No 1, April 2001
Welcome to our first Newsletter for 2001!
Most of our students are likely to be aware that the Faculty of Arts is in the process of converting from a year-course system of tuition to a semester-based modular system. Last year archaeology introduced their new third-level modules and this year the first-level anthropology modules were introduced. Other levels will be phased in over the next two years. Also in the pipeline is the introduction of a coursework or structured Master's degree which is likely to incorporate the existing Honours program. These are important changes and are in line with developments at other South African universities. We hope to attract more students once they have been introduced, since as ever, both anthropology and archaeology have particular relevance for contemporary South African society. Recently we were notified of the final numbers of students who registered for anthropology and archaeology for the 2001 academic year, and unlike many other departments at Unisa, our Department has shown a very encouraging, albeit slight, increase. This is excellent news, since it means that the significance of the disciplines we teach are being recognised among the public at large, and that our efforts at marketing our disciplines are beginning to pay off.
Write to us with you views, ideas, complaints - any matter which you wish to share with other students will be welcome. The more you contribute, the more successful the Newsletter will be. Send your comments, items of information or articles to
Tel: (012) 429-6418 or 429-6788
The views expressed by contributors are not necessarily those of the Editor, the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, or of the University of South Africa.
IN THIS ISSUE
INTRODUCING THE DEPARTMENT
Few students are for some reason or other, able to visit the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, so for the benefit of those who cannot, we place photographs of 'well-known' names and divisions in the Department. Our Department is rather complex: not only does it include both anthropology and archaeology as separate disciplines, but it also incorporates the Centre for Culture and Heritage Studies (ACACHS) and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
THE SECOND ADVANCES IN QUALITATIVE RESEARCH CONFERENCE
The Second Advances in Qualitative Research Conference, organised by the International Centre for Qualitative Research at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, was held from 21 to 24 February 2001, and was attended by Drs Eulalie van Heerden and Stephné Herselman. Both presented papers on recently completed qualitative research. This conference, and similar initiatives in North America, drew welcome attention to the relevance of and developments in qualitative research, while at the same time focussed people's attention on the pitfalls of conducting qualitative research. Regretfully qualitative research is often regarded as an 'easy option' - just conduct a few interviews and your research is done. This conference served to remind us that such perceptions are not only short-sighted, but also dangerous since they provide researchers with a false sense of academic or scientific credibility and cannot be justified in any way.
The theme of the conference, which was attended by 516 delegates from countries across the world, was of course qualitative research. Such a large number of diverse participants necessarily meant an exciting range of presentations. From the papers that were presented, the following general themes could be discerned:
The conference was held at the Fantasyland Hotel which forms part of the West Edmonton Mall, the largest shopping mall in the world. Just over 800 shops are included under a single roof, truly a shoppers' paradise.
Eulalie van Heerden's paper, entitled, 'Do they know that it isn't Christmas? Reflections on the Emergent Disquiet of Doing Qualitative Research', focussed on problems in desegregated schooling in South Africa, and aimed to identify factors that influence interaction and acceptance between socioculturally and racially diverse learners. Her discussion centred on various methods of data collection and analysis, with particular focus on learners' attitudes towards and perceptions of one another and of desegregated schooling. A particularly significant aspect of Eulalie's presentation was the comparison she drew between her own qualitative research and similar research conducted under the auspices of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). The comparison draws to attention the importance of conducting thorough qualitative research through which research participants are, as it were, given the opportunity to 'speak their minds', and to the importance of ensuring a holistic, unbiased and objective evaluation of the topic of investigation. When compilers of a research report, such as those of the SAHRC Report entitled Racism, 'Racial Integration' and Desegregation in South African Public Secondary Schools (1999), admit to a lack of objectivity in their work, implying a one-sided subjective investigation of the topic of research, the validity of the project immediately becomes questionable, and more so, if the research in question is used to inform Government policy.
Stephné Herselman's paper was entitled 'Whereto from here?': A Qualitative Evaluation of 'Cultural Collisions' as Outcomes of Workplace Diversity. It approached the idea of sociocultural diversity from the perspective that it consists of three dimensions, namely primary dimensions which include people's physical traits; secondary dimensions including education, religion and wealth, and tertiary dimensions, including perceptions, beliefs and attitudes. The paper evaluated the outcomes of interaction between socioculturally diverse employees of a particular company as 'cultural collisions', that is as conflicts arising from contact between socioculturally diverse persons, and their impact on the operations of the company.
MARKETING UNISA IN AFRICAN COUNTRIES
Unisa, being one of the twelve mega-universities in the world, has an African Outreach Programme with the objective of introducing the University to and recruiting students in countries beyond the borders of South Africa. This is done not only to increase our student numbers but also to contribute to the development of human resources across the entire continent. Countries included in this initiative are Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Kenya. Although these countries do have universities, these are smaller institutions which accommodate limited numbers of students and cannot provide distance education on the scale that Unisa can. Unisa has much to offer due to, amongst other factors, its tried and tested system of distance education, quality tuition, wide range of courses and programmes, and the fact that its qualifications are recognised internationally.
As a member and representative of the Faculty of Arts Marketing Committee, Dr Eulalie van Heerden visited Zambia during the week 27 November - 4 December 2000. The marketing team included representatives of the Faculties of Education, Law, and Economic and Management Sciences. Advertisements were placed in the Zambian newspapers and on radio as regards the dates, times and venues where and when the Unisa personnel would be available to assist potential students. The response was excellent, with up to 300 potential students visiting the Unisa exhibitions every day. Many people also made enquiries on behalf of friends and relatives, and according to the number of brochures, calenders and registration forms distributed, Unisa will soon be a well-known institution in the rest of Africa!
The first stop was Lusaka, and as the delegates exited the airport parking lot in a rain storm in a hired vehicle, another motor car drove into them from behind! This necessitated the Unisa group to criss-cross the outskirts of Lusaka in search of a police station to report the accident, or rather incident, since fortunately it was not serious. After this unfortunate introduction to Lusaka, the group was prepared to face whatever other surprises came their way. But the gods (and goddesses) smiled upon them and the rest of their stay was pleasant and fruitful. Due to their hectic schedule there was little time to see the city since the group interviewed potential students from 09h00 until about 19h00 every day. They were invited by and spent a pleasant evening with the family of a professor who was a member of their management team and who originates from Zambia. The highlight of the evening was the traditional meal consisting of rice, nshima (pap), potatoes, a variety of known and unknown vegetables, chicken, red meat, capenta (very tiny fish), and worms (similar to mopani worms). The latter did not go down too well with the foreigners, but Eulalie being an anthropologist, attempted to overcome the culture shock! It did however, help to cover the worm's eyes with the fingers while bringing it to the mouth, with the mind racing to generate enough courage to actually chew and swallow it!
From Lusaka the group drove through beautiful countryside to Kitwe, a large town in the Copperbelt. Along the road in the rural areas people sell fruit and vegetables, wild honey and firewood, wooden doors and furniture, and giant white mushrooms which on average are the size of a dinner plate. However, nothing prepared the Unisa delegates for the giant mushroom they came across just as the motorist who bought it was about to load it into his car. It was the size of an umbrella! On this particular road, academic concepts seemed to acquire new meanings, with the order of 'degrees' being somewhat reversed. For instance, the Unisa academics realised that to avoid becoming a MA (Master of Accidents), one first has to obtain a PhD (a degree in Pothole Dodging). Luckily most of the other motorists as well as the officials at the numerous road blocks did not have a BA (Bad Attitude)!
In Kitwe, as was the case in Lusaka, the group was too busy to explore much of the town and surrounding areas. People came from all over to obtain more information about Unisa. One afternoon on their way to the supermarket a lady tried desperately to sell the group grasshoppers for their lunch, but this time no one wanted to try the 'delicacy'!
Then it was back to Lusaka for the flight back to South Africa. The group had time to visit the famous Soweto market where one can buy literally anything (new and secondhand). Goods are displayed alongside and on top of each other, and include clothes, vegetables and traditional medicine, music tapes and shoes, suitcases and raw fish, cosmetics and meat from recently slaughtered animals, cool-drinks and wedding-dresses, to name a few. Here the group bought a snack of barbecued termites (relatively tasty)!
All in all, the trip was a very successful marketing exercise. As regards the degree programs offered by the Faculty of Arts, by far the most popular interest was in community development/developmental studies within the broader field of Human and Social Studies. This puts anthropology firmly on the priority list and we look forward to illustrating the valuable and essential contribution of our discipline to development and growth of Africa as a whole.
THE JOINT AASA/SASCA CONFERENCE
From 9 to 11 April 2001, our Department hosted the Joint Conference of the two existing associations for anthropology in Southern Africa, namely the Association for Anthropology in Southern Africa (AASA) and the South African Society for Cultural Anthropologists (SASCA). A historic occasion in the history of anthropology in South Africa, the conference saw the dissolving of these two associations, and their amalgamation into a single association known as Anthropology Southern Africa (ASA). The initiative was a joint venture of the two associations and marked the beginning of a new era for anthropology in Southern Africa. Not only does the establishment of a single association enhance the credibility of anthropology in our country and the region as a whole, but it also allows anthropologists to speak with 'one voice' as it were, following healthy debates about matters which are of both anthropological and national significance.
The following persons were elected as members of the Management Committee of the new association:
Prof Mike De Jongh (Unisa): President
Dr Eulalie van Heerden (Unisa)
The theme of the conference was 'Anthropology's Challenge for Southern Africa', and, in addition to hosting international specialists and trying to achieve unity in anthropology in Southern Africa, its aim was to address current issues and problems in the discipline and in the region. Discussions accommodated both theoretical and applied perspectives. The conference afforded anthropologists a valuable opportunity to meet and establish networks, as well as exchange ideas regarding developments in the discipline and developing its relevance in contemporary Southern Africa.
Highlights of the program included the operating address by Prof Cheryl de lay Rey, Chief Executive Officer of the NRF who emphasised the importance of research and development in the social sciences and humanities in South Africa. Prof De lay Rey's presentation was followed by key note addresses by Prof Francis Nyamnjoh of the Department of Sociology at the University of Botswana, Gaborone, and Prof Adam Kuper of Brunel University in the United Kingdom. Prof Nyamnjoh emphasised that much is to be gained by going beyond the traditional western explanations of witchcraft and occult practices as realities in Africa, and that popular understandings of witchcraft complement the western explanations. Prof Nyamnjoh argued for a more rounded conception of reality that accommodates both the visible and invisible dimensions of our world in attempts to understand the relationship between witchcraft and development. The way in which people understand such phenomena he said, depends upon their theoretical and methodological frames of reference.
Prof Kuper referred to the unique position of South Africa as having two major traditions of anthropology. Despite polarisation between these two trends, South African anthropologists generally addressed (and still do) issues which were shaped by policies and the ideology of the state. Much of the anthropological discussion in South Africa therefore focusses on issues emerging from apartheid. Prof Kuper asked the essential question whether the new 'national policy agenda' of South Africa will determine the direction of anthropological discourse in the 'new' South Africa.
The welcoming address given by Prof Mandla Makhanya, Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of South Africa, during the reception held on 9 April, set the scene for the lively and stimulating presentations which followed during the three parallel sessions over the next two days. Subthemes of the conference included The State of Anthropology, Indigenous Knowledge, South African Archaeological Heritage, Population Mobility, Contemporary Cultural Studies, Identity, Tourism, and various topics relating to health care, including HIV/Aids. Members of our Department who presented papers were Mike de Jongh (Deconstruct, Reconstruct or Self-destruct: The State of Anthropology in Southern Africa), Frik de Beer (Indigenous Knowledge and Local Perceptions of Biodiversity), Stephné Herselman ('Uneasy Bedfellows': Sociocultural Alienation as Explanatory Framework for Employee Disassociation) and Andrew Salomon and Sid Miller (Anthropological Involvement in South African Heritage Management: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Material and Sociocultural Issues). The range of themes left many delegates with the difficult decision of having to weigh up sessions against each other, deciding which to attend, but there is no doubt that the conference was highly successful.
We hope that the conference will have heralded a new era of constructive engagement between anthropologists in South Africa, and will lead to meaningful developments which will assist our discipline to take its rightful place in contributing to the development of the new South African society.
HONG KONG'S HOUSING SOLUTION
En route to the previously mentioned conference in Canada, Eulalie van Heerden and Stephné Herselman stopped over in Hong Kong. On arrival in this incredible city, three images strike the visitor: the magnificent new Chep Lap Kok Airport, opened two years ago on land reclaimed from the sea; the beautiful natural setting of Hong Kong Bay, and the rows and rows of high-rise buildings, some of which are precariously situated on hill-sides, leaving one wondering how the developers ever managed to construct them. Many of these massive concrete towers are blocks of apartments or 'flats', or subsidised public housing provided by the government for Hong Kong's vast population. The apartment buildings are easily distinguished from office blocks by the flapping rows of laundry hanging from bamboo poles protruding from windows or balconies.
Hong Kong is also a city of great contrasts, with modern department stores and hotels standing just around the corner of the bustling shopping areas of old Hong Kong. Here it is possible to hide or get lost in the alleys and narrow streets where rows and rows of shops compete for the patronage of thousands of customers. No one will ever find you there!
The existence of subsidised public housing may be surprising in this obviously capitalist environment, yet Hong Kong's authorities aim to provide a home for everyone in this bustling city, and have also set themselves the task of providing homes for poorer members of society within certain time-frames. This is a remarkable objective if one takes into account the limited land space in the city. The public housing program started in 1953 after a fire destroyed many squatters' shacks, but this was also a time of great privation in the former British colony which had to accommodate large numbers of refugees fleeing from the Communists in mainland China. Something had to be done to accommodate them, and the housing project was the obvious solution.
The subsidised housing blocks offer affordable accommodation for two million of Hong Kong's residents. Over 108,000 people remain on waiting lists, either to buy or rent flats from the authorities. Flats are reserved for persons in 'genuine need' or classified as 'low income' earners, so that for instance, a family of four with a combined income of more than HK$17,700 (approx. R17,700) per month is not eligible for a government subsidy. This decision has however, turned into a contentious matter since private homeowners insist that people not much poorer than themselves are being subsidised while they had to pay the full free market price for their properties. Housing developers as well as private homeowners have seen the value of their properties fall as the Government builds more and more cheap housing. As a result of the objections, plans to build an additional 85,000 flats in the city have been scrapped. Nevertheless, the waiting lists are five-years long, although the government hopes to reduce it to three years by 2005.
These massive public housing estates appear throughout the city. Most of the residents are members of family units, but some tenants are individuals, often immigrants from the mainland. For many, the subsidised blocks are the only alternative to a proper home and provide far better accommodation than what they had known previously. The flats are small. Children sleep on bunks and jackets hang on the backs of chairs. A small kitchen is often hidden behind an alcove, separated from the living area by a curtain. Flats are clean and cosy, and are often decorated with calendars and other ornaments which add to their homeliness.
With Hong Kong's growing population and extremely limited land space, there is a desperate need for housing, and the only place to go is 'up'. Clearly, the public housing developments hurt the city's property market, but other aspects of the situation do make it attractive for the capitalist way of life. Although property and rents are high, prices of other goods and services are comparatively low. If such pricing is to become a permanent feature of Hong Kong's economy, the city's poorer citizens must be assisted to find a decent place to live. While the supply of subsidised housing will be adjusted to the level of private homeowners' protests, public housing is clearly there to stay.
ARCHAEOLOGY STUDENTS VISIT QUADRU
On Monday April, 30 2001, several archaeology students and lecturers from UNISA interrupted their long weekend to visit QUADRU, the Quaternary Dating Research Unit, at the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) in Pretoria. Drs John Vogel and Siep Talma explained the processes of radiocarbon and luminescence dating which are often used to date archaeological sites and artefacts in South Africa. The group was also taken on a conducted tour of this impressive unit.
Tips on what constitutes the most desirable type and amount of material required from archaeologists to obtain a sound date were provided, and the calibration of radiocarbon dates, as well as the role of dendrochronology in this process were clarified. Most of the students - and lecturers - were surprised to hear that besides archaeological samples, QUADRU also deals with the analysis and age determination of ivory, ground water, and even alcohol. Hopefully this educational visit will become another UNISA archaeological tradition.
