Sep 212016


Today is the International Day of Peace, sometimes unofficially known as World Peace Day, dedicated to world peace, and specifically the absence of war and violence. To inaugurate the day, the United Nations Peace Bell is rung at UN Headquarters (in New York City). The bell is cast from coins donated by children from all continents except Africa, and was a gift from the United Nations Association of Japan, as “a reminder of the human cost of war.”  The inscription on its side reads, “Long live absolute world peace.”


The United Nations General Assembly declared, in a resolution sponsored by the United Kingdom and Costa Rica in 1981, that the International Day of Peace be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace. The date initially chosen was the regular opening day of the annual sessions of the General Assembly, the third Tuesday of September. The United Nations was, of course, founded in the aftermath of World War II to prevent another such conflict. Obviously there has not been another world war, but the body has not been especially effective at preventing smaller wars.

The ineffectiveness of the UN should not come as any surprise, but, nonetheless, we can applaud the ideals. It can be admitted that the UN has been successful in a great many areas through its numerous organs such as WHO and UNESCO. The problem is that world peace is certainly a goal that I am sure the majority would support in principal, but the practice is endlessly elusive. This is because the causes of conflict are seemingly impossible to eradicate. There are many causes, obviously but I would like to focus on two: human temperament and profiteering.

As a professional anthropologist I do not believe in some notion of universal human nature. All cultures are different, and some exist globally and in history, who seek/sought to live peaceably. Conflict is not in our natures; we learn it. In fact, a very good case can be made for the argument that genetically we incline towards cooperation. There’s also a good case to be made for the argument that prehistoric hunters and gatherers were peaceful people. It was the development of domestication and, thereafter, cities, that created the conditions for war.


What little we can glean from contemporary foragers is that it is in their best interests to share and live at peace. Presumably that was also true in prehistory. Unfortunately prehistoric foragers lived in conditions that no longer exist. The most obvious ones that have vanished are abundant natural resources and low population. Under those conditions, when local groups grew too big to be sustained by local resources they could simply fission and move to new territory without conflict. That state of affairs is long past.


The Genesis story of Cain and Abel is probably a fair summation in parable form of the state of affairs in Mesopotamia at the time of domestication. Their parents, Adam and Eve, were simple foragers when they lived in the Garden of Eden. They lived off the bounty of the land. But when they were expelled they had to grow their own food by the sweat of their brows. Whether foraging or farming, people need both vegetable and animal products for survival (as a general rule). Foragers can provide both for themselves by dividing up the labor and then sharing their resources. With domestication comes a problem. It’s not as easy to create communities that can both farm crops and raise animals. Both activities benefit from the same kinds of land, but if there is not enough to go around disputes may arise.

In Mesopotamia there was a simple solution to such disputes. Farmers could take the fertile river valleys and pastoralists (animal herders) could take the rugged hill country that was not useful for farming. Of course, the hills are not good for cows and pigs, but they are perfect for sheep and goats. Enter Cain and Abel. Cain raised crops and Abel kept sheep. With this division comes the need for trade: the farmers need meat and the shepherds need bread. One way to accomplish this is through peaceful negotiation. The other is to take what you need forcibly. Pastoralists have historically subscribed to the forcible course of action because they have the means at their disposal to be successful. They slaughter animals routinely, so they can turn the technology of death from animals to humans. In addition, they live in rugged highlands that are easily defended.


To protect themselves from such attacks, farmers need to build cities with walls and train soldiers for defense. And there you have it. Once communities develop with different interests you have the potential for conflict. Then as now the question is whether you are going to fight over resources or trade in harmony, and, then as now, fighting often seems to be the better option for one reason: profiteering. To put it in a nutshell, people have always gone to war to make a profit. Other factors come into play of course, but at heart someone is making a profit – always.

If it were illegal to make a profit from manufacturing guns and bombs no one would do it. But the fact is that weapons manufacture is hugely profitable. At this point, if weapons manufacture were outlawed national economies would collapse. What is more, if weapons manufacturers ran the risk of dying through the use of their products, they’d run a mile. But that’s not the case. One group of people makes weapons and makes huge profits, and a different group of people uses the weapons and die.  There’s the problem to be solved if you want world peace. As long as we live in a world where we’re content to let a small minority get fat at the expense of others, we’ll always have war.  We need to beat our swords into ploughshares.


My solution is in some ways simple, yet impossible to put into effect. Put the people who advocate war in the forefront of battle. If you want to make guns, you have to be the first one to put on a uniform and use them. If you want to declare war, you have to be on the front lines. I don’t doubt that conflict would cease instantly under those conditions.


Eating together is, as I have said many times, one avenue towards peace and harmony. We’ve all had fights over the dinner table, of course, but in general sitting down together for a meal promotes goodwill.  Some of my best times have come when circumstances required me to share a meal with strangers. I’d have no trouble filling a book with stories – passage from Australia to England sitting at tables for 14, a fish camp in the Appalachian mountains where everyone ate at one long table, hostel kitchens worldwide, barbecues in China, potluck suppers . . . the list is endless. Let’s talk about potlucks. Everyone brings a favorite dish and we all share. Perfect for a day dedicated to world peace. In the past my contributions ran the gamut from pies and pasta to creamy desserts. In the end I opted for bringing mounds of raw vegetables of all kinds with a dipping sauce because at every potluck there were oceans of casseroles and pies with not a vegetable in sight. My contributions always vanished in a hurry.

