Vinay Lal, Associate Professor of History, UCLA, USA
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Preamble to a De-colonialized* Curriculum for a People-centered Anthropology
Fred Y.L. Chiu
What's wrong with university education -- and its curricula -- all over
the world? First and foremost, it is de-humanizing and demoralizing both
to those charged with imparting it to others and to those subjugated to
it. In Penang, during the Multiversity conference, Vimbai Chivaura from
Zimbabwe told us that that kind of education made the students lose confidence
in themselves and even resulted in self-hatred. Jorge Ishizawa from Peru
said that such a system makes people lose respect - for themselves, as
well as for the place where they live and to which they belong.
Under and within such an institutional setup, especially among those in
the South who 'have adopted, lock , stock and barrel, the curricula and
syllabi found in the western academy', can anthropology with its history
of 'bloody and shameless complicity with imperialism' be salvaged and
reformed? Can it be transformed into a discipline that empowers the common
people and their everyday life practices, a pedagogy for empathy and becoming,
and a practice of emancipation and subversion? These questions should
have been bothering any anthropological knowledge practitioner who has
a conscience or refuses to keep on burying her/his head in the cold sand
under the shadow of cartelized western academic conglomerates.
After WWII, these power centers had fostered many subsidiaries, which
niched themselves globally, even in the remotest corners of the Third
World. Only recent have some people become aware of this post-imperial
'cultural project' of recolonialization! The "White man's burden"
was partially unloaded onto the shoulders of the local surrogates and
franchisees of the colonizer -- the national elites qua overseas trained-return-scholars,
the accultured/encultured semi-cooked-salvages, the Muchachos. Bound by
colonialized habits of thinking as well as social practices, such an academic
"discipline" of "national Anthropology" began to haunt
the young minds and discipline their bodies! Half-a-century after Frantz
Fanon's death we have finally learned that if we are to become emancipated,
it is imperative that the colonialized ghost in every one of us be exocised,
and we not remain satisfied by the mere physical expulsion of the colonizers.
In 1979, when the New Zealand anthropologist Judith Macdonald was on her
way to Tikopia, she was stranded in the island of Santa Cruz some hundreds
of miles away. She introduced herself as an anthropologist and made known
to everyone there that she had intended to go to Tikopia. Having nothing
to do, she interviewed a male nurse from Tikopia who works in the hospital
and is well known as an expert on traditional child birth practices. They
had been talking for a little more than an hour, when the "informant
" finished the conversation by saying, 'at least, that's what Raymond
[Firth, a renowned anthropologist] said.' What a vivid revelation! The
codified "masterpiece" of one of the forefathers in Europo-anthropology
should have snatched the "captive mind" of the native world,
and to such an extent!
Decades after Raddiffe-Brown published his masterpiece on the Andaman
Islanders, they had all but been forgotten by the modern world. Suddenly,
after the Tsumani hit, the Associated Press reported as follows:
'Stone Age Culture Survive Tsunami Waves'
By Neelesh Misra
Posted January 5 2005, 9:05 AM EST
PORT BLAIR, India -- Two days after a tsunami thrashed the island where
his ancestors have lived for tens of thousands of years, a lone tribesman
stood naked on the beach and looked up at a hovering coast guard helicopter.
He then took out his bow and shot an arrow toward the rescue chopper.
It was a signal the Sentinelese have sent out to the world for millennia:
They want to be left alone. Isolated from the rest of the world, the tribesmen
have learned nature's sights, sounds and smells in order to survive.
Government officials and anthropologists believe that ancient knowledge
of the movement of wind, sea and birds may have saved the five indigenous
tribes on the Indian archipelago of Andaman and Nicobar Islands from the
tsunami that hit the Asian coastline Dec. 26. "They can smell the
wind. They can gauge the depth of the sea with the sound of their oars.
They have a sixth sense which we don't possess," said Ashish Roy,
a local environmentalist and lawyer who has called on the courts to protect
the tribes by preventing their contact with the outside world.
Not sure how to make sense of the native's local system of knowledge,
some Europo-Ecologists and Europo-Anthropologists have taken this "sixth
sense" as new terrain to be studied, as well as to advocate a renewed
interest in the Islanders and their cultures! The agenda? Every "discovery"
is viewed as addressing the existing void, and is rapidly appropriated
to the West's know-how arsenal.
These cases, combined together, also showcase the unbelievable degree
of "recognition" of "Western Knowledge" on the part
of the "natives". On the contrary, there is the absolute lack
of knowledge, as well as of acknowledgement, on the part of the West vis-à-vis
the knowledge systems of the non-West. However, for the natives who "know
them well", their "recognition" turns out to be to their
greatest disadvantage! Still more sickening is the fact that the West,
which was totally ignorant of the "others", should have been
able to make use of its lack of knowledge as its source of power and self-justification,
sanctioning its cruelty and brutality. It is absolutely unthinkable, for
in such cases it is the most provincial which provincializes the multiple
and the unknown. If 'knowledges' (small case, plural) are to save humanity
from greedy and ignorance, the most provincial knowledge must invariably
be self-defeated in the long run. For all the "others" are not
the same and no entity which were conveniently designated/categorized/framed/identified
could be homogenized into a single "other", which was but to
be used as an object/token against which to enable constructing an unified
"self". To put it in yet another way: to salvage humanity and
to pry open possibilities from the confined partial knowledge of the provincial,
we must render its political assumption explicit, and to deconstruct it
and open it to multiple/dispersed gazes. Our provincial understandings
of the world can no longer equip humanity to sail through all the unsensed
dangers which, like the Tsunami, lie ahead in the path of our common future.