MUSEUM VISITS BY PRIMARY SCHOOL LEARNERS
During the first semester five groups of primary school learners from Pretoria visited the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology. For an hour and a half, each group, consisting of approximately 50 grade 5 and 6 learners, were instructed by Mr Sidney Miller, Acting Curator of the Museum. He described the purposes of the Museum, namely collection and preservation of artifacts, research, and education, before explaining to the groups aspects of early Southern African 'landmark' history, including the Stone Age, the more recent Iron Age, followed by the arrival of whites about 350 years ago. The learners also participated in a 'project' in which they could select and then draw four artifacts from the Museum's collection. The nature and purpose of the artifacts had been explained to them so they understood the meaning and significance of the objects which they drew.
We intend to extend this program and would like to invite other schools to visit us since the program falls within the ambit of outcomes based education. Should you be interested or know of any schools which may be interested, please inform them of the program and contact Mr Sid Miller at telephone number (012) 429-6297 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a date and time for a visit. Alternatively, you can contact Mrs Ina baker, Department Secretary, at (012) 429-6418 or by email at email@example.com. A fee of R3.00 is charged per learner.
CHANGES IN PERSONNEL
At the end of January Mrs Janine Janse van Vuuren, temporary junior lecturer in anthropology, resigned to follow a course in computer programming. In her place we welcome Ms Cherre Hill who will share responsibility for teaching SKA201-3. Cherre has just completed her BA Hons degree in our department, having obtained a distinction for her research article entitled Sgodi Phola: a Sense of Place. Spatio-cultural organization of Dwellings in a Temporary Informal Settlement. Dr Eulalie van Heerden and Prof Mike de Jongh were her supervisors. We congratulate her on this excellent achievement.
LAPALALA WILDERNESS EXCURSION 16-18 MARCH 2001
by Jan van Niekerk
'Lets do a weekend excursion to Lapalala Wilderness in the Waterberg region together with ROCUSTOS. Sounds like a swell idea! Friday afternoon, meet at African Window Museum. Friendly new faces, introductions and great expectations.'
Mr Clive Walker, the director of Lapalala, invited ROCUSTOS to explore some of the reserve's archaeological and rock art sites. He and his wife started Lapalala some 20 years ago with the idea of using it for educational purposes for school children. The 36 000 ha of almost unspoiled nature is probably the only place left in South Africa where such a venture is possible. The more than 40 000 children that have completed his wilderness schools can vouch for this. Black and white rhino, sable antelope, and any other imaginable bushveld animal can be found there with the exception of lion and elephant (thank goodness!) The biodiversity of this area as well as the importance of its cultural heritage are demonstrated to groups in real life situations. It is not often that one gets the chance to touch a black rhino.
Lapalala, one of South Africa's best-kept secrets, revealed a few of her beauties to the privileged few that went on the excursion. Rock art known as 'Late Whites' as well as the earlier drawings by San people were seen. For some it was their first experience of seeing real drawings. The look on Rex's and Josephine's (from England) faces, gave expression to all our feelings when we realized that some of those drawings could be as old as 10-15 000 years!
Two very rich Iron Age sites were also visited, of which Malore ('Mountain of Ash') was the most impressive with its stone walls on top of the mountain. The interesting way in which Sidney (Miller, Acting Curator of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Unisa) explained the social patterns and layout of the site revealed the way of life of early residents. This was difficult to imagine at first, but when we began to use our imagination, and with Sidney's help and questions from the group, an almost clear picture of how these people lived 1000 years ago could be formed.
The other site on the eastern side of Lapalala is typical of many Iron Age sites. Remainders of mud huts, grinding stones, small fragments of iron and of course many potsherds could be seen. What was fascinating was the way in which we could form a picture of the living environment and ways of life of early inhabitants by interpreting just a handful of evidence provided by Sidney and the field guides. It was clear that this site could reveal many more interesting things, if only we had the time to explore it.
A sincere word of thanks to our two knowledgeable field guides, Marlene and Elias, to Sidney and Ansie who organized the outing and last but not least, to Clive Walker for making this wonderful resource available to ROCUSTOS. We had the privilege of presenting Mr Walker with a contribution to one of his ongoing projects, namely his research on one of South Africa's great poets who hunted in the area and who was greatly inspired by the region. I conclude with a poem written by Eugene N Marais. Having experiencing the cloudburst on Sunday afternoon, I am sure we can all relate to this wonderful piece of literature (apologies to English-speaking readers).
LIED VAN DIE ReëN (van Krom Joggom Konterdans)
Eers oor die bergtop loer sy skelm,
Haar armbande blink en haar krale skitter;
Sy vertel die winde van die dans.
Die grootwild jaag uit die vlakte.
Die kleinvolk diep onder die grond hoor die sleep van haar voete,
En haar krale skud,
En haar koperring blink in die wegraak van die son.
Sy sprei die vaal karos met altwee arms uit;
From: Dwaalstories Eugene N Marais (1959)
(Note: ROCUSTOS Friends of Rock Art is an independent society concerned with the protection, appreciation and study of rock art in all its facets.)
LETTERS FROM STUDENTS
Towards the end of last year, we received the following letters from students and with their permission, place them here. If you would like to comment on them, please do so and indicate whether you would be willing to have your correspondence placed in the second Newsletter which will appear later this year. (Letters are partially edited or unedited.)
I wrote my first anthropology exam this year. During the year I found the lectures a lot of work but enjoyed submitting the assignments and found it a challenge, I just could not understand why we did not have any workshops in Bellville. I felt as though I was all alone and there was no one else in the Cape doing Anthropology. To my surprise on the day that I wrote there were a lot of students writing Anthropology. Why are we neglected here in the Cape?
hile writing my exam I suddenly had the most fantastic experience, the whole subject just fell into place and I suddenly realised what an important subject it is and how much I had actually learnt, this made the whole experience of writing the exam a fun one. ( I only hope that after that experience I have passed.)
Keep up the good work and I am really looking forward to doing my second year (if I pass).
Editor's comment: Regretfully we have too few students in the Cape to justify the expense of sending lecturers for discussion classes. The University has set criteria for holding discussion classes, and unfortunately we do not meet all of these.
Firstly, thank you for the interesting newsletter - it really gives one a sense of community to have such a letter on a regular basis. At least one feels that one is not operating in a vacuum.
I have just completed my first year anthropology, as part of my BA in psychology and am finding the combination extremely useful. I am also taking Sociology and will decide next year whether SKA or SOS will be my other major. (I've already completed PSYIII)
Just a remark on the Study Guide for SKA100 - I found it rather inconvenient that there was no glossary or key concepts index included in this study guide. Often when one wants to quickly look up something one has forgotten, it is simpler to go straight to such a glossary. But perhaps that was deliberate and a way of forcing us to do this ourselves? I did this as I was doing my final revision and now have a rather comprehensive list, based on the key concepts identified as important at the end of each module. This list of key concepts (at the end of each module) however did not help when trying to find some of the indigenous terms identified as important in your last tutorial letter, which involved reading the entire study guide through again, to find. Perhaps this could be remedied.
If you would find this list I compiled at all helpful, please let me know and I can e-mail it to you. I have separated it by chapter, in alphabetical order but can combine it and sort it alphabetically for the whole study guide (excluding the sections we did not have to cover of course)
The second comment on the study guide is that printing the anecdotes or case studies in grey almost gives the feeling that these sections are of lesser importance. Yet some of the most important facts were to be found in these sections and some of the exam questions came from them. Perhaps in future these can be highlighted in a different way (I know the use of colour would be too expensive) but perhaps the use of italics or segregation by means of a box would have the desired effect. I am no longer so young that the lightness of the print did not pose a visual problem as well. I can imagine that to those students who do not have access to adequate lighting in their homes or dwellings, the light print must have posed a problem.
Thank you for the interest in our studies and I look forward to receiving my results! and to continuing my study of anthropology next year.
Editor's comment: We are grateful for comments such as these since they help us improve our tutorial material. The Study guide in question was phased out at the end of 2000, but issues such as those mentioned can be considered by the lecturers as they prepare new study guides.
We asked one of our Honours students, Mr Simon Waldherr, to share with us his experiences of living in Oaxaca in Mexico and studying through Unisa. We hope you enjoy reading the descriptions taken from his correspondence to Dr Van Heerden:
Dear Dr Van Heerden!
I was born in Hamburg, Germany but was raised in the southern part of Germany, that is in Bavaria, close to Nurnberg. I have been living permanently in Oaxaca since 1989, and been involved in my work since January 1992.
I do not have a job in the conventional sense, that is being employed in an office, etc, but own and work in a small enterprise that produces and sells German delicatessen, such as German sausages, different types of ham, smoked chicken and salmon etc. These things are manufactured in a traditional way, either without using preservatives or only a small amount. We also sell our products, either to private households or restaurants. The business is quite small, mainly because producing in a natural way does not allow for mass production.
Why Mexico? Well, I liked the idea of living in a place that was not as industrialized as Germany or Western Europe, a place where the pace of living was not dictated by the clock. Besides, Mexico in general and Oaxaca in particular are very beautiful and you can still find unspoiled places, although modernity with all its negative effects has had its impact on Oaxaca, especially in the last 5 years.
I started my studies with Unisa in 1991, and hope to finish my Hons BA in anthropology this year. I decided to study through Unisa, since I wanted to live in Mexico, but at the same time study. This is/was very difficult with Mexican universities and their academic level was/is more than doubtful. There are good universities in Mexico, but these are privately owned and therefore very expensive. I had also tried previously to study through distance education with a German university, the Fernuniversitaet Hagen. However, for several reasons, among them great technical difficulties, I had to abort this enterprise after the first semester. Then I learned about Unisa through a friend, the then coordinator of the language center of the local university, who intended to do a PhD through Unisa. I decided to enroll with Unisa and despite all odds (again technical problems, such as the study material arriving late), it worked out.
So I decided to do my bachelors degree with Unisa, and I have to say that the experience was on the whole positive and rewarding for me as a student. I am convinced that under the given circumstances it would not have been possible for me to complete my degree with another university, simply for technical reasons. In my experience the lecturers were almost always understanding of the problems of distance learning and supported me, so that I could always continue my studies.
All in all my study experience has been very positive and I consider myself privileged to be able to study with Unisa. I read a lot of critique these days about Unisa, especially by students in SA, but for me as an overseas student a lot of this critique misses the point and does not acknowledge the fact sufficiently that Unisa offers a unique chance for people who work and study simultaneously, thus enabling them to obtain an academic degree. Secondly I understand that distance education demands more of you, since most of the times there is no peer support or direct contact with the lecturer, except through the written medium. This is definitely a disadvantage, but on the other hand if the university is not exclusive (and therefore expensive) then you will study with hundreds of people lacking the necessary privacy. Thus, in my opinion it is necessary to balance both aspects, and in my case I have been quite comfortable studying the way I did. This may be due to my personal idiosyncrasies, since I like to read a lot, and perhaps Unisa's method of tuition also matches my personal interests. Thus all in all I think that Unisa is a good institution and should receive more support and less critique especially from the students and groups foreign to the university.
Why anthropology? My original interest was with universal history, but since Unisa offers only ancient history I did not pursue this line further. I came to anthropology in my second year of studies and liked it, since it added a different perspective to my studies. First of all I think anthropology as an academic subject fills a gap between the other social sciences, which usually focus on a macro-scale. Anthropology always focuses on the human [being] in [his/her] immediate context and environment, and poses a healthy counterweight to a world that becomes more and more abstract and dehumanized (as we can see in the increase in violence). I sincerely hope that anthropology will make a difference and brings back into our consciousness the human aspect, which is now so lacking in modern life. Second I personally like the small scale focus of anthropology, its qualitative methods, its emphasis on the interrelatedness of all human behaviour. Again, this is absent in the other social sciences, be it history, sociology, or political sciences, which are concerned with humans, but no longer with the individual him-/herself. I hope that the other social sciences can profit from anthropological lessons and assimilate some its profound insights.
As I mentioned earlier the anthropological perspective opened up another dimension, since it forces you to focus on microprocesses and contextualize your experiences, knowledge etc continuously. History or sociology are also contextual but focus on macroprocesses, events and structures and the human perspective is often lost in this way. I am convinced that anthropology has a lot to offer in this field, to the other social sciences and to the natural ones such as biomedicine as well. The fact that qualitative research methods, which are the hallmark of socio-cultural anthropology are now adopted by the other social sciences, is a sign of the continuing relevance of anthropology.
Mexico is definitely a country which has always interested anthropologists, perhaps because there are [people from] so many different ethnies [ethnic groups], and vivid syncretistic cultural forms. Thus you may well see and experience what you had only read in a study guide or textbook. Insights derived from anthropology have helped me into a greater understanding of the diversity of human lifestyles and cultures and have also helped me to become aware of my own ethnocentrism and hopefully to overcome it. I would say that my studies in anthropology have contributed considerably to a change in my worldview, perhaps to a greater openness and tolerance to people who are different, thus not (or at least trying not to) judge them for merely not being European. This has not always been easy, since Mexico, although it is considered a threshold country, is very different from my own cultural background. Thus you come to see strange habits as a distinct cultural expression and not something that is to be rejected.
As an example I could give Mexican's attitude towards time. In the western world you live by the clock and punctuality is everything. Yet there are other approaches to time in general, as you learn once you live in Mexico. Time in the western sense does exist, but it does not matter. Thus you learn about a completely different time perspective, and this shows you that your perception is not the only one. Understanding this relativity helps you to learn more of the other culture and ultimately yourself, surely something that anthropologists would encourage.
On the one hand Mexico is undergoing tremendous change, which also puts considerable strain on the country. You see more and more cars, people dressed in a western fashion which emulate the western life style. There are however, more serious and negative aspects of this change and modernity. One negative aspect that comes to mind is the excessive growth of Oaxaca, due to the population explosion. Oaxaca is the capital of the state of Oaxaca, with approximately 1,6 million inhabitants. The growth of the city has been tremendous since the turn of the century, when the official figure was given as 27 thousand people! Although the historical center has been restored so that it is more attractive for tourists, there is very little money spent on the barrios [informal settlements] on the fringes of Oaxaca, to develop the necessary infrastructure, such as paved roads and a sewage system. Housing is often very inadequate and the crime rate is soaring in these districts. On the other hand there are more and more cars, buses etc with concomitant traffic congestions, since the road system has not been expanded sufficiently. All in all one is under the impression that the 'system' is under great strain, and may even collapse in the future. All this is of course related to two factors: the demographic explosion and globalization. Both are causally linked. The rapid urbanization and migration from rural areas (some parts of the interior are virtually deserted, with only old people remaining) are symptomatic of the modernization process that Mexico is undergoing currently.
The birth rate is still very high (two percent annually) and this exacerbates all problems, since there are not enough jobs, schools, housing etc. At the same time the globalization process has lead to a restructuring of the Mexican economy, with more and more foreign capital entering the country, an increasing debt burden etc. Thus although people leave their villages in search for work and ultimately a better life they usually encounter only misery once they settle in the cities. Job opportunities are restricted, wages are low, and there is little demand for unskilled labour in general. People are often forced to accept dangerous and poorly paid jobs. Since women often have to raise their many children alone, and jobs are even more limited for them, they are forced to exchange sex for money or other favours, accept multiple partners [who are] dependent on them. This has lead to unsafe practices and a steep rise in the incidence of STDs such as HIV/Aids. Many of these people die of the disease undiagnosed since they cannot even afford to visit a doctor regularly, lack health insurance and basic knowledge about the disease. There is little basic and applied research concerning the prevention of Aids among the most marginalized (who constitute the highest risk group), despite government efforts to stem the Aids epidemic. There is an identifiable need for research into the complexity of the cultural transmission of STDs, and the development of strategies that help people identify the risks and protect themselves against them. Given the fact that the health department suffers a chronic shortage of funds and qualified personnel, the solution lies in the participation of the people themselves to address their needs and learn to protect themselves against the Aids pandemic. Since women are the weakest link in the chain of transmission, empowerment strategies have to be directed at them that allow the reduction of their risks.
