Friday, May 04, 2007

Guyanese Indigenous Groups: Claim Against Credit Suisse

A number of Guyanese indigenous communities are being represented in an international claim against a Swiss Bank, Credit Suisse. Other indigenous groups that are part of this claim include representatives from Malaysia, Cambodia, and Papua New Guinea.

They are seeking $10 million US from Credit Suisse as compensation for its links with a Malaysian timber company--Samling--that has poisoned waters and polluted communities.

Credit Suisse is being pursued because while its financial services were contracted by Samling, the bank's own charter mandates that it support sustainable development.

A NGO--the Society for Threatened Peoples--plans to attend the bank's annual general meeting, in the company of indigenous representatives, this Friday, May 4, 2007.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Vatican and Indigenous Cultural Revival

On May 2, 2007, Guzmán Carriquiry Lecour, who is the Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, spoke with the Italian magazine Il Consulente Re ( about the Fifth General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean, to be held in Brazil later this month.

Carriquiry dismissed indigenous cultures from playing any role in fomenting Latin American unity, noting that "The great symbols of Latin American unity are not indigenous ones because, before the arrival of the Spaniards and Portuguese, the continent was totally fragmented -- a Babel -- without the slightest awareness of itself." He added that the "true symbols of unity are Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Christ of the Andes, the Church as the sacrament of unity among our peoples in Catholicism." Originality is to be found in the Gospel, he argues: "The Gospel incarnated in the peoples is the deepest element of the historical-cultural originality that we call Latin America."

While not entirely dismissing indigenous peoples, and proclaiming that they deserve respect, such respect does not extend to indigenous cultural practices: "another matter altogether is trying to rekindle sorcerers, shamans, ancient indigenous cosmogonies -- the attempt of an arbitrary archaism, stemming more from ideological manipulation than from a true answer to the needs and demands of indigenous communities."

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Taino Research Targeted for Deletion

In a very public manner, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are seeking to ban funding by the National Science Foundation for a range of anthropological and archaeological projects, including one that is specifically about pre-colonial Taino society and culture. This news came from the American Anthropological Association which sent out the following communique:

The NSF Authorization bill for FY2008 is scheduled to come up for debate today on the House floor. Two proposed amendments – introduced by Reps. John Campbell (R-CA) and Scott Garrett (R-NJ) – would prohibit funding of nine already funded National Science Foundation grants in the Social, Behavioral and Economics Science Division based on their “silly” titles. Five of the nine grants targeted fall under the anthropology or archaeology portfolios. There are also amendments being considered to reduce NSF’s overall authorized funding level.

In AMENDMENTS to H.R. 1867, offered by Mr. Garrett of New Jersey, he asks that at the end of section 3, the following new subsection be added:

(h) LIMITATION.-None of the funds authorized under this section may be used for research related to

(2) The diet and social stratification in ancient Puerto Rico.

That particular project, which he thinks is "silly," has already won a grant from the NSF and the details are available at

What the amendment is therefore saying is that no funds should be disbursed to a project that has already been approved by the NSF. The researcher in question is one who many of our Taino readers will know of already, Dr. Luis Antonio Curet.

He describes his research project as follows (I could not find the "silly" part):

With the support of the National Science Foundation, an interdisciplinary team of Puerto Rican and American archaeologists, physical anthropologists, and experts in bone chemistry will conduct eighteen months of research into the relationship between the development of social complexity and changes in human diet at four prehistoric Puerto Rican sites. The principal goal of this work is an increased understanding of the changes in the consumption of foodstuffs over time that may reflect broader transformations of society.

At the time of European conquest, many of the indigenous peoples of Puerto Rico were organized in stratified societies that have been described by modern anthropologists as chiefdoms. These stratified societies had developed locally in Puerto Rico from earlier egalitarian groups through a series of socio-cultural changes that took place over more than 4000 years of occupation. While a great deal of research has been directed at understanding the causes and consequences of increasing social hierarchization in regions like Mesopotamia, Mexico, and the Andes, comparatively little effort has been expended on regions such as the Caribbean. The present study aims to address just one portion of the issues surrounding the development of social stratification in this traditionally under-studied region through the study of food, which in many societies is an excellent barometer of social difference (e.g., such as caviar and pheasants in Western cultures). This work will attempt to tease out changes in the patterns of food consumption through time, focusing on the elucidation of differences in diet between common people and a developing social elite.

