cultural anthropology

Traditional beliefs promote sustainability in West Africa

Sacred forests and traditional beliefs are shaping sustainable farming practices in communities in West Africa, according to new research.

Scientists from Lancaster Environment Centre  carried out a unique 18-month study in Liberia, examining the traditional agriculture of the Loma people where farmers do not use industrial farming practices or artificial fertilisers. They found sacred forests and ancestral lands were valued more than short-term economic gain through increasing food production.  

Lancaster researchers calculated that their food production method, which involves farmers planting crops in fertile man-made soil known as ‘anthropogenic dark earth’, has twice the energy efficiency of either ‘slash and burn’ rice production and hunting and gathering.

[Read More at Lancaster University] [Science Direct Article]


An Ancient and Sacred Tradition: ‘Honey Hunters of Nepal’

In 1987, award winning French photographer and director Éric Valli  and his Australian wife Diane Summers (acting as filmmaker) documents Gurung tribesmen of west-central Nepal bi-yearly harvest of wild honey. 

The Gurung tribesmen of Nepal are master honey hunters, risking their lives collecting honeycomb in the foothills of the Himalayas, using nothing more than handmade rope ladders and long sticks known as tangos.  Up to a dozen men are drafted in to support the hunter or ‘kuiche’ [1]

Before a hunt can commence the honey hunters are required to perform a ceremony to placate the cliff gods. This involves sacrificing a sheep, offering flowers, fruits and rice, and praying to the cliff gods to ensure a safe hunt. [2]

The Himalayan honey bee (apis laborious) is the world’s largest honey bee, that builds their nests anywhere from 8,200 to 15,000 feet (2,500m to 4572m) into the air and each nest can yield as much as 130 pounds (59kg) of honey.

But now both the number of bees and traditional honey hunters are in rapid decline as a result of increased commercial interests and climate change. With funding from the Austrian government, the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is addressing problems arising from commercialization of honey hunting and the impact of tourism through the Himalayan Honeybees project. Coordinators of the project aim to work with traditional honey hunters to preserve their sustainable harvesting techniques.[3]

  • Honey Hunters of Nepal near Lamjung - video link
  • Honey Hunters of Nepal (104 pages) available on Amazon
  • BBC Natural World - Wild Honey Hunters (full length documentary)
  • Listening to your inner voice: Eric was a cabinet maker and Diane was a lawyer, and both went to Nepal on separate occasions for different reasons. Nepal had a strong pull for Diane, her intuition urged her to go there.  She left her job as a lawyer, and set out on her journey.  Then through a series of coincidences she met husband to be Eric. They have left the beaten track to open their own trail, and they have a message for those who live and work in other walks of life. Their message is one of courage, of pride, of existential fulfillment, and last but not least, of stress tolerance and conflict, because that is what creativity and leadership is all about. [4]

photos:©eric valli. all rights reserved.


These are Naga head trophies. The Naga are term referring to a conglomeration of ethnicities and tribes indigenous to north-eastern India and north-western Burma. In older times, before the intrusion of more modern values and ideas, they practiced headhunting and saw the skulls of enemies as trophies, carrying significance and status. They embellished the skulls into intricate pieces of art, as seen in these photographies.

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Subsistence Methods and Economy

Note: Stories, facts, and information provided here are not meant as encouragements for writers to simply insert into their works. Additional research may be needed. They should only be used as inspiration and to help with understanding how cultures are put together. Please use this knowledge to inform your own culture creations without full appropriation. Find the rest of the series here.

This post goes hand-in-hand with the previous post on Evolutionary Typologies of Civilizations.

Last time, we discussed the four basic categories anthropologists use to classify cultures: bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and states. Peoples using the band or tribe structure styles are frequently referred to as traditional cultures while chiefdoms and state-type structures (those with centralized government) are referred to as complex cultures. These terms are not meant in any way to reflect the actual complexity of cultures, but came into being in the early 1900s during the birth of anthropology as observations. Cultures with centralized governments are characteristic of larger settlements, which by their nature require more organization, thus considered more complex.

All political correctness aside, let’s talk about some of the things mentioned in the last post, namely subsistence methods. This term refers to how cultures choose to acquire their food. In the last post, terms like horticulture, sedentism, and nomadic movement were thrown around, but let’s talk about what those mean and why a culture would use them.

