May 062018
 

Today is the birthday (1856) of Sigmund Freud, born Sigismund Schlomo Freud. I was rather surprised to discover that I had not commemorated Freud in a post previously, even though I have posted numerous things about him and his (erstwhile) followers. Freud is rather like Marx in my mind in that (a) he was not a Freudian (any more than Marx was a Marxist), (b) his ideas were complex and changeable over his lifetime, and (c) he was and is misunderstood by the general public. I lectured on Freud for decades, and I always prefaced my lectures with: “You probably all think that Freud was all wrong and his theories are outdated. Well, think again. He was wrong about a lot of things, but he was also right about a lot of things, and I expect that many of his theories that were new in his day, you take for granted as obvious without attributing them to Freud.” Many of his theories, such as the psychosexual stages of development, are patently the result of his own self analysis and are rooted in his culture, and are, therefore, not generalizable to all cultures. Anthropologists were on that path of criticism early on while Freud was still alive, and, one way or another, put serious dents in his theory. But we use the term “Freudian slip” as a matter of course, perhaps not as trenchantly as Freud, but still with a sense that a slip of the tongue is revealing. More to the point, we accept the existence of thoughts and motivations that lie below the surface of what is conscious to us. The common term is “subconscious” although Freud used the term “unconscious.” Before Freud such an idea did not exist. He saw dreams and slips as avenues into the unconscious, which is not a normal part of modern therapies, but it is not a trivial insight. He pioneered the “talking cure” – using various methods, such as free association, to get patients to talk through their issues (under guidance from a trained therapist). Unfortunately, the question that has never fully been answered is whether the talking cure actually works.

Freud was born to Jewish parents in the Moravian town of Freiberg, in the Austrian Empire (later Příbor, Czech Republic), the first of eight children. Both of his parents were from Galicia, in modern-day Ukraine. His father, Jakob Freud (1815–1896), a wool merchant, had two sons, Emanuel (1833–1914) and Philipp (1836–1911), by his first marriage. Jakob’s family were Hasidic Jews, and although Jakob himself had moved away from the tradition, he came to be known for his Torah study. He and Freud’s mother, Amalia Nathansohn, who was 20 years younger and his third wife, were struggling financially and living in a rented room, in a locksmith’s house at Schlossergasse 117 when their son Sigmund was born.

In 1859, the Freud family left Freiberg. Freud’s half brothers emigrated to Manchester in England, parting him from the “inseparable” playmate of his early childhood, Emanuel’s son, John. Jakob Freud took his wife and two children (Freud’s sister, Anna, was born in 1858; a brother, Julius born in 1857, had died in infancy) first to Leipzig and then in 1860 to Vienna where four sisters and a brother were born. In 1865, the 9-year-old Freud entered the Leopoldstädter Kommunal-Realgymnasium, a prominent high school. He proved an outstanding pupil and graduated from the Matura in 1873 with honors. He loved literature and was proficient in German, French, Italian, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Latin and Greek. Freud entered the University of Vienna at age 17. He had planned to study law, but entered the medical department at the university, where his studies included philosophy under Franz Brentano, physiology under Ernst Brücke, and zoology under Darwinist professor Carl Claus. He graduated with a medical degree in 1881.

In 1882, Freud began his medical career at the Vienna General Hospital. His research work in cerebral anatomy led to the publication of an influential paper on the palliative effects of cocaine in 1884 and his work on aphasia would form the basis of his first book On the Aphasias: a Critical Study, published in 1891. Over a 3-year period, Freud worked in various departments of the hospital. His time spent in Theodor Meynert’s psychiatric clinic and as a locum in a local asylum led to an increased interest in clinical work. His substantial body of published research led to his appointment as a university lecturer or docent in neuropathology in 1885, a non-salaried post but one which entitled him to give lectures at the University of Vienna. In 1886, Freud resigned his hospital post and entered private practice specializing in “nervous disorders”. The same year he married Martha Bernays, the granddaughter of Isaac Bernays, a chief rabbi in Hamburg. The couple had six children: Mathilde (b. 1887), Jean-Martin (b. 1889), Oliver (b. 1891), Ernst (b. 1892), Sophie (b. 1893), and Anna (b. 1895). From 1891 until they left Vienna in 1938, Freud and his family lived in an apartment at Berggasse 19, near Innere Stadt, a historical district of Vienna.

Freud had greatly admired his philosophy tutor, Brentano, who was known for his theories of perception and introspection, as well as Theodor Lipps who was one of the main contemporary theorists of the concepts of the unconscious and empathy. Brentano discussed the possible existence of the unconscious mind in his Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874). Although Brentano denied its existence, his discussion of the unconscious probably helped introduce Freud to the concept. Freud owned and made use of Charles Darwin’s major evolutionary writings, and was also influenced by Eduard von Hartmann’s Philosophy of the Unconscious (1869).

Though Freud denied having read Friedrich Nietzsche until late in life, analogies between his work and that of Nietzsche were pointed out almost as soon as he developed a following. One historian concluded, based on Freud’s correspondence with his adolescent friend Eduard Silberstein, that Freud read The Birth of Tragedy and the first two of the Untimely Meditations when he was 17. In 1900, the year of Nietzsche’s death, Freud bought his collected works. He told his friend, Fliess, that he hoped to find in Nietzsche’s works “the words for much that remains mute in me.” Later, he said he had not yet opened them. Freud came to treat Nietzsche’s writings “as texts to be resisted far more than to be studied.” His interest in philosophy declined after he had decided on a career in neurology.

In October 1885, Freud went to Paris on a fellowship to study with Jean-Martin Charcot, who was conducting scientific research into hypnosis. He was later to recall the experience of this stay as catalytic in turning him toward the practice of medical psychopathology and away from a less financially promising career in neurology research. Charcot specialized in the study of hysteria and susceptibility to hypnosis, which he frequently demonstrated with patients on stage in front of an audience. Once he had set up in private practice in 1886, Freud began using hypnosis in his clinical work. He adopted the approach of his friend and collaborator, Josef Breuer, in a use of hypnosis which was different from the French methods he had studied in that it did not use suggestion. The treatment of one particular patient of Breuer’s proved to be transformative for Freud’s clinical practice. Described as Anna O., she was invited to talk about her symptoms while under hypnosis (she coined the phrase “talking cure” for her treatment). In the course of talking in this way these symptoms became reduced in severity as she retrieved memories of traumatic incidents associated with their onset.

Anna O.

Freud’s clinical work eventually led him to the conclusion that more consistent and effective symptom relief, compared to that achieved by using hypnosis, could be obtained by encouraging patients to talk freely, without censorship or inhibition, about whatever ideas or memories occurred to them. In conjunction with this procedure, which he called “free association”, Freud found that patients’ dreams could be fruitfully analyzed to reveal the complex structuring of unconscious material and to demonstrate the psychic action of repression which underlay symptom formation. By 1896, Freud had abandoned hypnosis and was using the term “psychoanalysis” to refer to his new clinical method and the theories on which it was based.

Freud’s development of these new theories took place during a period in which he experienced heart irregularities, disturbing dreams and periods of depression, a “neurasthenia” which he linked to the death of his father in 1896 and which prompted a “self-analysis” of his own dreams and memories of childhood. His explorations of his feelings of hostility to his father and rivalrous jealousy over his mother’s affections led him to fundamentally revise his theory of the origin of the neuroses. On the basis of his early clinical work, Freud had postulated that unconscious memories of sexual molestation in early childhood were a necessary precondition for the psychoneuroses (hysteria and obsessional neurosis), a formulation now known as Freud’s seduction theory. In the light of his self-analysis, Freud abandoned the theory that every neurosis can be traced back to the effects of infantile sexual abuse, now arguing that infantile sexual scenarios still had a causative function, but it did not matter whether they were real or imagined and that in either case they became pathogenic only when acting as repressed memories.

This transition from the theory of infantile sexual trauma as a general explanation of how all neuroses originate to one that presupposes an autonomous infantile sexuality provided the basis for Freud’s subsequent formulation of the theory of the Oedipus complex and the development of the superego. Freud described the evolution of his clinical method and set out his theory of the psychogenetic origins of hysteria, demonstrated in a number of case histories, in Studies on Hysteria published in 1895 (co-authored with Josef Breuer). In 1899 he published The Interpretation of Dreams in which, following a critical review of existing theory, Freud gives detailed interpretations of his own and his patients’ dreams in terms of wish-fulfillments made subject to the repression and censorship of the “dream work”. He then sets out the theoretical model of mental structure (the unconscious, pre-conscious and conscious) on which this account is based. An abridged version, On Dreams, was published in 1901. In works which would win him a more general readership, Freud applied his theories outside the clinical setting in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) and Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905).[42] In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, published in 1905, Freud elaborates his theory of infantile sexuality, describing its “polymorphous perverse” forms and the functioning of the “drives”, to which it gives rise, in the formation of sexual identity. The same year he published ‘Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (Dora)’ which became one of his more famous and controversial case studies.

There is much more, but I will stop there. I taught Freudian theory in anthropology classes related to psychology and anthropology, and I usually used Totem and Taboo (1913) and Civilization and its Discontents (1930), although I ranged much farther afield than these texts in my lectures, and did occasionally assign other readings. One great difficulty with Totem and Taboo is that Freud was using anthropological texts that nowadays have zero value because they were not based on actual fieldwork, but focused on the idea that all cultures evolve in the same ways over time. By this theory, modern cultures that are more primitive than Western civilization are at an earlier stage of cultural evolution. Therefore, they can be studied to investigate how we behaved in past millennia. This theory has been completely debunked, so Freud’s theories are based on worthless conjectures, and therefore are equally worthless. Totem and Taboo is completely mistaken when it comes to understanding what totemism is all about.

In the strict realm of psychoanalysis, Freud started a movement that is now a gigantic business. Freud had 2 principal concepts that he adhered to strictly: (1) Therapy is only for people with serious problems that they wish to be rid of. As far as Freud was concerned, if a person had a condition that he deemed clinical, but that person was coping with it, there was no point in therapy; (2) Therapy should be intensive and finite. Freud saw his patients every day and expected the therapy to result in a cure in a limited period of time. Thus, Freud treated psychoanalysis like physicians in other specialties treated illnesses within their realms. Freud’s ideas have fallen by the wayside completely in this regard. Many people start seeing therapists as teenagers or young adults, and continue their entire lives. Furthermore, therapy has shifted from medical practitioners to a host of allied professionals, including psychologists with M.A.s or Ph.D.s, and social workers. Psychiatrists with M.D.s spend most of their time dispensing medications rather than working in therapy. Approaches to therapy have also diversified enormously, starting with Freud’s own students who diverged from him in different ways almost as soon as they had qualified.

