NYAS @ WGF 3/26: Is Extreme Inequality Inevitable?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the 99 Percent.

Dr. Rosemary Joyce

Join us at the Wenner-Gren Foundation on March 26th at 5:45 PM for another great installment of the New York Academy of Sciences lecture series. Rosemary Joyce, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, will be presenting “Is Extreme Inequality Inevitable?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the 99 Percent”. Robert Preucel, Director, Haffenreffer Museum and James Manning Professor of Anthropology at Brown University, will act as discussant.

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

Event Registration:  If you will be registering for an event for the first time, the New York Academy of Sciences will ask you first to set up a user account with them. Registration is free and does not require divulging personal or financial information.

You can also register by phone, 212-298-8640 or 212-298-8600.  Early Registration is strongly recommended since seating is limited. 

In many people’s minds archaeology is about the search for kings and queens, for treasure and luxuries. It seems as if archaeologists are on the side of rulers, at the expense of the everyday farmer and laborer. And so archaeological theories about social complexity are interpreted to say that human societies are on an implacable universal road toward exaggerated inequality: extreme inequality is inevitable. But is this true? Or can archaeologists illuminate places and times when society did not spiral into ever-widening inequality?

In this talk, I critically examine the need for archaeology to contest the representation of a global rise in inequality as inevitable, arguing that we have let the allure of certain things enchant us, leading to an over-emphasis on the wealthy and powerful. I draw on my decades-long research on prehispanic Honduras, where for centuries people in towns and villages sustained a lower level of inequality than archaeologists see in the city-states of their Classic Maya neighbors.

Using this case study as a beginning point, I address how archaeology can be and is being used to illuminate the long term persistence and social contributions of a far more varied range of actors than the few leaders who have often received the greatest attention in our analyses. I sketch out an alternative place for archaeology in the world today, as an ally of new visions of social life that we can say are viable because they have worked already.

About the Speakers:

Rosemary Joyce is Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley.  Professor Joyce is a major figure in contemporary archaeology, whose fieldwork focuses on Honduras and Mexico. Professor Joyce works on the archaeology of inequality, gender, and materiality. Her research in Honduras explored social histories “in which economic inequality was never as extreme as among neighboring Maya societies, leading me to consider how archaeologists might combat the common assumption that ever-increasing inequality is somehow inevitable.” As a museum anthropologist, Joyce has engaged in collections management and exhibition work at Harvard’s Peabody Museum, the Wellesley College Museum and Cultural Center, the Heritage Plantation at Sandwich, Massachusetts, the Museo de Antropología e Historia in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. Her published work includes Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives (2008),The Languages of Archaeology: Dialogue, Narrative, and Writing (2002), and Gender and Power in Prehispanic Mesoamerica (2001).

Robert Preucel is Director, Haffenreffer Museum and James Manning Professor of Anthropology at Brown University.  Professor Preucel received his doctorate from UCLA in 1988. He was a member of Jim Hill’s Pajarito Archaeological Research Project and wrote his dissertation on seasonal agricultural circulation. He was the 6th Annual CAI Visiting Scholar at SIU Carbondale in 1989 and organized a conference on the Processual/Postprocessual debate. In 1990, he took an Assistant Professor position at Harvard University. In 1995, he left Harvard for an Associate Professor position at the University of Pennsylvania. He was made Sally and Alvin V. Shoemaker Professor of Anthropology in 2009 and served as Chair of the Department (2009-2012) and Gregory Annenberg Weingarten Curator-in-charge of the American Section at University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology (2010-2012).

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 for entry into the building.

All talks in this series take place at the Wenner-Gren Foundation Building, 470 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor, New York (at 32nd Street).

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Natasha Fijn

Once again we are proud to present a trailer and blog post from one of our Fejos Postdoctoral Fellows, Dr. Natasha Fijn. In 2016 Dr. Fijn received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on Two Seasons: Multispecies Medicine in Mongolia.

Two Seasons Trailer from Natasha Fijn on Vimeo.