Foragers: Characterized by a dependence on naturally occurring sources of food. Foragers are food collectors, not food producers. 99% of hominid existence has been spent this way. Modern foragers are found in areas of marginal agricultural potential, and they have evolved and continued to change over the years. Here are some general characteristics (tendencies, not absolutes) of foraging peoples:

  • live on low energy budgets
  • live in small groups of related persons (bands)
  • informal, consensual decision-making
  • egalitarian (equal across gender and status) social relations
  • size and composition of groups influenced by resource availability and social tensions
  • mobility as a way of adapting to resource fluctuation (i.e., bring people to food rather than the other way around)

Horticulture: Refers to garden cultivation, a non-intensive planting based on cyclical and non-continuous use of crop lands. Horticulturalists primarily rely on domesticated foods, especially the region’s staple crop, though can be supplemented by hunting, fishing, and gathering. This method of subsistence is most often found in the humid tropics. There are huge differences between horticulture (small-scale) and agriculture (large-scale):

  • horticulture does not make intensive use of land, labor, capital, or machinery. It uses simple tools like digging sticks, hoes, and machetes.
  • Horticulture utilizes polyculture, also called multi-cropping, or the planting of different crops in the same field, is common. Crop rotation, or the use of multiple fields and switching what is grown in which field in order to maximize the use of nutrient in the soil, as well as allowing a plot to be left fallow for a period of time, is combined with slash and burn techniques which entails cutting down the natural growth in the fallow field, then burning it to return a fresh layer of nutrients to the soil.
  • Horticulture provides a relatively low crop yield per acre of land due to the use of simple techniques and the general lack of techniques to improve productivity. Horticultural methods require much more land due to this.
  • Horticulture allows for household self-sufficiency. Each household is usually capable of producing most of the food its members need. The production goal is for consumption rather than producing a surplus for trade.
  • Both horticulture and agriculture are based on highly detailed environmental knowledge.

Pastoralism: This does not refer to the literary movement of the same name, but instead of animal husbandry and the reliance on herds of domesticated animals. While a primarily old word adaptive strategy, it is still practiced among today’s traditional cultures. The types of animals which are herded depends upon the environment. A few common breeds are cattle, sheep, goats, camels, llama & alpaca, reindeer, yak, etc..Like foraging, pastoralism is usually found in areas of marginal agricultural content such as the semi-arid grasslands of East and West Africa, the deserts of the Middle East, and the mountainous regions of Southwest and Central Asia. Pastoralism enables the utilization of land where agriculture is impossible or too risky. A society’s sole specialization in pastoralism is relatively rare, though it can be seen among the Maasai of East Africa and the Fulani of West Africa. Most pastoralists engage in some cultivation or trade animal produce for agricultural commodities from sedentary farmers (those who stay in one place). For pastoralists, mobility is the key to success. A move may be triggered by a number of things, including:

  • ecological necessities such as new grazing lands or additional water supplies
  • political factors such as the desire to maintain tribal autonomy (self-governing)
  • personal considerations such as when conflict threatens a camp so families move to join another group
     There are two types of movement: horizontal migration which is regular movement over large areas in search of foraging materials; and transhumance, a seasonal movement of livestock between upland and lowland pastures. Transhumance is regularly practiced in mountainous regions where higher ground may become too cold in the winter, and lower ground too hot in the summer.
    Pastoralists often mix species in herds to reduce the risk of loss to disease, drought, and raiding in the same way a gardener today will plant multiple types of trees to avoid losing all their trees should one type become infested with a plague or disease. Different animals will have different feeding habits, as well, allowing for some of the animals to find food anywhere along their route. There is also the more common consideration that different animals will produce different products. Small stock commonly provide meat while larger stock will provide milk.
     In his 1924 article entitled “The East African Cattle Complex,” Melvill Herskovits discussed the relationship between herders and their herds, which has sometimes been misinterpreted as an irrational, emotional attachment to the animals. For pastoralists, livestock are more than utilitarian beasts and perform various functions including as part of bride wealth, blood wealth, and stock partnerships. Harold K. Schneider, an economic anthropologist who spent his fieldwork among the Pokot of Kenya and the Wahi Wanyaturu of Tanzania asserted that livestock were frequently regarded as a form of currency. Pastoralist views on livestock matched many of the qualities that economists attribute to money: portable, divisible, interest-bearing, and constitute a store of wealth as well as a means of exchange.
     Herds are usually owned by families or kinship groups, but the grazing territory is held collectively by the tribe. Today, necessity has forced many pastoralist groups to engage in market exchanges with members of neighboring societies. These market exchanges have been the means of transitioning from pastoralism to a sedentary, settled lifestyle.