Wolf Man

This state of affairs has caused a great many critics to wonder (out loud) whether therapy actually works. Freud’s own patients could be critical of the efficacy of Freud’s work with them. The Wolf Man (Sergei Pankejeff), for example, ended up in analysis for 6 decades (including with Freud’s students) even though Freud pronounced him cured. It is also the case that many psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia, cannot be cured by psychoanalysis because they do not stem from childhood (or other) traumas (conscious or unconscious), but from biophysical/neurological problems. Freud, like many pioneers, was making up psychoanalysis from scratch, so it is unfair to dwell too long on his shortcomings. He made many missteps, but that is no reason to diminish his stature as an original thinker of great insight.

Freud wrote a fair bit about his home life in private notes as well as publications, and there is a 2000 book Zu Tisch bei Sigmund Freud (At table with Sigmund Freud) that discusses his eating habits. Even though he was married to the granddaughter of a famous rabbi he not only did not keep kosher, he actually believed the diet was harmful to one’s health. Being the (amateur) Freudian for a moment, I suspect that this attitude had a lot to do with his vehement rejection of God and Judaism which in turn stemmed from his conflicts with his father. He also had some seemingly irrational food aversions, the two most well known being chicken and cauliflower. According to his son, Martin, he had an aphorism, “One shouldn’t kill any chickens; let them live and lay eggs.”

You should not be surprised to learn that Freud saw asparagus as an obvious phallic symbol and that eating asparagus (which was conventionally done with the fingers in the late 19th century), was a substitute for masturbation. It may cause you to smile, therefore, to know that he was fond of asparagus. He was also fond of picking wild mushrooms to eat instead of store bought mushrooms. His wife apparently disapproved of this habit, although it is not clear whether she did not trust Freud to distinguish edible from poisonous fungi or whether she thought they were unclean (in the Judaic sense).

My suggestion for today’s recipe, therefore, is to make a wild mushroom omelet with a side dish of asparagus. You can follow this with homemade vanilla ice cream which was Freud’s favorite dessert.

Jan 072018
 

 

Today is the birthday (1891) of Zora Neale Hurston, African-American novelist, short story writer, folklorist, and anthropologist who is known not only for her contributions to African-American literature, but also for her portrayal of racial struggles in the American South, and works documenting her research on African-American folk traditions in Florida, and voodoo in Jamaican and Haiti. She is probably best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. . Her novels went relatively unrecognized by the literary world for decades, but interest revived after author Alice Walker published “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” in the March 1975 issue of Ms. Magazine.

Hurston was the sixth of eight children of John Hurston and Lucy Ann Hurston (née Potts). All of her four grandparents had been born into slavery. Her father was a Baptist preacher and sharecropper, who later became a carpenter, and her mother was a school teacher. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama, on January 7, 1891, where her father grew up and her grandfather was the preacher of a Baptist church. When she was three, her family moved to Eatonville, Florida which later became the location of several of her important works. Eatonville was one of the first all-African-American towns to be incorporated into the United States (1887). Hurston said she always felt that Eatonville was “home” to her because she grew up there, and sometimes claimed it as her birthplace. Her father later was elected as mayor of the town in 1897 and in 1902 became minister of its largest church, Macedonia Missionary Baptist.

Eatonville was a place where African Americans could live as they desired, independent of White society, and this upbringing undoubtedly influenced Hurston’s political outlook. She often sided with Southern conservatives who opposed integration, seeing “separate but equal” as a positive value, given that integration inevitably exposed African-Americans to racism and discrimination. The problem, of course, as was made clear by the Civil Rights movement is that the “separate” part is easy to accomplish, the “equal” part is not.

In 1917, Hurston began attending Morgan College, the high school division of Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore, Maryland. At this time, apparently to qualify for a free high-school education (as well, perhaps to reflect her literary birth), the 26-year-old Hurston began claiming 1901 as her year of birth.[12] She graduated from the high school of Morgan State University in 1918. In 1918, Hurston began her studies at Howard University, where took courses in Spanish, English, Greek and public speaking and earned an associate degree in 1920. In 1921, she wrote a short story, “John Redding Goes to Sea,” which qualified her to become a member of Alaine Locke’s literary club, The Stylus. Hurston left Howard in 1924 and in 1925 was offered a scholarship by Barnard trustee Annie Nathan Meyer to Barnard College of Columbia University, where she was the college’s sole African-American student.

Hurston received her B.A. in anthropology in 1928, when she was 37. While she was at Barnard, she conducted ethnographic research directed by Franz Boas. She also worked with Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead was a fellow student. After graduating from Barnard, Hurston spent two years as a graduate student in anthropology at Columbia University. Living in Harlem in the 1920s, Hurston befriended the likes of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Her apartment, according to some accounts, was a popular spot for social gatherings.

In later life, in addition to continuing her literary career, Hurston served on the faculty of North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) in Durham, North Carolina. Hurston traveled extensively in the Caribbean and the American South and immersed herself in local cultural practices to conduct her anthropological research. Based on her work in the South, sponsored from 1928 to 1932 by Charlotte Osgood Mason, a wealthy philanthropist, Hurston wrote Mules and Men in 1935. In 1936 and 1937, Hurston traveled to Jamaica and Haiti for research, with support from the Guggenheim Foundation. She drew from this for her anthropological work, Tell My Horse (1938). From October 1947 to February 1948, she lived in Honduras, at the north coastal town of Puerto Cortés. While in Puerto Cortés, she wrote much of Seraph on the Suwanee, set in Florida.

Hurston never had much income from her writing and so later in life she took a number of poorly paid odd jobs to make ends meet. She worked at the Pan American World Airways Technical Library at Patrick Air Force Base in 1957, but was fired for being “too well-educated” for her job. Subsequently she moved to Fort Pierce, taking jobs where she could find them. She worked occasionally as a substitute teacher. At age 60 she was helped by public assistance, and at one point she even worked as a maid on Miami Beach’s Rivo Alto Island

During this period of financial stress and medical difficulties, Hurston was forced to enter St. Lucie County Welfare Home, where she suffered a stroke. She died of hypertensive heart disease on January 28, 1960, and was buried at the Garden of Heavenly Rest in Fort Pierce, Florida. Her remains were in an unmarked grave until 1973. Novelist Alice Walker and literary scholar Charlotte D. Hunt found an unmarked grave in the general area where Hurston had been buried, and decided to mark it as hers.

Hurston has two distinct voices in her writing: one was a standard literary voice; the other was an attempt to capture the sounds and rhythms of Southern African-America speaking style. Here’s some examples of both:

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place

Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.

If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.

Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

No hour is ever eternity, but it has its right to weep.

At the beginning of Their Eyes Were Watching God, the lead character, Janie Crawford, returns from the Everglades, where she has shot her husband and been acquitted, to Eatonville, in ragged overalls, where all the women are gossipy and unwelcoming. The one exception is her best friend Phoeby, who brings her a “heaping plate of mulatto rice.” Phoeby notes that it “ain’t so good dis time. Not enough bacon grease . . . but it’ll kill hongry.”

The Savannah Cook Book: A collection of old fashioned receipts from Colonial kitchens by Harriet Ross Colquitt contains this recipe for mulatto rice:

Fry squares of breakfast bacon and remove from the pan. Then brown some minced onion (one small one) in this grease, and add one pint can of tomatoes. When thoroughly hot, add a pint of rice to this mixture, and cook very slowly until the rice is done. Or, if you are in a hurry, cold rice may be substituted, and all warmed thoroughly together.

Seems simple enough. I’m assuming that you use the bacon in another dish but keep the rendered fat for flavoring. On the other hand, I see no reason not to include the fried bacon in the dish.

Oct 152017
 

Today is the birthday (1844) of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, who needs no introduction as a philosopher although I suspect that few people read much of what he wrote, but, instead, come up with his ideas (or their antithesis) “independently” because they are oblivious to the huge impact his philosophy has had on Western culture. I’ll give a small biography as background and then dribble on a bit about some salient points in his writing, followed by a few quotes for good measure. Nothing I can say here will be remotely comprehensive.  That’s your job to investigate.

Nietzsche grew up in the small town of Röcken, near Leipzig, in the Prussian Province of Saxony. He was named after King Frederick William IV of Prussia, who turned 49 on the day of Nietzsche’s birth. (Nietzsche later dropped his middle name, Wilhelm). Nietzsche’s father died from a brain ailment in 1849 and his younger brother, Ludwig Joseph, died six months later, at age 2. The family then moved to Naumburg, where they lived with Nietzsche’s maternal grandmother and his father’s two unmarried sisters. After the death of Nietzsche’s grandmother in 1856, the family moved into their own house, now Nietzsche-Haus, a museum and Nietzsche study center.

In 1854 Nietzsche started at Domgymnasium in Naumburg, but because his father had worked for the state (as a Lutheran pastor) the now-fatherless Nietzsche was offered a scholarship to study at the internationally recognized Schulpforta where he studied from 1858 to 1864 (the scholarship was not because he excelled at his studies, as is sometimes asserted – he did not).

While at Pforta, Nietzsche had decidedly odd tastes for the time.  For example, he favored the almost  unknown poet Friedrich Hölderlin, who was considered mad by contemporaries. He also became personally acquainted with Ernst Ortlepp, an eccentric, blasphemous, and often drunken poet who was found dead in a ditch weeks after meeting the young Nietzsche but who may have introduced Nietzsche to the music and writing of Richard Wagner.

In 1864 Nietzsche Began studies in theology and classical philology at the University of Bonn with a view to becoming a minister. After one term he lost his faith and stopped his theological studies. In June 1865, at the age of 20, Nietzsche wrote to his sister Elisabeth, who was deeply religious, a letter regarding his loss of faith. This letter contains the following:

Hence the ways of men part: if you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire…

Nietzsche was a passionate, challenging, and complex writer. He evokes strong responses, positive and negative, many of which are fueled either by misunderstanding or a need to reduce his philosophy to simple terms.  Both are a disservice. I won’t continue such disservice, but merely point out how easy it is to go wrong in attempting to understand Nietzsche.

The idea of the Apollonian and Dionysian as philosophical, poetic, and dramatic concepts was famously expounded in Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, but his favorite boyhood poet, Hölderlin, had already expounded on the idea. Nietzsche saw classical Athenian tragedy as an art form that transcended what he saw as the pessimism of its age in philosophy. The Greek spectators, by looking into the abyss of human suffering depicted by characters on stage, passionately and joyously affirmed life, finding it worth living. A main theme in The Birth of Tragedy was that the fusion of Dionysian and Apollonian Kunsttrieben (“artistic impulses”) forms dramatic arts, or tragedies. He goes on to argue that this fusion has not been achieved again since the ancient Greek tragedians. Apollo represents harmony, progress, clarity and logic, whereas Dionysus represents disorder, intoxication, emotion and ecstasy.

