Anthropologica (New Series) 1998

Clement, Daniel. Ethnobiology. Anthropologica, 1998. XL(1):19-34.

Clement’s paper is a brief historical overview of the development of ethnobiology. Ethnobiology as a science proposes to study all interactions between humans and biological elements. This science is focused with the study of various ethnic groups and their knowledge on the subject of plants and animals. Clement describes the development of ethnobiology by dividing it into seven chronological parts.

Starting from its inception to its present state. Clement clearly defines chronological parts in the following key themes: (1) the economic uses of plants and animals (1860-99); (2) gathering more information (1900-31); (3) the first synthesis (1932-53); (4) emic knowledge (1954-68); (5) classification (1969-80); (6) associations (1981-92); (7) resources and their management (1993 to present). Throughout its history ethnobiology development has paralleled and been linked to the disciplines of ethnozoology and ethnobotany. In the beginnings the focus was very narrow and researchers were only concerned with the economic usage of animals and plants by various ethnic groups. Clements sums up the swing from this limited approach of study to the understanding of the nomenclature used by these cultures. The field expanded as time past and the vernacular and mythical attachments that went along with nomenclature was added to the body of research. Researchers became surprised at the scope of diversity of knowledge displayed by people early researchers described as “primitive”.

Clement goes on to describe how the field became an international discipline. This expansion lead to the plurality of methods, themes, and experiences, which are the driving the study of ethnobiology and ensuring its continuous renewal.


DEVON NATION-WILLIAMS York University (Maggie MacDonald).

Darnell, Regna. Toward a History of Canadian Departments of Anthropology: Retrospect, Prospect and Common Cause. Anthropologica, 1998. 40(2): 153-168.

Darnell’s article provides a framework for the construction of a history of Canadian anthropology. Darnell believes that this history is crucial to the continuation and development of anthropology as an academic discipline in Canada for both practical and conceptual reasons. Practically, a distinct history of Canadian anthropology is necessary for two reasons: to document the validity of anthropology as a discipline of study in Canadian universities and thus ensure continued funding for programs; and to prevent anthropology’s assimilation with other social science programs, notably with sociology, as anthropology is often closely associated. A history of Canadian anthropology is also essential, Darnell argues, for closer study of Canadian anthropologists’ professional identity and the legitimacy of their own and their collective work. More generally, a history of Canadian anthropology is needed in order for the discipline to be integrated into society at large, through institutions such as museums, universities and also in the government and private sectors.

Darnell begins the sample of a history of Canadian anthropology with an overview of early anthropology in an institutional context by examining the contributions of individual “great men” to the discipline. Darnell focuses particularly on the influences of Franz Boaz (and Edward Sapir) on the formation of the Anthropological Division of the Geological Survey of Canada in 1910, and of Thomas F. McIlwraith at the University of Toronto.

Darnell acknowledges the challenges to developing and maintaining a distinct tradition of anthropology in Canada because of a legacy of British colonization, and it’s influence on Canadian scholarship, and of the continuing influence of American culture on Canadian culture. An important aspect of this article focuses on the tendency of Canadian anthropologists to seek professional education and, consequently, employment in the United States and Britain because of the prestige associated with professional institutions there. Darnell shows, through data tables, that faculty in Canadian universities is still largely American-educated, though this is changing to reflect an intentional ‘Canadianization’ of departments of anthropology.

An important goal of this article is to reflect the necessity of recognizing diversity in Canadian anthropology. Darnell stresses that in order to construct a conceptual framework for a history of Canadian anthropology individual academic departments need to be studied and compared to one another.


JULIA RAMDEHOLL York University (Maggie MacDonald).

Hunn, Eugene.S. Mixtepec Zapotec Ethnobiological Classification: A Preliminary Sketch and Theoretical Commentary. Anthropologica, 1998. XL(1):35-48.

Hunn begins his article discussing the fact that an ethnobiological account should list all significant plant and animal names used within the particular society or community under study. He suggests that this list of vocabulary will be divided into categories or ranks. Hunn believes that when performing an ethnobiological study, the taxonomic rank (ie. folk generic, folk specific and life-form) and definition of the words are intimately linked with local definitions and therefore, are not independent of one another.

