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Unregistered User
(11/14/02 11:06:13 pm)
help fr a professional folklorist/ and an anthropologist???
Hello everyone
thank you for tuning in to this question, I am hoping someone or several someones will/can help me soon.

I am writing now to publish a piece on how our family and small ethic conclave was "studied" (I am not completely certain which, for I was a young child at the time,) but I think either by student folklorists or anthropologists, possibly from Indiana University, which was only a couple hours away from where we lived in the northwoods.

The piece I am writing is not entirely complimentary to the people who came to study our oral traditions and other customs. Back in the 1950s, research ethics were I think quite different than they are today regarding "informants" / human subjects.

Some of the vignettes I am writing about are lighthearted and humorous about how the family group somewhat exaggerated and made up some things in order to try to please the researchers, to try to be "interesting" to them. Some is about wanting my relatives wanting desperately to be seen as American, and thereby trying to hide from the researchers what they perceived as sacred to themselves, or old-fashioned--they feared being judged and found wanting--again. There was also an incident of grave embarrassment for several family members as one researcher tape-recorded them singing songs from the old country. The singers were so nervous they made a mistake, and had to start over again. They spoke of their shame of having a mistake "caught in the machine forever," till the day they died. There are some other stories I would like to relate too that have to do with modern preservation of familial and heritage mythos,, legends and stories by the persons in whom those stories are carried, the value of the ethnographic era, the precious quality of those who keep stories alive through many different means, including folkloric study, and anthro and ethno field research.

Here is what I need, a person who is studied in the matters of academic folklore/ and/or anthro to help me set this all in perspective by hopefully answering a few questions I have about how it all used to work long ago in the mid 20th century and how it is different now, and other questions. Someone I can ask questions of about what folklorists believe--I suspect like other groups they are not monolithic either, but whatever the individual thinks will be helpful to me.

. I would like to treat the subject fairly, and without setting off some kind of controversy (more than already exists) between folklorists/anthropologists and people who were once subjects. The matter is delicate because already those my age from my background still feel resentful of how the stories were often carried off years ago, and who knows what use they were put to, and their concerns run deep. But, I feel that we have to try to bridge these 'ancient history' matters, even though things might have gone awry in certain ways long can be different today. I feel different groups can have much to offer one another.

My work is in ethno-clinical psychology. I am a psychoanalyst, and though I am one of the last of my kind to have grown up in a non-literate (so-called) oral tradition, I count my family life as my first and most precious education.

If anyone can help me by letting me ask some questions so that I can keep what I am writing balanced, I would appreciate it.

I just mention for reference, that I was part of a larger group who petitioned the Library of Congress for years to stop classifying curanderismo and samanism (yes, spelled without the h in eastern Europe) and voudun as 'cults' but rather as 'religion' and as 'religion practices.' Although none of these religions come from groups that are monolithic, we from various ethnic backgrounds are trying to speak for ourselves now, rather than only having others from so far outside come and say what we are and how we are--so much.

Regardless, the museums are filled with what has been saved and preserved from all these cultures, and more, much of which, especially in artifacts, would have been lost I think in everyday living had they not been 'collected' by various folks. Many of my peers disagree with me on this last, and say museums should have nothing of our cultures. They feel great sorrow over certain matters of appropriation, and I do also. However, I feel the future will be strongest if we are able to meld with others in true good will rather than be bitter separatists. I am almost thinking out loud here at this point, so I will stop.

If anyone can and is willing to help me, please write back.
I appreciate it.
con cariņo,
if I have mispelt anything, please try to guess. I have to also.

Unregistered User
(11/15/02 9:17:21 am)
also if you know of anyone
I probably should have made it clearer, if you know of anyone who might know of someone who has skill in these areas? That would help too.
thank you again
con carino,

Judith Berman
Registered User
(11/15/02 10:04:44 am)
cultural appropriation issues
This is a BIG topic, one of much concern in anthropology over the last couple of decades, and one that often obsesses me in my own writing that makes use of indigenous traditions. I wish I could point you right away to this book or that book; such exist but it's a topic I've fretted over privately rather than in the professional sphere. Many indigenous people, by the way, have expressed exactly the sentiments you have.