The point of Greek tragedy, according to Nietzsche, is the complex interplay of these two forces: the tragic hero of the drama, the main protagonist, struggles to make order (in the Apollonian sense) of his unjust and chaotic (Dionysian) fate, though he dies unfulfilled in the end. Nietzsche argues that a Dionysian figure possesses knowledge to realize that his actions cannot change the eternal balance of things, and it disgusts him enough not to be able to make any act at all. Hamlet falls under this category—he has glimpsed the supernatural reality through the Ghost, he has gained true knowledge and knows that no action of his has the power to change this.

Nietzsche is adamant that the works of Aeschylus and Sophocles represent the apex of artistic creation, the true realization of tragedy. With Euripides, he believes that tragedy begins its Untergang (“going under”). Nietzsche objects to Euripides’ use of Socratic rationalism and morality in his tragedies, claiming that the infusion of ethics and reason robs tragedy of its foundation, namely the fragile balance of the Dionysian and Apollonian. Plato continued with this path in his dialogues, and the modern world eventually inherited reason at the expense of artistic impulses that could be found only in the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy. This leads to his conclusion that European culture from the time of Socrates had always been only Apollonian and thus decadent and unhealthy.] He notes that whenever Apollonian culture dominates, the Dionysian lacks the structure to make a coherent art, and when Dionysian dominates, the Apollonian lacks the necessary passion.

Ruth Benedict, noted Boasian anthropologist, tried to elaborate on the Apollonian and Dionysian in her most enduring work, Patterns of Culture, where, in my very humble opinion, she rather misunderstood Nietzsche’s intent. Benedict uses the Apollonian and Dionysian as pure cultural ideals to explore bedrock values in cultures under observation. Thus, for her, traditional Puebloan cultures of the American southwest are Apollonian cultures because they value community, rules, and order, whereas the potlatch cultures of the American northwest Pacific coast are Dionysian because they value individualism, excess, and disorder. I think she’s wrong to characterize them that way at all, but also wrong to lay the analysis at Nietzsche’s doorstep. Nietzsche was interested in the Apollonian and Dionysian as intertwined and conflicting tendencies within a single culture or individuals, not as models of separate cultures. Benedict’s simplification of Nietzsche’s idea suited her need to reduce complex cultures to simple models. I won’t be too harsh on her, though. She was living in the early days of American anthropology when there was a drive towards finding the “rules” that drive culture. Hopefully, we are more mature these days.

Nietzsche was also famous for stating that God is dead, (and prelates in the Church of England eventually caught on: more accurately than most atheists, as it happens). What Nietzsche was saying was that absolutism (in the name of God) is dead. It is true that he had lost his faith in Christianity while studying theology, but that’s not what he is referring to here. Nietzsche believed that the Western world was losing its grip on any universal perspective on things, and along with it any coherent sense of objective truth. He rejected the idea of objective reality, arguing that knowledge is contingent and conditional, relative to various fluid perspectives or interests. This viewpoint meant that there had to be a constant reassessment of rules (including those of philosophy, the scientific method, etc.) according to the circumstances of individual perspectives. You can easily see how a German physicist could take this idea and come up with a theory of relativity, although Einstein challenged the orthodoxy of the scientific world of his day and not of the scientific method itself. That agenda is still in the making.

The cultural relativism of anthropology is also embedded in Nietzsche’s philosophy. According to Nietzsche, the values of one culture are no better or worse than any other culture. What makes a culture great (and unified) is not the nature of its particular values and beliefs, but in the collective will to see those values realized and achieved.

While Nietzsche attacked the principles of Judaism, he was not anti-Semitic. In On the Genealogy of Morality, he explicitly condemns antisemitism, and points out that his attack on Judaism was not an attack on contemporary Jewish people but specifically an attack upon the ancient Jewish priesthood whom he claims anti-Semitic Christians paradoxically based their views upon. Nietzsche felt that modern antisemitism was despicable and contrary to European ideals. Its cause, in his opinion, was the growth in European nationalism and the endemic “jealousy and hatred” of Jewish success.

Nietzsche held a pessimistic view on modern society and culture, especially mass/popular culture.  He believed the press and mass culture led to conformity and brought about mediocrity. Nietzsche saw a lack of intellectual progress, leading to the decline of humanity. According to Nietzsche, individuals needed to overcome this form of mass culture. He believed some people were able to become superior individuals through the use of will power. By rising above mass culture, society would produce higher, brighter and healthier human beings. The jury is still out on that one.

Here is a sprinkling of quotes to illustrate Nietzsche:

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.

The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.

Success has always been a great liar.

 

Nietzsche had a complex relationship with food and diet much of his life. He was something of a pig in his younger days, but later had to be more circumspect because he was subject to constant nausea and indigestion. At one point he wrote, “If only I were master of my stomach once more!” in response to his endless digestive ailments. As a young man his main meal of the day was a late lunch, avoiding the midday crowds at restaurants, usually consisting of steak and gargantuan quantities of fruit. As his stomach ailments got worse he tried vegetarianism, living on milk and eggs alone, and eating hardly anything at all. At one point, he put his faith in Liebig’s meat extract, a thick paste that could be mixed with water to produce a beef broth which he thought was very nutritious — but wasn’t.

Nietzsche wrote copious notes on diet which were not well known for a long time but were eventually collected into a book translated into English by R. J. Hollingdale under the title Fat is Dead (2004). Hollingdale summarizes Nietzsche’s diet as follows:

The basics of the Nietzschean regimen are simple. The dieter exercises a painful amount of self-honesty in order to identify the primary object of his or her deepest human dread as personified by a wide-ranging group of foodstuffs. Once the dieter’s Fear has been identified, he eats that food exclusively, in unlimited amounts, until the food no longer appetizes or frightens him. Having completed his gorge and transcended his fear, the dieter fasts for 20 days on water and Simple Salad.

There is your recipe directive du jour. Eat copious quantities of the food you dread the most because of the fear it will make you fat. Or . . . look to Nietzsche’s boyhood home: Naumburg. Naumburg holds a famous cherry festival annually. If I had a kitchen I’d opt for a cherry crumble.

 

Jul 092017
 

Here I am back again after my move from Mantua to Mandalay. I’m not sure I can get back in the swing of daily postings right away because I am still navigating deep and treacherous waters with a new job and new living situation in a country where I speak one phrase of the local language — မင်္ဂလာပါ which means “hello.” After that, all bets are off.  But today is the birthday (1858) of Franz Boas, often called the Father of American Anthropology, and I am a professional anthropologist in the Boasian tradition, so I have to honor him today. In the profession he’s sometimes known as Papa Franz, and any American Anthropologist trained in the Boasian tradition can trace a lineage back to him, through doctoral supervisors. My doctoral supervisor was James Peacock, his was Cora Du Bois who took courses with Boas at Columbia as an undergraduate but did her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley under Alfred Kroeber, who was a doctoral student under Boas. Three short generations and I am back to Boas. Boas really revolutionized anthropology in the US, and because I have spent a lifetime teaching and writing in the Boasian tradition I could obviously write volumes on his influence. I’ll try to pare it down to some simple, salient facts.

Franz Boas was born in Minden, Westphalia. Although his grandparents were observant Jews, his parents were educated, well-to-do, and free thinking, not liking dogma of any kind. Because of this background Boas was allowed to think for himself and pursue his own interests. Early in life he displayed a passion for both nature and natural sciences. He wrote:

The background of my early thinking was a German home in which the ideals of the revolution of 1848 were a living force. My father, liberal, but not active in public affairs; my mother, idealistic, with a lively interest in public matters; the founder about 1854 of the kindergarten in my home town, devoted to science. My parents had broken through the shackles of dogma. My father had retained an emotional affection for the ceremonial of his parental home, without allowing it to influence his intellectual freedom.

From kindergarten on, Boas was educated in natural history, a subject he enjoyed. In gymnasium, he was most proud of his research on the geographic distribution of plants. When he started his university studies, Boas first attended Heidelberg University for a term followed by four terms at Bonn University, studying physics, geography, and mathematics at these schools. In 1879, he hoped to transfer to Berlin University to study physics under Hermann von Helmholtz, but ended up transferring to the University of Kiel instead for family reasons. At Kiel, Boas studied under Theobald Fischer and received a doctorate in physics in 1881 for his dissertation entitled “Contributions to the Understanding of the Color of Water,” which examined the absorption, reflection, and the polarization of light in seawater. Although technically Boas’ doctorate was in physics, his advisor Fischer, a student of Carl Ritter, was primarily a geographer and thus some biographers view Boas as more of a geographer than a physicist at this stage. For his part Boas self-identified as a geographer by this time, prompting his sister, Toni, to write in 1883 “After long years of infidelity, my brother was re-conquered by geography, the first love of his boyhood.”

In his dissertation research, Boas’ methodology included investigating how different intensities of light created different colors when interacting with different types of water, however he encountered difficulty in being able to objectively perceive slight differences in the color of water and as a result became intrigued by this problem of perception and its influence on quantitative measurements. Boas had already been interested in Kantian philosophy since taking a course on aesthetics with Kuno Fischer at Heidelberg. These factors led Boas to consider pursuing research in psychophysics, which explores the relationship between the psychological and the physical, after completing his doctorate, but he had no training in psychology. Boas did publish six articles on psychophysics during his year of military service (1882-1883), but ultimately he decided to focus on geography, primarily so he could receive sponsorship for his planned Baffin Island expedition.

Hence, Boas took up geography as a way to explore his growing interest in the relationship between subjective experience and the objective world. At the time, German geographers were divided over the causes of cultural variation. Many argued that the physical environment was the principal determining factor, but others (notably Friedrich Ratzel) argued that the diffusion of ideas through human migration is more important. In 1883, encouraged by Theobald Fischer, Boas went to Baffin Island to conduct geographic research on the impact of the physical environment on native Inuit migrations. The first of many ethnographic field trips, Boas culled his notes to write his first monograph titled The Central Eskimo, which was published in the 6th Annual Report from the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1888. Boas lived and worked closely with the Inuit peoples on Baffin Island, and he developed an abiding interest in the way people lived.

In the perpetual darkness of the Arctic winter, Boas reported, he and his traveling companion became lost and were forced to keep sledding for twenty-six hours through ice, soft snow, and temperatures that dropped below −46 °C. The following day, Boas penciled in his diary,

I often ask myself what advantages our ‘good society’ possesses over that of the ‘savages’ and find, the more I see of their customs, that we have no right to look down upon them. We have no right to blame them for their forms and superstitions which may seem ridiculous to us. We ‘highly educated people’ are much worse, relatively speaking.

