Archive for February, 2011

Double feature: Shifting ontologies, et la transformation de l’être

Posted in General Anthro, Melanesia, Mesoamerica, Torres Islands, Vanuatu on February 19, 2011 by salul

Vendredi 4 Mars, Salle du cinéma, Musée du Quai Branly

The transformation of ‘being’ and its implications for rituals of concealment and revelation in Mesoamerica

dans le colloque

Montrer/Occulter. Les actions de modifications de la visibilité dans des contextes rituels. Approches comparatives

organisé par le groupe de recherche « Ontologie des images, figuration et relations rituelles » (Insituto de Investigación Historicas / UNAM – MQB)

et le Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale (CNRS)



Shifting Ontologies in Melanesia and Mesoamerica.

Joint paper by C. Mondragon & Johannes Neurath

Magic Circle Seminar

Friday 11 March, 11AM Pier’s Vitebsky’s office

Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge


ABSTRACT for Shifting Ontologies:

This paper offers a comparative discussion about the ritual articulations between transformation and reciprocal exchange in two different culture regions – the Huichol of NW Mexico and the Torres Islands, Vanuatu. Our intention is to problematise the continuing notion that ritual practices are informed by stable, hence transcendental, ontological regimes. By contrast, we argue that ontologies do not stand in an isomorphic relationship to ‘culture’ and are best understood as the heterogeneous and dynamic products of creative action. We concentrate on two well-known ceremonial rituals from the so-called peripheries of Mesoamerica and Melanesia. In both cases we observe moments of uncertainty and shifts between contrasting, even irreconcilable, principles of existence and prescriptive value systems. Our field of comparison for both contexts is the tension between rituals acts of reciprocity (gifts) vs. transformation (‘free gifts’).

Quote of the Day, by Inga Clendinnen

Posted in Quotes on February 13, 2011 by salul

It might be true that humans are impervious to reason and compassion, and are therefore unredeemable. If they are, history is indeed “bunk”, because its intrinsic purpose is to increase the role of reason and compassion in this world.

“The History Question: Who Owns the Past?”, Quarterly Essay, No. 23, pg. 37.

(Note, full access to the text in that link is by paid subscription only)

Clendinnen is definitely one of my favourites: an Aussie historian who decided she could displace herself from her regional environment and ended up writing brilliant, innovative stuff on both Mayan AND Australian historical episodes of culture contact.

Updated link(s) relating to Rapa Nui controversy

Posted in General Anthro, Non-State Societies/Sociedades no-estatales, Oceania, Rapa Nui on February 10, 2011 by salul

From a very useful list that can be found on this page, along with a recent MA thesis from a Chilean student at the U. of Wellington who previously worked with the Governor of Easter Island.

Actually, the whole website set up by Indigenous Peoples’ Issues and Resources offers many potentially good sources in relation to  conflicts involving indigenous peoples the world over.

2nd International Workshop on Ecology and Time Systems in Australasia And the Americas

Posted in China, General Anthro, Oceania on February 6, 2011 by salul

Clockwise from left: Fred Damon, Wang Mingming, Matthew Prebbles, Henry Chan, Ana Díaz, Yang Qingmei

The 2nd International Workshop on Ecology and Time Systems in Australasia And the Americas: New Approaches to Value Systems and Calendrical Transformations across the Pacific Rim was held on the campus of Beijing University between January 12 and January 14 of this year. The first Workshop was held on the campus of the University of Virginia in early 2009.

The idea behind the conference is that anthropological approaches to the cultural construction of time need to be enriched by a comparative perspective that heightens the uniqueness of specific cultures, and, importantly, which is sensitive to radically different ways of experiencing and representing temporality.  The group considered and compared calendars and other ways of organizing temporality in China, Borneo, Bali, several places in what anthropologists call Melanesia, and the complex time systems found in traditional Mesoamerican and Andean societies.

Slide from M. Prebbles presentation

The social systems studied in the Workshop are defined by their location around the broader Pacific Ocean region, relatively recent or more distant flows of cultural history across this area, and by the similarities or differences in their respective productive systems (rice, maize, tubers) and ecological settings. China’s cultural history, for example, parallels that of the cultures that occupy Southeast Asia and others extending into Melanesia and Polynesia.

The historical flow here probably started from southeastern China upwards of 6000 years ago, so these places have common routes.  And while Southeast Asia extending to Eastern Indonesia maintained contact with China over this time span, these cultures developed various different time systems. The Workshop addressed the question of how we account for these differences. Arguably the different ways these areas relate to the monsoonal winds and what is now called ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation) play a role in the respective organizations of temporality.

Participating scholars, listed here, came from the United States, Mexico, Australia, Malyasia and China. For the final publication we expect contributions from people from England, France and Italy who participated in the 1st Workshop at UVa.

Person Institution
Helmer Aslaksen Mathematics Dept, National U of Singapore
Henry Chan Manager,
Environmental Impact Assessment and Social Initiatives,Sarawak Forestry Corporation, MALAYSIA
Fred Damon Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Ana Díaz Mexican National Anthropology Museum
J. Stephen Lansing Department of Anthropology, U of Arizona, Santa Fe Institute/Sr Research Fellow, Stockholm Resilience Centre
Xueting Liu MA in anthropology at Beida; graduate student
Carlos Mondragón El Colegio De México
Matthew Prebble Archaeological  Post-Doc Research Fellow, School of Culture, History & Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, ANU
Mingming Wang Peking University, and CMU Beijing
Qingmei Yang Postdoctoral fellow at Institute of Sociology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

The Workshop was supported by the National Science Foundation (USA), the University of Virginia, El Colegio de México, the China Center for Sociological and Development Studies, and The Chinese Review of Anthropology.

From left: Mondragón, Prebbles, Díaz, Lansing, Damon, Aslaksen.

Spare a thought for the Torres Islands

Posted in Torres Islands on February 2, 2011 by salul

Cyclone Yasi this past weekend, shortly after having passed directly over the Torres group, North Vanuatu. Click to enlarge.


Photo: NASA (MODIS instrument on EOS satellites)

And here is another image, taken about a half a day after the one above, in which the storm is clearly on its way to becoming a monster.

(Belated note: for some reason I originally wrote the name down as cyclone Yunis…I don’t know what was going through my head…)