In practice, to liberate the bounded rationality and the concomitant self-limited
capacity to conceive - i.e., the legacies of colonialized senses and sensitivity
- we must mark the unmarked: mark what the west was hardselling as Europo-science,
Europo-botany, Europo-anthropology, Europo-musicology, Europo-history,
.so forth and so on. At the same time, those multiple
knowledge systems which were provincialzed by the west and labeled as
ethno-this or ethno-that have to be emancipated from the yoke placed around
them and be unmarked.
Strategically speaking, and in epistemological terms, each and every one
of these de-marked knowledge systems has to be brought back to its syntactical
level and liberated from being suppressed (by the West) unto things piecemeal
and at the vocabulary level. Its language should be reinstalled back as
understandable 'signs', freed from impoverishment by transformation into
sheer recognizable 'signals'. And it is only by taking elements in a knowledge
system as 'signs" in discourse that things human (humane) can be
understood (as contextualized knowledge, to be comprehend and discoursed),
not merely to be recognized as isolated signals (for conditioning manipulations/controls).
As a tactic to avoid systemicizing, and consequently impoverishing knowledges,
it is the only way to counter the overlived West-fundamentalism!
How is it possible to feel the need to counter West-fundamentalism? And
where's that sensitivity to come from? As a Chicago-trained "Europo-Anthropologist",
I must admitted that I acquired eyesight from hundreds of students, workers,
aborigines, social-movement practitioners and fellow knowledge activists
whom I worked with over the years away from the U.S. Their words and deeds
were my eye-openers. I was made to de-europeanize myself as a person and
to de-westernize my craft as a knowledge worker and give up my "attitude".
Educated and informed by the lived experiences and life choices of these
strategic actors and fierce negotiators, the Cathedrals I visited during
my tour through European countries shocked me as nothing but pile-ups
of things inhumane over centuries. Wearied with world-famous masterpieces
in monumental palaces and "imperial" museums, I had but to escape
to the minor chambers of "Exotic" (read African) exhibitions
to catch up with a human breeze and recuperate my sanity. After all that,
I suddenly understood how the past and the other were fetishized under
a imperial project of self-encouragement, and how important lootings and
looters play their roles in constituting a statehood and enthrone an empire.
I never forget when I drove close to the Reichstag in East Berlin in the
middle of the night, how ghostly this non-human-sized pile of concrete
had haunted and disgusted me ever since. Yet, now it was 're-furbished'
and 'white-washed' to house the "giest" of a new Germany. Can
they also whitewash Hitler's famous fire in this Bundestag on February
27, 1933, and excuse the resolution there passed concerning the abrogation
of all civil rights the very next day?
What all does the above-said amount to? The space to articulate popular
critique arising from an endogenous contact needs regeneration. Open-ended
dissenting voices and anecdotal reflexive moments were but things heuristic
and pedagogical, synedochically speaking. Lo and behold! A people-centered
non-europoanthropology had long been in the making. For one, I am personally
convinced and committed to such an anthropology, in which the practitioner
first seeks to transform him/herself. In the process of 'becoming', he/she
learns to know that being "Cultural (colour) blind" is but the
concomitant of his/her blindness to peoples' livelihood and everyday practices.
His/her failure to empathize is but a form of deafness toward subaltern
utterancess and their life stories, songs and sighs.
Our "Professional" depression and boredom resulted but from
our failure to celebrate multiplicity, diversity, creativity
enjoy togetherness, to be appreciative to social connectedness as well
as contestations. Once across these thresholds of becoming one can expect
to embark on his/her journey through the open field, to walk out a path
for a genuine anthropology which is a-systemic, a-stateist, a-ethnic,
and at the same time non-essentialistic and non-foundational!
Why has it to be so, and why might a decolonialized curriculum help to
do the trick? As Ashis Nandy has remarked, wherever civilization goes,
it takes with it syphilis. For this reason alone, he has confessed to
a secret admiration for the gumption of those who extract the civilizer's
cost. I have nothing more to add but, not so secretly, wish to affirm
that wherever domination goes, it takes with it seeds of emancipation
-- whenever Europo-anthropology goes, it breeds people-centered anthropologies.
Laroui, Abdallah (1987) Islam et modernité, Paris: Éditions
Michaud, Gerard. 1981. "Caste, confession et societe en Syrie: Ibn
Khaldoun au chevet du 'Progessisme Arabe'", Peuples Mediterraneens
16 : 119-30.