He went on to do field work with the indigenous cultures and languages of the Pacific Northwest which became the core of his ethnographic studies, even though he never published a proper ethnography of the peoples. His massive collections of Northwest art and artifacts are still housed in a special exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in New York City where he worked as a curator before taking up a professorship at Columbia university in 1899 where he remained for the rest of his career. Boas’ first task at Columbia was to organize a department of anthropology by pulling together experts from different departments who were anthropologists of one stripe or another according to Boas’ ideals. He saw the study of humanity as embracing all manner of scientific disciplines that when collected together gave a rounded, holistic understanding of the human condition.

Many of Boas’ doctoral students went on to found anthropology departments and research programs inspired by his ideas, and, as such, Boas profoundly influenced the development of American anthropology. Among his most well-known students were Alfred Kroeber, Ruth Benedict, Edward Sapir, Margaret Mead, Melville Herskovits, Ruth Bunzel, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Boas was one of the most prominent opponents of the then popular ideologies of scientific racism, the idea that race is a biological concept and that human behavior is best understood through the typology of biological characteristics. In a series of groundbreaking studies of skeletal anatomy he showed that cranial shape and size were highly malleable depending on environmental factors such as health and nutrition, in contrast to the claims by racial anthropologists of the day that held head shape to be a stable racial trait. Boas also worked to demonstrate that differences in human behavior are not primarily determined by innate biological dispositions, but are largely the result of cultural differences acquired through social learning. In this way, Boas introduced culture as the primary concept for describing differences in behavior between human groups, and as the central analytical concept of American anthropology. The concept of culture remains his enduring legacy, even though, like so many pivotal ideas of the early 20th century, it has yet to penetrate to the popular level. It has been demonstrated repeatedly and convincingly time and again that the popular conception of race has ZERO basis in biology – I mean zero. But the idea that biological races exist will not go away.  My simple definition of a racist: “Anyone who believes that biological races exist.” Period. People are people, and what unites and defines them are cultural behaviors not biological traits. Hence, nowadays anthropologists in the Boasian mode (including myself) speak of “ethnicity” and not “race.”

One of Boas’ main contributions to anthropological thought was his rejection of the then-popular evolutionary approaches to the study of culture, which saw all societies progressing through a set of hierarchic technological and cultural stages, with Western European culture at the summit. You probably know some version of this such as, stone age, bronze age, iron age. Lewis Henry Morgan in the US and E. B. Tylor in Britain had published widely accepted theories of general cultural evolution that pegged all world cultures on a fixed scale from most primitive to most modern. Boas argued that culture developed historically through the interactions of groups of people and the diffusion of ideas, and that consequently there was no process towards continuously “higher” cultural forms. This insight led Boas to reject the stage-based organization of ethnological museums, instead preferring to order items on display based on the affinity and proximity of the cultural groups in question.

Boas also introduced the ideology of cultural relativism which holds that cultures cannot be objectively ranked as higher or lower, or better or more correct, but that all humans see the world through the lens of their own culture, and judge it according to their own culturally acquired norms. For Boas the object of anthropology was to understand the way in which culture conditioned people to understand and interact with the world in different ways, and to do this it was necessary to gain an understanding of the language and cultural practices of the people studied. By uniting the disciplines of archaeology, the study of material culture and history, and physical anthropology, the study of variation in human anatomy, with ethnology, the study of cultural variation of customs, and descriptive linguistics, the study of unwritten indigenous languages, Boas created the four-field subdivision of anthropology which became prominent in American anthropology throughout the 20th century.

The four-field approach still exists in theory, but not in practice. When I was a doctoral student in the early 1970s I was expected to be minimally competent in all four fields and for my M.A. I had to take coursework in all four. Furthermore, I taught Introduction to General Anthropology, the basic anthropology course for undergraduates, which was evenly divided between the four fields. But even then the four fields were an atavism, and no one was seriously expected to do research in all four. For a time, in fact, doctoral candidates became highly specialized in their sub-disciplines to their detriment. At my graduate university the archeologists and the cultural anthropologists occupied completely separate parts of the building and rarely spoke to one another. The pendulum has been swinging back the other way for some years now as specialists in the different disciplines see the merits for their long-term goals of embracing a more holistic outlook. Archeologists, for example, who were once content to dig up and classify projectile points and broken bits of pots postulating sequences and time lines, now see the benefit of studying cultural anthropology to give these artifacts a broader context which allows them to theorize more widely about the cultural patterns to which the artifacts testify.  I don’t do any physical anthropology, but my own research and writing embraces archeology, linguistic, and cultural anthropology fairly evenly, and I see the holistic approach to culture and history as essential in understanding behavior.

Boas’ fieldwork with the Kwakiutl of the Pacific Northwest was eye opening in that it showed that people without domesticated plants and animals (commonly called foragers) need not necessarily live in small egalitarian bands as is the norm among the majority of foragers. The Kwakiutl gathered, hunted, and fished in an environment that was abundant with natural resources, and, in consequence developed an extremely complex, hierarchical system of social organization that revolved around feasts known as potlatches whose rules of protocol and etiquette (Who sits where; what portion of an animal each receives based on social rank; the method of cooking food for different ranks; and so forth) were so complicated that key informants themselves had to spend days discussing them among themselves to make sure they had them correct before reporting them to Boas. Here’s a very small sample of his notes:

The hair seal teaches the common people [bEgwil] their place; for chiefs receive the chest, and all the chiefs in rank receive the limbs. They only give pieces of the body of the seal to common people [bEgwil] of the tribes and they give the tail of the seal to people lowest in rank [bEkwaxa]. Therefore trouble often follows a seal-feast and a feast of short and long cinquefoil roots; for when a man who gives a seal feast with many seals hates another man, he gives him a piece of blubber from the body, although he may be of noble descent; and they do the same with the short cinquefoil roots.

Salmon was caught by the Kwakiutl in abundance in local rivers and was commonly roasted over an open fire on a cedar plank.  This has become a popular method for chefs in Washington state and British Columbia.  The cedar imparts a delicate flavor to the fish which, unfortunately, too many cooks these days overwhelm with marinades and such.  There is no need for complexity here.

Soak a thick untreated cedar plank in water overnight. Prepare a hot bed of coals (or use your grill if you have to). Place the cedar plank over the coals, and when it begins to smoke place thick salmon fillets on it. Let them cook through without turning or disturbing in any way. You can test for doneness by trying gently to pry open the fillet. Serve the salmon on the plank. It will continue cooking at the table.

Jan 182016
 

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Today is the birthday (1689) of Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, generally referred to simply as Montesquieu, French lawyer, man of letters, and political philosopher. He is famous for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers, which is implemented in many constitutions throughout the world.

Montesquieu was born at the Château de la Brède in the southwest of France, 25 km south of Bordeaux. His father, Jacques de Secondat, was a soldier with a long noble ancestry. His mother, Marie Françoise de Pesnel, who died when Charles was seven, was an heiress who brought the title of Barony of La Brède to the Secondat family. After the death of his mother he was sent to the Catholic College of Juilly, a prominent school for the children of French nobility, where he remained from 1700 to 1711. His father died in 1713 and he became a ward of his uncle, the Baron de Montesquieu. He became a counselor of the Bordeaux Parliament in 1714. In 1715 he married Jeanne de Lartigue, a Protestant, and they had three children together. The Baron died in 1716, leaving him his fortune as well as his title, and the office of Président à Mortier in the Bordeaux Parliament.

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Montesquieu’s early life played out at a time of significant governmental change. England had declared itself a constitutional monarchy in the wake of its Glorious Revolution (1688–89), and had joined with Scotland in the Union of 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. In France the long-reigning Louis XIV died in 1715 and was succeeded by the five-year-old Louis XV. Montesquieu referred to these events repeatedly in his work.

Montesquieu achieved literary success with the publication of his Lettres persanes (Persian Letters, 1721), a satire representing society as seen through the eyes of two imaginary Persian visitors to Paris and Europe, shrewdly criticizing the absurdities of contemporary French society. He next published Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence (Considerations on the Causes of the Grandeur and Decadence of the Romans, 1734), considered by some scholars, among his three best known books, as a transition from The Persian Letters to his master work. De l’Esprit des Lois (The Spirit of the Laws) was originally published anonymously in 1748. The book quickly rose to influence political thought profoundly in Europe and North America. In France, the book met with an unfriendly reception from both supporters and opponents of the regime. The Catholic Church banned l’Esprit – along with many of Montesquieu’s other works – in 1751 and included it on the Index of Prohibited Books. It received the highest praise from the rest of Europe, especially Britain.

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Montesquieu was also highly regarded in the British colonies in North America as a champion of liberty (though not of American independence). Montesquieu was the most frequently quoted authority on government and politics in colonial pre-revolutionary British America, cited more by the American founders than any source except for the Bible. Following the American revolution, Montesquieu’s work remained a powerful influence on many of the American founders, most notably James Madison of Virginia, the “Father of the Constitution.” Montesquieu’s philosophy that “government should be set up so that no man need be afraid of another” reminded Madison and others that a free and stable foundation for their new national government required a clearly defined and balanced separation of powers.

Besides composing additional works on society and politics, Montesquieu traveled for a number of years through Europe including Austria and Hungary, spending a year in Italy and 18 months in England where he became a freemason, admitted to the Horn Tavern Lodge in Westminster, before resettling in France. He was troubled by poor eyesight, and was completely blind by the time he died from a high fever in 1755. He was buried in the Église Saint-Sulpice, Paris.

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Montesquieu’s philosophy of history minimized the role of individuals and events. He expounded the view in Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence that each historical event was driven by a principal movement:

It is not chance that rules the world. Ask the Romans, who had a continuous sequence of successes when they were guided by a certain plan, and an uninterrupted sequence of reverses when they followed another. There are general causes, moral and physical, which act in every monarchy, elevating it, maintaining it, or hurling it to the ground. All accidents are controlled by these causes. And if the chance of one battle—that is, a particular cause—has brought a state to ruin, some general cause made it necessary for that state to perish from a single battle. In a word, the main trend draws with it all particular accidents.

In discussing the transition from the Republic to the Empire, for example, he suggested that if Caesar and Pompey had not worked to usurp the government of the Republic, other men would have risen in their place. The cause was not the ambition of Caesar or Pompey, but the circumstances of the times.

Montesquieu divided French society into three classes: the monarchy, the aristocracy, and the commons. Montesquieu saw two types of governmental power existing: the sovereign and the administrative. The administrative powers were the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. These should be separate from, yet dependent upon, each other so that the influence of any one power would not be able to exceed that of the other two, either singly or in combination. This was a radical idea because it completely eliminated the three Estates structure of the French Monarchy: the clergy, the aristocracy, and the people at large represented by the Estates-General, thereby erasing the last vestige of a feudalistic structure.