Another unintended consequence of the modernity process is the lack of adequate housing. These people, who have migrated from the sierra (the mountainous interior, and the most marginalized region in the state of Oaxaca) have no other option [but] to settle on a previously unoccupied piece of land, and make it their own (squatter rights), thus contributing to the tremendous growth of Oaxaca. This growth has not been orderly or planned, and people lack even the most fundamental services such as a regular water supply, so that the poorest of the poor have to buy the water for horrendous prices. The problem of water shortage will increase even more in the future, since there is no way currently of recycling the sewage waters, which are allowed to flow into Oaxaca's rivers uncleared, thus polluting open water sources and in turn contributing to infectious diseases of gastrointestinal nature, which can also reach epidemic proportions.
These are definitely negative aspects of the modernity process. On the other hand public money is spent on prestige projects, such as the restoration of Oaxaca's baroque churches, to attract foreign tourists and to create government paid jobs for a few highly skilled people. Unfortunately there is relatively little research on this aspect; the anthropological perspective with its emphasis on culture and culture change could definitely be useful in shedding some light on this whole interrelated complex.
Oaxaca, and its people, still cherish their traditional lifestyles. This is expressed in the annual guelaguetza, which is a competition among the seven regions of Oaxaca for the best dance performance and traditional dress. Of course this has also become a great tourist attraction, but it also serves to maintain the cultural forms that reach back to the period of conquest by the Spaniards.
There are many villages near Oaxaca, which since the Spanish conquest have specialized in the production of certain items such as weaving and pottery etc. These productive efforts still exist, but items manufactured in a traditional way are replaced more and more by modern artifacts (synthetic clothes, plastic dishes etc), thus leading to the gradual disappearance of these traditions in the valley of Oaxaca. Until recently the population of Oaxaca consisted mostly of peasants, with very little trade and commercial activities and a complete absence of industry. Thus although Oaxaca exhibits a rich cultural variety of distinct life forms, the material aspects of life have been rather neglected.
This may be due to the aftermath of the Mexican revolution when the hacienda system was dismantled by the victorious revolutionaries, this [system] having been the main unit of cultural and material production. Ruins of the haciendas can still be seen in the vicinity of Oaxaca, mute witnesses of a past epoch (such as Monte Alban for the prehispanic period). Historically Oaxaca has lost its significance as a center for political decision-making as it had been since the Spanish conquest, mainly because the last dictator Don Porfirio Diaz was of Oaxacan origin. After the revolution, which began in the north, was successfully completed, Oaxaca fell into disgrace with the new men in power, and lost its importance as a political and economic center of Mexico. In this respect there is little change, with the commercial and industrial centers now being Mexico City and the northern part of Mexico. However, until recently this has enabled the indigenous populations to maintain their traditional way of life more fully than in other parts of Mexico, but also contributed to its marginalization on a national level.
With the advent of modernity, the existence of the various cultural forms, developed over a period of roughly 500 years and maintained ever since, are for the first time seriously challenged if not threatened with extinction. Perhaps anthropology can be part of the solution and help maintain a unique diversity of cultures. On the other hand Mexicans strive to conserve their cultural uniqueness and often 'Mexicanize' foreign customs, adding something peculiarly Mexican or Oaxacan to it, and thus coping with it. As an example there are the virgenes (de guadalupe or de juquila), or small altars which you will find in many buses and taxis and which, in the belief of the driver, will protect him and the passenger(s) from possible traffic accidents.
Syncretistic forms have perhaps found their most vivid and picturesque expression in religion. In anthropological terms, there has been a merging or syncretism of cultural elements, of both prehispanic and European origin. Today most Mexicans are Catholics. However, although the religious elements are the same as in other Catholic parts of the world, syncretism has taken place and can be seen in the worship of saints, which were gods or goddesses in the prehispanic period and which are culturally and geographically circumscribed, i.e. they belong to a particular tribe and area. Further, many of the Christian holidays can be seen as an expression of religious syncretism, for example the day of the dead (all saints day), which combines both indigenous and Spanish religious and cultural elements in a fascinating and colourful way. This holiday aides people in their mourning process and at the same time conserves the memory of the loved ones. People spend two successive nights at the graveyard, where they erect altars and offer flowers, beverages etc to the deceased. This custom is still very much alive, especially in the village where I live and attracts many tourists each year, who come to participate in this unique event.
In my opinion [therefore], religious life in Mexico today still expresses most vividly the merging of two culturally distinct entities (Hispanic and indigenous), whereas in everyday life syncretistic forms are rapidly disappearing especially in the great cities (and Oaxaca has now more than a million inhabitants). Therefore, as modernity has made great inroads into Oaxaca, syncretistic forms are waning as people adopt more and more a westernized lifestyle. This is perhaps best exemplified by the steep increase in the consumption of soft drinks, notably coca cola, which has replaced traditional beverages such as jugos (fruit juice such as orange juice) and agua de frutas (similar to juices, but diluted with water, often with an exquisite flavour). You may find culturally relevant syncretistic forms in the villages outside of Oaxaca, as in traditional dress, festivals, food consumption etc. As a general rule one can say that the further removed from the capital the lesser the influence of modernity becomes and the more traditional cultural patterns are still maintained.
Mexico and the state of Oaxaca possess many interesting archaeological sites, the most famous of which is Monte Alban (the Alban Mound) and which has only been partially excavated. An important part of Mexican cultural forms can be traced to this rich cultural heritage, which in a modified form continues to shape the life and worldview of Mexicans, especially here in the south of Mexico.
Another feature of Mexican culture is its exquisite cuisine, with its many local and regional varieties. Many of the dishes contain both indigenous and European elements, such as spices (notably chilli), vegetables etc. Should you ever have the chance to visit Mexico, you will surely find out for yourself. There is much more to mention, such as the breathtaking landscapes (the sierra), the jungle, the beaches, volcanoes ... Mexico as a country offers many opportunities for anthropological studies as does South Africa. Perhaps in the future I will in turn have the opportunity to work and live in South Africa as an anthropologist and learn for myself about its culture and people.
In the long run the same may happen as in the USA in the last century, namely that the indigenous cultures will disappear or be assimilated into the Mexican mainstream thus losing their unique cultural forms of living. Anthropology should actively contribute by helping to protect and preserve these ways of mankind before it is too late and they all have disappeared. The diversity of culture is a distinguishing mark of mankind, and thus the cultural survival of these groups must be ensured. Anthropology must definitely make a concerted effort by raising this issue to the attention of the general public, and thus avoid the extinction of these unique cultural forms.
As concerns the departmental newsletter, I always enjoy reading it and also read the whole content. At this point, I would like to comment on an article by Dr Herselman about the new practice in undergraduate studies, namely that assignments are no longer obligatory [compulsory]. I would like to mention that, as a long time Unisa student, assignments are extremely important, since they do not only provide feedback, but force you to transform what you have learned and read. Without this exercise, there is no transformation and reflection on the study material, which is critical for an understanding and internalization of the topics. Besides, in my experience exam questions are sometimes, but not always, based on previous assignments, and having done the assignment aids a lot in answering the exam question. Thus I think, that admission to the exams without having done assignments puts these students at a considerable disadvantage, since they have to write the exam, without knowing their strengths and weaknesses (which we all have). In my opinion assignments form an essential part of the study process, although they are sometimes tedious, time consuming and difficult to tackle, especially if you are on your own.
No 1, April 1997
Through Francois Coetzee our Department is actively involved in this initiative. Francois plans to develop the Pilanesberg National Park into an archaeological tourist destination so that visitors will not only be able to view the Park's scenic beauty and wildlife, but also experience its archaeological history. (Read more about Francois' project later in the Newsletter.You may also contact him directly if you want more information.)
If you wish to know more about Satour's campaign, you may write to:
Explore South Africa - Culture
Private Bag X164 PRETORIA 0001
Tel: (012) 347 0600 Fax: (012) 45 4816
No 2, July 1997
The Sibikwa Community Theatre Project Hidden away in Liverpool Street, Benoni is the Total Sibikwa Community Theatre Project. The brainchild of Mr Smal Ndaba and Ms Phyllis Klotz, the Total Sibikwa Community Theatre Project is unique. As its maxim, ‘serving the community by using the theatre to develop and enrich the lives of ordinary people', Sibikwa aims to provide entertainment that is enjoyable, thought-provoking as well as educational. Originally in terms of its Youth Development Programme, Sibikwa aimed to assist marginalised youngsters from nearby townships to acquire marketable skills and, through dramatic performance, to foster in them a culture of learning. Now Sibikwa has also become a professional theatre company and provides a stepping stone for graduates of its Youth Employment Programme. The Sibikwa Players have presented their performances at festivals in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Europe, Singapore, Canada and the United States of America.
The Sibikwa Educational Drama programmes dramatise amongst other topics, English school set works and important themes in South African history. The programmes are designed to bring the subject matter alive and to involve the students in a ‘living-learning' process. They also dramatise life in South African society and their present production, Uhambo, is in this mould. Set in the 1950s, Uhambo tells the story in musical form of a young boy's search for his parents in Johannesburg after the death of his grandmother. The production highlights the effects of apartheid and the migratory laws on the lives of ordinary people. Although not a comedy the production is very entertaining. The enthusiasm and professionalism of the players is outstanding and we highly recommend that you try to attend the performance. The Sibikwa players will be participating in the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in July. Later in the year however, Uhambo will be staged at the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg.
If you wish to obtain more information about the Total Sibikwa Community Theatre Project or if you are a teacher and wish to arrange for your students to attend a performance of their Educational Drama programme, contact Lindi at Tel: (011) 422-4359; Fax: (011) 421-2346 or write to her at P O Box 3398 Benoni 1500.
Prof de Jongh who presented a paper at a conference In search of the truth: anthropology and the media, was well received throughout his stay and was given unrestricted access to all places and events, and to people in all walks of life. This gave him the opportunity, amongst others, to not only liaise with colleagues in the Department of 'Sosialantropologi' at the local university but also to gain knowledge of the Travellers, Gypsies and the reindeer-farming Sami in northern Norway.
Wynand (Eduardo) Koch, a Master's student in anthropology, has just completed his first stint of three months of fieldwork in the Peruvian Amazon in South America. He travelled for weeks and for hundreds of kilometres up the tributaries of the Amazon River to stay with and interview shamans (medicine men) who specialize in a variety of herbal medical treatments. At one stage Wynand was invited by a shaman, Don Francisco, to follow the two-week vegetarian diet specified for apprentice shamans. The shamans, some of whom are called ayahuasceros, and their practices have become a dying breed, hence as the topic of Wynand's (or Eduardo, derived from Eduard, as he has become known) Master's research, the shamans and their activities are particularly significant. Wynand was drawn into the research team of an internationally acclaimed bio-physicist, Prof Eleanor Smithwick, based at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America. At Unisa Wynand's supervisor is Dr Chris van Vuuren. During a forthcoming visit to South Africa Wynand will present a slide-talk show on his research at Unisa. If you wish to attend, contact Dr Chris Van Vuuren at (012) 429-6620 for more information.
Britte Eckert from Frankfurt, Germany has applied to register for the DLitt et Phil degree in anthropology. The provisional title of her thesis is Resource Management and Indigenous Knowledge in Transition: A Perspective from the Northern Province of South Africa. Prof Frik de Beer will act as promoter.
Britte recently completed a Master's degree at the University of Bayreuth, Germany, based on research which she conducted in Northern Nigeria. On contract to the European Community she followed up her Master's study with a further project on land tenure among the Hausa and Fulani, Islamic societies in Northern Nigeria. Britte has now turned her interests to South Africa.
The skeleton had been buried in the foetal position, and placed on the left side inside the main chamber of what appeared to be an ant-bear's burrow. Fragments of foetal skeletal material were recovered from the abdominal area of the skeleton, ready proof that the skeleton was that of a young woman. The age of the skeleton was ascertained by radio carbon dating and was calibrated to AD 1213.
On Saturday 17 May, sixteen of the children attended a workshop organised by the GUIC team and hosted by the Mayor of Greater Johannesburg, Councillor Isaac Mogase. Four of them presented the views of the children to urban planners, policy makers, organizations dedicated to the betterment of children's lives such as UNESCO and UNICEF, and various NGOs (non-Government Organizations). The workshop was recorded by the Unisa Department of Sound/Video and Photography for purposes of teaching and community development.
The children voiced their most crucial needs as
If you want more information on the international GUIC research programme, access the Internet at: http://childhouse.uio.no/childwatch/cwi/projects/growing.html
This year our venue for the field-trip is KwaNdebele, formerly a homeland, and now part of Mpumalanga Province. Situated between sixty and one hundred kilometres north of Pretoria, the majority of the area's residents are temporary or permanent migrants who are employed in the Pretoria-Johannesburg region.
The group will be accommodated at the SS Skhosana Nature Reserve and the members of the Mthombeni and Nduli households in Tshaluza and Kameelrivier have agreed to be the ‘guinea pigs' for students on this field-trip. The field-work area is also close to the royal centre of King Mayisha II at KwaMabhoko.
No 3, October 1997
Students, in groups of five, each with an interpreter, visited three households, and had their first taste of participant observation and personal interviewing. Some students were able to investigate a traditional wedding which was in progress. They were allowed to see the bride in isolation, covered in a blanket and seated behind reed mats in her mother-in-law's house while she underwent instruction in what was expected of her in her future role as a married woman, and to taste the food that was specially prepared for her. Preparations were being made for the wedding feast. Two recipes from the wedding feast are given below.
From the street, the students also viewed a colourful and vibrant traditional girl's initiation ceremony taking place in the front yard of a local homestead. The wording of one of the songs which the girls improvised, expressed appreciation of the audience, saying it proved the importance of the event.
Students reported the experience as stimulating and valuable to them personally; they were made aware of their lack of knowledge about everyday matters and customs in the lives of fellow South Africans and had to learn to deal with personal frustrations and occasional personality clashes with members of their teams. The value of the exercise was summed up in one student report-back:
One of the students, Mrs Dot Soll, obtained the wedding feast recipes. We include them here for those of you who enjoy baking!
LETTIE'S WEDDING FEAST RECIPES:
1 cup grated carrot, ½ cup raisins or fruit mince, ½ cup margarine, 3 eggs, 3 cups flour, 2 Tbsps baking powder.
METHOD: Mix all together, seal in a strong plastic bag and cook for 1 hour in a pot of boiling water.
3 cups flour, 2 eggs, 1 cup syrup, 1 cup raisins, 2 Tbsps baking powder, milk Sauce: 6 cups water, 1 cup sugar, 2 Tbsps vanilla essence OR 2 litres coca cola
METHOD: Mix flour, eggs, syrup, raisins and baking powder with milk to form a stiff dough. In the meantime heat the sauce to boiling. Place the dough in the sauce and cook on top of the stove for 1 hour.
Of particular interest was a special symposium involving senior traditional chiefs who focused on The Role of Traditional Institutions in Contemporary Africa. During the symposium they presented persuasive arguments for traditional institutions, especially the chieftainship, to play an integral role in African development.
The anthropologists attending the conference also had the opportunity to go on field trips, one to Kumasi, the heart of Ashanti country, and another to Elmina and Cape Coast where many of the castles used during the dark days of slave trading can be visited. Wherever they went, whether to these outlying areas or to the vibrant downtown market of Accra or just walking around the palm-lined campus of the University of Ghana, the visiting anthropologists came away with one overriding impression of the people of this land of Kwame Nkrumah - they must be the friendliest in the world!
There seem to be few contrasts between eastern and western culture in Hong Kong and Singapore, probably because these cities cater for the needs of world citizens. However, places such as the street markets in certain areas of Hong Kong where the local people shop, mainly for their daily requirements of fresh produce, were an eye-opener to a South African used to buying neatly packaged foodstuffs in a supermarket! Alongside masses of beautiful flowers, strange vegetables and fruits, one finds all kinds of live sea creatures destined to be someone's next meal, while carcasses of various animals, especially pigs and chickens, are cut up right on the pavement!
Thailand is often described as the land of smiles and this is an accurate description. In Bangkok for example, people remain strikingly friendly in spite of huge financial problems due to the depreciation of the Thai currency; the heavy toll on the infrastructure of the city imposed by its large population, and the fact that 9 million people compete daily to make ends meet. The traffic in Bangkok is unbelievable! Six million cars and motorbikes enter the city every day and during peak hours the traffic is so congested that the drivers of the vehicles often switch off their engines at robots since they have to wait so long for the traffic to move again. Bangkok is a place which really activates one's senses in terms of smells, sounds and visual images ( the Buddhist and Hindu temples for instance are beautiful). Rural Thailand is equally fascinating, with the peasants in certain swampy areas living in houses raised on stilts above the water level. The ‘streets' in such villages are canals which means that people use boats to get around town. Fresh produce and other goods are also displayed on canoes at the ‘floating market' where local people and tourists alike do their shopping.
The beautiful island of Bali, a province of Indonesia, is an anthropologist's dream. The cultural traditions of the island provide illustrations for many anthropological principles and theories. In fact it is the setting of that well-known study in symbolic anthropology by American anthropologist, Clifford Geertz, the Balinese cock-fight. In the coastal region of the island which is frequented by tourists there is a vibrant co-existence between western and local food, style of dress, shops etc, while the Balinese culture in all its richness and complexity rules inland. Religion plays an important part in the lives of the Balinese, and ceremonies and flower and food offerings to the gods are daily occurrences. Although the taxis drive fairly slowly and very responsibly, Dr van Heerden found it reassuring to notice the flower offerings for a safe journey placed on the dashboard of the motor car. In the true spirit of being an anthropologist Dr van Heerden tried to experience as much as possible, but when it came to sampling some of Bali's traditional food, such as very spicy strange vegetables mixed with fresh blood, her courage disappeared. Maybe next time!
(Editor's comment: Dr van Heerden's visit to Bali is important for another reason as well. Lecturers responsible for the second course in anthropology are in the process of revising the existing study guides. An ethnographic study of the Balinese will be included as part of the syllabus for SKA202-4 which will be introduced in 1999. Dr van Heerden's first-hand experience of this fascinating island will add an interesting perspective to the study.)
No 1, March 1998
The Fourth Multidisciplinary Health Research Conference, Vancouver, Canada In February Dr Stephné Herselman attended an international conference on qualitative health research in Vancouver, Canada. The aims of the conference were to provide scholars with the opportunity to discuss and disseminate ideas about qualitative health research methodology and to enhance contemporary views of health and health-related research. The conference was attended by approximately 750 delegates from a number of different countries. Important issues emerging from conference
Paraguayan Mask Exhibition The 'San Baltazar Ára' (Feast of San Balthazar) is celebrated annually in the little village of Compañía Rosado in the Tobatí district of Paraguay. This is one of a number of quasi-religions celebrations in rural Paraguay which have almost miraculously survived into the modern era. But the San Baltazar Ára is made unusual by the use of masks to disguise certain of the participants in the festivities. These masks are an essential element in the ritual. Yet such masks are native to neither the indigenous Amerindians nor the colonizing Spanish cultures. They came from Africa. They are a living example of the traditions and values incorporated into Paraguayan culture by Africans who settled in the country in the mid-19th Century.
A representative collection of these masks, from recent celebrations of San Baltazar, will be exhibited at Unisa's Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, under the joint auspices of the Museum, the Unisa Centre for Latin American Studies, the Embassy of Paraguay, and 'Luis Fernández García Cultural Entrepreneurships'. The exhibition which was opened on Friday, 20 March, will be open to the public in the Theo van Wijk Building, 4th Floor, Room 160 until 31 October 1998.
First Nations of Canada Our second-year students are familiar with the Tlingit, a group of Native Americans who live far north along the west coast of Canada. The Tlingit are but one of the many so-called ‘First Nations’ or ‘First Peoples’ of Canada. Further south along the coastal areas of the province of British Columbia about 169 000 First Nations people live, some in urban areas, others in so-called ‘reserves’ located in areas first inhabited by their ancestors. In the vicinity of Vancouver, capital city of British Columbia, live the Squamish and Musqueam tribes of the Coast Salish in networks of villages along the coast. Originally this area was covered with rain forests which together with the sea provided plenty of food for the Squamish. The forest was also the home of Raven, a supernatural being who featured prominently in the early religion of the First Nations. Raven has the appearance of a bird and was revered both as a powerful Creator and a clever trickster.
With their arrival in western Canada in 1792, settlers from western Europe found an advanced culture characterised by skilful carvers who built ocean-going dug-out canoes. The local inhabitants were also skilful weavers who made garments from wool which they obtained from mountain goats and small white dogs which were kept for their coats. Then, as a result of the discovery of gold, a small pox epidemic, the construction of a trans-Canadian railway, industrial and commercial developments, zealous Christian missionaries and other aspects of British colonization, the ancient culture of the local people which had developed over approximately eight centuries was all but destroyed in a relatively short period of time.
The remaining First Nations of the coastal areas of British Columbia have attempted to maintain a complex social and ritual way of life, but little actually remains of their culture. Visible to ‘outsiders’ is the group of totem poles in one of Vancouver’s parks and a collection of archaeological material and ethnographic objects at the Museum of Anthropology on the campus of the University of British Columbia. The ethnographic objects include wooden boxes made in a unique manner by grooving, steaming and bending a single plank of cedar wood. Large bowls and dishes which often have the form of mythical beings were also made. These bowls and dishes
Traditionally totem poles were either free-standing or formed part of the structure of a house. The poles were erected in honour of deceased chiefs, but they also symbolised their owner’s status, lineage and clan identity, as well as the resources and territories they claimed as their own. Poles associated with different groups can be identified by their carvings, but the meaning of the symbolism of the figures carved into the wood is not apparent to everyone.
The establishment of Indian Reserves in Canada was a highly controversial matter. Today the control over resources and traditional land is the subject of ongoing legal argument across the country. Many First Nations people adopted ‘western’ names, but this is changing as people once again use indigenous names. In addition, the former names of languages and ethnic groups, which were anglicized, are also being recalled in a process of re-establishment of a once proud identity and heritage. In the forefront of this movement is the emergence of an art tradition which symbolically depicts the history, ritual significance and clan origin of the First Nations. In many of these art works Raven features prominently. The new art tradition also serves as a reminder of the importance of cultural understanding and tolerance.
An ‘Egyptian Experience’ Did you know that being Secretary of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology turns one into both an
anthropologist and archaeologist? Last November Mrs Elize Kruger, Departmental Secretary, had an experience which many anthropologists and archaeologists can only dream about. Mrs Kruger and her husband visited Egypt for a visit of a life-time.
The Krugers’ trip to Egypt commenced with a visit to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo where they saw mummies dating back thousands of years as well as the treasures of King Tut. The citadel in Cairo, erected as a fortress in 1176 to fight the Crusaders, served as the seat of government for almost 800 years. Subsequent rulers added mosques and palaces within its walls, the most famous of the mosques being the Turkish-style Mohammed ali Mosque where visitors must wear long garments to cover their bare arms and legs and remove their shoes before entering.
At the Khan El Khalili Bazaar, the largest in the Middle East (possibly in the world), the visitors sharpened their bargaining skills and shopped for fascinating goods. A special occasion was dinner at the Naguib Mahfouz Restaurant where to the amusement of others in the restaurant, guests may try their hand at smoking the waterpipe. A visit to a papyrus factory, where making of papyrus is demonstrated, was included in the tour itinerary. Also of interest at the factory is the world’s most famous papyrus document - The Final Judgement.
From Cairo the Krugers continued to Luxor. Here they boarded a river boat and sailed up the Nile River to Aswan (a distance of 240 kilometres). En route they visited the tomb of King Rameses IX in the Valley of the Kings, as well as a great number of Temples, including the Queen Hatshepsut Temple. It was here that tourists were gunned down by Muslim fanatics. In fact, this incident occurred the day after the Krugers had visited the Temple.
The tour continued to the High Dam on the Nile river, one of the world’s outstanding engineering feats of this century; the granite quarries and the temple of Philae. At Aswan the visitors embarked on a Felucca boat tour. The last night on the river boat was enlivened by a Nubian folklore show where Nubian dances were performed and songs depicting aspects of the culture of Upper Egypt were sung. For the occasion the visitors dressed in their Galiya outfits.
From Aswan the tour returned to Cairo, for one of its highlights, namely a visit to the Sphinx and the Pyramids at Giza. Here the tourists rode on the backs of camels and took part in a treasure hunt in the Western Desert in four wheel-drive land cruisers. This was followed by a magnificent night-time ‘Sound and Light‘ show performed at the foot of the Pyramids of Giza.
Mrs Kruger also pointed out that Egypt has an unemployment rate of 25% in urban areas and 40% in rural areas. There is no ‘middle class’ as such - Egyptians are either wealthy or poor. Apartments in the poor areas of Cairo, one of the world’s megacities, do not have glass windows and are very small. Apartment blocks are characterised by hundreds of television aerials! In a cemetery in a poor district of Cairo houses are built on graves of forefathers. For each daughter an additional section is added to a house where she will eventually live once she is married. On top of these sections a reed structure is erected where people sleep during the hot summer months.
Postgraduate Students on the Move Ms Britta Eckert from Dreieich near Frankfort in Germany is continuing her post- graduate studies in South Africa after discussions with Prof FC de Beer of our Department at an anthropological conference in Sweden
in 1996. This was followed by a pilot visit to the Northern Province last year, and subsequent registration at Unisa for the DLitt et. Phil degree in Anthropology. The topic of Britta’s thesis is 'Resource management and local knowledge in transition: a perspective from the Northern Province of South Africa’. Prof de Beer is her supervisor.
Britta’s study is in the field of ecological anthropology and focuses on the contribution which the application of indigenous knowledge, together with western initiatives concerning resource management and sustainable development, can make to check the deterioration of the natural environment in the Northern Province. Britta has already completed the first three months of her fieldwork despite sweltering heat, but, she says, the wonderful co-operation she has received from the Langa of Mapela, north of Potgietersrus, has more than compensated for the 'unfriendly’ weather.
We wish Britta success and look forward to hearing about her experiences in the field and reading the outcomes of her research Wynand Koch and Jackey Wouters, both registered for a Master’s degree in our Department, are planning to conduct research in the Peruvian Amazon during July and August this year. Their
Wynand Koch has been conducting research on shamanism in the Peruvian Amazon since 1996. Jackey Wouters is a junior lecturer in anthropology and shares responsibility for the first-year course.
Introducing the new Three-year Program in Archaeology The introduction of a third-year course in Archaeology as a major in both the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Science was approved in 1997. Archaeology may, therefore, be taken as a major subject by students who have registered for a BA or a BSc degree. Students who have registered for Archaeology I this year will be able to major in Archaeology III in the year 2000. The new syllabus, which is set out below, will be phased in over
a period of three years.
The first course offers an introduction to the scope, aims and methods of archaeology. Students are introduced to the aims and interdisciplinary nature of archaeological research, the nature of the archaeological record, methods employed in locating archaeological sites, the preservation of organic and inorganic material in archaeological deposits, the most important relative and chronometric dating techniques and guidelines for the classification and analysis of material cultural remains.
Also part of the first course is an overview of Southern African prehistory, from the earliest hominids about three million years ago to the beginning of the colonial era. This includes a discussion of the environment during the Pleistocene and the Holocene, the Early and the Middle Stone Age inhabitants of Southern Africa, Later Stone Age hunter-gatherers and the prehistory of the San, the Khoekhoen and the archaeological evidence for the advent of herding at the Cape, the settlement and expansion of farming and metal-working communities (Bantu-speakers) in Southern Africa during the Iron Age.
The second course consists of two papers: the first paper comprises a discussion of fieldwork techniques and laboratory analyses in archaeology, as well as the way in which the research data can be used in the reconstruction and interpretation of past lifeways and cultural patterns. The following themes are covered: the mapping and surveying of archaeological sites, excavation techniques, curation of archaeological finds and collections, classification and analysis of material cultural remains, for example stone artefacts, pottery, metal objects and glass beads, floral and faunal analyses, the reconstruction and interpretation of prehistoric diets and subsistence patterns, as well as the study of settlement patterns and social organisation.
The second paper focuses on human origins and evolution. In it the archaeological and physical- anthropological evidence for human evolution in Africa and other parts of the world are discussed. Themes included are the theory of evolution, the principles of genetics, biological classification systems, the relation between humans and fossil and modern primates, models for human evolution, the fossil evidence for human evolution, the Australopithecinae, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, the Neandertals and Homo sapiens.
The third course consists of three papers. The first paper on the theory and practice of archaeology will deal with the historical development of the discipline and the main trends of thought and theoretical perspectives currently distinguished in archaeology (these include the culture-historical approach, processual and postprocessual archaeology, structuralism and cognitive archaeology). The second section of the paper concerns applied archaeology, comprising themes such as heritage legislation and conservation, cultural resource management,
Paper 2 deals with selected topics from Southern African archaeology. In it major issues and themes in the archaeological study of the prehistory and early history of hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, farmers and colonists in Southern Africa are dealt with. More specifically this includes a discussion of the study of the meaning of the rock art of the San, as well as that of Iron Age farmers, social relations among the San and their archaeological markers, views on cultural chronologies and migrations during the Early Iron Age, explanations for the emergence and decline of early states such as Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe, the combination of
The third paper focuses on selected topics in the broad field of world archaeology. The first part of the paper comprises a discussion of the spread and way of life of hunter-gatherers around the world from the Lower Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic. Since other papers focus on the Stone Age of Africa, the emphasis is on early human adaptation and cultural development outside Africa. Themes discussed include the spread of Homo sapiens populations throughout Europe and Asia, their settlement and development in America and Australia, the way of life of Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers, as well as increased cultural complexity during the Mesolithic.
The second part of the paper comprises a discussion of the origin of food production and the development of complex societies (states and civilizations) in different parts of the world. This includes a discussion of theories on the origin of the domestication of plants and animals, the archaeological evidence for the advent and development of food production in various parts of the world, amongst others the Near East, Europe, Asia and America, theories on the origin of complex societies (states and cities) and the archaeological evidence for the origin, development and nature of complex societies in Europe, Asia, Mesopotamia, North Africa and America.
Practical training in archaeological research techniques will be provided during discussion classes, visits to archaeological sites and departmental excavations.
No 2, June 1998
Postmodernism You may have heard the term postmodernism, but do you know what it means? Postmodernism is a difficult term todefine and even more difficult to explain. People who use it or who regard themselves or others as ‘postmodernists’, define and explain the term in different ways. Nevertheless postmodernism affects many aspects of our lives (even though we may not be aware of this). Methods of postmodern ‘thinking’ and ‘doing’ in society are far more complex than we can deal with, but with the following ideas we hope to stimulate critical thinking about society among students, which of course is one of our aims as teachers of anthropology. As you proceed to more advanced studies in anthropology you will become aware of the importance of postmodernism for our discipline.
Postmodernism literally means ‘after modernism’, but that does not help us very much unless we know the meaning of ‘modernism’. Both modernism and postmodernism refer to particular trends of thought; moods or frames of mind in which people view life and society; a process in contemporary society, or a particular methodology, meaning a way of interpreting phenomena. This means of course that it should be possible to discern particular features or phenomena that can be described as ‘modern’ or ‘postmodern’. For instance, typical of modernism are the views that people are free to think rationally; that they are autonomous and individualistic beings, and able to make up their own minds free of restrictions imposed on them by culture or society. Modernism is also characterised by the belief that societies are destined to develop into ‘perfect’ units through the use of technology and science, and by the introduction of democracy.
In contrast with modernism, postmodernism regards people as social beings or as products of their culture (which means that they are not autonomous, although they may think they are); all forms of reason are influenced by bias or by ideas and beliefs inherent in the individual which means that truth is not objective (that is outside of the individual). Instead truth is created and determined by the individual and hence is relative in the sense that each persons has his/her ‘own truth’. Truth is therefore always influenced by the individual or by culture. Postmodernism is also characterised by the idea that progress should be interpreted in terms of domination of non-western societies by (primarily) western societies.
No one can say definitely when the period of ‘postmodernism’ emerged, but it seems reasonable to suggest that this was sometime after World War 2, perhaps as late as the 1960s. It affects all aspects of life, the most apparent probably being in the fields of health-care, literature, and education.
In recent times we have seen the emergence of alternative systems of medicine such as Ayurveda and acupuncture, not as new forms of medicine because they are ancient, but as alternatives to mainstream biomedicine or western medicine. Such forms of medicine are being taught at universities, particularly in the United States, even though their effectiveness cannot necessarily be proved scientifically and they have an important spiritual element. We have also seen the development of the health-food movement characterised by the proliferation of health shops; consumption of vitamins and minerals as food supplements or to ‘keep the body healthy’, and the use of natural products, particularly plant materials, as either food supplements or for treating various ailments. In the forefront of postmodern health-care is the American writer and practitioner Depak Chopra, who has published widely, has many followers all over the world including well-known film personalities and political leaders. He recently visited and lectured in South Africa. Depak Chopra is both a medical practitioner and a proponent of Ayurvedic Medicine. Ayurveda, which originated in India, actually means ‘science of life’ and its basic premise is the integration of a person’s mind, body and spirit. Its aim is to help people to become spiritually, emotionally and physically balanced through procedures such as massaging, meditation, aromatherapy, yoga and eating ‘proper’ foods.
As regards literature, the influence of postmodernism has been particularly profound and its relevance for anthropology is probably most significant in this regard. In postmodern interpretation of literary works, the author, text and the target group (that is the people for whom the work was written or its readers) are regarded as separate entities. This implies that what the author has written cannot be interpreted as his/her ideas, but should rather be interpreted in terms of what readers ‘read into’ the text. Postmodernist readers therefore, should interpret and give meaning to the text in their own way. This procedure is referred to as ‘deconstruction’ of the text. It results partly from the idea that no text is ever written free from the influence of the author’s
We should remember however, that scholars have been interpreting or ‘deconstructing’ literature for a very long time. Think of the setworks you studied at school. You will remember that you were required to deal with more than just their contents. Postmodern ‘deconstruction’ becomes problematic however, when people ‘deconstruct’ official texts such as the Constitution or legal documents and ascribe meanings to them as they wish. Meanings thus become relative, a situation which could for example, have the implication that the law is applied differently to different people.
Postmodernism has and also has had an important impact on education. One of the underlying objectives of postmodern education is to enable students to ‘create’ or ‘construct’ knowledge and values in the context of their cultures with the assistance of a facilitator who replaces the teacher. Besides constructing knowledge, students will also be assisted to develop various skills which will ultimately enhance their self-esteem. Such education is referred to as Outcomes-based Education (OBE), and besides focusing on reading, writing and calculations, it also focuses on diversity training. You are probably aware that the Government recently introduced Curriculum 2005 as the official education system in South Africa. It is a form of Outcomes-based Education and has the aforementioned objectives. It is therefore a form of postmodern education. OBE in South Africa has recently received much attention, both favourable and unfavourable, the media. What we should perhaps bear in mind is that while there is nothing wrong with fostering students’ self-esteem, we should consider the extent to which OBE will prepare school-leavers adequately for the job market. In addition, the question arises about the position of the exact sciences such as mathematics, physics and chemistry where students must be able to deal with theories, laws, theorems, formulas and fixed principles if they wish to master the subjects. To what extent will they be able to ‘create’ or ‘construct’ knowledge in terms of the objectives of OBE?
(Primary source: McCallum, D 1996. The Death of Truth. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers.)
Outstanding achievements by lecturers Hard work by three members of ourDepartment was recently rewarded in specialways:
Archaeologist, Jan Boeyens successfully completed the DPhil degree at the University of Pretoria. The title of his thesis was Die Latere Ystertydperk in Suidoos- en Sentraal-Marico (The Later Iron Age in South-East and Central Marico). Dr Boeyens’s thesis was awarded a distinction mark which is truly a remarkable achievement for a doctoral candidate.
Archaeologist, Maria van der Ryst’s Master’s degree, which she obtained with distinction from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1996, will be published in the second half of 1998 in the Cambridge Monographs in African Archaeology. The title of Maria’s dissertation was The Waterberg Plateau in the Northern Province, South Africa, in the Later Stone Age. This too is an exceptional achievement.
Janine Cloete, who joined the team of second-year lecturers earlier this year, obtained her Honours degree with distinction during a graduation ceremony of the University of Port Elizabeth in April. Janine has indicated her intentions to proceed with a Master’s degree and is particularly interested in educational anthropology.
Congratulations to all three lecturers.
News of former students Students often ask us what they 'can do with anthropology’ once they have completed their degrees. Two former students have
continued to find anthropology very meaningful.
Mrs Lynette Dijkstra, a former Honours student in anthropology, wrote her Honours article on research she undertook in an AIDS hospice for young children in Kwa-Zulu Natal. She was subsequently invited to write a short article about the hospice which was published in the AIDS Bulletin, vol.6 no. 1/2, May/June 1997. Lyn, whose interest and involvement is in issues concerning children with AIDS and AIDS orphans (children whose parents or guardians have died of AIDS), attended the CINDI (Children in Distress) Southern African Regional Conference on ‘Raising the Orphan Generation’ in Pietermaritzburg 9-12 June 1998. She sent us the following information from the Conference:
The problem of AIDS is generally believed to be greater in Kwa-Zulu Natal, although HIV prevalence in certain other regions of South Africa, for instance the North-West Province, is currently higher. AIDS specialists estimate that for every child that dies in Kwa-Zulu Natal, more than nine adults will die, many of whom will be parents of uninfected children. The current estimate of the number of AIDS orphans in Kwa-Zulu Natal by the year 2000 is 335 000. This could eventually mean an unbalanced population, with children between the ages of 5 and 10 years, and adults over the age of 50, forming the bulk of the population, and thus producing a dramatic disproportion between dependants (children and the aged) and breadwinners/care-givers.The conference, therefore, urged that strategies be introduced to address the problem of AIDS orphans in the Kwa-Zulu Natal population.
Mrs Carol Carver has taken on a position at Holmes & Mann Associates SA, and found her degree in anthropology helped in obtaining this position.
The firm focuses on quality management systems and support training in the Industrial, Service and Administrative sectors. The firm organizes both public and in-house courses for groups of 7 to 18 persons.
Carol presents modules on work perception, teamwork, communication, motivation, conflict resolution, problem-solving, stress management, decision-making, presentation skills and leadership. The modules are all interactive and use group exercises and actual case studies to convey their messages.
Discovering our roots A group of more than 60 first- and second-year Unisa archaeology students and friends visited the hominid sites of Sterkfontein, Kromdraai and Swartkrans near Krugersdorp on Sunday, May 17. These caves have yielded some of the world's oldest hominid fossils and are of major importance for the study of human evolution. The visit was arranged by Jan Boeyens, Maria van der Ryst and Francois Coetzee of our department. Colin Menter from the Department of Anatomical Sciences of Wits University acted as tour guide and gave talks on the formation of the fossil-bearing caves, the anatomy, dating and behaviour of the South African and East African hominids. He is currently writing up his PhD thesis on the forearm material of the australopithecines from Sterkfontein under the supervision of Professor Phillip Tobias. The remains of Mrs Ples, the most famous
specimen of Australopithecus africanus, were found at Sterkfontein in deposits dating to between 3 and 2 million years ago. Specimens of a more robust australopithecine, Australopithecus robustus, were discovered at Kromdraai and Swartkrans. The robust form dates back to between 2 and 1 million years ago. Remains of early forms of the genus Homo were recovered from both Sterkfontein (habilis?) and Swartkrans (erectus?). At Swartkrans the discovery of burnt bones points to the possible use of fire by hominids about 1,5 million years ago.
The Hindu wedding Elize Kruger, Department Secretary, recently visited Mauritius where she came across theelaborate rituals of the Hindu wedding. She brought back the following report.
The marriage of a man and a woman in the Hindu tradition has remained virtually unchanged as a ritual for the past five thousand years. The Hindu marriage is one of the most colourful, fascinating and elaborate ceremonies in the world, consisting of rituals, customs, music and dancing which are all described in detail in the Rig Veda, the world’s most ancient book of knowledge. Marriage is one of 16 sacraments associated with the life cycle, and is the most important rite of passage among the Hindus. In terms of Vedic law, marriage is regarded as a religious obligation and not as a contract. It implies a biological, and moral and spiritual union between a man and a woman.
Geet Gawai (Women’s singing session)
Two days before the actual marriage ceremony, the Geet Gawai takes place, both at the bride's and groom's homes. Women of the family and neighbourhood sing traditional wedding songs and dance the circle dance or Jhumar, swinging their hips and hands rhythmically. This lasts until the early hours of the following morning and is ended with choruses from the women's repertoire.
Tilak (sandal paste)
The Tilak is a prelude to the actual marriage ceremony. The Tilak (sandal paste), placed on thegroom’s forehead, marks his acceptance by the bride's father or brother. It also makes the engagement official.
The Haldi ceremony
Smearing of bride and bridegroom with a mixture of turmeric root paste and mustard oil is an old Indian tradition. Because of its yellow colour, turmeric is regarded as a spiritual plant which provides a divine glow and shine. On Haldi day, the bride and bridegroom are smeared with haldi (turmeric paste), first by the priest and then by male patrilineal kin, female relatives and friends. As the haldi is smeared on the heads, shoulders, knees and faces of the couple, women sing wedding songs. The guests are then invited to a typical wedding dinner served on banana leaves. The Haldi ceremony takes place at the bride’s and groom’s residences at the sacred ritual space under the Mandap (wedding canopy).
Vivah (The wedding ceremony)
The bride is dressed according to the Sola Shringars which refers to sixteen modes of Indian aesthetics. She wears a rich brocaded red or yellow silk sari with flowers in her hair and jewellery on all the parts of her body which are exposed. Her hands and feet are dyed with complex designs of Henna or Mehendi, and the darker the Henna, the deeper, it is believed, will the love between the couple be. The groom is also dressed in traditional clothes. The wedding ceremony starts with the offering of incense, lighted camphor, flowers, fruits and ceremonial powder known as Kumkum (red) to the Gods.
The groom gives the bride clothing, flowers, cosmetics and jewellery, while the priest chants hymns from the Vedas which are actually prayers to God to give the bride a long life.
Kanya Dan (Gift of the daughter)
This ceremony is particularly moving since during it the parents give their most precious gift, namely their daughter, to the groom. The husband now takes over responsibility for and care of the bride from her father. The bridegroom accepts and thanks the bride's father for the great honour and he assures him that she will be the pride of the family. The father speaks the following
Agni (The mystic fire)
The priests call for the presence of the Gods who are present in the Divine light of fire. The couple burn all their impurities and prepare themselves for the responsibilities of a new life in the mystic fire. Agni also symbolises the Fire of Life that unites a man and a woman.
The couple offer puffed rice into the fire to symbolise that, just as rice must be transplanted as a seedling to the paddy field to produce a good harvest, the bride is given away to her husband where she will prosper, flourish and rear her family. Rice is a good omen and a sign of fertility.
The bride leads the groom around the sacred fire three times while the priests chant wedding hymns. After each round puffed rice is again offered to the sacred fire.
Saptapadi (The seven steps)
The bride now makes seven steps with the groom. Each step refers to a specific vow:
When he applies a pinch of sindour (vermilion powder) to her hair, the groom blesses the new status of his wife as a married woman. The priests bless them both with flowers and Vedic chants. The groom also places a wedding necklace known as the Mangal Sutra around the bride's neck.
The ceremony is concluded with a recitation of Vedic Mantras and a prayer of peace. The guests, relatives and parents give their blessings to the couple.
[Extracts from ‘Kanya Dan’, The Why's of Hindu Marriage Rituals. Sarita Boodhoo.]
The Bible according to kids Students in both Christian and Jewish schools in the United States of America were asked to write their views about matters mentioned in the Bible. Here are some of their ideas:
Mannetjies Roux has further connections with Unisa. It was Prof Chris Torr, of the Department of Economics and husband of singer Laurika Rauch, who composed the well-known Afrikaans song 'Stuur groete aan Mannetjies Roux’.
Letter from a student Dear Anthropology Lecturers
What a good idea the Newsletter is! I didn’t know anything about it at all prior to receiving it. Good Luck with it and I hope that all the students appreciate it and find it interesting and informative. [This sort of thing is one of the reasons that ‘you guys’ have such a good reputation amongst your students I guess, as per a doctor to
Editor’s comment: Thank you for writing to us. I hope your letter encourages other students to do the same.
No 3, October 1998
International visits by lecturers Since the middle of this year a number of senior members of staff have had the opportunity to visit foreign countries and to participate in international conferences and discussions. We share some of their experiences with you to illustrate the diversity of the activities and interests of members of staff.
In July, Jill Kruger attended three conferences and workshops in The Netherlands where she made four presentations. All dealt with her current research area – children’s evaluation of their urban environments.
In Eindhoven, she presented a paper with Peter Rich from the Dept of Architecture, Wits University, at the 15th IAPS (International Association for People and the Environment), entitled: Breaking Down Barriers: Children’s Views on Improving Life in a South African Squatter Camp. There was strong interest in the presentation and many requests for copies afterwards. UNESCO has offered to publish the paper.
The next presentation was at the GUIC (Growing up in Cities) workshop for international research directors and was led by Professor Louise Chawla of Kentucky State University, the international co-ordinator of the GUIC project. At this workshop, Peter and Jill gave an overview of current developments in their work with children within the GUIC mandate.
This workshop and the one immediately following were held at a wonderful conference centre in the small town of Soesterberg. This venue had been converted from a convent school and was memorable for three things:
their projects. At these sessions the Rwandan team teamed up with Jill Kruger and both found the process very enlightening. Iran and Brazil were also particularly interested in GUIC work with children in South Africa. Jill gave two 45 minute training presentations, one on participatory research with children and the other on working with local government in development initiatives for children. The whole group also had valuable hands-on experience in research action with children, guided by GUIC research directors, through pre-arranged visits and work with children in nearby Wageningen and in Utrecht. The Mayor of Kigali (Rwanda) had a vibrant personality and used every opportunity presented to dance and have fun. He said he had no opportunity at home where everyone expected him to be “very serious”! The children all thought he was wonderful. Altogether, it was an exhausting but very stimulating time.
Towards the end of July Prof Mike de Jongh and Prof Frik de Beer had the opportunity to attend and deliver papers at the 14th International Congress of Anthropological Sciences which was hosted by the College of William and Mary in the historical town of Williamsburg, Virginia, USA. Some 1500 anthropologists and other delegates attended the conference and they literally came from every corner of the planet.
While the general theme of the conference was The 21st Century: The Century of Anthropology, three specific objectives were identified; first, to reflect on the lessons of the past 100 years of anthropology; second, to examine the challenges of anthropology in the new millennium; and third, to explore the insights of anthropology to public policy, education, business, and human services. Collectively the intention was to discuss the role of anthropology in understanding human communities and the issues they face in the 21st century.
It is impossible for a single individual to develop a complete awareness or grasp of the different themes, trends and discourses which unfold during the course of a conference. The sheer size of this conference made the task even more daunting. In addition to the nearly 300 sessions, often 40 to 70 of them parallel, there were plenary sessions, business meetings, special events and an
The sessions were organized by the different commissions and this gives some idea of the themes, issues and problems which were dealt with: Aging and the Aged; Human Ecology; Medical Anthropology and Epidemiology; Urgent Anthropological Research; Visual Anthropology; Museums and Cultural Heritage; Documentation; Women and Gender; Theoretical Anthropology; Urban Anthropology; Anthropology of Tourism; Nomadic Peoples; Anthropology of Food; Anthropology of Aids; Ethnic Relations; Anthropology in Policy and Practice; Folk Law and Legal Pluralism; and the Study of Peace.
Whereas Prof de Jongh’s paper, Democracy Without Citizenship: Rural Poverty and the Case of the Peripatetics of the South African Karoo was presented, and most of his time spent in the sessions of the Nomadic Commission, the central debates and issues there were echoed in many of the discussions of the other sessions as well. Some of the questions raised and the problems which were confronted included the following: the role and relevance of anthropology and anthropologists; the position of anthropologists vis-a-vis national and supranational organisations on the one hand and local groups on the other; the impact of globalization and the redefining of the stance anthropologists should take; should anthropologists be increasingly politically pro-active?
Before and after the conference Prof de Jongh visited Anthropology and other departments at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and the Universities of Florida, Gainesville and South Florida, Tampa in the USA. Discussions and consultations were held with various academics including those at the Centre for African Studies where he was invited to address the African Studies Forum, the Institute on Black Life and the Centre for Africa and the Diaspora. Prof de Jongh also presented a seminar at the International Affairs Centre at the University of South Florida
After the IUAES conference Prof De Beer embarked on a study tour and visited the University of South Florida in Tampa, institutions such as the United Nations in New York, the Smithsonian Institute and the World Bank in Washington. He also paid a visit to the Seminole Creek Indians in the Everglades National Park in Florida. A highlight of his tour was a visit to an Amish
(If you wish to learn more about the fascinating way of life of the Amish, you can read the following sources both of which are available in the Unisa library: Hostetler, J A 1968/1980. Amish Society, 2nd & 3rd eds., Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press and Hostetler, J A 1971. Children in Amish Society. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.)