One place this has really come to a head is in museums -- who's in charge of cultural representation in hegemonic institutions like museums. As a result there has been a sea change in how museum exhibits on minority cultures are curated.

This is a short answer -- I have to run now, but maybe I can comment more fully later.


Unregistered User
(11/15/02 4:59:01 pm)
Re: people
Not much help, but I cannot but help feel that we are all people and recent genetics knowledge indicates that we are pretty much all stemming from the same sources. Therefore, should we be offended as small groups or should we see ourselves as a very large group of the same people, only separated by travels and settlements and time - we're all the same people inside, biologically.

I feel that the problem is that the anthropologists who behave in such a way forget that they are themselves people and human beings. They forget the same thing could happen to them - and if you do this paper etc - you will effectively be an anthropologist studying the tribe of anthropologists ;)

It should be interesting.

I hope this makes sense as to what I am saying.

Unregistered User
(11/15/02 5:56:18 pm)
judith and lizzi
thank you so much for your thoughts. I appreciate Judith that you validate the BIGness of the issues. It does seem so much that way. How to be respectful and careful and useful and creative all at the same time. That's how I heard what you said. and yes, I would like to hear more. Please come back. I have followed for years the materials about Ishi at Calif U museum as various groups of Native Americans and also Liberal Quakers, for instance, have lobbied museum to change their holdings and ways of exhibit and allowing peoples' bones especially to be reburied; what a story, all of it, all the way from giving Ishi a christian burial when he did not want one, to removing his brain to study after he died. These kinds of things are going to hurt forever.... anyone who values human dignity, heritage, no matter their background

BUT, I have to say too however, ALSO, there are magical and beautiful chants and other songs that would have been lost forever had not Ishi agreed to record them to wax disk at the museum. He may not have lived had he not been taken in by the curators. When they found him, all his tribe had died and been killed. He was alone and sick. I agree with you Judith, it is hard for everyone to find a place to rest together on these kinds of issues. But I think we ought keep trying. I hope taht can be the spirit of this chapter I am writing.

Yes, I think too Lizzi that you are right, there is a common origin. The problem for many, including myself still sometimes even though I am old and getting older by the minute (grin), is memoria, memory. Troubled memories. Broken hearts, sometimes still overlaid with rage. I have had my own experiences with this too. This is just my two cent's worth, but, I witness something else in most people too, some kind of universal love of the soul that insists on rising up into the 'anger equation"...that won't let a person just run around in bitterness forever...even though lots of us try to cleave to the latter without the former. The way my grandmother used to put it---bitterness is like drinking poison that you keep thinking is going to make the other person die.

I know this sounds a little odd in a discussion about anthro/folklore, but not really....To try to love, to keep trying to love, is I think sometimes not exactly selfless, but rather, or in addition, a self-preservation instinct. To thrive, you have to turn away bitterness, you have to turn away retribution. Those only poison the self. In spades. They are just bad for a person. Just my two cent's worth as a wholly imperfect person.

Your observation of "anthropology of anthros" made us laugh in a good way; that was a poignant idea.

Any other thoughts are welcome, especially about how anthro/folklore/even archeo used to proceed long ago, or any other thoughts or facts..
con cariņo

Unregistered User
(11/16/02 9:08:09 am)
A couple of suggestions
There is an anthropologist at SUNY Albany who also teaches folklore (her name escapes me) that is deep into this subject matter. You could probably find her through with a quick web search.

Also, have you interviewed anyone in the Suquamish tribe? It is a very interesting story about attempts to assimilate and destruction of culture. The tribe elders are very nice.