Likewise, Montesquieu proposed that there were three main forms of government, each supported by a social principle: monarchies (free governments headed by a hereditary figure, e.g. king, queen, emperor), which rely on the principle of honor; republics (free governments headed by popularly elected leaders), which rely on the principle of virtue; and despotisms (enslaved governments headed by dictators), which rely on fear. Free governments are dependent on fragile constitutional arrangements. Montesquieu devotes four chapters of The Spirit of the Laws to a discussion of England, a contemporary free government, where liberty was sustained by a balance of powers. Montesquieu worried that in France the intermediate powers (i.e., the nobility) which moderated the power of the prince were being eroded. These ideas of the control of power were often used in the thinking of Maximilien de Robespierre.

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Montesquieu was forward thinking in advocating major reform of slavery in The Spirit of the Laws. As part of his advocacy he presented a satirical hypothetical list of arguments for slavery, which has often been quoted out of context. However, like many of his generation, Montesquieu also held a number of views that might today be judged controversial. He firmly accepted the role of a hereditary aristocracy and the value of primogeniture, and while he endorsed the idea that a woman could head a state, he held that one could not be effective as the head of a family.

Montesquieu outlined in The Spirit of the Laws and hinted at in Persian Letters, a meteorological climate theory, which holds that climate may substantially influence the nature of human society. His theorizing involves a kind of environmental determinism that is untenable, but his reflections on the relationship between certain material conditions and the development of culture are valuable.

He goes too far in his assertion that certain climates are superior to others, the temperate climate of France being ideal. His view is that people living in very warm countries are “too hot-tempered,” while those in northern countries are “icy” or “stiff.” The climate of middle Europe is therefore optimal. On this point, Montesquieu may well have been influenced by a similar pronouncement in The Histories of Herodotus, where he makes a distinction between the “ideal” temperate climate of Greece as opposed to the overly cold climate of Scythia and the overly warm climate of Egypt. This was a common belief at the time, and can also be found within the medical writings of Herodotus’ times, including the “On Airs, Waters, Places” of the Hippocratic corpus. One can find a similar statement in Germania by Tacitus, one of Montesquieu’s favorite authors.

Nevertheless, when considering the development of the domestication of plants and animals, followed by sedentary living, and ultimately urbanism, it is notable that such events occurred first in warm temperate zones such as central Mexico, the Fertile Crescent, and the Indus Valley, and then spread to other zones. So there is an interplay between environment and human culture and adaptation.

I love this quote from Montesquieu:

Lunch kills half of Paris, supper the other half.

It conjures up classic images of 18th century Parisian overindulgence. I must admit that many of my recipes presented here are over the top. But they are not reflective of my actual eating habits. The bulk of my daily diet is made up of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. I eat meat and fat in moderation, and rarely use sugar or salt in cooking. Then again, from time to time I’ll cook something rich in butter and cream without thinking twice about it because it is a rarity. So, to honor Montesquieu I present you with a supremely indulgent classic sauce from his native Bordeaux, sauce bordelaise, made with dry red wine, bone marrow, butter, shallots and demi-glace. Traditionally, bordelaise sauce is served with grilled beef or steak, though it can also be served with other meats or vegetables.

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Sauce Bordelaise

Ingredients

1 oz butter
¼ cup finely chopped shallots
½ cup Bordeaux red wine
½ tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp cracked black peppercorn
1 cup demi glace
marrow bones

Instructions

You need enough marrow bones to produce about 4 ounces of marrow. Place them on a baking tray and roast at 350°F/175°C for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the marrow is soft. Remove the marrow from the bone and dice. Reserve with any pan juices.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat, add the butter, then the shallots. Sauté the shallots for a couple of minutes until they become translucent but not colored.

Add the red wine and reduce for 2 to 3 minutes. If you are feeling flamboyant (!) you can ignite the alcohol as it burns off. Add the thyme and peppercorns (to taste).

Continue reducing until most of the wine is cooked off. There should be very little liquid left in the pan.

Add the demi glace and simmer, stirring occasionally, for approximately 6 minutes or until the sauce begins to thicken.

Add the reserved bone marrow and juices to the sauce and continue simmering until the marrow has melted and becomes well incorporated into the sauce. Reduce the sauce until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Some cooks add extra butter at this stage to help the thickening.

Serve in a sauce boat or poured over your meat.

Jun 072015
 

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Today is the birthday (1879) of Knud Johan Victor Rasmussen, a Danish polar explorer and anthropologist. He was the first European to cross the Northwest Passage via dog sled. He remains well known in Greenland, Denmark and among Canadian Inuit.

Rasussen was born in Ilulissat in Greenland, the son of a Danish missionary, Christian Rasmussen, and an Inuit- Danish mother, Lovise Rasmussen (née Fleischer). Rasmussen spent his early years in Greenland among the Kalaallit (Inuit) where he learned from an early age to speak the language (Kalaallisut), hunt, drive dog sleds and live in harsh Arctic conditions. “My playmates were native Greenlanders; from the earliest boyhood I played and worked with the hunters, so even the hardships of the most strenuous sledge-trips became pleasant routine for me.” He was later educated in Lynge in North Zealand. Between 1898 and 1900 he pursued an unsuccessful career as an actor and opera singer.

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He went on his first expedition in 1902–1904, known as The Danish Literary Expedition, with Jørgen Brønlund, Harald Moltke and Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen, to examine Inuit culture. After returning home he went on a lecture circuit and wrote The People of the Polar North (1908), a combination travel journal and scholarly account of Inuit folklore. In 1908, he married Dagmar Andersen.

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In 1910, Rasmussen and friend Peter Freuchen established the Thule Trading Station at Cape York (Uummannaq) in Greenland, as a trading base. The name Thule was chosen because that was the name ancient Greeks gave to the most northerly place in the world (supposedly north of Britain). Thule Trading Station became the home base for a series of seven expeditions, known as the Thule Expeditions, between 1912 and 1933.

The First Thule Expedition (1912, Rasmussen and Freuchen) aimed to test Robert Peary’s claim that a channel divided Peary Land from Greenland. They proved this was not the case in a remarkable 1,000-km journey across the inland ice that almost killed them. Clements Markham, president of the Royal Geographic Society, called the journey the “finest ever performed by dogs.” Freuchen wrote personal accounts of this journey (and others) in Vagrant Viking (1953) and I Sailed with Rasmussen (1958).

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The Second Thule Expedition (1916–1918) was larger with a team of seven men, which set out to map a little-known area of Greenland’s north coast. This journey was documented in Rasmussen’s account Greenland by the Polar Sea. The trip was beset with two fatalities, the only in Rasmussen’s career, namely Thorild Wulff and Hendrik Olsen. The Third Thule Expedition (1919) was depot-laying for Roald Amundsen’s polar expedition. The Fourth Thule Expedition (1919–1920) was in east Greenland where Rasmussen spent several months collecting ethnographic data near Angmagssalik.

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Rasmussen’s greatest achievement was the massive Fifth Thule Expedition (1921–1924) which was designed to “attack the great primary problem of the origin of the Eskimo race.” A ten volume account, The Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-1924 (1946), of ethnographic, archaeological and biological data that was collected is still of immense value to anthropologists. The team of seven first went to eastern Arctic Canada where they began collecting specimens, taking interviews and excavations. Rasmussen left the team and traveled for 16 months with two Inuit hunters by dog sled across North America to Nome, Alaska. He tried to continue to Russia but his visa was refused. He was the first European to cross the Northwest Passage via dog sled. His journey is recounted in Across Arctic America (1927), considered today a classic of polar expedition literature. This trip has also been called the “Great Sled Journey” and was dramatized in the Canadian film The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (2006).

For the next seven years Rasmussen traveled between Greenland and Denmark giving lectures and writing. In 1931, he went on the Sixth Thule Expedition, designed to consolidate Denmark’s claim on a portion of eastern Greenland that was contested by Norway.

The Seventh Thule Expedition (1933) was meant to continue the work of the sixth, but Rasmussen contracted pneumonia after an episode of food poisoning attributed to eating kiviaq, dying a few weeks later in Copenhagen at the age of 54.

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For me kiviaq sits in a class of polar/Scandinavian fermented marine animals I always feel I want less of. Kiviaq is a traditional wintertime Inuit food from Greenland that is made of auks preserved in the hollowed-out body of a seal. Around 500 auks are put into the seal skin intact, including beaks, feet and feathers, before as much air as possible is removed from the seal skin, which is then sewn up and sealed with grease, with a large rock placed on top to keep the air content low. Over the course of seven months, the birds ferment, and are then eaten during the Greenlandic winter, particularly on birthdays and weddings.

In August 2013 several people died in Siorapaluk from eating kiviaq that was made from eider (sea duck) rather than auk, which do not ferment as well (who knew?) and gave those that ate it botulism.

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Generally speaking I would not try this at home unless (a) you have 500 auks to hand, (b) a freshly killed seal, (c) miles of tundra, (d) lots of experience, and (e) a strong stomach. I’ve not had kiviaq, but have had more than enough fermented things to know that if I ever get offered it I should have an iron clad excuse to hand as to why I cannot accept. I suppose I sound like my Chinese friends who are revolted by cheese in general (“rotten milk”) and blue cheese in particular. Chacun à son goût, degustibus, etc etc.

Nov 212013
 

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Today is the birthday (1818) of Lewis Henry Morgan, pioneering U.S. anthropologist and social theorist who worked as a railroad lawyer. He is best known for his work on kinship and social structure, his theories of social evolution, and his ethnography of the Iroquois. Morgan was a near contemporary of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who were influenced by reading his work on the evolution of culture. Morgan was cited by such diverse scholars as Marx, Charles Darwin (Descent of Man), and Sigmund Freud (Totem and Taboo).

Morgan’s father, Jedediah Morgan invented a new type of plough and formed a business partnership to manufacture parts for it. Among other things he built a blast furnace for the factory. He moved to Aurora, leaving the farm to a son. At his death in 1826, Jedediah left 500 acres with herds and flocks in trust for the support of his family. This provided for education as well. Lewis studied classical subjects at Cayuga Academy: Latin, Greek, rhetoric, and mathematics. His father had bequeathed money specifically for his college education, after giving land to the other children for their occupations. Lewis chose Union College in Schenectady. Due to his work at Cayuga Academy, Lewis finished college in two years, 1838–1840, graduating at age 22. The curriculum continued study of classics combined with science, especially mechanics and optics. Lewis was strongly interested in the works of the French naturalist Georges Cuvier.

Eliphalet Nott, the president of Union College, was a Presbyterian minister who kept the young men under a tight discipline, forbidding alcohol on campus and requiring students to get permission to go to town. He held up the Bible as the one practical standard for all behavior. His career, however, ended with some notoriety when he was investigated by the state for attempting to raise funds for the college through a lottery. The students evaded his strict regime by founding secret (and forbidden) fraternities, such as the Kappa Alpha Society. Lewis Morgan joined in 1839.