In order to accomplish these goals, a rigorous methodology for the study of prehistoric diets will be employed involving the analysis of a large sample (ca. 250 individuals) of human remains from the four sites. Diet will be analyzed at an individual level by means of the chemical analysis of the bones and possible foodstuffs. A technique called stable isotope analysis allows for the relatively precise discrimination of the diets of long-deceased individuals. The data derived from this analysis will be coupled with detailed archaeological information from the sites under analysis and will be rigorously chronologically controlled through the radiocarbon dating of all individuals under study.

The intellectual merit of this project is twofold: First, it seeks to study the in situ development of social stratification in a part of the world that has traditionally received short shrift. Second, it attempts to track social change at the level of the individual, through the study of their diets, rather than using aggregate measures. This technique will allow for the production of much finer-grained data allowing for far more robust theory building and evaluation.

The impacts of the present project will be felt on a broad scale first because the methodology employed will be able to be implemented in the study of other regions and societies, and second because the results of the study will be widely disseminated to both academic and lay constituencies. This project will assist in the training of both Puerto Rican and American (graduate and undergraduate) students and will facilitate further collaboration between Caribbeanists on one hand and American archaeologists on the other.

For those of you who are resident in the United States, please consider calling your Representative and lodging your protest. Only in a totalitarian society do politicians get to set research agendas, and given the number of Republicans who believe that the Earth really was made in six days, sometime around 5000 years ago, readers should be very alarmed.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Vive la xénophobie: Cannibal myth-making...again

Making news in Canada today is a Quebecois entertainment website that features a well worn stereotypical rendition of a cannibal scene, this one set in Africa, replete with two "whites" boiling in a pot, victims of a rather dopish looking, slack jawed, generic African "savage" figure. The story appeared on the CBC news website, in an piece titled "Quebec video site criticized over 'cannibal' skit." According to the report:

"The creators of Quebec-based humorous video website Têtes à claques are being criticized over a comedy skit some organizations are calling racist.

"The video The Cannibal, featuring bobblehead puppets and computer animation, shows two white people in a pot of boiling water while a black "cannibal" prepares to eat them.

"Québec pluriel, a group that promotes diversity, says the clip is derogatory toward black people.

"The group has called on the creators of the site to take it down and said it will take the issue to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal."
Many news reports, in some cases appearing on a daily basis, have featured incidents of Quebecois xenophobia and discrimination against ethnic minorities, immigrants, and Muslims. This seems to reinforce notions that Quebecois are very insular, and that their own quest for recognition of their status as a distinct society, if not one entitled to complete independence, might be one way of evading the multicultural "contamination" that is to be found in the rest of Canada. That is one possible take. Another comes from a colleague at Concordia University, which is much more symapethic in its analysis of the root causes for expressions of Quebecois xenophobia.

CBC story:

Têtes à claques website:

Video of "Le cannibale":

59% of Quebecers say they're racist: poll

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Wade Davis: Cultural Conservation Rights

Anthropologist Wade Davis has made the argument that cultural conservation should be a right, and that rapid cultural change, and accompanying feelings of loss and alienation, are partly the cause for some of the more violent forms of "instability" in the world at present. Davis made the case specifically for maintaining indigenous cultures, adding a little twist to the notion of cultural extinction, as in the following passage from an article in the Taipei Times titled "Vanishing Cultures":

Davis says that in every case, indigenous people are being driven to extinction by identifiable forces. "And that's actually a very optimistic observation because it suggests that if human beings are the agents of cultural destruction, we can be the facilitators of cultural survival."

The article adds, "Davis fears that the continued reluctance of governments to make culture a fundamental part of their policy is leading to a less stable world":

"When people lose the comfort of tradition and feel these kinds of pressures of intense change that can provoke a sense of disappointment, disaffection, alienation, you get very strange movements emerging that can be very dangerous. Al-Qaeda is one of these kinds of fantasy movements that invoke a world of Islam that never existed but has to be presumed to have existed for those who are trying to rationalize the humiliation of all these years of chaos in the Middle East. Maintaining the integrity of culture is not an act of sentimentality; it's not an act of nostalgia, its much more than an act of human rights. It's about maintaining the integrity of civilization itself," he said.

Davis was also critical of the failure of academic anthropologists to engage the wider public on issues of vital contemporary importance.

He cites, for example, in the immediate wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the US, a meeting of 4,000 anthropologists from the American Anthropological Association was held in Washington DC where the primary topic of discussion was the attack on the Twin Towers.

"The entire gathering earned a single line in the Washington Post, in the gossip section, that basically said 'the nut cases are in town,'" he said. "And who is more remiss: the government for not having the ability to listen to the one profession that could have explained what was going on or the profession for not having the ability to communicate effectively with the world at large?"

He made these comments while on a visit to Taipei, Taiwan, to promote his televised series for National Geographic. You can read more by visiting the original article at: