Tag: Anthropology

July 28 2005

It is interesting to find two political systems that are so distinctly different from one another while certain aspects of these systems are so incredibly alike. The tonowi of the Kapauku from western New Guinea is the title given to a political leader. He has considerable power and influence over the people, and though it might seem that this is where the similarity to our political leaders ends, this is not the case. The manner in which the tonowi acquires power is strikingly similar to the way our members of higher offices do, and though each society deals with the issue in their own way, the underlying social implications are practically the same.

As far as culture, political organization, and economics is concerned, the Kapauku and Americans could almost be considered opposites. Yet they share a common ideal that we Americans apparently hold, and that is that wealth equals power. Though we may not like to admit it, nor do we want to accept it, those with the money make most of the rules in the United States. Just look at the last two candidates for president.

With the Kapauku, wealth is also an important factor when it comes to choosing leadership. The name tonowi literally means the “rich one” (Haviland, 330), a no-nonsense approach to what is important to the Kapauku. The male (and only a male) who wishes to become tonowi must have many of the characteristics we ideally seek in a president, such as charm, eloquence, and generosity. The more impressive characteristics such as bravery are not required, but would definitely be considered a plus. The most important thing to the Kapauku, however, is generosity. The rich can not stay rich without giving some back to the community. Though I would argue that this is a necessity of a great American leader, it does not necessarily mean that this has been the case, but that is a whole other issue.

Though they officially achieve power in different ways, the effect is the same. Tonowi grow rich and popular enough that they are able to loan money to people, which gives them a certain level of political capital over them (Haviland, 330). Our presidents are elected to office, which is an entirely different sociological dynamic. Most similarly, public opinion can turn on the tonowi or the president, leaving them without their previous status and level of power.

List of Works Cited:
Haviland, William A. (2002). Cultural Anthropology (10th edition)

July 28 2005

Perhaps not surprisingly, our male-dominated world has often marginalized women when it came to positions of power. The reasons for this are almost always based in our cultural expectations of women, which has been tolerant at best and despicable more often than not. Women have been forced to be resourceful, and it has been proven that some have had more political influence than a cynic might believe. Some cultures even supported women’s rights in the political arena, though they often only had power within their gender-specific sphere (Haviland, 338).

In a vast majority of cases, societies tend to be male-dominated or overtly masculine. Biologically, this can be explained from our days when our species was physically disproportionate; males were typically larger and more aggressive, while females tended to be smaller and more submissive. However, this was at the dawn of our species, tens of thousands of generations ago. Long ago our increasingly-arbitrary differences began to equalize to the point where they are now no longer relevant. Proof of this comes in the form of the women’s liberation movement, something that has never been possible on a scale as this. Now there are women throughout the world actively participating in, and even heading, political organizations.

Though most women have experienced inequality, they have not been completely excluded from political influence, even in cultures that are strictly male-dominated. Those that do assume positions of power are often forced to adopt the qualities that men find admirable in order to succeed politically. And then there are married women, who often have subtle or powerful control over their husbands. Some of these men may have considerable political influence, and to say their wives opinions have been completely thrown out throughout history might be too hasty an assumption.

Some cultures even have a relatively gender-equal political system, such as the Igbo of Nigeria. For a long time their culture was a “dual-sex” system, whereby the two sexes shared political power (Haviland, 337). They did not, however, share the same political power, unlike in an ideal democracy. The women were highly active and influential in their sphere of influence, while the men were equally active and influential in their sphere. This did not put emphasis on either sex, even though they were essentially segregated. But once the British colonization began throughout the region, they imposed their political structure on the Igbo. Because it removed the dual nature of their previous system, it elevated the males to the dominant role in politics, forever altering the structure of Igbo society.

List of Works Cited:
Haviland, William A. (2002). Cultural Anthropology (10th edition)

July 26 2005

For the past half century or more, the ideal of a family in the United States was the nuclear family. Though the definition has changed somewhat to be more inclusive, it has not changed the fundamental nature of it. Ideal though it may seem, there are drawbacks to this type of family, which has likely led to its steady decline in popularity.

The image we typically have when we think of the nuclear family is a smiling husband, returning from a hard day’s work; a smiling wife, wearing her apron and holding a freshly-baked pie; and a young boy and girl, taking just enough time from their homework to look up and smile at the camera. Though this ideal became the norm in the middle of the last century, it was too restrictive of an idea to completely consume the whole nation, especially considering the wide variety of circumstances Americans encounter in life. As time progressed, its definition was slightly redefined to include any man, with any woman, with any number of children, living in a single household. Though this was more inclusive and accurate, it changed nothing about the fundamental aspects of nuclear families.