My food suggestion du jour to celebrate the idea of world peace is to hold a potluck or something of the sort to bring people together to eat. My favorite potlucks have been the multicultural ones where you wind up with one pots, curries, pastas and whatnot. So begin by imagining what you could make that would delight an international crowd. I’m spoilt for choice because I’ve lived in so many places and cooked so many different cuisines. Recently on this blog I showcased rice dishes as good for the masses. Here’s one I invented for a New Year’s potluck. It’s a burrito casserole. They all called it lasagna but loved it anyway. I don’t have a formal recipe because I made it up on the spot. You’ll get the idea.


Start by sautéing an onion, chopped, over medium heat in a little olive oil, and when it has turned translucent add ground beef and brown it. Add a little powdered cumin also, plus salt and pepper to taste. I didn’t add any hot pepper flakes but I would have if it were just for me. When the meat is nicely browned add some crushed canned tomatoes and beef stock to moisten. Simmer for about 40 minutes until the sauce is reduced and thickened.

In a separate skillet make a tomato-based sauce with crushed canned tomatoes, beef stock, and spices. Garlic and cumin are the mainstays, but you can add some others if you wish. Cilantro is a good addition.

When the beef is ready, take out some flour tortillas. Make individual burritos by wrapping the tortillas around the beef to form a roll. Place the burritos in a row in the base of a baking dish. You can make one or two layers as you wish. Don’t make the burritos too fat because you want a balance of tortilla, meat, and sauce (like lasagna). Pour your tomato sauce over the burritos so that they are covered, with a little on top. Cover the top with shredded cheese, and bake in a medium oven (300°F/150°C) until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Nov 232015


Today is the birthday (1924) of Colin Macmillan Turnbull, a British anthropologist who came to public attention with the popular books The Forest People (on the Mbuti Pygmies of Zaire) and The Mountain People (on the Ik people of Uganda).

Turnbull was born in London and educated at Westminster School and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied politics and philosophy. During World War II he was in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve after which he was awarded a two-year grant in the Department of Indian Religion and Philosophy, Banaras Hindu University, India, from which he graduated with a master’s degree in Indian Religion and Philosophy.

In 1951, after his graduation from Banaras, he traveled to the Belgian Congo (present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo) with Newton Beal, a schoolteacher from Ohio he met in India. Turnbull and Beal first studied the Mbuti pygmies during this time, though that was not the complete goal of the trip.

An “odd job” Turnbull picked up while in Africa at this time was working for the Hollywood producer Sam Spiegel. Spiegel hired Turnbull to assist in the construction and transportation of a boat needed for his film. This boat was the African Queen, which was used for the feature film The African Queen (starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn; 1951). ( ) After his first trip to Africa, Turnbull traveled to Yellowknife in the northwest territories of Canada, where he worked as a geologist and gold miner for approximately a year, before he went back to Oxford for another degree. Upon returning to Oxford in 1954, he specialized in the anthropology of Africa. He remained at Oxford for two years before another field trip to Africa, finally focusing on the Belgian Congo (1957–58) and Uganda. After years of fieldwork, he finally received his doctorate in 1964.


Turnbull became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1965, after he moved to New York City to become curator in charge of African Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History in 1959. He later resided in Lancaster County, Virginia, and was on staff in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond. Other professional associations included Corresponding Membership of Royal Museum for Central Africa and fellowship in the British Royal Anthropological Institute. He first gained prominence with his book The Forest People (1961), an admiring, popular study of the Mbuti.


In 1972, having been commissioned to come up with an explanation (and, perhaps solution) of the plight of the Ik of Uganda, he published the highly controversial The Mountain People. It documented how the Ik, a hunter/gatherer group had been forced to stop moving around ancestral lands, through the seasons, because such nomadism now involved the three national borders of Uganda, Kenya and Sudan. Forced to become stationary in Uganda, and without a knowledge base and culture for doing so, they failed to thrive, even to the point of starvation and death. The book came as a great shock to both professional anthropologists and the general public because it stood in such stark contrast to The Forest People.

The Forest People is written with a general audience in mind, and gives a rosy image of the lives of Mbuti foragers when they are able to disentangle themselves from village life with Bantu farmers and go off to hunt and gather in the forest. When they are on their own in the Ituri they are carefree and full of fun. I’ll always cherish Turnbull’s description of an Mbuti when he is vastly amused – clutching his stomach, and literally rolling on the ground in laughter. The book is a valuable way to introduce Western people to the notion of “the other” – a culture absolutely different from the West, yet perfectly coherent and functional. I regularly used the book in Introduction to Anthropology classes.