After his visit to the USA, Prof de Beer together with Prof LP Vorster of the Department of Indigenous Law at UNISA participated in the International Human Dimensions Workshop on Global Environmental Change from 19-21 August in Bonn, Germany. Approximately 27 papers were presented on environmental issues by scholars from Europe, the USA, Canada, India and South Africa. Their paper on Grassroots Perceptions on Biodiversity was well received by delegates, who were particularly interested in their bottom-up approach to addressing environmental problems. Delegates from Third World countries believe that this approach would go a long way to more ensure more active involvement in environmental matters by the people whose survival is at stake, as well as contribute to more sustainable use of the environment.
During September and October Dr Chris van Vuuren visited and lectured at a number of North American universities. The aims of his visit included meeting scholars who share this interest in ritual and performance studies and lecturing on his experience of Ndebele male and female initiation ritual. Dr van Vuuren lectured at Vermont University, USA, and was also the guest of the African Studies Programme, Folklore Institute and Semiotics and Performance Studies Centre at Indiana University, where amongst other distinguished scholars, he met the well-known performance expert Richard Bauman. In Canada Dr van Vuuren was the guest of Prof Charles Laughlin at Carleton University who pioneered studies in the neuro-psychological dimensions of
Anthropology and the environment A short study unit in the Study guide for SKA201-3 introduces our undergraduate students to the connection between people, culture and the environment. Anthropological interest in the environment is increasing world-wide and there is in fact an ever increasing awareness by others of the contribution that anthropologists can make to dealing with environmental problems.
From reading about Prof de Beer’s international visits you will have gathered that environmental issues are one of his main interests. Besides his international involvement Prof de Beer also attended the annual conference of the Indigenous Plant Use Forum organised by the Inland Resources Programme of the Sustainable Environment Theme of the Foundation for Research
Archaeological Excavations at Olieboompoort, Fancy, Ellisras At the end of August a group of 26 first- and second-year students and 3 lecturers participated in the annual archaeological excursion to the Stone Age site of Olieboompoort near Ellisras in the Northern Province. During the visit the group also went to an Iron Age and historical site known as Bobididi near Villa Nora. The group stayed at the D'Nyala Game Reserve but, because of the long hours spent at the dig, had little opportunity for game viewing.
Besides the stonewalling and middens on the hilltop the archaeologists also investigated a number of exceptionally well-preserved clay granaries built under overhangs and rock shelters lower down the hill. A few grass grain baskets, which over time have collapsed, are also to be found at some of these localities. Sidney Miller, formerly involved with an archaeological project at Thulamela in the Kruger National Park, joined the group for a few days to assist with the installation of a permanent grid at the Olieboompoort site. A small but enthusiastic team excavated the Middle Stone Age deposits in the test trench, which ultimately reached a depth of 2m. The remainder of the group opened up a new area of 5 x 4 square metres and started on the excavation of the Later Stone Age occupation levels. Drienie Beukes from the Department of Archaeozoology at the Transvaal Museum took charge of processing the faunal remains. On the last day at the site the test trench of 5m x 1m had to be backfilled with the fine, ashy sifted material but even this daunting (and extremely dusty) exercise could not dampen the spirits of this particularly dedicated group of archaeology students!
The site of Olieboompoort, situated near a tributary of the Mokolo River which drains into the Limpopo, forms the current focus of research by archaeologists of the Department. Limited excavations undertaken by Revil Mason at the shelter during the 1950s revealed the importance of this site. Mason wrote that he “found a magnificent hoard of their [the Later Smithfield people’s] belongings at Olieboompoort Cave, a delightful shelter in a poort that gives an easy route between the hilly Waterberg and the Kalahari to the far west” (Mason 1962:310). He noted that an Iron Age bed overlaid the Later Stone Age occupation, below which was found a Pietersburg Middle Stone Age assemblage followed by an Earlier Stone Age Later Acheulian unit
(Reference: Mason, R 1962. Prehistory of the Transvaal. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.)
Visiting Professor from Nigeria The Association for Anthropology in Southern Africa participates in a lecturer-exchange programme with the Pan African Anthropological Association. This year Prof Ezekiel A Oke of the Department of Sociology at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria spent some time visiting various South African universities, including our department at UNISA. Prof Oke obtained a Ph.D degree in Anthropology from the University of Kentucky in the USA, is the recipient of many scholarships, fellowships and prizes and has published widely. He has also had considerable research experience, particularly in the field of medical anthropology.
During his visit to our Department Prof Oke participated in a departmental seminar during which he presented a paper on the topic Cultural Factors Influencing Participation in Diarrhoeal Disease Control: Examples from Nigeria . His presentation was based on a series of research activities of the HEALTH-COM program in Nigeria. The program which is sponsored by USAID, aims to provide technical assistance for strengthening federal and state health communication capabilities. The program is aimed at child-survival and seeks to reduce morbidity and mortality rates among children under the age of five.
Prof Oke’s fieldwork, based on focus group discussions, was carried out in Nigeria State, a sparsely populated area in Nigeria with many ethnic groups, the most important among which are the Nupe, Gwari and Hausa. Members of these groups were selected for the focus group discussions. The main target group consisted of the mothers of young children, who are primary care-takers of young children and make most of the decisions concerning diagnosis and treatment of illness. Older women and men were however, also included because of their high status and experience.
The primary concern of Prof Oke’s paper was the role of cultural factors in the control of diarrhoeal diseases in rural communities. He pointed out that culture is a dynamic factor related to virtually every state of health or disease and related practices. Using traditional concepts of disease (as a conceptual tool) Prof Oke indicated that the perception and resultant practices related to a disease are conditioned by cultural understanding. Nevertheless, this is dynamic situation and subject to reinterpretation based on the perceived reality of the health situation in question.
The case studies revealed instances of the potential influences of and the need for anthropologists, health professionals and health workers to be more cautious in planning and executing an intervention program. There is also a need for thorough understanding of specific cultures or subcultures, as well as for active participation or involvement of the target group from the initial stages of a program. It was further observed that under proper planning and execution, the rural tradition-oriented communities will accept a health program or facility if they consider it more efficient than indigenous facilities.
No 1, April 1999
The crisis in Kosovo In recent weeks and months television, radio and newspapers have been filled with horrific reports on the atrocities taking place in Kosovo, a province of Serbia (part of the former Yugoslavia). Visual material of bombing raids on Belgrade, capital of Serbia, by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from Serb military squads in Kosovo were seen daily. Just as the world was becoming accustomed to the idea of ‘peace’ in the Balkans following the civil war involving Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina in the former Yugoslavia, we are again confronted with news of the process of ‘ethnic cleansing’ by Serbian military forces in the area. (‘The Balkans’ refers to the states on the Balkan Peninsula between the Balkan mountains and the Adriatic Sea, south of the Danube and Sava Rivers.) Many of us had never heard of Kosovo, a province of Serbia, or of the ethnic Albanians who make up the majority of the population in Kosovo which borders on Albania. However, as time passes it has become apparent that the Kosovo crisis is unlikely to be short-lived and has the potential of developing into more than a regional conflict because of the involvement of NATO on the side of the Kosovo Albanians, and the threatened involvement by the Russians in support of the Serbs.
Like all forms of human behaviour, war is also of interest to anthropologists (as students registered for SKA202-4 will be aware) so we provide some information on the Kosovo/Serbian conflict as background to the situation.
The Kosovo Albanians are descended from people who arrived in the Balkans more than 2000 years ago, long before the arrival of Christianity and Islam. Their language is believed to have originated at that time. In about the seventh century they were followed by the Slavs. With the exception of the Albanians, Macedonians and Slovenes, all the Balkan (Slav) groups speak dialects of Serbo-Croatian. In addition the majority are Christian, again with the exception of the Albanians (and a group in Bosnia-Hercegovina) who are Muslims. The vulnerability of the Albanians thus arises from the fact that they are the only non-Slavs in the Balkans and their religion differs from that of the majority of groups in the area. To-day the Albanians are being physically driven out of Kosovo by Serbia. This process is however, also taking place on paper since before they are allowed to leave their homes they must surrender their passports, driver’s licenses, and car registration plates to Serbian police who also destroy their property ownership records, marriage and birth certificates and any other documents which might one day prove their identity and their right to return to Kosovo. This process has been called “identity elimination” by NATO.
Serbia was an independent country until 1389 when it was defeated by the Ottoman Turks in the battle of Kosovo Polje in the province of Kosovo. In spite of their defeat, the battle became a focal point of Serb ethnic consciousness and identity, symbolising their defiance, independence and nationalist sentiments. Consequently, the area in Kosovo where the battle took place, became a shrine to Serbian nationalism, a sentiment which still exists today. In 1914 Serb nationalism was in world news when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated by Serbs in Sarajevo, Bosnia, which formed part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The assassins’ intention was that Bosnia be given to Serbia. The assassination was used as the reason for the start of World War One. After the war the Serbs annexed Bosnia and then together with Croatia and Slovenia, formed a single state under the Serbian King Alexander to establish the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia’s geographical boundaries roughly coincided with ethnolinguistic and historical boundaries so that it consisted of six republics, namely Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. Kosovo was included in Serbia, but as an autonomous region. Soon after the establishment of Yugoslavia, conflict associated with the emergence of nationalist tendencies developed, and in 1934 Croatian nationalists assassinated the Serbian King.
The German Nazis supported the fascist Croatian government during the second World War, murdering hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies. After the war a communist government came to power in Yugoslavia under Marshal Tito who prevented all attempts at nationalist resurgence in the Balkans. After his victory over Croat fascists and Serb royalists, Tito united Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia (including Kosovo) into a single federation. In 1948 Tito broke his association with the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, after which the west provided financial assistance for the establishment of a non-aligned Yugoslavia. Although Tito’s ruthless government prevented all surges of nationalism, it could not eliminate ethnic sentiments amongst the different groups in the Balkans. Consequently after his death in 1980 Yugoslavia began to disintegrate. The following year at least nine people died in Kosovo when ethnic Albanians, who then made up 90 percept of the population, rioted. They were demanding a separate republic. Later in 1990, the first free elections held in Yugoslavia brought nationalists to power across the country. Slovenia and Croatia declared independence in June 1991. Although Slovenia’s breakaway was largely peaceful, war erupted in Croatia which lasted for six months and killed 10 000 people.
In 1991 Macedonia also voted for independence and NATO was sent to the region to prevent bloodshed. The Muslim leaders in Bosnia declared independence in 1992, but Serbs and Croats living in the region fought to remain allied with their respective nations. The Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, was accused of supplying the Serbs in Bosnia with military hardware. A three-year war involving Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia left hundreds of thousands of people dead and millions more displaced from their homes. A conference in the USA in 1995 produced peace in the Balkans, but it has since become apparent that a more permanent settlement remains outstanding.
The foregoing sketches the historical background to the Kosovo crisis which in reality actually began about ten years ago when the former Yugoslavia disintegrated. As this occurred, the trouble in the autonomous province of Kosovo resurrected the old Serb fears and emotions over the region associated with the battle of Kosovo Polje. This produced an ideal situation for Slobodan Milosevic, the Serb leader, to put his plan for Serbian nationalism into action. After a meeting in Kosovo in April 1987 he told a crowd of Kosovo Serbs that Yugoslavia did not exist without Kosovo and that Yugoslavia would disintegrate without Kosovo. In 1989 he forcibly ended the autonomy of Kosovo. Troops and tanks were sent into the province killing more than 40 people. Ethnic Albanian leaders declared independence in 1990, followed by widespread predictions of civil war. However, for the next eight years the people in Kosovo lived in a state of artificial peace as around them the former Yugoslav republics became involved in increasingly bloody wars, encouraged by the sentiments of nationalist leaders, particularly Milosevic. All that is left today of the original Yugoslavia are Serbia and Montenegro. Kosovo’s attempts to establish independence from Serbia represented a dream for the ethnic Albanians since the Serbian government has stated that it would never relinquish its hold on the province or the Serbian emotional and historical attachment to the area without a fight. As a result the Kosovo Albanians developed a separatist guerilla movement in 1997, which produced a severe reaction from Serbia later to develop into the Kosovo war.
It is clear that the situation in the Balkans is very complex, but we should see to what extent we can interpret it from an anthropological perspective. It would appear that there are elements of what anthropologists call absolute war in the conflict in that Serbian forces intend to destroy the ethnic Albanians completely. This is associated with aspects of so-called instrumental war since the Serbian initiative is partly based on their emotional attachment to the Kosovo area which was the scene of the battle of Kosovo Polje. Added to this are the language and religious differences between the Serbs and the ethnic Albanians, as well as the nationalist sentiments of not only these two groups, but of the populations of all the Balkan states. As the history of the area shows, these factors have been sufficiently serious to produce conflict on a massive scale. The situation also sheds light on the resurgence of ethnicity, a phenomenon which increasingly challenges the sovereignty of nation states. (A study of ethnicity is included in our Honours course.)
(This information is primarily based on a report in Sunday Times, April 4, 1999. We recommend that you consult a map of the Balkans as you read these notes.)
Research on desegregated schooling in Gauteng During her Research and Development Leave in 1998, Dr Eulalie van Heerden, who specialises in educational anthropology, conducted research on desegregated schooling in Gauteng. Following the 1994 general elections, schools in South Africa became desegregated, i.e. open to pupils of all racial and sociocultural backgrounds. This process has however, not been without problems as indicated by the much publicised racial conflict at the Vryburg High School and other, although less serious, incidents reported elsewhere. Dr van Heerden’s research was an attempt to ascertain what is happening in the day-to-day life at desegregated schools.
Two high schools, both well established and older than 50 years,were selected as centres for the research. One was a formerly Afrikaans-only school which now offers parallel-medium education in white Afrikaans-medium and black English-medium classes (‘together but separate’), with, at the time of the research, a white:black pupil ratio of 56%:44%. The other school was a fully integrated English-medium school with a white:black pupil ratio of 44%:56%.
Over a six month period Dr van Heerden was closely involved with both these schools, visiting them alternately on a daily basis. Her research methods included close observation in the classroom, staffroom and on the playground; individual interviews with pupils and teachers; focus group discussions with Grade 11 pupils, and completion of a questionnaire also by Grade 11 pupils to determine amongst other matters, pupils’ perceptions of the schools, their ideas about the advantages and disadvantages of desegregated schooling, aspects of adapting to a desegregated school context, the implications of racial differences in the schools, and their ideas about and perceptions of the behaviour of socioculturally ‘different’ pupils.
Dr van Heerden was well received by the teachers and pupils in both schools and thoroughly enjoyed the research. She found it encouraging to note the interest of the school population in the research, not merely because it represented an interest in the situation at the schools at ‘grassroots level’, but also because the anthropological approach of the research represented a novel
The research showed on the one hand, that goodwill, acceptance, a desire to reach out to others and the establishment of friendships across racial and sociocultural lines were evident, but on the other hand, that problematic racial attitudes, sociocultural differences, misconceptions, wilfulness and stereotyping also exist, often exacerbated by typical teenage behaviour. A school represents a microcosm of the broader society in which it is situated, and the pupils themselves repeatedly
In all probability it will take some time for the post-apartheid South African society to emerge from its rites de passage, but contemporary South African society does provide exceptional opportunities for anthropologists to make valuable contributions to social understanding and development. Although scholars from various other disciplines undertake research regarding
We strongly recommend that all students involved in teaching at desegregated schools read Dr van Heerden’s outstanding research report. It is available in the Unisa library as Van Heerden, ME 1998. What’s Happening in Practice? A Comparative Study of Teaching and Learning in two Desegregated South African Public High Schools. An article based on this research was also published in the latest edition of the SA Journal of Ethnology.
