Doing What Comes...Culturally
by Dan Laskin
To get a feel for how anthropology can inspire, enrich, excite, and provoke, Suggs recommends the following:
The term means, literally, “cultural glasses,” and refers to the lenses through which each of us perceives the world from within the standpoint of our particular culture. It was coined by Franz Boas, the German-born social theorist who is considered the father of American cultural anthropology. If you recoil at the idea of eating, say, wriggling bee larvae, it’s because you’re wearing your Kulturbrille.
Star Wars: the Polynesian connection
Hawaiian royals married within the family—an incest-taboo variation of sorts—to consolidate their mana. The Pacific-islander term refers to a kind of power residing in things as well as people. Before scoffing, consider the modern allure of Yoda, Luke Skywalker, and Darth Vader, who summon “the force.” The word taboo, incidentally, comes from the Polynesian tabu, meaning something that should be avoided or is forbidden. Supposedly, Captain Cook brought the word back to Europe.
Remember Onan, who was told to marry and conceive children with his brother’s widow (Genesis 38:8-10) but instead “spilled his seed on the ground” and was killed by the Lord as a result? Moralizers invoke the story to warn against the sin of self-abuse. But an anthropologist will tell you that Onan might have merely been reluctant to sire a child who, by the rules of a patrilineal system, would belong not to him but to his dead brother’s line, and who would inherit goods and rights accordingly. “Those of you who are religious should rethink some of those Old Testament stories, where you should now find new insights,” Suggs tells his students. “These are lineal-descent societies.”
Lingo: unilineal evolution
This theory posits that history has proceeded according to a necessary, inevitable progress culminating in “advanced” Western culture. Contemporary anthropologists reject the notion. “There’s limitless potential for development,” says Suggs. “The way Western Europe developed need not be the pattern for the rest of the world. Human culture is multi-lineal.”
Kissing (and non) cousins
A parallel cousin is the child of your father’s brother or your mother’s sister. A cross cousin is the child of your mother’s brother or your father’s sister. In some cultures, sex with parallel cousins falls under the incest taboo, because those cousins are in the same descent group, whereas sex with cross cousins is desirable.
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