Unregistered User
(11/17/02 6:07:57 am)
culture hero
I grew up with this issue always in the air above my head. My mother is a Central Asian scholar focused on Tibetan ethnomusicology--though as a child I spent many an hour doing homework at her Gagaku rehearsals (Japanese Imperial Court Music), Gamelan practice (Indoneasian xylophone orchestras) and later Tibetan parties, where men and women lined up on either sides of the room and exchanged outrageous sexual banter through songs. (I also learned how to gamble and play mahjong from my Tibetan aunts.) There was always a low murmur among the anthropologists and ethnomusicologists over methodology--and it seemed to me to stem from who was there as a "witness"--a senstitive member of an audience, versus who was there as a "culture hero" ready to take those observations and "explain" the culture from the outside. A lot of egos and careers were involved and the more ambitious of the scholars built huge reputations on the backs of their informants. My mother however was a mouse--quiet and most observant--and not very good at department politics--so you know she was mauled more than once. The good thing was she remained a very principled observer and the result is that work she did thirty years ago has become important to a new generation of Tibetan anthropologists who are Tibetans--currently weeding out the ambitious/ego driven drivel of those "cultural heroes" of past departments. In her mid seventies she finds herself "rediscovered" because the materials she collected, photos/tapes/interviews of Lhamo performers (a Tibetan folk opera with religious undertones) are among the only sources left of the traditional peformances before the Chinese obliterated the religious sites and destroyed the traveling troupes. Nothing pleases her more now than when her work is referenced by a young Tibetan--and she still gives papers and attends conferences.

But oh the stories about unscrupulous/inattentive anthropologists--they were like an oral tradition of story telling themselves! One ethnomusicologist mentioned how he had been pressed by a group of Nepalese street musicians he was recording to give them a song from the U.S. So he hummed up "Turkey in the Straw" (okay..they were all a bit drunk). Three years later at a conference he heard another earnest scholar give a paper on this same groups and a lengthy disucssion about a piece of music that had been collected that year and he at once realized was it "Turkey in the Straw" ala Nepal.

Even now there is a backlash among Tibetan scholars against those who "sold out" and received their grants/money and support from the Chinese (and hence it is felt skewed their research to fit in with what the Chinese political expectations are regarding Tibet) versus those who continue to fight politically for a culture that is rapidily disappearing in its own country and surviving on the fringes of exile. Authenticity now becomes very important--especially for the generation of Tibetans born and raised in exile--and they feel charged as scholars to preserve that culture as an act of political defiance and identity.

Unregistered User
(11/18/02 12:12:03 am)
jess and midori
thank you so much for your replies. Jess, do you have any more info on the person at SUNY?and do you know a name for a person in Washington tribe? Thank you for thinking along with me on these matters Jess. Its a longer, harder road than I thought. I started out so clear, now I am n more descent as I go...

Mi Midori, my heart IS very glad for your dear mother. Irony can be SO good. And just, sometimes. You summed a good deal up about some making their names on the backs of others. I had never heard that term 'culture hero' used that way before, but you are insightful. For us, one hard idea is that we do not know what the researchers did with what they took. At the time, no one in our family would have known what a thesis, journal article, or tenure, or whatever else, was. The family people were wise in many ways, but deeply uneducated. (My uncles from the old country were shepherds, woodcutters, horsemen who in the new world turned into janitors, field workers, brewers and factory line workers. My father was a tailor since he was 8 years old.)

I should like to try to bridge these matters and your mother's story shines into a dark place in my heart, thank you...

late late at night, I still sometimes let myself wonder what is left of my poor familys' words and stories and innocence. Whatever the researchers wrote, recorded of my family, does it moulder away in the stacks at IU, or in a basement archive, where the university is losing old paper books at an alarmingly high rate every month from deterioration, humidity, and neglect. Are records of our voices locked away in a room somewhere? Or, are we a set of footnotes somewhere in a set of closed books? Have those big silver reels that hold the audio they made of my family singing and speaking-- did they store them in cardboard woodpulp boxes or worse in tin boxes? Can they even be played now? Or have the only recordings of my beautiful family singing their songs about love down by the river and the loss of so many in the war, have these all turned to dust?