Excursion to the Waterberg, Northern Province On request of the Trans-Vaal branch of the South African Archaeological Society, Department archaeologists Jan Boeyens, Maria van der Ryst and Francois Coetzee recently organised a weekend excursion to archaeological sites in the Waterberg. The group stayed at the Masebe Nature Reserve near Marken. On Saturday morning they visited a hilltop Iron Age site,
Kirstenbos, where archaeological investigations, including excavations by Unisa archaeology students in 1996, produced dates which reveal that the site was occupied approximately 800 years ago. The site, which lacks stone-walling, is characterised by numerous midden deposits containing quantities of pottery and bone and other cultural materials such as ostrich eggshell beads,
scattered across most of the settlement area. The pottery is predominantly of the Eiland ceramic style with its typical herringbone decorative patterns which represent the final phase of the Early Iron Age in large parts of the former Transvaal. Evidence of smelting activities such as the remains of clay pipes (tuyères) and slag deposits occurs in the lower area south of the hill. A Stone Age knapping site near the locality was also visited.
Saturday afternoon was spent investigating archaeological sites on Masebe, including a shelter with rock art, well-preserved clay grain storage bins built under a slight overhang and an Iron Age site on top of a dauntingly high hill. Although the climb to the latter site is steep, the archaeologists’ effort was well-rewarded by their finds, particularly of pottery with decorations
Clive Walker the well-known conservationist of Lapalala Wilderness, and author of a number of books on the environment, elephant and rhino, gave an interesting talk on Sunday morning on the exhibitions in the Rhino Museum which forms part of his Waterberg Environmental Education Centre. Two Late Iron Age sites on Malore Hill situated within the Lapalala Wilderness were then explored. The site on top of Malore Hill, built in a defensive style, is marked by extensive stone walling which forms a complex arrangement of arcs and circular enclosures. Excavations at this locality point to a date in the eighteenth century. The presence of mainly undecorated pottery and the hut type on the hill site associate this occupation phase with Nguni speakers. A Sotho-Tswana settlement, dating to the nineteenth century, has been determined at the site on the saddle. Here an open-air copper quarry as well as the layout of the village were investigated. The remains of numerous collapsed huts, features with evidence of smithing activities, fragments of metal objects, broken pottery and two buried pots which appear to be complete, represent some of the structures and objects visible on the surface. During a salvage excavation at the saddle site undertaken in
The excursion ended with a splendid lunch served in the restaurant which forms part of the Waterberg Museum Complex. It was gratifying that so many Unisa students (friends), as well as alumni among the ArchSoc members participated in the excursion.
World Archaeological Congress 4, Cape Town, 10 - 14 January 1999 This conference, with President Nelson Mandela as patron of the Congress, was held at the University of Cape Town and attended by approximately 800 delegates from more than 60 countries. The Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at Unisa was represented by Jan Boeyens, Maria van der Ryst, and Francois Coetzee, all of whom delivered papers. The conference was formally opened by the Congress President, Prof Mamphela Ramphele, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town. The exhibition of the famous gold objects from Mapungubwe, scheduled to coincide with the launching of a new book on the archaeological research at this site, formed part of the conference proceedings.
The conference was structured around three broad themes. The first of these was time, which focused on landmarks in the long history of humanity which deserve contemplation as we approach the millennium. The second theme was archaeology in a global context which explored interconnections between the continents and new ways of looking at the world. The third theme addressed the future and specifically the question of where archaeology would be heading in the twenty-first century. Although the emphasis was on Africa, contributions on the archaeology of different parts of the world were presented. Topics dealt with by presenters included the effects of climatic change, the ethnographies of place, exchange, and barter and trade across the world with the focus on commodities such as ochre and gold. The identity of ethnic groups, land rights and the repatriation of cultural property were debated thoroughly. These issues were of particular interest to the Khoisan Indigenous Forum which was well-represented at the conference. Information technology and archaeology, archaeology and education, as well as the place of new technologies in archaeological research and explanation were some of the challenging issues addressed by a number of archaeologists.
Symposia, keynote addresses and workshops, arranged around fourteen themes, were presented concurrently throughout the conference. Workshops focused on specific archaeological techniques (for example, stone knapping) and policy issues or panel discussions on topics such as repatriation. The keynote addresses concentrated on major themes and issues in contemporary archaeology. The eminent scholar and African archaeologist, Desmond Clark, received a standing ovation after he delivered his keynote address entitled Fifty Years of African Archaeology: Retrospective and Response. Now in his eighties, Desmond Clark has been actively involved with archaeology for more than 50 years. He also participated in a post-conference excursion led by
Jan Boeyens, Maria van der Ryst and Francois Coetzee presented the following papers:
Honours students’ research reports Every year a number of students complete their Hons degrees by submitting their research reports in the form of a short article. Most of the reports are based on original research on a relatively limited topic, although a student may also obtain permission to write the article based on library research. In January four of our students completed their degrees and would thus have obtained their degrees during the recent series of Unisa graduation ceremonies. We thought you would find it interesting to read about the topics selected by each of these students.
The South African Journal of Ethnology The Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at Unisa has become home to the South African Journal of Ethnology, an accredited mouthpiece for anthropologists in South Africa. Prof Frik de Beer was appointed Editor, with Prof Mike De Jongh, Dr Jan Boeyens and Dr Stephné Herselman as members of the editorial board. The positioning of the journal in our Department poses tremendous challenges to us to develop anthropological and archaeological research and writing in South Africa and to promote the journal as the leading anthropological publication in the country. If you are able to visit the Unisa library, we encourage you to consult the journal for information on recent research and articles published by South African anthropologists.
New President of The Association for Anthropology in Southern Africa During the annual meeting and conference of the Association for Anthropology in Southern Africa held in Harare in January, Prof Mike De Jongh was elected as President of the Association. This is a great honour and we congratulate Mike on his election. With Mike’s election and Frik’s appointment as Editor of the South African Journal of Ethnology, who can deny that we have become the most influential Anthropology Department in South Africa?
The Institute for Contemporary History The University of the Orange Free State in Bloemfontein is home to the Institute for Contemporary History (INCH) or die Instituut vir Eietydse Geskiedenis (INEG). The Institute houses a very impressive data base of issues pertaining to recent South African history based primarily on reports in national newspapers. Anyone wishing to conduct research on a contemporary South African matter can approach the friendly staff with their request, and within a short period of time the computer system provides detailed documentation of news reports covering the topic of the research. The institute has been consulted by overseas scholars conducting research on South African issues and is very highly regarded, both nationally and internationally.
The Quest for Ubuntu The following article received from Dr Usha Roopnarain deals with the important and topical issue of ubuntu. If you wish to comment on it, please do so. Dr Roopnarain and ourselves will welcome your ideas.
Recently, a number of individuals have tried to unbundle the term ubuntu to which several meanings have been attached, although it is often unclear precisely what ubuntu means. In this article the writer reexamines the roots of the concept. The basic idea underlying proposals for reconsidering the concept of ubuntu is that many dilemmas in society, which are accentuated by violence and poverty, can only be eradicated by reestablishment of traditional values. Often writers have associated ubuntu with colonial ideology (Sono, 1994), but ubuntu can in fact be viewed as a reappraisal of the entire human phenomenon. We need to look at the roots of this concept and its relevance for today.
Political parties in South Africa have been grappling with the process of transformation, which rightly, has become a national preoccupation. But transformation is a fleeting concept on which to base a political alliance. Other issues must also be considered. Religion for instance, coupled with the political, cultural, historical and geographical context, continues to be a significant social force in South Africa. Religion cannot therefore, be separated from these contexts. This article provides a lucid and concise introduction to ubuntu, but unlike other introductions, it deals with the historical roots of the concept. It provides essential grounding for an understanding of current debates surrounding the topic of ubuntu.
Various African philosophers stress the fact that Africans have a human-centred philosophy of life. Humankind is central in the universe and nothing else is as important as human beings: “Munhu I munhu hi van hu wana van” (‘a human being is a human being through and because of other human beings’). This philosophy has often been romanticized and described as ‘negritude’, thus ultimately producing a negative attitude toward African culture. Mazrui (1980:11) has pointed out
'The mood of this branch of African thought is one of nostalgia, yearning for an innocence which is eternally lost. All that can be done now is to make the best of a bad job, try to save some of the values of old Africa, and find synthesis between these and the influences which have come with colonialism and modernity.'This reappropriation with the past has created a new kind of recurrence, often equated with the term ‘ubuntu’. ‘Ubuntu’ is a Nguni concept (‘Nguni’ is a collective term which categorises the culture, including language, of the Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi and Ndebele; cf. Bekker, 1989). This collegial sense of nationhood often expresses itself through the awareness of group identity at community, ethnic and national levels. This sense of African collegiality reflected by the African notion of ubuntu is part and parcel of the laws which govern the aforementioned groups.
Origin of the term
The Swazi, Zulu and Xhosa people were pastoralists (isitu) who originated around Central Africa which was rich in arable soils, lush grazing grounds, and had abundant water. The ancestors of these people came from one source area in the region from where, influenced by travellers, they moved south.
Ubuntu is the age-old philosophy of the abantu. It comprises a code for living, ingrained respect for others, and an honourable manner of deportment. It is tied to the abantu religion of ancestor worship, which is also a means of petitioning the supreme being, too distant for direct worship. Many non-African people, including westerners and easterners, have attempted to conform to the principles of ubuntu, but because it is not an inherent part of their upbringing, they invariably fall short of its requirements for an acceptable way of life. In terms of ubuntu, respect is shown to all people, regardless of who they are, but respect ceases when provocation demands retaliation as in war or faction fighting. Among African peoples a custom in war was to open the belly of the vanquished after death so that the spirit could escape and not be left to torment those who remained behind. This explains the respect for the spirit of an individual until such time that he/she causes cessation of that respect by transgressing the ‘rules of respectful coexistence’. It is therefore clear that common values underlie ancestral religion. In the notion of ubuntu
'Lies (in) a pragmatic emphasis on contemporary rewards and its roots in social structure, membership of a cult group being determined by descent, and cult spirits being contained within existing boundaries. These spiritual agents are of human origin, an element of the living ensemble surviving death to inhabit an afterlife’ (Prozesky et al 1993:21).Ubuntu also embodies automatic respect for older persons on an escalating scale according to age. This respect is shown by avoiding the eyes of older persons, maintaining submissive body language, attempting not to be positioned higher than the head of the individual being respected, and by not creating noise through laughing or speaking angrily in the company of older persons. This contributes to a sharing of feelings of joy, sorrow, and shame, in other words to be in empathy with the persons who are subject to such emotions. Empathy extends to expressing gratitude when someone else receives a gift, accolades or recognition. Unless there is some enmity as in war, during discussions or arguments, it is never the intention to use sarcasm or blatantly hurtful words in order to beat the ‘opponent’; rather the shortcomings of an opponent must be revealed by the dignified presentation of a counter-argument. In short, to resort to hot-tempered abusive language is to lose dignity and therefore, to have to face the ancestors. The intention of this is to teach the young how essential it is to maintain a noble decorum.
The adherence to ancestor worship is considered a vital form of achieving harmony and contentment in this life. The ancestors who exert a major influence on the lives and lifestyles of the Bantu-speaking peoples frequently demand acknowledgement and respect through dreams or through diviners if they are visited to determine the cause of discomfort, anguish or loss. Frequently, it occurs that an individual will be requested to perform a ritual in order to appease the ancestors, thereby reinstating the essential lifestyle of harmony and contentment. This reveals the religious priority among the people concerned and the belief that firstly, the spirit within the person is automatically respected, and secondly, so is the person him- or herself until a specific
The term ubuntu has however, been so widely used that it has lost much of its meaning. For instance many financial institutions and businesses in the corporate world have appropriated the term to nourish their visions and missions, and to ensure that ‘worth is added’ to their services. Through the Masakhane program¹, the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP)² has often been associated with ubuntu. In their so-called quest for ubuntu, the term has been misplaced, misused and misquoted. For many financial institutions and municipalities the rationale behind ubuntu is that people should pay rents and mortgages. Masakhane is not an aspect of culture nor does it relate to tradition, and associating it with ubuntu as a form of African philosophy, represents manipulation and castigation of the latter concept by financial institutions. Clearly financial institutions and other businesses do not understand or in fact, do they appear to be particularly interested in the ubuntu philosophy.
African values are based on social solidarity and the recognition that individualism cannot overpower the value and significance of collectivity. Thus we need to ask whether ubuntu is holding black people from so-called intellectualism and critical thought. What is implied is a departure from African culture and movement towards a new age of African reason. One needs to understand that cultural foundations hold a reservoir of untapped human and social values which can range for instance from the philosophy of ubuntu to a sense of social solidarity. In essence, after its denigration during colonialism and apartheid this culture of respect and tolerance needs to be revived and re-established as the centrality of human dignity.
The concept of ubuntu is likely to become more important as we approach the 1999 elections. Looking back, the South African system has a number of shortcomings in terms of its political and judicial system. The human violations and atrocities of the past have not done much for the legitimacy of or respect for South African law. Now that constitutionalism has become central to
“There is a need for understanding, but not for vengeance, a need for ubuntu and not for victimization” (Section 9 and 10 of the Constitution).In closing the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu appear most apt:
'Africans believe something that it is difficult to render in English. We call it ubuntu/botho. It means the essence of being human. You know it is there and when it is absent. It speaks about humanness, gentleness, hospitality, putting yourself out on behalf of others, being vulnerable. It recognizes that my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be humans together.'References consulted in the compilation of this article include:
Abiola, I. 1981. The African Experience in Literature and Ideology (no further bibliographic details available)
1. ‘Ubuntu’ is widely used, sometimes with an abandon that does not recognise the depth of its meaning. It has become more or less ‘cliched’, with various interpretations given to the word but which do not do justice to understanding the underlying philosophy. Ubuntu has frequently been equated with humaneness, compassion, hospitality.
2. Masakhane (literally meaning ‘let us build together’) is a costly and time-consuming program introduced by the Government of National Unity to encourage defaulters to pay for residential services. Its connection with ubuntu is totally misplaced and constitutes an assault on the deep philosophy of ubuntu.
No 2, November 1999
The PAAA award During the annual conference of the Pan African Anthropological Association in Yaounde, Cameroon, .Prof Mike de Jongh was awarded a Certificate of Recognition and Appreciation by the Association for his contribution to the promotion and enhancement of anthropology in Africa from 1989 to 1999. The award, in the form of a plaque, was handed to Prof de Jongh by Prof Paul Nkwi, President of the PAAA. We congratulate Prof de Jongh on this exceptional achievement.
Child and youth research Through her concern and dedication to the well-being of children Jill Swart-Kruger has development a remarkable record of involvement in various aspects of child and youth research. Besides being founder and honorary president of Street-Wise and the South African director of Growing up in Cities, Jill also serves on the following committees:
The annual archaeological excavations '[A]rchaeology is the very broadest of churches, with something to offer everyone, and which welcomes everybody - even, or especially, misfits, nerds and the socially challenged who should find it more fulfilling than trainspotting or surfing the Internet.’
Bahn, Paul 1996. Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Twenty-seven archaeology students from all over South Africa, including Cape Town and Mossel Bay, and places in KwaZulu - Natal, as well as one student all the way from Salmon Arms, Canada, participated in the annual Unisa archaeological field trip from 21 -28 August. This year the students visited Olieboompoort Shelter in the Waterberg near Ellisras, Northern Province. The main purposes of the excursion were to continue excavations at the Stone Age site of Olieboompoort, and to introduce students to archaeological techniques. The research at the Olieboompoort rock shelter provides a unique experience for excavating deposits where hunter-gatherers lived thousands of years ago, and through this process to discover details of their
In contrast with the dates for the Waterberg Plateau, which indicate intensive utilisation only after AD 1200, the dates for the Later Stone Age layers at Olieboompoort show that the shelter was in fact occupied by hunter-gatherers at least during the last 2000 years. No occupation is indicated for the mid-Holocene and early Holocene. These dates are consistent with the typological classification of the lithic assemblage which contains Post-Classic and Classic Wilton stone tool types. Dating of the Middle Stone Age material recovered during the 1998 excavations is in process. A marked difference is found in the raw material usage at Olieboompoort when compared with material from sites on the Waterberg Plateau. Cryptocrystalline material is the dominant raw material of the microliths while the Later Stone Age assemblages on the Waterberg plateau are characterised by the use of mainly quartz and felsite. A wide range of cultural and organic materials was recovered during recent fieldwork at the Olieboompoort site which is also characterised by preservation of organic materials. These include the remains of meals (represented by the fauna and carbonised seeds and nut endocarps from the hearth areas), large numbers of microlithic stone tools, hundreds of ostrich eggshell beads, the composite parts of arrows such as polished bone points and linkshafts, finely made bone needles and awls used to sew skin clothing (as well as the grooved stones used in the manufacture of bone and shell objects), bone pendants, sections of three ground stone rings, engraved ostrich eggshell fragments, decorated pottery and glass trade beads. Ceremonial activities are indicated by ritual objects such as two bone pendants as well as ostrich eggshell beads stained with ochre. A cowrie shell from the east coast was found among these artefacts.