Two Seasons: Multispecies Medicine in Mongolia

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

We bumped along a rough dirt track across rolling Mongolian grassland. Ganbaa, the driver, was heading for a spring encampment of an elder, who is often called upon to carry out bloodletting on horses. I was in the field to focus on filming cross-species medicinal practices amongst herders for a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship. Part of my interest was in how medicinal knowledge is still passed on within herding families in the form of practical mentorship.

As we passed a free-roaming horse herd beside the rutted road, I exclaimed ‘Zogsooroi!’ (Please stop!). Tiny hooves were protruding from a mare as she lay heaving on the ground. We tumbled out of the vehicle but our approach on foot caused the mare to painfully rise and walk a few steps away. The rest of the herd surrounded her as a means of protection from the strangers. I began filming while Ganbaa retrieved some milk from his vehicle and began whispering an incantation, sprinkling the milk three times to the heavens (Tengger). Both he and I were concerned for the foal, as although the head had emerged there didn’t seem to be any movement. We drove up the hillside to a nearby encampment and were immediately welcomed by a young herding couple. When the herder looked through his very old monocular he commented nonchalantly that the foal had just been born. We leapt up from small stools and hurried down the hill to where the mare was still standing.

Unlike earlier, the mare allowed the familiar herder to approach and inspect the placenta. He was clearly someone she trusted and, like her newborn foal, was perhaps one of the first humans she saw in the world. The herder picked up a brown, rubbery object near the placenta, in Mongolia called the ‘foal’s bite’ (or in English the ‘foal’s bread’). He gave it as a gift to Ganbaa, even though he could have sold it as medicine. Ganbaa was excited by the experience, as it was a sign of good fortune for our travels, witnessing a foal born during daylight, while the herder added that it was the first born for that year within the herd, another auspicious sign. Later, as we set off down the road again, Ganbaa sang songs featuring foals, still elated from our lucky encounter. As I looked out at the expansive rolling landscape from the back seat, I felt elated too, as I could clearly see that what we had just witnessed would make a poignant scene for the start of the documentary.

Such events are the best aspects of observational filmmaking, as without structuring according to a script, or the re-creation of scenes, spur-of-the-moment happenings become important elements. The birth of the foal and the herder’s family would not have occurred as a result of a list of shots, or a pre-planned script. The scene encompassed many aspects that I wanted to convey within the film in relation to multispecies medicine in Mongolia, such as: the significance of other beings, not just humans; how ritual and psychology are connected with medicinal health; the importance of timing and the seasons; the nurturing and welfare of mothers and their newborns and that multispecies medicine includes products that are derived from both domestic and wild animals and plants.

I lived in Mongolia for a year in 2005 and again in the spring of 2007. During my PhD fieldwork I found that an almost daily task was the treatment of extended family members, including herd animals by knowledgeable practitioners. One chapter of my book, Living with Herds: human-animal coexistence in Mongolia (2011), describes a multispecies form of Mongolian medicine, yet I wanted to return to the countryside to delve into the topic further through filmmaking. In between, my academic research and filmmaking was focused on Aboriginal Australia, until I returned to Ulaanbaatar in the autumn of 2016 for the coordination of a workshop on ‘One Health’. I knew that the most active times of year are spring, with many births and extreme fluctuations in weather conditions. The other key season is autumn, when herders collect medicinal herbs, while preparing hay for the long and hard winter months.

For the purposes of filming this multispecies medicine film, I re-visited two extended families after not having seen them and the beautiful river valleys for ten years. Many of the children were now all grown up and even getting married, yet daily life and routines with the herd animals were still much the same. With their wonderful generosity and cooperation they re-connected me with the local herding community. I discovered the benefits of a longitudinal perspective of researching in the field and noted many subtle changes over time, particularly in the availability of modern medicine.