I have never been able to tell whethr thinking about it all is harder, or whether trying not to think about it all is harder. Like Ledyla the Hungarian writer said recently "'No talking' talks in its own way... even silence says it all."

May I quote from your letter Midori if it is fitting? Not certain precisely what part yet, but I especially think the part condusive to what I am trying to do, ...the part about the young people coming to your mother "who really knows." If you are amenable, I will cite you as you wish. If it is not alright do not hesitate to say so.

Do you know, were the 'ethics' of the 1950s for researchers not to let people know what they were going to do with whatever they 'harvested' from their subjects---as my grandmother put it years later.

somebody ought to do an anthro study on why i can't spell; boy that'd be a real page turner (grin)
con cariņo,

Unregistered User
(11/18/02 4:23:32 am)
Dear cpe,

Oh I must not take the credit for the "culture hero" designation given to anthropologists. That really should go to the writer Susan Sontag who wrote a fabulous essay on Claude Levi-Strauss and I think it was just titled "Claude Levis-Strauss, culture hero." (Kack! Judith, you must know this--is that really the title?) You should be able to find it in any good collection of her essays. It's wonderful--and very fitting to what you are thinking and writing about. The thrust of her essay is that Levi Strauss's brilliance (and weakness) lay in an intuitive methodological approach that was impossible for anyone else to comprehend and apply--but which he did in such an artful and idiosyncratic way that he appears to "construct" the culture he is analyzing--exactly like culture hero giving shape and purpose to the culture.

yes of course, (I say with all humility) you may quote me, if it is useful.

Oh spelling...aish...I'm lousy...but commas are even worse...just ask Terri--I can hear those editors in NY laughing and cursing every time I send in a manuscript. I have tried and tried reading grammar books, exercises...and have yet to plumb the depths of that little fiddlehead.

Jane Yolen
Unregistered User
(11/18/02 7:13:16 am)
Spelling, as I understand it, is a genetic quirk, like being able to roll your tongue or move your ears. My daughter and I do NOT have it, my husband and sons do. The spelling gene, that is. Don't beat yourself about the head and shoulders because of it. Think that otherwise you would be a copyeditor and not a brilliant writer!


Unregistered User
(11/18/02 10:01:19 am)

You may wish to contact Marilyn Jones at

She is the Museum director and may know who the best people to talk to are. The tribe's is a classically heart-breaking story, but quite different from the history of the plains tribes.

Good luck.

Oh, and I am still researching that SUNY prof.


Unregistered User
(11/18/02 4:20:52 pm)
Interestingly, I have found that real cultural discoveries are often hidden under the guise of "good public relations." I wonder if you might put in a section on the perception of cultural heritage that people try to foster v. actual cultural heritage. This differs slightly from the outsider describing a culture. I guess what I am saying is that often people will try to develop the "image" of what they would like others to percieve their culture to be as opposed to playing with or manipulating outsiders who then put their own cultural impressions on their findings.


Unregistered User
(11/19/02 9:04:44 pm)
jess, yo-lin and midori
Dear Jess, thank you for going to the trouble to find and give that contact, I will have a call in tomorrow and I will let you know...

Also you wrote>>>>>>>> I wonder if you might put in a section on the perception of cultural heritage that people try to foster v. actual cultural heritage. This differs slightly from the outsider describing a culture.>>>>>>>>> I hope I can speak to my own people doing this in that they, as I think I might have mentioned, some , you could feel it plapably, were nervous about being found wanting, and tried in subtle ways to be "interesting" to the researchers, wanted to please them --I could see this in the way they subtly altered some of their ways when the researchers were near, but also in how they felt very reluctant to reveal "inner circle" things to the researchers, even though the reserachers pressed very hard.

