Thursday, 4 February 2016

cultural transforms

Life's a struggle for many, often grim for some of us for years. During such periods you'll feel better if you recall that you weren't born an Ik.

The Ik are an ethnic group of about 10,000 people living in the mountains of northeastern Uganda near the border with Kenya. They featured in anthropologist Colin Turnbull's ethnography The Mountain People (1972), from which Joseph Tainter (The Collapse of Complex Societies, 1988) condenses this account: “the Ik live in such a food- and water-scarce environment that there is absolutely no advantage to reciprocity and sharing. The Ik, in consequence, display almost nothing of what could be considered societal organisation. They are so fragmented that most activities, especially subsistence, are pursued individually.”

Each person spends “weeks on their own searching for food and water. Sharing is virtually non-existent. Two siblings or other kin can live side-by-side, one dying of starvation and the other well nourished, without the latter giving the slightest assistance” to the former. “The members of a conjugal pair forage alone, and do not share food. Indeed, if both members happen to be at their residence together it is by accident. Each conjugal compound is stockaded against the others. Several compounds together form a village, but this is largely a meaningless occurrence. Villages have no political functions or organisation, not even a central meeting place.”

Children are minimally cared for by their mothers until age three, and then are put out to fend for themselves. This separation is absolute. By age three they are expected to find their own food and shelter, and those that survive do provide for themselves. Children band into age-sets for protection, since adults will steal a child's food whenever possible. No food-sharing occurs within an age-set.”

If you perform a reality-check on this, some qualified confirmation can be obtained from their Wikipedia page . “Turnbull himself mentions his sources' uncooperative nature and tendency to lie.” “Milton Obote nationalized traditional hunting lands as national park for European tourists, and prevented the Ik from hunting in their traditional hunting grounds. After a couple of generations of starvation conditions, the Ik, originally a cooperative, child-loving tribe, became a group of selfish cruel people who don’t trust or help anybody.”

Overall, living with the Ik seems to have afflicted Turnbull more with melancholy and depression than anger, and he dedicated his work "to the Ik, whom I learned not to hate". “ Since Obote first came to power in the early '50s it's actually only 20 years that this radical cultural transformation took!!

We can only marvel at the extent to which cultural transforms can eliminate goodwill between humans, eh?

Archie Tucker, the English linguist, accepted an invitation to come up and see just what this extraordinary language was, for it certainly was not Sudanic or Bantu. Archie finally pronounced, with no little satisfaction, that the nearest language he could find to this one was classical Middle-Kingdom Egyptian!” — The Mountain People, Ch. 2, p. 35. Not the only African tribe with an ancestral northern origin, either.

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