After graduating in 1840, Morgan returned to Aurora to study law with an established firm. In 1842 he was admitted to the bar in Rochester, where he went into partnership with a Union classmate, George F. Danforth, a future judge. They could find no clients because the nation was in an economic depression, which had started with the Panic of 1837. Instead Morgan wrote essays, which he had begun to do while studying law, and published some in the The Knickerbocker under the pen name Aquarius.

On January 1, 1841, Morgan and some friends from Cayuga Academy formed a secret fraternal society which they called the Gordian Knot. As Morgan’s earliest essays from that time had classical themes, the club may have been a kind of literary society, as was common then. In 1841 or 1842 the young men redefined the society, renaming it the Order of the Iroquois. Morgan referred to this event as cutting the knot. In 1843 they named it the Grand Order of the Iroquois, followed by the New Confederacy of the Iroquois. They made the group a research organization to collect information on the Iroquois, whose historical territory for centuries had included central and upstate New York west of the Hudson and the Finger Lakes region.

The men intended to resurrect the spirit of the Iroquois. They tried to learn the languages, assumed Iroquois names, and organized the group by the historic patterns of the Iroquois. In 1844 they received permission from the former Freemasons of Aurora to use the upper floor of the Masonic temple as a meeting hall. New members underwent a secret rite called inindianation in which they were transformed spiritually into Iroquois. They met in the summer around campfires and paraded yearly through the town in costume. Morgan seemed infused with the spirit of the Iroquois. He said, “We are now upon the very soil over which they exercised dominion … Poetry still lingers around the scenery.” These new “Iroquois” retained a literary frame of mind, but they intended to focus on “the writing of a native American epic that would define national identity.”

On an 1844 business trip to the capital of Albany, Morgan started research on old Cayuga treaties in the state archives. The Seneca people were also studying old treaties, to support their land claims. After the Revolutionary War, the United States had forced the segment of Iroquois who had allied with the British to cede their lands and migrate to Canada. By specific treaties, the U.S. set aside small reservations in New York for their own allies, the Onondaga and Seneca. In the 1840s, long after the war, the Ogden Land Company, a real estate venture, laid claim to the Seneca Tonawanda Reservation on the basis of a fraudulent treaty. The Seneca sued and had representatives at the state capital pressing their case when Morgan was there.

The delegation, led by Jimmy Johnson, its chief officer (and son of chief Red Jacket), were essentially former officers of what was left of the Iroquois Confederacy. Johnson’s 16-year-old grandson Ha-sa-ne-an-da (Ely Parker) accompanied them as their interpreter, as he had attended a mission school and was bilingual. By chance Morgan and the young Parker encountered each other in an Albany book store. Intrigued by Morgan’s talk of the New Confederacy, Parker invited him to interview Johnson and meet the delegation. Morgan took pages of notes, which he used to remodel the New Confederacy. Beyond such details of scholarship, Morgan and the Seneca men formed deep attachments of friendship.

Morgan and his colleagues invited Parker to join the New Confederacy. They (chiefly Morgan) paid for the rest of Parker’s education at the Cayuga Academy, along with his sister and a friend of hers. Later the Confederacy paid for Parker’s studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, where he graduated in civil engineering. After military service in the American Civil War, from which Parker retired at the rank of brigadier general, he entered the upper ranks of civil service in the presidency of his former commander, Ulysses S. Grant.

Ely Parker far L

Ely Parker far L

After attending the 1856 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Morgan decided to embark on an ethnological study to compare kinship systems. He conducted a field research program funded by himself and the Smithsonian Institution, 1859-1862. He made four expeditions, two to the Plains Indians of Kansas and Nebraska, and two more up the Missouri River past Yellowstone. He collected data on 51 kinship systems. Groups he worked with included the Winnebago, Crow, Yankton, Kaw, Blackfeet, Omaha and others.

At the height of Morgan’s anthropological field work, death struck his family. In May and June, 1862, his two daughters, ages 6 and 2, died as a result of scarlet fever while Morgan was traveling in the West. In Sioux City, Iowa, Morgan received the news from his wife. He wrote in his journal:

Two of three of my children are taken. Our family is destroyed. The intelligence has simply petrified me. I have not shed a tear. It is too profound for tears. Thus ends my last expedition. I go home to my stricken and mourning wife, a miserable and destroyed man.

Morgan had noticed that indigenous North American cultures used different terms from Europeans to designate individuals by their relationships within the extended family. He had the creative insight to recognize this was meaningful in terms of their social organization. The Iroquois, for example, called their fathers’ brothers “father,” their mothers’ sisters “mother,” and their children “brother” and “sister.” He called this system of naming the Iroquois kinship system and, it turns out, it is more common worldwide than the European system.

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Based on his extensive research of the Iroquois, Morgan published The League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee or Iroquois (1851). This work presented the complexity of Iroquois society in a path-breaking ethnography that was a model for future anthropologists; Morgan presented the kinship system of the Iroquois with unprecedented detail and nuance.

Morgan expanded his research far beyond the Iroquois. Although Benjamin Barton had posited Asian origins for indigenous Americans as early as 1797, in the mid-nineteenth century, other U.S. and European scholars still supported widely varying ideas, including a theory they were one of the lost tribes of Israel, because of the strong influence of biblical and classical conceptions of history. Morgan had begun to theorize that indigenous Americans originated in Asia. He thought he could prove it by a broad study of kinship terms used by people in Asia as well as groups in North America.

In the late 1850s and 1860s, Morgan collected kinship data from a variety of Native American groups. In his quest to do comparative kinship studies, Morgan also corresponded with scholars, missionaries, U.S. Indian agents, colonial agents, and military officers around the world. He created a questionnaire which others could complete so he could collect data in a standardized way. Over several years, he made months-long trips to what was then the “Wild West” to further his research.

With the help of local contacts and, after intensive correspondence over the course of years, Morgan analyzed his research and wrote his seminal Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family (1871). In it he laid the groundwork for the study of kinship in anthropology. He presented a sophisticated schema of social evolution based upon the terms used for kin and the categories of kinship used by peoples around the world. Through his analysis of kinship terms, Morgan proposed that the structure of the family and social institutions develop and change according to a specific sequence.

Morgan became increasingly interested in the comparative study of kinship relations as a window into understanding larger social dynamics; he saw kinship relations as the basic building block of society. Combined with an exhaustive study of classic Greek and Roman sources, he crowned his work in kinship with his magnum opus Ancient Society (1877). Morgan elaborated upon his theory of social evolution. He introduced a critical link between social evolution and technological change and emphasized the centrality of family and property relations. He traced the interplay between the evolution of technology, of family relations, of property relations, of the larger social structures and systems of governance, and intellectual development.

Looking across an expanded span of human existence, Morgan presented three major stages: savagery, barbarism, and civilization. He divided and defined the stages by technological inventions, such as use of fire, bow, pottery in the savage era; domestication of animals, agriculture, and metalworking in the barbarian era; and development of the alphabet and writing in the civilization era. In part, this was an effort to create a structure for North American history that was comparable to the three-age system of European pre-history (stone age, iron age, bronze age), which had been developed by the Danish antiquarian Christian Jürgensen Thomsen in the 1830s.

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Morgan’s final work, Houses and House-life of the American Aborigines (1881), was an elaboration on what he had originally planned as an additional part of Ancient Society. In it, Morgan presented evidence, mostly from North and South America, that the development of house architecture and house culture reflected the development of kinship and property relations.

Although many specific aspects of Morgan’s evolutionary position, particularly the idea that social evolution is linear and inevitable, have now been rejected by anthropologists, his real achievements remain impressive. He founded the sub-discipline of kinship studies which still lies at the core of cultural anthropology, and his schema of kinship systems remains valid in essence. Anthropologists also remain interested in the connexions which Morgan outlined between material culture, technology, and social structure.

In 1881, Karl Marx started reading Morgan’s Ancient Society, thus beginning Morgan’s posthumous influence among European thinkers. Frederick Engels also read his work after Morgan’s death. Although Marx never finished his own book based on Morgan’s work, Engels continued his analysis. Morgan’s work on the social structure and material culture strongly influenced Engels’ sociological theory of dialectical materialism, expressed in his work The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, (1884).

It seems fitting to give you an Iroquois recipe to celebrate Morgan’s life work.  Contemporary Iroquois recipes emphasize traditional ingredients, such as corn, but have also incorporated European basics, such as dairy products.  Iroquois corn pudding is now a classic, especially at the Thanksgiving table at this time of year.  If you use fresh corn you can make the pudding richer by broiling the corn ears first until the kernels are lightly charred, and toasting the cornmeal in a heavy, dry skillet.

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Iroquois Corn Pudding

1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon butter
1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal
3 cups half-and-half
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups milk
5 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 325°F/160°C

Grease a 9×13” baking dish with butter.

Sauté onion in butter until translucent. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, whisk the cornmeal with the half and half. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring, until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from the heat. Add the onion mixture, milk, eggs, and corn kernels.

Pour the entire mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45–50 minutes, until set and lightly browned.

 

Sep 162013
 

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Today is Independence Day in Papua New Guinea, officially named the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, a nation in Oceania that occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and numerous offshore islands.

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Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. According to recent data, 841 different languages are listed for the country, although 11 of these have no known living speakers. There may be at least as many different traditional societies, out of a population of about 6.3 million. It is also one of the most rural nations in the world, as only 18% of its people live in urban centers. The country is one of the world’s least explored, culturally and geographically, and many undiscovered species of plants and animals are thought to exist in the interior of Papua New Guinea. The territory has long been an anthropologist’s dream. Although dated, and a bit contrived, the documentary “Dead Birds” by Robert Gardner, about the Dani who live(d) in the central highlands, is worth a look to get an idea. “Trobriand Cricket” is also a good window into traditional culture and colonialism.  Here’s an excerpt: Trobriand Cricket

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After being ruled by three external powers since 1884, Papua New Guinea established its sovereignty in 1975 after the demand of the United Nations that Australia cease to administer it. It became a separate Commonwealth realm on 16 September 1975 without incident.  It is now fully independent but, like all Commonwealth nations, Queen Elizabeth II is the nominal Head of State.

Human remains have been found which have been dated to about 50,000 BP although this is an estimate only. Agriculture developed in the New Guinea highlands around 7000 BCE, possibly indigenously, but more likely brought by immigrants.  A major migration of Austronesian speaking peoples came to coastal regions in roughly 500 BCE. This has been correlated with the introduction of pottery, pigs, and certain fishing techniques. More recently, in the 18th century, the sweet potato was taken to New Guinea, having been introduced to the Moluccas by Portuguese traders. The far higher crop yields from sweet potato gardens radically transformed traditional agriculture; sweet potato largely supplanted the previous staple, taro, and gave rise to a significant increase in population in the highlands.