Cowrie shells are valued for their durability and their shape (symbolising and promoting female fertility), and have been used for thousands of years as burial offerings, for divination purposes, as currency and for trade. The generic name Cypraea refers to the Island of Cyprus where Aphrodite first stepped ashore, which may explain the frequent use of cowries as fertility amulets.
Although a wide range of images is present in the rock paintings at the site, the rock art has not preserved well and in most instances is covered by graffiti. Handprints in red and yellow are prominent. An inventory of the handprints at the shelter inspired the students to experiment with grinding pigments and to produce their own rock art according to a procedure described by a descendant of the San from the Maluti Mountains. Paint was prepared by the grinding of specularite and ochreous haematite by an ‘old woman’ under a full moon, then fat and blood were added as fixatives before a handprint was made on a sandstone slab from the shelter area (a handprint is reproduced in this Newsletter!)
On the first Sunday of the week of the excursion various archaeological sites were visited to introduce the students to the rich cultural and archaeological heritage of the Waterberg. The sites included a rock art site, a shelter with grain bins, rock art at the Masebe Nature Reserve (near Marken), and a hilltop Iron Age site at Kirstenbos where previous archaeological investigations
All the above contributed to a successful academic undertaking but, equally important in making the excursion memorable, were the extreme working conditions, the students’ total dedication to archaeology, their diverse careers and life skills, a broad range of academic knowledge and interests, as well as vehicle failures experienced late at night on a dirt road. These factors helped
Kim Berg Zigler
Though asked to write a story of the week at Olieboompoort
I have a tale or two to tell but thought a poem would do:
‘Home is the canvas condo where I fall in nearly dead;
The tockaloshies (!) snooze below me, my takkies are their choice;
The food here is not great, for hot water you must wait;
We climb into our combies, the driving is down pat.
We dig and sort as dust abounds, a mystery to unfold;
The evenings are inviting with awesome fireside chat;
Gustav is our artist, the figures drawn unknown
South Africa is in my heart and will not fade away.
We would like to acknowledge the following contributions which added to the success (and fun) of the research project at Olieboompoort:
Marlize Lombaard and Magriet van Zyl
Each student who participated was given a T-shirt. Magriet organised the donation and printing of the T-shirts by attorneys Hack, Stupel and Ross. Marlize was responsible for the design on the shirts which depict rock art and stone tools from Olieboompoort. An engraved trowel, presented annually as a trophy, was also sponsored by this firm. Val Taylor’s name was drawn for the trophy, a popular choice!
Drienie, our archaeozoologist, and her engineer husband, Christo, donated geotextile to the group with which the excavations could be covered. Geotextile, an expensive material, permits the percolation of water but no wind- or waterborne soil can filter through it. It therefore prevents contamination of a deposit.
Kim Berg Zigler
Kim is initiating a fund for archaeological research which will help meet the high costs of fieldwork. Her concern and interest are highly appreciated, and her awareness of the need for documentation and preservation of our archaeological and cultural heritage deserves wide support.
Research among the Venda Prof FC de Beer was recently invited by Khosi TJ Ramovha and the traditional authority of the Mulenzhe chiefdom in Vendaland to conduct research on the position and role of the makhadzi (lit.” father’s sister; plural: vhomakhadzi) in Venda culture.
The Mulenzhe chiefdom is located next to the main road between Levubu and Punda Milia, one of the northern camps of the Kruger National Park. During the drive from Louis Trichardt to Mulenzhe through the picturesque southeastern part of Vendaland with its rich sub-tropical vegetation, one is constantly aware of the majestic Zoutpansberg mountain range with its precipitous slopes, sacred mountains and forests, and unsolved mysteries and legends. One such mysterious place is Lake Fundudzi, situated in the heart of the mountain range and which from the earliest times of Venda history, has been associated with strange and sinister occurrences.
On our arrival during the first visit to the Mulenzhe chiefdom at the end of October it was apparent that plans for the research had been well organized by the energetic chief Ramovha and several of his senior councillors. For the initial meeting at the capital no fewer than seven vhomakhadzi arrived, all dressed in their full traditional attire. The eldest makhadzi is in her nineties and the youngest in her early thirties; they represent three generations of vhomakhadzi, a rare phenomenon among the Venda. After the first two days of exploratory fieldwork it became evident that a makhadzi still plays a unique role in Venda life. She shares the privileges of the position of family head with her elder brother and fulfills crucial functions in connection with naming children, the designation of a new chief and headman, and worshipping the ancestor spirits. After the interviews with the vhomakhadzi Prof de Beer and his group were lavishly entertained by the royal family. Very conspicuous were the separate arrangements for men and women.
At a time when gender issues occupy a prominent place in anthropological debates and discourses, there is unquestionably the need for ongoing first-hand ethnographic information on the role and position of women in South African society. This research is intended to make some contribution in this regard.
Participation in television programme on traditional leadership Prof FC de Beer and Prof LP Vorster, Head of the Department of Indigenous Law at Unisa, recently participated in the SABC TV programme, Fokus met Freek, which is broadcast every Wednesday evening. The theme of the programme in which they participated was ‘The role of traditional leadership in the New South Africa’. Important facts that emerged during the
broadcasting were firstly, that between 16 and18 million of South Africa’s population of approximately 43 million people are still subject to the authority of traditional leaders in the rural areas. Secondly, traditional leaders and indigenous law are recognised in the Constitution (in terms of Section 211 and 212). Thirdly, a traditional government system constitutes the cheapest form of government that South Africa can maintain, and fourthly, that in South Africa, and in other African states as well, there is an increasing realization that traditional governance is indispensable for political stability and development at the local and grass-roots levels of society. Alternative local governance structures that have been created by governments, including the South African government, have been said to have neither the credibility nor the legitimacy accorded to traditional authorities. In this regard it should be remembered that tribesmen’s access to traditional leaders is direct, and that the position of the latter, besides the fact that they are not elected but are born to be leaders, is sanctioned by ritual factors. Experience has shown that the weight of tradition, even during times of rapid culture change, should never be underestimated in Africa.
Research on cultural diversity in organizational settings From July to September Dr Stephné Herselman was on a three-month period of Research and Development Leave during which she investigated aspects of cultural diversity in a retail company in Krugersdorp. This research formed the first phase of a project to be completed at the end of June 2000.
Students registered for SKA201-3 and HANTAL-K will know that organizations are often staffed by people with different sociocultural backgrounds, that is by persons who hold different values, speak different languages or adhere to different belief-systems. Such differences suggest that people participate in different groups, including family and other kin-groups, unions and social clubs, political parties and religious groups, which of course influences their behaviour. Each person thus brings different orientations to the workplace, which means firstly that the external environment impacts on the organizational setting, and secondly, that the organization is characterized by cultural diversity. Because of their specialized knowledge and research expertise, anthropologists are in a good position to study the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of employees and employers regarding their work situation and how they integrate personal, family, ethnic, professional and political aims and ambitions with their official roles and duties. It is therefore important to determine how and the extent to which cultural diversity influences the functioning of an organization.
The aforementioned research was conducted against this background. Although the research is still in a relatively early stage, certain key issues have already emerged from the research data for which explanations and meanings will be sought in the interpretation of the information. Some of these issues are the following:
Visiting South and Central America Dr Eulalie van Heerden and her husband recently visited South and Central America. She gave us the following report of their visit:
‘Our first stop was Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world of which the tourist brochures rightfully state that visitors can only hope to scratch the surface of this huge land. We stayed in Rio de Janeiro, a beautiful city especially when viewed from the top of the well-known Sugarloaf Mountain (visitors are taken up and down the mountain by cable car). The city seems to flow between the ocean and several mountain peaks, but as is the case with many large cities elsewhere in the world, the fairy tale picture of Rio portrayed on television, in books and brochures also has a less attractive side. During a city tour our attention was drawn to the massive housing problems in the urban area when we observed many self-constructed and often substandard dwellings in the poorer residential areas. Some of these are spread precariously up against the slopes of the mountains where dwellings appear to be constructed one on top of the other.
From Rio we went to the Iguaçu Falls, southwest of the city and approximately three hours away by aeroplane. These waterfalls, consisting of 275 cascades over nearly three km, are breathtaking and together with the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and the Niagra Falls in Canada constitute the three ‘giant’ waterfalls of the world. We viewed the Iguaçu Falls from the Brazilian side where our hotel was situated, from the Argentinian side, as well as from the air in a helicopter (the pilot of which regarded it his duty to tilt the helicopter in all directions over the roaring water mass below for my husband to get good video shots – my tummy and I were not happy at all!).
From the Falls we flew back to São Paulo and then onwards to the (Brazilian) Amazon. Here I realised the true meaning of ‘hot’, not to mention the day-time humidity level which was worse than ten Durbans in December! But what an extraordinary place! We landed in Manaus from where we travelled for three hours by boat to our hotel, the Amazon Ariaú Towers, which is built in the treetops along the river bank. Our ‘tree house’ room was approximately three stories above ground. The different complexes of the hotel such as the bedrooms, the reception area, including the kitchen and dining room, the small ‘zoo’ where injured forest animals are nursed till they can be released back into the wild, and the entertainment and conference halls are all balanced on wooden stilts and linked by wooden bridges and stairs. When moving about in the ‘grounds’ of the hotel, one never touches the ground. Because the hotel is situated in the jungle one has to be constantly aware of closing doors to keep out the multicoloured birds and several species of monkey which move freely around the hotel. A forest guide accompanied us as we walked through the thick vegetation in the jungle, visited American Indian families living along the river banks (their survival depends on manioc -- roots which are processed into manioc meal -- and limited trade of foodstuffs with other people living along the rivers) and watched alligators at night from a boat. We even caught piranha, the ‘killer’ fish, with a line and hook and pieces of meat! The Amazon River and its tributaries contain one-fifth of all the freshwater in the world and are thousands of kilometres in length.
From Manaus we flew in a roundabout way back to São Paulo and then on to Lima, the capital of Peru. In Lima we visited the famous Inca Gold Museum with its collection of gold and silver artefacts and magnificent textiles. The residents of Lima don’t seem to be able to drive without continuously using their cars’ hooters, regardless of whether the robot at the corner is red or whether a long queue of stationary vehicles is lined up in front of them! Lima is situated at sea level, but within one hour we flew to Cusco which lies at an altitude of 11 150 ft (3 400m). Tourists are advised to sleep for two to three hours on arrival in Cusco and thereafter to take it easy: walk slowly, breathe deeply, avoid alcohol, eat lightly for the first day, and to drink tea made from coca leaves (a local remedy) to minimise the effects of altitude sickness. Nevertheless many tourists feel ill and both my husband and I suffered from headaches. In Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire, we saw many women of Inca descent dressed in their brightly coloured traditional clothes and wearing their long black hair in two braids. The women we saw near our hotel were obviously dressed in this manner for the benefit of the tourists to whom they try to sell various items, but on the outskirts of the city women dressed in this way go about their daily activities, including herding llamas and alpachas (sheeplike animals with cute faces). We went on a city tour of Cusco which included a visit to the Temple of the Sun in the centre of the city, and the Inca ruins at Sacsaywaman on the outskirts of the city. Interestingly, shops in Cusco generally have no display windows; one has to enter through the wooden doors to see what is on offer inside. Beautiful machine- and handknitted jerseys, ponchos, waistcoats, woven carpets and murals (made of llama and alpacha wool) are for sale, but unfortunately the lack of space in my suitcase (and lack of money in my purse!) prevented me from buying all the items that I desired.
From Cusco we took a three-hour train ride through the Sacred Valley to the foot of Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains. Travelling through the countryside we saw ‘cave dwellings’ against the mountain slopes, traditional flat-roofed brown houses in the little villages and people (again mostly in traditional dress) working in the fields where they cultivate potatoes, maize and other crops. The impressive ruins of the ‘lost city’ (which is rather a sanctuary) of the Inca, Machu Picchu, are truly awesome. Situated deep in the Sacred Valley and pitched on a steep mountaintop overlooking the Urubamba River, the city is hidden by vines and trees and remained undiscovered by the outside world till 1911. It remained inaccessible till the 1940s when archaeologists discovered the Inca Trail which cuts through the valley. The city was made up of houses, temples, the royal quarters, an astronomical observatory, burial places, walkways, fountains, an irrigation system (the water still runs in the aqueducts) and land for cultivation on narrow terraces built on the steep mountain slopes. Machu Picchu is regarded as the most perfect surviving example of Inca architecture and planning because it has never been looted or destroyed. Why the city ceased to exist more than 400 years ago is unknown. There are various theories in this regard, for example that, even before the Spanish Conquest, the inhabitants died during a plague or were killed during political upheavals in the Inca Empire.
We returned to Cusco from where we flew back to Lima (one hour), then to Rio de Janeiro again (about six hours) to catch a connecting flight to Mexico (about ten hours away). The reasons for all the flying -- roughly 55 000km for our tour in total -- were that direct flights with a Peruvian airline to Mexico have been discontinued, and in our limited time we wanted to see as much as possible. Moreover the places we visited were great distances apart. For all the internal flights in South America we flew on Varig Airlines, the national carrier of Brazil and the partner airline of SAA (using one airline inland makes the flights a little cheaper). Varig Airlines are amazing and extremely punctual. If a flight is scheduled to leave at 11h00 the aeroplane’s motors are started at 10h55 and at exactly 11h00 the plane takes off. This punctuality also applies to other forms of tourist transport and tour guides are often seen waiting for tourists 15 minutes before the set time of an excursion. The notion of ‘African time’ should best be forgotten on an organised tour of South America!
In Mexico we spent most of our time in and around Cancún, a beautiful city where palm trees sway lazily in the wind and the sea water is turquoise and lukewarm. The food was delicious (not that I always knew what I was eating!), and the atmosphere in an authentic Mexican restaurant is worthy of the expression ‘a celebration of life’. From Cancún we travelled inland to the famous Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá, situated east of Merida, the capital of the Yucatán Peninsula. Similar to the Inca ruins, the Maya ruins must be seen to be believed and one cannot in a few words do justice to their magnificence. Several large buildings which are spread out over a vast area, include the observatory (the Maya were excellent astronomers and mathematicians), temples and other religious structures, as well as the hallmark of this sacred city, namely El Castillo (the Castle) also known as Kukulkan’s Pyramid. This huge rectangular structure has a stairway of 91 very steep steps on each side; the four stairways total 364 steps and with the platform on top forming another one, add up to 365 steps, equalling the number of days in the solar year. To climb up the stairs is one of the ‘must do’ things for tourists, so I ventured forth just to realise that coming down is something else! No wonder many people descend on their behinds! There are many more interesting aspects to this city, for example the Ball Court (the largest ball court in Mesoamerica) with its amazing side-to-side echo which repeats seven times in the centre (the tour guide demonstrated this to us); the beautiful carvings on the outside of the buildings, and indications of human sacrifices to the gods. The decline of this Maya civilization was apparently due to warfare and foreign cultural influences. By the 1500s Chichén Itzá had lost its magnificence.
From Mexico we flew to Miami in the USA for a few days to rest from the onslaught on the mind and senses! And then we headed back home because my students at Unisa were about to start their examinations. In summary: our tour was fantastic and should you ever have the opportunity to visit South and Central America, DO SO!’
Anthropology as a hobby? Each year Unisa has a Hobbies Fair (yes, academics keep themselves busy with non-intellectual matters too). This year Prof Mike de Jongh and Mrs Riana Steyn were invited to display pictorial aspects of their research among the Karretjie People of the Karoo. Early in November they were informed that they had won a prize consisting of a certificate and a monetary award for presenting the ‘most unusual display’ at the fair. Whoever said that one cannot make a hobby out of anthropology?
No 1, June 2000