When the Spider Danced: Notes from an African Village

When the Spider Danced: Notes from an African Village

When the Spider Danced: Notes from an African Village

When the Spider Danced: Notes from an African Village

Excerpt

It is no accident that Lévi-Strauss begins Tristes Tropiques with a denial of the joys of travel. Few anthropologists are travelers. Our identification is with people, not places.

Some anthropologists move in space to conquer time. The search for the primitive is the search for our own beginnings. Yet there is no time machine. Too often, the societies we study represent exploited remnants of once independent cultures. No living contemporary society, even that recently discovered tribe in the Philippines, can stand in for our own primordial condition. Every society in the world has been touched, even if indirectly, by the spread of Eastern or Western civilization. This process began centuries ago, long before Europe embarked on its age of discovery. The movement outward began with the rise of great trading nations in the Middle East and Asia and continued with the perpetual expansion and contraction of Asian, African, and European empires down to our own time. The New World, relatively isolated before the Spanish conquest, was nonetheless affected by the rise of its own civilizations in the valleys of Mexico and in the highlands of Guatemala and Peru. When the Spanish conquistadors came, they started a wave of disease and commercial exploitation that rocked the foundations of every society in the New World.

The task of anthropologists is to study, and gather information on the extent and variety of, human behavior. Our mandate is to seek generalizations about the human condition. Although we are employed primarily by universities, more and more anthropologists are beginning to work for government agencies.

Most of us see anthropology as a means of documenting the richness of our species' creative capacities. Each time a way of life disappears, the repertoire of human experience is diminished. We . . .

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