The initial appeal of a nuclear family was, to many, self-evident. The man of the household would spend a full day at work, the woman would spend a full day working on the home, and it would allow the family time in the evenings to focus on activities that would bring them closer. Also, since the U.S. was hardly concerned with agricultural concerns, many nuclear families had to be able to move when the jobs moved. A nuclear family, with the dominance seated firmly in the bread-winning male, would have relatively little financial difficultly making the move. With so much dependence on the head of the household to provide, it brought the family as a unit closer together, making it possible for them fend for themselves as a group. With a clearly-defined hierarchy and its ability to work as a single entity, it is clear why the traditional nuclear family was long considered ideal to many in the U.S. and Canada.

But all of these positive traits ignore several glaring problems. First of all, most of these advantages are dependent on the idea that the family be subservient to the male head of the household. He must also be able to consistently provide for three or more people, technically forever. In a real modern household, most families require the woman to also help with the bills by getting some kind of job outside the home. This creates the obvious problem of the wife doing double duty, working at home and working at work. Ideal though this may be to the man, there are obviously many women who do not find this appealing enough to enter (or remain, for that matter) into marriage. Aside from the androcentric problems experienced in nuclear families, the isolation of the family unit from the rest of kin makes the independence of the family unit problematically imperative. Young mothers are separated from the relatives that could help her physically and emotionally through the ordeal, leaving such care primarily up to hospital and other relatively impersonal care workers. And once the children are gone, the tradition of the nuclear lifestyle may be hard for the woman to break out of, leaving her a permanent housewife.

These serious problems with nuclear family structure, coupled with the increase of awareness about equality both in the home and in the workplace, have likely led to the steady decrease in nuclear households. Though it can be argued it is no more flawed than most other forms of families, the dynamic nature of personal relationships and other circumstances mean that more than one type of family may be needed to fulfill everyone’s needs. Though the traditional nuclear family has its flaws, in some cases it has proven to be a valuable method for establishing a family. Perhaps there is no perfect example of how all families should be, but rather, that there are several examples of families that may be perfect for some people.

July 21 2005

Since we are very young we are bombarded with images and ideas of romance. It is an important factor in our society that affects and reinforces specific ideas about how relationships are supposed to form. There are problems inherent in this method of choosing mates, however, and they go beyond the purely superficial. It could be argued that romance is an excellent indicator of a successful marriage, but evidence for this is hard to come by.

Television, movies, books, magazines, and even rumors often speak of romantic love between people. As children we learn to love our parents, as teenagers we learn to love the feelings associated with flirting and sexual activity, and as adults we learn to love people in the most real sense. Until that time when we are old and mature enough to truly understand these feelings are we able to put it into perspective, and sometimes not even then. It is a culturally-derived idea that romance is the truest path to love, and this very well may be the case. But years or decades before this is even possible, we are pressured by our society to put romance ahead of all other factors when choosing a mate or a spouse.

Not everyone in our culture puts the same emphasis on romance, but a significant percentage of it does. Because it is and has been such an important aspect of our culture, we find its influence in the practices and rituals of modern life. Young women are particularly targeted by this, which can be witnessed by simply turning on a television. Most women used in advertisements, especially for products that closely relate to grooming and appearance, are young and seemingly attracted to the most superficial aspects of a man (229). The great influence this idea has over our society is also bolstered by its own success, allowing this shallow approach to mating to flourish with very little true resistance. Even people who have a very pragmatic view of the world can find themselves uncontrollably distracted by a pretty face.

It is undeniable that certain people may seem attractive to us (both on the physical and personal level), but this does not mean that we should necessarily marry them. This method of choosing a mate is highly unstable in that it forces people to focus on aspects of a mate that are irrelevant to the continuation of the relationship or the biological “success” of reproduction. Anyone can fall in love. Furthermore, because our society has a proclivity towards attractive people, young adults are often taken advantage of. From something as harmless as putting their face in a commercial to something like dancing nude at a strip club, our physical and other basic urges are used to serve purposes that have nothing to do with mating or marriage.

Though we may not be able to deny our instinctual attraction to certain things — or, to be more precise, people — this does not mean that romantic interest can accurately gauge the potential success of a relationship. Romance is a product of our passion which is a product of our ancient biological heritage, and as real as it may seem or actually be, that is all it is. It is like our urge to smash something when we are angry. Sometimes it is impossible to stop ourselves from bursting out (to whatever degree). Before, during, and afterwards we know that it changes nothing (except, maybe, the object we struck), yet we feel the urge to do it anyway. Romantic passion is the same kind of urge, and has just as much ability to affect the future as any other urge: none. To some cultures, the idea of leaving something as important as marriage up to young people is considered foolish (230). In our culture, we can only hope that the romance lasts as long as it can, and that a more realistic bond is formed during that time.