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Little was known in Europe about the island until the 19th century, although Portuguese and Spanish explorers, such as Dom Jorge de Meneses and Yñigo Ortiz de Retez, had encountered it as early as the 16th century. Traders from Southeast Asia had visited New Guinea beginning 5,000 years ago to collect bird of paradise plumes. The country’s dual name results from its complex administrative history before independence. The word papua is derived from an old local term of uncertain origin, and “New Guinea” (Nueva Guinea) was the name coined by the Spanish explorer Yñigo Ortiz de Retez. In 1545, he noted the resemblance of the people to those he had seen earlier along the Guinea coast of Africa. The northern half of the country was ruled as a colony for some decades by Germany, beginning in 1884, as German New Guinea. The southern half was colonized in the same year by the United Kingdom as British New Guinea, but in 1904 with the passage of the Papua Act, it was transferred to the newly formed Commonwealth of Australia who took on its administration.

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Papua New Guinea is part of the Australasia ecozone, which also includes Australia, New Zealand, eastern Indonesia, and several Pacific island groups, including the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu (see post 30 July). Geologically, the island of New Guinea is a northern extension of the Indo-Australian tectonic plate, forming part of a single land mass which is Australia-New Guinea (also called Sahul or Meganesia). It is connected to the Australian segment by a shallow continental shelf across the Torres Strait, which in former ages was exposed as a land bridge, particularly during ice ages when sea levels were lower than at present. Consequently, many species of birds and mammals found on New Guinea have close genetic links with corresponding species found in Australia. One notable feature in common for the two landmasses is the existence of several species of marsupial mammals, including some kangaroos and possums, which are not found elsewhere.

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Many of the other islands within Papua New Guinea territory, including New Britain, New Ireland, Bougainville, the Admiralty Islands, the Trobriand Islands, and the Louisiade Archipelago, were never linked to New Guinea by land bridges. As a consequence, they have their own flora and fauna; in particular, they lack many of the land mammals and flightless birds that are common to New Guinea and Australia.

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The indigenous population of Papua New Guinea is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. Papua New Guinea has several thousand separate communities, most with only a few hundred people. Divided by language, customs, and tradition, some of these communities have engaged in endemic warfare with their neighbors for centuries. The movie “Dead Birds” documents such warfare among the Dani.

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The isolation created by the mountainous terrain is so great that some groups, until recently, were unaware of the existence of neighboring groups only a few kilometers away. The diversity, reflected in a folk saying, “For each village, a different culture,” is perhaps best shown in the local languages. Spoken mainly on the island of New Guinea, about 650 of these Papuan languages have been identified; of these, only 350-450 are related. The remainder of the Papuan languages seem to be totally unrelated either to each other or to the other major groupings. In addition, many languages belonging to Austronesian language group are used in Papua New Guinea, and in total, more than 800 languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea. Individual native languages are spoken by a few hundred to a few thousand, although Enga language, used in Enga Province, is spoken by around 130,000 people.

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Tok Pisin (Melanesian Pidgin), a creole of English and some Austronesian languages, serves as the lingua franca for Papua New Guinea. English is the language of business and government, and all schooling from primary Grade 2 is in English. However, only a small percentage of the population speaks English fluently. The overall population density is low, although pockets of overpopulation exist. Papua New Guinea’s Western Province averages one person per square kilometer (3 per sq. mi.). The Simbu Province in the New Guinea highlands averages 20 persons per square kilometer (60 per sq. mi.) and has areas containing up to 200 people farming a square kilometer of land. The highlands have 40% of the population where the people are subsistence farmers.

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The Trobriand Islands are part of the nation of Papua New Guinea.  The first anthropologist to study the Trobrianders was C.G. Seligman, who mainly focused on the Massim people of mainland New Guinea. Seligman was followed a number of years later by his student, the Polish born Bronis?aw Malinowski, who visited the islands during the First World War. Despite being a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was at war with Australia who then controlled the Trobriand Islands, he was allowed to stay provided he checked in with authorities every now and then. Technically he should have gone to an intern camp in Australia. His descriptions of the kula exchange system, gardening, magic, and sexual practices are now all classics of modern anthropological research.  It was during his stay in the Trobriands that Malinowski created the, now normal, practice of participant-observer fieldwork. Previously anthropologists like Seligman had used interpreters, and paid local people to talk to them on the verandahs of their lodgings in order to learn about their customs.  Malinowski lived and worked sided by side with the Trobrianders, learning the language and participating in daily activities.

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It is the supreme “otherness” of Papua New Guinea which attracts the interest of anthropologists: the kula ring in which decorative armshells and necklaces (of no economic value) are endlessly traded around a series of islands in counter-rotating circles; warfare which is perpetual but which stops if someone is killed or if it is raining (because the warriors’ decorative hair feathers will be ruined); enocannibalism – the ritual eating of relatives when they die; Trobriand cricket (introduced by an English missionary) in which competition is fierce and yet it is predetermined that the home team always wins. The indigenous cultures of Papua New Guinea are an enigma which defy the norms of Western culture.

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Probably the most traditional and widespread dish in Papua New Guinea is roast pork, slow roast in a pit or over hot coals as in most of the South Pacific. Otherwise recipes are blends of local ingredients and European methods of cooking (or else wholesale European imports).   So to celebrate you could either have a nice piece of roast pork (crisp skin essential) with mashed sweet potatoes (nothing wrong with that), or try this dish from Port Moresby, the capital. The peculiarity lies in the separate cooking of the vegetables using the same cooking water.  It does make a difference to the final taste. Sometimes cooks add a little curry powder.  Naturally this makes a good side dish for roast pork also.

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Papua New Guinea Vegetables in Coconut Sauce

Ingredients:

6 cups mixed vegetables (whatever is available, for example, you can use any of the following: carrots, fresh beans, sweet potato, zucchini, green or red peppers, eggplant, potatoes, and peas)
1 crushed clove garlic
2 fresh small hot chiles, seeded and chopped
½ cup fresh coconut milk
½ cup grated coconut
2 tbsp oil
curry powder to taste (optional)

Instructions:

Bring a cup of water to the boil in a medium sized saucepan.

Boil each vegetable separately in the same water.  When each is al dente, remove it with a slotted spoon and reserve. Top up the water if necessary as the cooking progresses. Reserve the cooking liquid when finished.

Add the garlic, chile, coconut milk, coconut, and oil (and curry powder if desired) to the vegetable cooking liquid, and bring to a simmer.  Add the vegetables and warm through for about five minutes.

Serve with boiled white or brown rice.

Serves 4

Aug 292013
 

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On this date in 1911 Ishi (c. 1860 – March 25, 1916) — supposedly the last full-blooded member of the indigenous Yahi — emerged from his ancestral homeland, in present-day Tehama County, near the foothills of Lassen Peak, and known to Ishi as Wa ganu p’a. He was about 49 years old, and had lived all of his life to that point with a dwindling band of Yahi (and related peoples).  With the deaths of his mother and sister he was completely alone and ultimately could not survive by himself.

Ishi means “man” in the Yana language. The anthropologist Alfred Kroeber gave this name to him because it was rude to ask a Yahi his name. Ishi is quoted as saying, “I have [no name], because there were no people to name me.” I am given to doubt this.  Naming among most indigenous peoples of North and South America is a very serious business.  Kroeber’s wife, Theodora, wrote, “A California Indian almost never speaks his own name, using it but rarely with those who already know it, and he would never tell it in reply to a direct question.” So it is more likely that Ishi knew his name but would not reveal it. The only people who could speak his name were dead.  But this is not the only mystery about Ishi by any means.

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Prior to the California Gold Rush of 1848–1855, the Yahi population numbered approximately 400 in California, but the total Yana (of which the Yahi were a sub-group) numbered about 3,000. The gold rush brought tens of thousands of miners and settlers to northern California, putting pressure on native populations. Gold mining damaged water supplies and killed fish; the deer left or were overhunted by miners. In addition the settlers brought diseases, such as smallpox and measles, which the Yana had no immunity to. The northern Yana were wiped out completely, and the central and southern groups including the Yahi were drastically reduced in numbers.  While searching for food, they came into conflict with settlers, leading to outright massacres, or bounties on the native peoples by the settlers. A settler could get up to $5 per head he produced. This practice was by no means confined to California, and is a deplorable chapter in the history of North and South America that rarely makes it to the history books.

Ishi is estimated to have been born between 1860 and 1862. In 1865, when he was a young boy, Ishi and his family were attacked in the Three Knolls Massacre, in which 40 Yahi were killed. Approximately 30 survived to escape, but shortly afterwards, cattlemen killed about half of the survivors. The last survivors, including Ishi and his family, went into hiding for the next 40 years, and the Yahi were believed to be extinct. From 1859 to 1911, Ishi’s remote band became more of a mix of neighboring groups such as the Wintun, Nomlaki, and Pit River as the populations of all these groups dwindled to the point where they could not sustain themselves as distinct entities.

In late 1908, a group of surveyors came across a camp they reported as inhabited by a man, a young girl, and an elderly native woman (and possibly one other person).  This was Ishi, his younger sister, and his elderly mother, respectively. The former two fled while the latter hid herself in blankets to avoid detection, because she was sick and unable to flee. The surveyors ransacked the camp and took everything. University of California anthropologists tried to find the camp, but were unsuccessful. Ishi’s mother and sister died shortly afterwards.

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Ishi lived three years beyond the raid in complete isolation. Finally, starving and with nowhere to go, at the age of about 49 on August 29, 1911, he was found by butchers outside a slaughterhouse near Oroville, and was presumed to be trying to steal meat. Initially, he was jailed by the Butte County sheriff, but U.C. Berkeley anthropologists, Alfred Kroeber and Thomas Talbot Waterman, took him to San Francisco and gave him housing at Berkeley Museum of Anthropology where he lived for the remainder of his life.

Waterman and Kroeber  worked with Ishi closely over the years and interviewed him at length to help them reconstruct Yahi culture. He described family units, naming patterns, and the ceremonies that he knew, but much of the tradition had been lost because there were few older survivors in the group in which he was raised. He identified material items and showed the techniques by which they were made. Ishi provided valuable information on his native dialect of Yana, which was recorded and studied by the linguist Edward Sapir, who had previously done work on the northern dialects.

