3.4.2003 by , every Tuesday.
I'm back from America. It was fun, America. Rather than chew your ears off with the story of my bus trip (which would be extremely long and involve way too much Nebraska), I think I'll post it elsewhere and maybe link to it here in case anyone is curious. Instead, here is a story I wrote about my discipline of choice. It's pretty much a critique of about eight things I find wrong with anthropology, but I think it still makes a neat story even if you don't know anything about the field. And yes, the natives are supposed to be stereotypical. I hope you like it!
See you next Tuesday.
It was with great curiosity that I entered the quaint Te tribal court-house on the wee hours of the morning. I had been invited to serve as a judge in a most interesting case that pitted the Te against an intolerant colonial government, one that sought to alter fundamental aspects of Te culture, and one that resolutely ignored the most sacred doctrine held by us anthropologists, that of Cultural Relativism.
A loin-clothed, feather-crowned Te minister motioned for me to sit in a rickety chair before the Te King, Rastipoole. His Highness was in full regalia, right down (or rather up) to the three nose-piercings and the ceremonial jade discs in his earlobes. With great solemnity he winked one eye and bowed his head to me.
"Rastipoole," I acknowledged, feeling a warm satisfaction as I skillfully returned the ritual gesture. In competant Te, I asked, "How may I be of service? Please detail the case to me."
Rastipoole spoke with total authority. "Professor," he said, "it seems the government wishes to bring an end to another of our tribal customs, the F'kreth."
"Foolish government!" I said angrily. "Forgive me though, I do not believe I recall the workings of the F'kreth."
"The holy F'kreth involves fasting, rituals, and, of course, the gruesome killing and consumption of twenty three of the neighboring Klee people."
I blinked. "I see."
Rastipoole crossed his mighty arms against his bare chest. "Is this not interfering in our cultural practices?" he asked. "This is an outrage. The F'kreth serves to bind us together and to reinforce social roles, as well as to clear some land for colonization by our peoples."
I wagged my hand to fan my face, which was growing rapidly warm in the humid jungle climate. My anthropological mind was working like a computer. Ritualistic killings are unacceptable, but I was unsure of how to provide an answer in coherent Te while making sure I did not authorize slaughter.
Suddenly the solution came to me, and I almost laughed at my own brilliance! "Rastipoole," I said, "Do the Klee wish to be killed?"
"Of course not, Professor. Have you gone mad?" Rastipoole laughed heartily.
"Well then, you old dog," I said affectionately, "Surely we must accept Klee cultural beliefs that include the premise, 'We do not believe we should be killed.'"
Rastipoole clapped his hands in appreciation of my cleverness. Then his eyes narrowed. "Professor," he said, "the warriors will not accept this position. It will seem as if you or I am siding with the colonials."
"I agree, but I am absolutely convinced that you must stand firm," I said resolutely.
"Indeed," continued Rastipoole, "and still they will not be content. Yet we must maintain our culture to the best of our ability, must we not, professor?"
"So I've taught you," I said, still feeling rather bright. "And, although I may seem to side with the government in this particular case, my only wish is to take whatever steps I must to ensure the continuation of your culture."
"Indeed. We must not kill the Klee." The king leaned forward and looked me straight in the eye. His face held a sudden cunning that I was quite unprepared for.
"I'm afraid you will have to do," he said.