Sunday, 28 April 2013

Naturalism and Anthropology

It is normal for humans to consider themselves beyond or above nature.  It isn't that humans oppose 'culture' to 'nature' in a neat binary; it's simply that they don't tend to think of their societies as being part of the natural world, no matter where they live or what society they live in.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Books on Indonesia

Southeast Asian history often feels a little cut off from the rest of the world.  Scholars seldom appear conversant with major languages, like Chinese or Arabic, that are vital for understanding the region, and as a Chinese speaker I am more than a little perturbed by the fact that southeast Asianists are often relying on transcriptions and translations that are over a half a century old, in some cases much more.  Chinese sources for Timorese history used today were translated in 1880 by W. P. Groeneveldt and haven't been translated since, and many other sources are not much younger.  This results in errors - or, at least, it results in orthographies that are incorrect and that make the rest of the work feel a bit more amateurish than it actually is.  This is especially bad when it comes to Indonesia.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Pama-Nyungan and the Language/Farming Dispersal Hypothesis

Australian aboriginal life is almost nightmarishly difficult to find out about.  There are a few popular books on the subject, but these tend to treat indigenous Australians as noble savages or portray ancient Australia as a place with little meaningful cultural variation.  The traditional image of Australian aborigines boils down to little more than living in deserts, foraging for food with boomerangs, killing kangaroos with spears, and maybe having the odd dance.  As there are few accurate popular works dealing with the actuality of Australian life prior to Europeanisation, it is unlikely that this popular image will change.  Even the academic works are hard to get hold of or prohibitively expensive, and even if you live in Australia it is easier to find books on the prehistory of Indo-European than it is to find out about Pama-Nyungan (see below).