Ganbaa became not just a driver of the vehicle to carry me into the field from the capital of Ulaanbaatar, he became a collaborator while in the field. He offered to take me to his homeland where he grew up and where his extended family and friends still reside. Through his familial connections in the area, we were warmly welcomed in the homes we visited. He insisted on gifts of a bottle of vodka and his latest book of poetry, spontaneously reciting poetry in every home we visited. Ganbaa is a great orator and managed to loosen even the most reticent herders’ tongues. I gave him background information on what I wanted to learn from the herders we visited. During informal interviews and conversations, I let Ganbaa ask questions, in order to allow the discussion to flow smoothly. I wanted to avoid external interruptions and it meant I could concentrate on responding to the conversation with the video camera. If I needed to change a shooting position, or film some different shots of the surroundings, it was only then that I would interject and ask a question to occasionally redirect the conversation for further insights.

The two other homelands within the film were where I had lived in 2005 and the spring of 2007. Nara, as matriarch of a large extended family encampment, is Buddhist and adheres to ritual and ceremony to keep her family and the herds healthy. The film includes other characters within Nara’s homeland, however, such as her son. I filmed Nara’s son with his own young son observing, while he nurtured a newborn foal in freezing temperatures. Mongolian medicine involves many different forms of treatment, including preventative strategies, moxibustion, bone-setting, antibiotics and vaccinations. I chose to focus primarily on medicinal herbs and bloodletting, which meant that I could draw upon the differing knowledge of herding men and women. It is often the women who collect the medicinal plants, prepare and dry them, and ultimately administer them to the family, or young animals. Bloodletting, on the other hand, is passed down along male patrilines and is usually practiced by men.

The third field location where I filmed was in Bor and Bömbög’s homeland. I had lived in the same valley previously within Bömbög’s mother’s encampment, which meant I had established strong bonds with the extended family. Herders are often reticent to admit that they have any ill animals at all, as a successful practitioner and herder pride themselves in preventing illness in the first place. Some individual casualties, however, are inevitable in such harsh environmental conditions. Bor has been a leader of the local herding community and is well respected for his herding knowledge. Because both he and his wife have confidence in their abilities, they were willing to reveal that they had individual herd animals that were injured and allowed me to film the treatment of them. Bor drove me to the nearest township to visit the local doctor, who also practices traditional medicine, and was comfortable with me filming the doctor diagnosing his ailments.

The concept of a homeland (nutag) and a strong sense of place are important to semi-nomadic herders. I felt the unique environmental conditions should be an important aspect within a film focusing on Mongolian medicine. While editing the footage together, in terms of structure, I chose to focus on the three different areas I filmed in spring and then again in autumn, hence the title ‘Two Seasons’. Layering the two seasons with the three locations meant the film is divided into six separate parts: Ganbaa visiting his homeland in spring; Nara’s homeland in spring; Bor and Bömbög’s homeland in spring, then again all three homelands in autumn. Although the inter-titles focus on just four main protagonists, the different homelands encompass many other knowledgeable individuals from different inter-connected herding families that I filmed within the project.

Filming within a multispecies context in a remote cross-cultural field location requires a form of both observational and participatory filmmaking. Participant observation requires time, embedded in context on location, but it also means that the filmmaker is there and attuned to situations when they happen to occur. Having already spent over a year in the Khangai Mountains ten years previously, it meant I could quickly reintegrate with families and an inherent trust, while new relationships could be formed through collaboration with Mongolians with an ongoing connection to their homeland.

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Devaka Premawardhana

Devaka returning to the district of his fieldwork, this time with Baraka

In 2010 while a doctoral student at Harvard University Devaka Premawardhana received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Sacrificial Exchanges: Pentecostal Conversions and Urban Migrations in Northern Mozambique,” supervised by Dr. Michael D. Jackson. In 2015 Dr. Premawardhana received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Displacement: A Seminar Series on Makhuwa Mobility”.

“Papá Baraka!”

I didn’t respond and kept on my walk.

“Oi! Papá Baraka!”

This time I turned around and saw the daughter of a good friend waving. I walked back toward her, apologizing for not knowing it was me she was calling. We exchanged greetings, asked after each other’s family, and then separated with promises for a later, longer visit.