From a very early age our culture unconsciously trains us to seek romance (once we are old enough). We find it in many aspects of our lives, and it influences us all. Though this is not necessarily a bad concept, it is not a very good set of criteria to base lifelong partnerships on. Romance is real, and its effects are real, but it alone does not ensure a positive outcome. It is, as Antoine de Saint-Exupery, said in The Little Prince, “Experience shows us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking together in the same direction.”

List of Works Cited:
Haviland, William A. (2002). Cultural Anthropology (10th edition)
Merriam-Webster Dictionary (

July 19 2005

It was generally held for a long time that hunting, the act of stalking live prey and then killing it, contributed a great deal to our natural aggressive tendencies. After all, it seems perfectly natural to imagine how this ruthless ability to assault another living creature would serve our ancestors capture much-needed food. The problem with this idea is that our aggressive nature, which is undeniably real, comes from a much older part of our biological heritage.

The aggressive part of our behavior comes from a much older section of our brain, one that has been in our family line long before primates had even evolved. In fact, it was the development of our highly evolved primate brains that developed in tandem with our ability to hunt. We were able to band together as a group, to hunt far more effectively than we could as individuals. Learning to cooperate was more than a short term advantage, though. This cooperation led to an evolved sense of society, which is the hallmark of culture.

Communication was the most important adaptation from learning to hunt more effectively. From simple noises to more complex sounds to language, we had to develop a way of letting everyone in the hunting pack know that the prey was nearby or that danger lurked ahead. The better we communicated, the better we hunted, and the more likely it was that we would survive. Though we humans sometimes do not act like it, cooperation through language has been one of the greatest advances in all of human evolution. And it was directly related to our time learning to hunt as a group.

A natural byproduct of our evolving brains and societies was our ability to think ahead, plan for attacks, and even make alternate decisions based on the given situation. As we became more successful with these abilities, we were able to use them more effectively. Eventually our heightened intelligence became so evolved that it far surpassed its survival value. Now we are able to use our intelligence in ways our ancestors simply could never have imagined. We can plan ahead as individuals, as nations, and as a species, reflecting on the past, thinking about the present, and planning for the future.

July 14 2005

There are three pervading hypotheses about the emergence of modern humans. While I was reading the summaries of the three hypotheses, I began to I favor the so-called multiregional hypothesis, which states that our species evolved relatively simultaneously in several parts of the Old World. I understood the logic behind the “Eve” hypothesis, which supports the idea that our species evolved in Africa first, then moved to the rest of the world. And once I got to the multiregional article, the last of the three, I continued to believe in the hypothesis. The analogies they gave were quite descriptive, but I am not sure they were appropriate. I began to worry that I was being convinced by my own assumptions and the author’s writing rather than relying on the facts.

The logic of the multiregional hypothesis makes perfect sense to me, though I admit I am not a biologist. Many changes in species take place in tandem with other changes or events. The whole system of evolution is, in a way, self-correcting. If one species is changed, it can potentially change all of the species connected to it. It seems entirely possible to me that our ancestors could have merged genetically with one another, incorporating traces of other now-extinct species, and it seems possible to me that we could have developed as a single species in many places across the globe.

But that is where my support for the multiregional hypothesis falls apart. As is proposed in the so-called Eve hypothesis, our species started in a more condensed region in Africa and then disseminated from there. There is even mitochondrial evidence to support the Eve hypothesis, which has proven to be highly reliable. The multiregional hypothesis seems shaky to me to say that our species was spread out as far as southern Africa, northern Europe, and eastern Asia, and was still able to exchange genetic material freely enough to evolve as a single species.

Still, this does not entirely convince me that the “Eve” hypothesis is flawless. I know there is a direct lineage that could be traced from me all the way back to an accidentally-replicating protein a couple billion years ago. But just because the lineage theoretically could be traced, does not necessarily mean that it actually needs to be. I think the best we can do is estimate that lineage, which, I realize, is what the mitochondrial DNA theorists are trying to do. It just seems that our urge to narrow our lineage down to a single female, family, or community, attempts to explain something far too precisely considering how evolution operates.

I admit I am not a scientist, nor am I fully educated on the subject, but if I were to develop a hypothesis that fits my understandings of the issues, I would say that it is more of a fusion of the Eve and multiregional hypotheses. Species develop as a group, over a period of time. Individuals cannot be considered instigators or purveyors of a new species. Individuals do not evolve, as the Eve hypothesis seems to suggest. Species evolve. And species do not evolve all at once, as the multiregional hypothesis seems to suggest. Species evolve at different times and places. Random mutations occur that either support or hinder the individual and increase their likelihood of passing their genetic material to the next generation. It is an abstract process and it’s scope is outside our normal way of thinking.

List of Works Cited:
1. Haviland, William A. (2002). Cultural Anthropology (10th edition)