How does this help a writer? Once you’ve decided the environment, the next step in culture building is population, subsistence, with political structure closely following. Your culture’s subsistence method is intrinsically tied to the environment they’re existing in. You’re not going to have a foragers in places where agriculture is better suited. But you’re also not going to have agriculture where the soil is bad, or they have no trade partners and therefore no need for a surplus. That’s where horticulture would come in. Knowing a bit about a few of the types of subsistence methods out there will help you think through why your culture does what they do.

We’ll talk about political structuring in future posts.

Sure-fire Anthropologist Pick-Up Lines

Hey Baby, I wanna see your bedrock!

Let’s pretend you’re full of  C14 so I can date you.

Baby, you must have time distortion powers because you’are turning me into Homo Erectus!

Would you like to examine my bone?

What a nice pair of platform mounds you got there!

Wanna extract some minerals from my bone?

Let’s forget the carbon and move straight to the dating!

Hey baby, Can I probe your moist area?

My, my you are a special find.

Are you an excavation site?  Because I dig you.

I’m a linguistic anthropologist, may i study your tongue?

Hey baby, I wanna go down today… about 10 centimeters.

Fancy rimming my sherd?

Hey baby, can i use my GPR on you?

I sure would like to calibrate your curves.

Baby you’re more precious than an artifact!

Wanna share a trench?

I would never bury our love in a coniferous forest, because the acidity of the soil would ruin any chance of preservation.

So, wanna get dirty?

I’d like to excavate your site.

You know, you really match my culturally constructed beauty standard !

Care to shine my trowel?

You like petrology? Well, check out this cleavage!

Would you like to see my totem ?

Come here and let me demonstrate how to shovel probe.

My, what a large ranging pole you have!

Hey baby, could i have a look at your artifacts?

Can I excavate your mounds?

Hey, I’ve just discovered a bone in my pants, and I was wondering if you could date it.

Hey baby, can I survey your features ?

I find your culture fascinating…I’d like to learn more about your mating rituals.

Can I touch your tanglible heritage?

Is that an increment borer in your pocket or are you happy to see me?

Wow, and all this time I thought nothing was sexier than archaeometry!

Did it hurt when you fell from your culture’s dogmatic view of an afterlife?

Let’s have a debate. I’ll be a cultural relativist, and you assume the missionary position.

If I told you that you had some nice secondary sex characteristics, would you hold them against me?

You remind me of the Kennewick Man, I’d do anything to claim you for my own.

Baby, your hotness is a social fact!

I like your hotspot.

Baby, I’ve got a huge grant !


Sabrida Shing (2007) Kathmandu, Nepal - “Holy Men Series" by New York-based Canadian photographer and filmmaker Joey L

"One of the few rare women to take on the the task of becoming a Sadhvi.  She has not cut her hair since her husband died, making the ends of the dreadlocks (jata) over 10 years old at the time the photograph was taken."

The Sanskrit terms sādhu (“good man”) and sādhvī (“good woman”) is a religious ascetic who’s solely dedicated to achieving mokṣa (liberation), the fourth and final aśrama (stage of life), by renouncing their formal way of life and focusing on their own spiritual growth thru meditation and prayer.  They live without ties to family, social obligations, or worldly wealth.  They often wear saffron-colored clothing, symbolizing their sanyāsa (renunciation) and cover themselves with ash or chalk, and paint their faces with a tilak in accordance with the deity they have devoted themselves to. The ash represents their death to their worldly life – in fact, many of them are required to attend their own funeral as part of their holy training.

photos:©Joey L.all rights reserved

  • Joey L. offers tutorials of the photoshoots he’s done - here
  • "If you want to MAKE it as a photographer you may want watch this interview with JOEY L."- video link

Race to be scrapped from Swedish legislation

The Swedish government announced that it plans to remove all mentions of race from Swedish legislation, saying that race is a social construct which should not be encouraged in law. The concept of race is included in around 20 Swedish laws, including criminal code, student financial aid laws, and credit information laws. On Thursday the Swedish government began an investigation into how to remove the concept from all legislation, as has been done in Austria and Finland.