I’m not the same person anymore, I thought to myself as I went back on my way. And I would need to get used to that.

In my year of fieldwork among a Makhuwa-speaking people of Mozambique, I was Devaka. Formally, at least. Those who knew me well called me Namanriya, the Makhuwa word for chameleon. “Vakhani vakhani ntoko namanriya,” say the Makhuwa (“slowly, slowly, like the chameleon”), an expression of admiration for the chameleon’s unique ability—not so much to change color as to walk slowly, deliberately, and at that pace to take in the margins with its laterally positioned eyes.

Baraka getting a taste of the joyous welcome his parents received

That year, I got around the district on a 50cc Lifo. It was my first time riding a motorbike, and I was riding on sandy, unpaved roads. So I never went fast. Hence, the nickname Namanriya: the chameleon who rides slowly, slowly—enough to receive greetings from those on the roadside and to reciprocate with a wave or a beep.

I was also slow in another respect. During that year of fieldwork, four years into our marriage, my wife and I were still without children. Our friends pitied us. Though we had access to more financial resources than all the village households put together, we were the poor ones. Prayers went up in the mosque and the church, and offerings were laid for ancestors—all for us to receive the blessing of fertility we had clearly been denied.

Two years later, back in the US, we received that blessing, and named him as such—Baraka. Less than a year after that, we returned to Mozambique, to bring Baraka to our friends, to present them the fruit of their ritual labor.

In so doing, my identity changed, and with it my name. No longer Devaka, and only rarely now Namanriya, I had become Papá Baraka. In this part of the world, the measure of a person, certainly the measure of one’s worth, is the quantity and quality of one’s relationships. And just as relationships change—due to births and deaths, comings and goings—so too does oneself change.

Devaka discussing research findings with Makhuwa intellectuals and collaborators

This principle of relationality is, in part, why it was so important to return to my field site with my newborn child, but also with a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology grant and its mandate to share the results of my initial field research with the communities that made it possible.

Over a five-week period in the summer of 2016, I was able to do just that, meeting with leading scholars in the nation’s preeminent university, with research collaborators in the district where I worked, and with interlocutors in the village where I lived.

At each site, the response was immediately of appreciation and respect. Because knowledge, like identity, is grounded in relationships, people were less impressed with my ability to display an understanding of “the Makhuwa” than with my willingness to return and resume the conversations begun many years earlier.

From each of the groups, I learned something new about my research, or something in need of correcting. With each of the groups, I began thinking about how to approach my second planned project. And to each of the groups, I reflected insights I learned into Makhuwa ways of knowing and being.

Specifically, I shared my analysis of Makhuwa mobility—a propensity for movements both physical and imaginative, a predilection for making fresh starts in new places, an ease and comfort with novelty and change. One aim of the Engaged Anthropology grant is to disseminate research results in a way that offers some benefit to those among whom research was conducted. It’s my hope that, by hearing an outsider articulate the tacit, practical knowledge with which the Makhuwa by and large live, those with whom I met will be even more equipped to cope with the significant constraints on physical movement they face in the context of neoliberal land confiscations and NGO-led development efforts.

This tacit, practical knowledge—the subject of my forthcoming book—is best described as a Makhuwa disposition toward mobility and change. It’s what makes those I lived with eager to partake in resettlement schemes—whether of the developmental state or of religious institutions—but reluctant to remain settled in them. For the Makhuwa, changing is a means of enduring, becoming is a mode of being, and converting is a way of life.

By returning to my field site as the parent of a child, I learned that what’s special about the Makhuwa is not only their capacity for regular transformations, but also their readiness to mark transformations in others, even in people like me prone to seeing themselves as consistent over time, as settled rather than shifting.

No longer Namanriya, my new name was Papá Baraka. My name had changed. I had changed. Maybe, after all, it was not just my slowness that warranted the nickname of chameleon. Maybe it was my capacity—a capacity I didn’t think I had until the Makhuwa made me see it—to change and to adapt, and thereby truly to live.