home rented by his uncle on the eastern fringe of Nairobi, and he stayed with me in Juba before departing for South Dakota.  In February, I travelled to Minkaman.  Though I facilitated two workshops in Juba, much of my engagement work consisted of traveling around South Sudan and Kenya and talking with people wherever they were able to meet.  Many discussions were held in my house in Juba.  I met others singly and in groups in their homes, at coffee stands, or in hotels located in the growing informal settlements that ring Juba.  I would generally begin by presenting my dissertation findings and reviewing and revising written portions of the work with participants and then let the discussion develop any way participants wanted.

My interlocutors challenged portrayals of IDP camps and informal settlements as ‘non-places’, and guided my attention toward the many locations where their lives unfolded.  A group of people who had once shared a geographic place, but no longer do, is a common mode of ‘community’ in contemporary South Sudan.  Many of the people I knew best in Bor had been born nearby—where they were bound together by overlapping ties of kindship, marriage, partnership, and friendship—and displaced in the 1980s to varying degrees of geographic and social distance.  Others had come to know each other in refugee camps in Uganda and Kenya and resettled together in Bor after 2005.  Participants in the project drew maps and described the histories of the places where they had lived and the relationships that they had formed there.  These discussions provided a lesson about how the customary anthropological practice of studying in one locale tends to privilege genealogical modes of belonging (particularly in South Sudan) by failing to capture patterns of movement and plural association, the ways in which people live out their lives across multiple places and social fields.

The accounts people told about their experiences of migration destabilized depictions of refugees and IDPs as people whose movement is without history, politics, or self-reflection.  People spoke about the hardships of building homes with improvised materials and of raising families without adequate food, clean water, or access to schools.  Many described their struggles to be generous to others: to host visitors, foster children, and support friends and in-laws.  Efforts to live normal lives in these circumstances were partly by way of simply trying to get by.  But the maintenance of ordinary routines, standards of generosity, and lifecycle processes also embodied a refusal to be reduced to an existence totally determined by violence.  In Minkaman, friends told me how difficult it had been to leave their homes unguarded and risk accusations of cowardice by leaving conflict zones (or demanding that family members do so).  One man compared the mounting numbers of IDPs and refugees published each week by the UN to an election return: “They’re defecting! The people are voting against this war with their feet.”

Juba Map Seri Mario

The Engaged Anthropology project allowed me to maintain contacts and share my research.  It also led to new collaborations.  A major goal of this project was to collect and write local histories in order to provide alternative representations of people who are often portrayed as being unable to reflect on their own lives and situations.  One particularly productive collaboration has been with Paul Ruot Kor Wan.  I am currently editing for publication selections drawn from his manuscript, titled “The Myth of Kiir Kaker,” which is based on oral testimonies that he collected during his stay in UN POCs (‘Protection of Civilian’) sites in Malakal and Juba.  Paul Ruot helped me to organize two workshops in Juba in which I presented my research and facilitated discussions of oral history and ethnographic methods.  One participant, who had collected histories that he hoped to publish, recalled his feeling of despair when he returned to Bor to see what of his possessions were salvageable and found his home ransacked and his research and books torn and scattered.  The Engaged Anthropology Grant enabled me to provide electronic copies of books and articles about East Africa, South Sudan, and Sudan on a USB-stick to people who were cut off from these materials by publishers’ paywalls, the cost of academic publications, and the inaccessibility of libraries and postal systems.

Overall, my Engaged Anthropology grant provided me with the resources to reconfirm connections and develop new engagements.  I am grateful to the Wenner-Gren Foundation and, especially, all the participants who took the time to attend workshops and to speak with me.