I remember this being pressed to tell certain stories and ideas and facts, caused huge arguments within the family, dividig those (the majority) who wanted nothing to do with this, and those (less than a handful) who thought it was harmless and might be alright. Ultimately, even though the student/researhers brought liquor and food, they were still seen as "outsiders" and though smiled at and spoken to and llaughted with politely, in the privacy of the family, the researchers were considered highly worthy of suspicion. It turns out, and this is so deeply ironical to me, that people like mine were often accused of being suspicious of others as part of their lack of this trm I learned in school, "acculturation." But in this case, there was reason to be cautious and suspecting, even though I think no one of us had a clue about exactly what we should be watching out to prevent.

Back to your interesting idea about how the people themselves might try to foster a certain idea of their culture; I think too of the culture of any group that is treated poorly. There is so much truth that is never told or told very late, usually by the children of the children of the children of. I think your question is worthy of a whole book---perhaps YOU will write it, for I can also see how some might portray their culture "politically" too, for certain kinds of retributory reasons and even to get ill got gains---boy if that wasn't grammatical....grin.

Any other thoughts are welcome also Jess. Too Jess, I think of my friend Sherman who is a Seattle-Cour d'Alene, and is constantly trying to tell people that not all Indians look like Plains Indians (often tall, strong profiled, long limbed), that not all are noble, that not all know the 'old ways,' etc. But, there are plenty of Indians who would like to portray certain ideas and not others, who 'promote' a certain kind of indian culture as THE ideal.

Midori, thank you for your permission, if you can give me your email, I will when the time comes, mail you a confirmation of your premission to me. I was thinking as I read about the Sontag book that is seems no group, or even a family is monolithic, but the truths of the individuals within the group haave to bear more weight than they ever have been allowed in the past--else the story is shattered glass shards. I just finished an intro for a book of adoptees and there are striking parallels' between their treatement for the last 100 years and perhaps those of other groups that were also "studied" by others. For decades, adoptees were treated as "perpetual children," even as adults. No matter how old they were, even in their sixties and seventies and onward, they were not considered to be captains of their own ships. Others 'studied' a few, and on that basis, decided how they "all" were, what they "all needed," and how it all ought to go---but without any infomred and educated input from the adooptee themselves, or when there was such, not allowing it to form public policy. For many adoptees and orphanage alumni and fostered children, this strange "outside study/outside authority" attitude caused great harm, most notibly in the area of withholding medical information about their natal families that cuased many to pitch headfirst into unforeseen diseases that could have been far better adddressed proactively rather than after the fact. Well, it was just a thought, that maybe the "segniore" attitude is troublesome at many levels.

When I worked with Nam vets, they were the first group I ever met who threatened bodily harm if anyone tried to speak for them. They were the first group I met that insisted on personal witness governmentally, socially, psychollogically, everywhich way. In my opinion they were right. heroes twice.

Mi Yo-lin, I appreciate your mercy about spelling. Thank you. After that last little go-round I spoke to you about recently, I just have this anxiety that is someone tries to quote me from here without my permission and that all the "sics" they would have to use would littler the page like buck shot (grin). Then I would be greatly embarrassed. (Again). I keep thinking, I don't know if this is right or not, that if I keep admitting I spell phonetically (Before I looked this up, it was "I keep admiting I spell phowneticaly") (although actually I see color with each syllable, but what am I going to do? say, phonetic translates as pink/green like watrmelon citrine --geez, well, never mind, it is too weird, even for me sometimes) then people at least will not think I am ignorant. (at least not that way---grin).

here is another question that has come up
Why do you think certain groups of people who couldn't read and write in English were considered "primitive"?

