anthro in the news 11/9/2015

 

Enset is a survivor when other plants die. credit: DW/J. Brewer

A traditional African food crop is money in the bank

An article in Deutsche Welle described the importance of enset, a staple crop in parts of Ethiopia, in the past and future, given the effects of climate change in the region.  Endemic to Ethiopia, the plant has been cultivated there for more than 7,000 years. Often called the “false banana” because of its similarity to the banana tree, it can withstand droughts as well as heavy rains. The article quotes Gebre Ynitso, associate professor in the department of social anthropology at Addis Ababa University: “[As a child] I would play hide-and-go seek in the dense enset plantation.” He helped his parents transplant the enset and made toys out of its roots. He and his fellow villagers tended the towering plant and harvested its roots and leaves for food and collected its fibers to weave into hats, sacks, and mattresses. “No part of the plant went to waste…One of the unique qualities of the enset is that it will always be around as a backup plan,” he said. “It’s like money in the bank.”

 


Cultural context of mental illness

The New York Times published an op-ed by cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann, Watkins University Professor at Stanford University. She writes about how cultural context affects definitions of mental illness in Chicago, the U.S., and Chennai, India. From her perspective as an American, she notes: “If psychotic homelessness were an easy problem to solve, we would have already done so. But we aren’t going to do so until we recognize that the streets in different places have their own cultures. To reach the people who need our help we need to understand what it means to be crazy in their world.” Luhrmann highlights the work of a local NGO in Chennai, called The Banyan, which is help homeless women and their families.

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Anthro in the news 1/26/15

  • Political cartooning

The Business Standard (India) carried a review of a new book on political cartooning in India by cultural anthropologist Ritu Khanduri, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Texas at Arlington, College of Liberal Arts. Understanding what makes political caricature funny to some but not to others is critical today, says the author in an interview. Her book, Caricaturing Culture in India: Cartoons and History in the Modern World, traces India’s political history through political caricatures.

Khanduri comments:  “As a visual reaction to events, cartoons have the ability to reflect as well as shape public opinion. “They’re complex images with layers of sub-textual meaning. Understanding what makes them funny to some but not to others is what we need to understand, especially in our present times.”

  • Changing views on dating and marriage in Oman

Newsweek reported on changing patterns of finding a spouse in Oman where mixing between genders is limited. Marrying for love was rare just 20 years ago in Oman, and arranged matches were the norm, with minimal contact between a couple before their wedding. Oil wealth, globalization, and higher education have transformed the country since Sultan Qaboos bin Said seized power from his father in 1970. A survey of 921 Omanis aged 18 to 60, found that 83% were against arranged marriage. More than a love marriage, young Omanis want a “compatible marriage.” Many young people are looking for partners at university, at work or on social media. Social media offers a discreet ways for young men and women to connect.

Similar changes are happening in the neighboring United Arab Emirates, says Jane Bristol-Rhys, associate professor of anthropology at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. Exposure to other cultures – whether through television, the Internet, or direct contact with foreigners – has influenced ideas about what a good marriage should look like. “They’re not living in a vacuum here, and they know there are other choices,” Bristol-Rhys says.

  • Rethinking mental illness

Cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in which she comments in depth on a “remarkable document” from the British Psychological Society, “Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia”. Its authors say that hearing voices and feeling paranoid are common experiences, and are often a reaction to trauma, abuse or deprivation: “Calling them symptoms of mental illness, psychosis or schizophrenia is only one way of thinking about them, with advantages and disadvantages.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 1/26/15”

Anthro in the news 4/21/14

• In Boston, after the bombs

An article in The Boston Globe explored the experiences of Muslims in Boston following the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Fortunately, an anti-Muslim backlash did not occur.

Islamic Society of Boston headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.
Islamic Society of Boston/Wikipedia

The article quotes Nancy Khalil, a doctoral candidate in social anthropology at Harvard: Years ago, she remembered “trying to explain who we really are, in these really anxious, tense meetings” with Jewish leaders, who were then trying to reconcile their desire for better interfaith relations with their communities’ concerns about a mosque founder’s anti-Semitic statements and alleged extremist ties.

“It was an unbelievable moment for me, and it was really indicative of the type of relationships that we now have across institutions and across communities,” Khalil said. “Because it wasn’t just the leaders being welcoming … It was everybody in that temple being welcoming. And that Muslims were comfortable staying there and mingling afterwards, that was telling.”

• U.S. evangelical churches reach out to save minds as well as souls

In an op-ed in The New Times, Tanya Luhrmann, Watkins University professor of cultural anthropology at Stanford University, writes about some movement in U.S. evangelical churches moving into the area of mental illness.

Rick Warren speaks at the 2006 TED conference
Rick Warren at TED, 2006/Wikipedia

She notes the pastor Rick Warren, whose son committed suicide one year ago after struggling with depression. Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church, one of the nation’s largest evangelical churches, teamed up with his local Roman Catholic Diocese and the National Alliance on Mental Illness for an event that announced a new initiative to involve the church in the care of serious mental illness.

According to Luhrmann, the churches are not trying to supplant traditional mental health care but instead complement it: “When someone asks, Should I take medication or pray?” one speaker remarked, “I say, ‘yes.’”

Members of the churches think there are not enough services available. Further, many people do not turn to the services that exist because of the social stigma. [Blogger’s note: In other words: all hands on deck to help fight mental health problems. And heads up to the health care system to do more and do better work and try to address the stigma problem.]

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