Read More Here

& Here

Do you tumblr anthropologists agree with the Swedish Government? Should the concept of race be eradicated from legislation? 

What can I do with an Anthropology degree

"What can you do with an anth degree?"…everything.

I am constantly seeing posts in the the anth tag about how anth students will never have a career other than being a prof… .um no.

If you are in your final years of your degree and you still don’t know what you can do with an anth degree then you are not communicating with your profs/chair of dept enough. Or maybe you haven’t thought about it? 

Here is an extensive list of what you can do with your anth degree…

In Education
• teaching
• curriculum design and planning
• multiculturalism heritage curricular materials
• museum exhibitions & educational programs

In Health Care
• disease control
• delivery of health knowledge
• rapid assessment of disease outbreaks
• disaster planning and intervention
• cross-cultural health research
• cultural sensitivity training and research in health care

In Development
• globalization issues
• environments issues
• NGOs, UN agencies

In Government
• foreign affairs (e.g. Foreign Service Officer)
• justice (e.g. expert witness)
• immigration
• First Nations affairs
• multiculturalism heritage policies
• social services
• CIDA and other foreign aid

In Business
• technical writing
• journalism (e.g. reporting, writing, editing)
• advertising (e.g. copywriting)
• publishing (e.g. copyediting)
• market research (e.g. international markets)
• human relations
• intercultural communications expert

In Academia
• anthropology
• cultural geography
• cultural studies
• health sciences
• social work 

Careers in Archaeology

In Museums
• administration
• exhibition curation
• collection management
• artifact conservation
• archive management

In Governmet • cultural resource management • historic resource planning • multiculturalism & heritage issues • First Nation Affairs • environmental impact assessment • Parks Canada • federal land management • cultural resource management   In Business • cultural resource management • consulting • public/salvage archaeology     - for engineering firms     - for environmental resource assessment firms     - for cultural resource assessment firms • journalism (e.g. reporting, writing, editing) • technical writing

In Academia
• anthropology
• classical archaeology
• historical archaeology
• human geography

Careers in Biological or Physical Anthropology

In culture history museums
• outreach & educational programs
• exhibition curation
• collections management

In zoological gardens
• primate care and management
• primate conservation

In the public sector
• First Nation affairs
• policy making in the area of environmental
impact (re: primates)
• forensics – medico-legal investigations
- human rights investigations
• cultural resources management

In industry
• applied anthropometry
• human engineering
• biomechanics
• ergonomics
• scientific writing

In health related fields
• epidemiology
• human adaptation
• history of disease
• nutrition
• genetics counseling

In academia (research & teaching)
• anthropology (biological anthropology)
• Bioarchaeology
• evolutionary anthropology/human paleontology
• forensic anthropology
• kinesiology – biomechanics
• gross anatomy

Careers in Linguistics

In Education
• teaching, languages, tesol, literacy
• curriculum design and planning
• language and literacy policies
• museum exhibitions & educational programs

In Health Sciences
• speech pathology
• audiology
• speech analysis / forensic linguistics

In Computational Linguistics
• speech recognition programming
• multilingual programming & translation
• corpus linguistics (e.g. concordancing programs)
• computer-assisted linguistic analysis

In Government
• foreign affairs
• justice (e.g. courtroom interpreting)
• immigration
• First Nations affairs

In Publishing
• translation
• technical writing
• lexicography

In Business
• technical writing
• toy industry
• literacy in the workplace
• advertising
• telephone companies (Bell Canada)

In Academia
• anthropology (anthropological linguistics)
• computer science (computational linguistics)
• language departments
    - French, German, etc. linguistics
    - English (Old English, Middle English)
• psychology (psycholinguistics)
• writing

-Lakehead University

From the aaanet site…

Contract Archaeologist
Corporate Analyst
Corporate Anthropologist
Educational Planner
Forensic Specialist
Government Analyst
High School Teacher
Medical Researcher
Museum Curator
Park Ranger
Peace Corps Staffer
Social Worker
Technical Writer
University Administrator

Do you have an anth degree? What are you doing for your career??

How To Avoid Cultural Appropriation 101

Learning about different cultures is fun and interesting. Cultural anthropologists even struggle with avoiding this on a daily basis. That’s why there’s constant discourse in the anthropological world on how to write humanistic, culturally sensitive ethnographies. 