Ishi's quiver and arrows

Ishi’s quiver and arrows

Ishi, having come to live in San Francisco, and having no immunity to Western diseases, was often ill. He was treated by a Professor of Medicine at UCSF, Saxton T. Pope. Pope became close friends with Ishi, and learned from him how to make bows and arrows in traditional fashion. He and Ishi often hunted together. Ishi died of tuberculosis, then an incurable disease, on March 25, 1916. His friends at the university initially had tried to prevent an autopsy on Ishi’s body since the body was to be kept intact according to Yahi tradition. But the doctors at the University of California medical school performed one before Waterman was able to stop it. Ishi’s brain was preserved and the body cremated. Included alongside his remains were “one of his bows, five arrows, a basket of acorn meal, a boxful of shell bead money, a purse full of tobacco, three rings, and some obsidian flakes.” Ishi’s remains were interred at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Colma, near San Francisco, but his brain was put in a deerskin-wrapped Pueblo pottery jar and sent to the Smithsonian Institution by Kroeber in 1917. It remained there until August 10, 2000, when it was sent to members of the Redding Rancheria and Pit River nations in accord with both the letter and the spirit of the National Museum of the American Indian Act of 1989, that requires the repatriation of human remains to suitable host groups.

There is now considerable controversy concerning Ishi’s background. I believe that there is little doubt that he was the last of the indigenous peoples of North America to have lived the bulk of his life without contact with Westerners. The question has more to do with whether he was distinctly Yahi/Yana or of a more multi-ethnic heritage.  The flint arrow points he produced, for example, do not resemble Yana examples from archeological assemblages, but look more like those produced by the Nomlaki or Wintu, who were living with the Yana around the time of Ishi’s childhood.  It has even been speculated that one of his parents was not Yahi.  He spoke Yahi, but possibly his descriptions of Yahi culture are more of a blend of cultures he grew up with.  I can’t say I am overly concerned about this given that every culture borrows from others.  Whatever his origins, Ishi provided early twentieth century anthropologists with a treasure trove of knowledge.

As is evidenced by Ishi’s grave goods, acorn flour was an important component of the Yahi diet (as it was throughout northern California), so a recipe involving acorn flour is in order.  The purists among you might consider making it yourselves. It is a major project, however.  The big issue is that acorns are very high in tannins so they have to be leached out before the acorn flour is edible.  Tannins are not only bitter, they can cause stomach upset if consumed in large quantities.  The basic process is as follows:

1. Store the acorns several months in a dry place (up to a year). This process can be reduced to a month if they are stored by a fire.
2. Remove the outer skin.
3. Use a grinder or food processor to reduce the acorns to a meal. Depending on usage this can be coarse (for acorn mush), or fine (baked goods).
4. Place the ground acorns in a bag, such as a flour sack, that will allow the passage of water, but not allow the flour to seep out.
5. Put the bag in gently flowing water for 7 to 8 hours (a river is great). A slow trickle from a tap is all right, but the process may take up to 24 hours. Taste the rinse water periodically to see that the bitterness has been removed. The time also depends on the fineness of the flour: the coarser, the longer.
6. Spread the leached flour out on trays in the sun to dry.

If you do not want to go to all this trouble it is possible to get acorn flour in some health food stores, or online. Click here for a good source.

Here’s the thing.  Prepared acorn flour comes from the genus Quercus – the classic oaks – but the peoples of northern California used acorns from the tanoak or tanbark-oak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus), and, to the best of my knowledge, flour from these acorns is not commercially available.  It is richer and more flavorful than flour from regular oak acorns, and is what Ishi ate.

Tanoak acorns

Tanoak acorns

The simplest recipe is for mush, for which coarser flour is best. Place a quantity of acorn meal in a non reactive pot (do not use aluminum) with double the quantity of water.  Simmer slowly for 1 to 2 hours. The mush should resemble oatmeal or cream of wheat.  It can then be used to accompany meat dishes such as hearty stews.  Northern California peoples also made acorn pancakes by taking a very thick mush and using it like a batter, baking it on hot flat stones in a fire.  You could do the same with a heavy iron skillet.  My efforts in this regard have not been highly successful. The pancakes tended to fall apart and were not especially appealing.  What works best is a 50-50 acorn flour and regular flour mix made into a batter with eggs and griddled as you would regular US-style pancakes.

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May 272013
 

Ibn Khaldoun

Today is the birthday (1332) of Abū Zayd ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Khaldūn al-Ḥaḍramī (بو زيد عبد الرحمن بن محمد بن خلدون الحضرمي) commonly known as Ibn Khaldoun, one of the greatest thinkers in the fields of history, economics, sociology, and anthropology of all times, and is now rightly considered by many experts in those fields to be their great-great grandfather.  Yet most of his work remained unknown in the West for centuries until it was rediscovered in the nineteenth century when many of his fundamental ideas were reinvented by scholars.  Even now in the social sciences his name is hardly a byword.  I first learned about him in graduate school when I took a class on the pre-modern history of anthropology.  Many of his ground breaking theories are current to this day.

Ibn Khaldoun (or Ibn Khaldūn) was an Arab Muslim born in Tunis into an upper-class Andalusian family of Arab descent, the Banu Khaldūn. His family, which held many high offices in Andalusia, had emigrated to Tunisia after the fall of Seville to Reconquista forces around the middle of the 13th century. After the fall of Tunis to the sultan of Constantinople in 1352, he relocated to Fez (Morocco) where he took up the position of writer of royal proclamations for the sultan, Abu Inan Fares I.  However, he got himself in hot water fairly soon for scheming against the sultan and landed in prison for 22 months. He was released on the sultan’s death but had mixed fortunes subsequently.  He decided to move to Granada, capital of the province of Granada in Andalusia, where he expected to be well received because in his time at Fez he had assisted the sultan of Granada, Muhammad V, regain power following his exile. There he came into conflict with the sultan’s vizier and so relocated to North Africa once again where he bounced around, because of his seemingly insatiable desire to cause trouble, finally ending up in Egypt, where he died in 1406. During his time in North Africa and Egypt he mostly devoted himself to writing and some teaching.  These were the years that produced his greatest works.

His best known book is the Muqaddimah, commonly called the Prolegomena in English because it is the introductory volume in his proposed grand history of the world.  In it he lays out his basic methods and theories to be applied in the body of the work.  He starts out with a critique of previous methods in history pointing out that they are often unreliable because of 7 critical errors in method, such as writing with the purpose of currying favor with a ruler, failure to examine the reliability of sources, and bias towards a particular creed or cultural norm (what we now call ethnocentrism). My favorite of them all, the cornerstone of all cultural anthropology, is the error of  failing to place events in their proper historical and cultural contexts and, hence, failing to interpret their true meaning — a principle I live by in my own writing.

You would be amazed at the breadth of his theorizing in diverse fields, and at how well his work continues to accord with contemporary theory. In economics he expounded on markets, laws of supply and demand, labor and human capital, exchange, and the effects of taxation on productivity. In sociology and anthropology he theorized on the nature of social cohesion, the effects of nomadic versus city life on culture, and the ways in which social bonds weaken as cultures move from a subsistence base to one of surpluses, and, eventually, luxury. He proposed that this progression was the ultimate cause of the cyclic downfall of empires. His political theory might best be summarized by his definition of government: “an institution which prevents injustice other than such as it commits itself” which we must all ruefully admit is the case.   He made major contributions to the philosophy and method of history which includes such sentiments as, “History is a science,” “Myths have nothing to do with history and should be refuted,” and “To build strong historical records, the historian should rely on necessary rules for the evaluation of truth.”  Those in the know believe that Ibn Khaldoun was one of the greatest thinkers of all time.

Few people nowadays realize that what is often referred to as the “Mediterranean Diet” has strong Arab influences dating back to the Middle Ages. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Ibn Khaldoun’s ancestral, and actual, home of Andalusia in southern Spain.  This recipe is my modern adaptation from the 13th century anonymous cookbook, Kitab al-tabikh fi al-Maghrib wal-Andalus  (Book of Dishes from Morocco and Andalusia). It is for a raised dough (rather like egg bread) that is shaped into braids, shallow fried, and drizzled with scented honey then dusted with sugar. The original medieval recipe (which is typically vague about quantities and methods) calls for durum flour in preference OR plain wheat flour otherwise. You can choose your own proportions based on preference, experience with durum flour, and availability.  I prefer a 50-50 split because in bread making this makes a lighter product. The original recipe calls for both cinnamon and Chinese cinnamon.  What you buy in the stores today is Chinese cinnamon, also known as cassia. Cinnamon here means “true cinnamon” which is a different species and much more aromatic than cassia. However, you can use one or the other, or mix the two.

Dafaîr (Fried Dough Braids)

Ingredients:

Dough

10 ½ oz (300 gm) durum wheat flour, all purpose flour, or a mix of the two
¼ cup (½ dl) water
1 package ( ¼ oz/7g) fast acting yeast
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
½ tsp powdered saffron
2 oz (56 g) coarsely chopped blanched almonds
Vegetable oil for frying and coating the dough

Honey sauce

2/3 cup (1 ½ dl) honey
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp (50g) true cinnamon, cassia, or a mix
½ tbsp (7.5 g) finely ground lavender flowers or 1- 2 drops of lavender essential oil
caster sugar for dusting.

Instructions:

Put the yeast into a cup with 2 tablespoons of lukewarm water. Stir and let it sit for 5 minutes.

Put the flour and salt in a bowl and incorporate the water little by little. Then add the yeast.  Knead until the dough is elastic.

Pour the saffron into a bowl with the two eggs and beat the mixture thoroughly. Then pour it over the dough, add the almonds and mix them well together. Knead the dough again for a few minutes to be sure all the ingredients are evenly distributed.  Oil the surface of the dough and place it in a clean bowl. Cover with a moist towel and leave it to rise in a warm place.

It should take about an hour for the dough to double in size but you should check it periodically starting after 45 minutes. If a finger pressed into the dough springs back immediately it has not proofed enough. If a finger causes an indentation that remains it has proofed too long.  You ought to be able to press in and have the dough spring back after about 5 seconds. Then it is ready.

While the dough is rising, gently heat the honey so that it is slightly more runny than when cold.  Add the cinnamon, as much ground black pepper as suits your tastes, and the lavender. If you are using lavender oil, add one drop and check for flavor.  Add one drop more if the flavor is too light. Keep warm.

Divide the dough into six portions. Sprinkle the worktop and your hands with flour. Take one portion of the dough and keep the rest covered with a towel. Roll and manipulate the dough until you have a thin sausage about 15 inches long. Cut this in three equal lengths and braid them together, pinching both ends when you are done.  Repeat for the other five portions. Let the braids rest for 15 minutes.

While the braids are resting, pour vegetable oil into a heavy skillet to a depth of about ½ inch and heat until it reaches 340 F (170 C).

Place the braids gently into the skillet without overcrowding. You may need to do this in batches. Fry them  to a golden brown on the bottom , then flip them and cook the other side in the same way.

Place the cooked braids on racks over trays to drain. Don’t use paper towels because then they just continue to sit in the oil. You may pat them with paper towels though.

When the braids have drained, drizzle with the spiced honey, and sprinkle lightly with caster sugar.

Yield: 6