But then The Mountain People came along and upset the apple cart. The Ik, in contrast to the Mbuti, seemed like horrible people. They barely scraped out a living in their restricted circumstances, not helped by a persistent drought, and they seemed to have no fundamental rules and principles. They were not fun. Turnbull interviewed Ik elders and determined that their current circumstances were directly attributable to loss of resources, and concluded that culture can be fragile, and people can be harsh and cruel in the face of  dire circumstances. Not surprisingly a great deal of controversy erupted inside and outside the profession.

Some of Turnbull’s recordings of Mbuti music were commercially released, and his works have inspired other ethnomusicological studies, such as those of Simha Arom and Mauro Campagnoli. His most famous recording is Music of the Rainforest Pygmies, recorded in 1961, now released on CD by Lyrichord Discs, Inc. I used to keep a copy in my car to play on the way to work when I needed a little soothing from traffic jams.


Turnbull made no secret of being gay. In 1959 he met Joseph Allen Towles who had moved to New York City to pursue a career as an actor and writer. They exchanged marriage vows the following year. Towles’ began working as a volunteer in the Anthropology Department at the American Museum of Natural History with Turnbull. From 1965 to 1967, he assisted with the creation of the “Man in Africa Hall”, a permanent exhibit (re-titled in 1990 as “Hall of African Peoples”). He also researched and constructed the “Slavery in the New World” subsection of the museum. In 1963, he entered Pace College to study history and anthropology, graduating in 1968. He received his Ph.D. from Makerere University in 1979.


From 1965 to 1967, Turnbull and Towles conducted fieldwork among the Ik of Northern Uganda in Africa. In the Congo in 1970, they conducted fieldwork on the Nkumbi circumcision initiation ritual for boys and the Asa myth of origin among the Mbo of the Ituri forest. In 1979, they traveled the world studying the concept of tourism as pilgrimage. Towles next turned to biblical research, and writing plays and novels. He reacted angrily to Turnbull’s semi-autobiographical work The Human Cycle (1983), which omitted all references to their relationship. Towles’ health declined slowly from that time. He died from complications of AIDS in 1988.

Turnbull arranged for Towles’ research to be published posthumously. It appeared in 1993 as “Nkumbi initiation ritual and structure among the Mbo of Zaïre” and as “Asa: Myth of Origin of the Blood Brotherhood Among the Mbo of the Ituri Forest”, both in Annales of the Royal Museum for Central Africa.


Late in life Turnbull took up the political cause of death row inmates. In 1989, he moved to Bloomington, Indiana, to participate in the building of Tibetan Cultural Center with his friend Thupten Jigme Norbu, elder brother of the 14th Dalai Lama. Later Turnbull moved to Dharamsala, India, where he took the monks’ vow of Tibetan Buddhism, given to him by the Dalai Lama. He died in Virginia in 1994.


The BaMbuti are primarily hunter-gatherers. Their animal foodstuffs include crabs, shellfish, ants, larvae, snails, pigs, antelopes, monkeys, fish, and honey. The vegetable component of their diet includes wild yams, berries, fruits, roots, leaves, and cola nuts. So there you are – have at it for your pygmy meal of the day. Well, obviously you can’t because you don’t live in the Ituri. Wikipedia (edited) has this to say:

While hunting, the Bambuti have been known to specifically target the giant forest hog. The meat obtained from the giant forest hog (as is the meat from rats) is often considered kweri, a bad animal which may cause illness to those who eat it, but is often valuable as a trade good between the Bambuti and agriculturalist Bantu groups. There is some lore that is thought to have identified giant forest hogs as kweri due to their nocturnal habits and penchant for disruption of the few agricultural advances the Bambuti have made. This lore can be tied to Bambuti mythology, where the giant forest hog is thought to be a physical manifestation of Negoogunogumbar. Further, there are unconfirmed reports of giant forest hogs eating Bambuti infants from their cribs in the night. Other food sources yielded by the forest are non-kweri animals for meat consumption, root plants, palm trees, and bananas; and in some seasons, wild honey. Yams, legumes, beans, peanuts, hibiscus, amaranth, and gourds are consumed. The Bambuti use large nets, traps, and bows and arrows to hunt game. Women and children sometimes assist in the hunt by driving the prey into the nets. Both sexes gather and forage. Each band has its own hunting ground, although boundaries are hard to maintain.


The BaMbuti eat what’s available, in other words. They eat what they gather raw, or stew or roast it. You can do the same. I’ve written many times here about gathering, which few Westerners do. I’ve always considered wild berries to be free food, and they are perfectly delicious. In season I’ve gone with friends in New York State to gather literally bucket loads of blueberries to make pies and preserves. There are also wild strawberries (right in my lawn), wild bramble berries, wild grapes, wild plums, wild nuts, fungi, greens, and so forth. There’s a bounty in your back yard. That’s, of course, if you live in the country – as I did. If you live in an apartment in a big city, you’re out of luck. But that’s my “recipe” of the day. Go out into the country and find something wild to gather and cook. You do have to be a little careful and knowledgeable. Acorns can be noxious and fungi can be poisonous. You do need to have some knowledge. That just means that at worst you need to recruit locals who know what they are doing, because they know what they are doing. What saddens me is that such locals are getting fewer and fewer. What saddens me more is to see dandelion greens sold in the supermarket when anyone with a lawn will give you all the dandelions you can dig up – for free.