What did Primitive REALLY mean in times past, say early 20th century, late 19th century? (I recently petitioned the International Jungian group--my own group-- to quit using the term "psychology of the primitives," for Jung although good to go in many ways, was following Levi Bruhl and also Levi Strauss in using this term to mean as I understand it that "primitive people" did not know the difference between the dream world/imaginal world and the consensual reality. Which of course is not so. A mytological point of viw takes in all, but with a different dominant attitude toward it all than that held by modern educated westerners sometimes.When I was in analystical training for six years, everytime one of the instructors said the primities do this and the primitives do that, I remember being so shocked, becuase they were talking about my family! We did not now we were 'primitives" becuase we believe in miracles and guardians and so on. Geesh. (grin)

con cariņo,

Unregistered User
(11/20/02 8:19:06 am)
gypsies too, THE ROMANI
I just rec'd this, this a.m from colleagues in Hungary. Thought I would post this, in case anyone is interested in sensing that the issue about "who is who" and "Who says so" is still up for many... I am beginning to wonder if it is an archetype--Not the demoted modern notion of archtype that often seems to mistakenly reduce it to somthing that acts like a stereotype, but rather an actual universal aspect of something irrepresentable, a grouping of ideas that are penetrating psychicially, have a universal quality, can be palpably felt, having an intense influence on the psyche of those affected by its images, ideas and symbols, have an evolutionary 'push' to them for those who experience them--(now THERE'S one more way to lose oneself in thought and never be heard from again---grin)... anyway, here is the post:

>>>>>>>>>>>We wish to announce the proposed conference planned to take place in Istanbul, entitled "The Contextual, Constructed and Contested: Gypsies and the problem of Identities." The dates for this proposed event are 10th - 13th April, 2003. The venue
will be the Swedish Research Institute inn Istanbul, Istiklal Caddesi 497, Tünel,
Istanbul, currently the home of the Istanbul Romani Studies Seminars. >>>>>>>>>>>>

con carniņo,

Charles Vess
Unregistered User
(11/20/02 9:54:51 am)
I just want to add...
a little note because this wonderful/insightful discussion brought back such vivid memories of reading THE POOR MOUTH, written by a Irish Gaelic writer, who wrote under the English pen-name of Flann O'Brien. It is a brilliant book full of scathing humour all based on the obsevation of English folklore scholars traipsing about the Irish countryside collecting notes on the indeginous Irish language. The scene I most remember depicts a NEARSIGHTED researcher deligently copying reems of notes on the intricacies of the Gaelic language as his interview subject, a billygoat, sits beside him chewing at some hay. Quite funny to say the least.


Unregistered User
(11/23/02 9:56:56 pm)
thank you
thank you everyone for thinking and contributing to my understanding of this subject. I appeciate it.
con cariņo

Unregistered User
(11/23/02 10:19:52 pm)
and the beat goes on
Dear All:
I just wanted to put this here to say that the work goes on in trying to help people understand cultures that are difficult to really pin down. In my own culture for instance, we have at least five versions of 'yes', that really mean 'no." We also have "Latino time" and "field time" which is different completely than clock time. Five-o-clock means at least three different times. As you can see from the comments below about the Roma, it can be terribly confusing to outsiders who are trying to give an honest look-see.

I rec'd the following from folkorist/ROMA colleague in Eastern Europe today. (Roma is the group name for gypsies in Europe) It continues to explicate the difficulty.... It is a statement by the researchr followed by a critique. I have changed the researcher's name to "x" in order to protect their privacy ...

>>>>>>>>>Results of the research "Roma in Latvia" conducted in 2000 by "x", Master in Social Sciences, : The author builds her research upon interviews with 5 men of Roma origin
and extrapolates the results on the whole community, claiming them to be
"a socially psychological portray of Latvian Roma". Ms X comes to
conclusion that one of the main obstacles to integration of Roma is "the
society's stereotypical attitude towards them", low education level, lack of
motivation and, as the result, low income level ( according to the author,
such situation traces its roots back to early 1990s ).

Our commentary

The research starts with acknowledgment that interviews with the 5 respondents
were hard to arrange, because "they failed to keep punctuality", which is followed
by conclusion that "Roma care more about a process and not its results". We
would note that such statements themselves contribute to promotion of
"stereotypical attitudes in the society towards Roma".>>>>>>>>

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