But sometimes, you want to join your Hindu friends in Diwali, learn about Gudiparan bazi from your Afghan neighbors, or observe St. Lucia with your Swedish in-laws. It’s fascinating to learn about something new. It’s understandable.

So how do you celebrate these traditions without tiptoeing into cultural appropriation? Well, don’t celebrate it without expressed invitation or permission from the people. Don’t assume you know or understand more about its history, meaning, symbols than the actual people. Don’t speak for the people. And, most importantly of all, don’t ever try to take meanings of a culture and try to separate them. Those rituals are heavily embedded with history and meaning. Don’t ever fucking do that.

"No worries, I won’t do that. I adore the meanings behind those symbols and celebrations. In fact, I want a tattoo of it."

No. Just no. I’m sure certain individuals within the culture would be fine with it, but let’s err on the side of safety and say, no. Why? Because it’s extremely easy for that symbol to lose it’s meaning. To you, it may mean a great deal. You may actually understand the symbolic meaning behind it perfectly. But to someone else, they may just see the symbol and not the symbolism. There’s also a shitton of history behind those symbols you probably want tattoo’d on you. There might be rituals involved. I know, if I saw a non-east asian person with a fucking Chinese dragon tattoo, I want to scream. Or a lotus tattoo. There’s a lot of history and meaning and by putting it on your foreign body, it takes that away and is just purely for “aesthetics.” If it is on the actual body of the person who is in that culture, that’s a different story because that is their identity. That’s their identity to claim and embrace, not yours.

"Okay, but I want to properly visit a shrine. Can I wear the traditional garb?"

No. No you may not. Too much has this been abused. You’re only a person experiencing that moment for a short amount of time. You’re not ever going to experience it the rest of your life. You can go to the shrine and learn about it and try to experience it. But you will, and can never, get the full experience because part of that experience is being a member of that identity. Wearing the traditional garb will not help. It may make you feel closer to the identity, but it’s just clothes that you can slip into for a moment and slip out of. The people from that culture cannot slip into their cultural identity and slip out of it. 

"Okay, I understand that. But my Balinese friends invited me to go to the Galungan festival with them. Can I?"

Yes, yes you may. You thought I was gonna say no to everything right? I was tempted to. Always listen to the people within the culture. Be extra aware that you’re not within the culture, that you’re an outsider. There’s very few spaces where one can celebrate one’s own culture. If you’re lucky enough to experience a taste of it, by all means go and learn. Learn about their history, the meaning behind it, the people, their struggles, their folklore, their triumphs. Let them talk. Let them show you what they’re comfortable showing you. Let them invite you to rituals only they’re comfortable with inviting you. Don’t ever try to speak for them about their own culture. Don’t ever try to take something from their culture out of it. Do only what your friends are willing to let you do. Be willing to apologize should you say or do anything insensitive. Be willing to learn. Enjoy it, but just know and stay aware that you’re an outsider.

—- Most importantly of all ——

Whether or not you’ve travelled outside the country, if you are doing something belonging to a different culture, you are a tourist. You can view and aww and appreciate its beauty and meanings and learn more about it, but you are only a tourist in that culture. You are not, and can never be a member of it. You can never have others identify or associate you to that culture. You can never have the history, injustices, prejudices, etc of that culture put on you. You can never have the negative impacts of that culture put on you. All you can do, is appreciate the positives and spin it to your own comfort. And that’s not fair and insensitive to those who are within that culture and have to live with both the positives and negatives. That is disrespectful. That is why, you can’t celebrate many parts of another’s culture unless you are invited by said people. Because unlike those within those culture, you can take off the culture when you’re done. They cannot.

It is their identity. Not yours. You’re always a tourist.


Dances of Life (Maori excerpt)-

"My people, the Maori, arrived by canoe in the islands of Aotearoa, or New Zealand, just 1,200 years ago. Dance is part of our everyday life. It’s our way of carrying our culture into the future.” 

The Haka (plural is the same as singular: haka) is a traditional ancestral war cry, dance or challenge from the Māori people ofNew Zealand. It is a posture dance performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment.[1] The New Zealand rugby team’s practice of performing a haka before their matches has made the dance more widely known around the world.

Source: Wikipedia