Following his introduction, Hunn discusses a personal study that he and other researchers conducted on the Zapotec-speaking people from San Juan Mixtepec, Oaxaca, Mexico. He set out to prove that the Mixtepec Zapotec language is just as important as Western scientific language because despite repeated exposure to Spanish terms, it has persisted as a dominant language for hundreds of years. He explains that the Mixtepec Zapotec language is one of many intermediate languages within the family of Zapotecan language. His goal for this fieldwork study was to not only come up with a list of names and definitions, but to document the ways in which the people from this community rank or categorize their vocabularies. Once a vocabulary list was created and ranked, it was contrasted against two other prominent languages within the surrounding community. Hunn’s results showed differences in ranking between the three languages based on generic rank (e.g. glaucous-leaved oak), specific rank (eg. slender glaucous-leaved oak) and life-form rank (e.g. tree/shrub). It was found that Mixtepecanos tend to under-differentiate rather than over-differentiate because they have to reduce the plant life that they see into more manageable terms.

Hunn addresses the fact that the Mixtepecanos were in contact with the Spanish powers for 470 years yet what still remains is a fairly traditional language. Although there is some Spanish influence in the naming of plants and animals, the people would say that this is the case simply because those organisms are not Native to the land. These words that have been borrowed from the Spanish are slightly altered by the Mixtepecanos to better fit the Zapotec language.


SARAH-LYNN DOWER York University (Maggie MacDonald).

Kapac, Jack. Culture/Community/Race: Chinese Gay Men and the Politics of Identity. Anthropologica, 1998. 40(2): 169-182.

Jack Kapac addresses the issues of identity and race among the community of Gay Asian men in Toronto in the 1980′s. For Kapac, the issue of identity among this specific population reflects notions of modernity and subjectivity, and exists in opposition to older ideals of gay male relationships. Kapac argues that there is a tension that exists for the Gay Asian community in defining themselves as gay and as Asian, and also in defining community and individual identities. In his assertion, Kapac addresses the intersectionality of identity formation for Gay Asian men, as well as identity shifting between Asian and Gay, and the discursive fields of culture, race, community and minority which many use to describe their experience. More generally, Kapac’s pedagogical goal is concerned with the ways – history, culture and subjectivity – effect identity formation in individuals, and within a given community. Kapac presents his argument in two sections: `Community and Culture’ and `Race and Desire: The Sexual Politics of Race’.

Gay Asian is an identifier for, both, a global community and local communities within Asia. Emerging from gay movement politics in the Seventies, the Toronto Gay Asian group’s goals have shifted from the emphasis on challenging homophobia to empowerment through development of an Asian gay community. According to Kapac’s informants, denial and homophobia from Chinese community and culture, stigmatized gay with Whiteness. Having been denied by their Asian communities, these racially and culturally `unauthentic’ men became part of an Asian Nationalist discourse that focused on reified `cultural differences’, and claimed them to be corrupted by Western culture. However, the development of a collective gay Asian identity, culture and political agenda has helped to empower individuals.

The `sexual politics of race’ is additionally problematized with interracial sexual preference for `white gay men’. Some address this issue as a form of colonialism of sexuality and a form of internalized racism. This issue of sexual preference became a point of conflict for many Asian men because of competition amongst each other, and general rejection from White men. This problem is compounded by gay pornography which suggestively internalizes racial preference – among Asian and White gay communities. In pornography, feminization of Asian men and hypersexualization of White men can be the only references of `gayness’ for some men. Consequently, this can lead to a preference toward gay white men and concurrently, the rejection of Gay Asian men from both `cultures’. For some Asians, their homosexuality was so culturally `sinful’ that they sought identification with White partners. Recently, for Gay Asian men, same race relationships between Asian men have become an empowering symbol of autonomy, modernity, and identity, while challenging the values of White gay influences. Identity and cultures of these gay men will continue to shift in relation to each other.


RYAN MYHAL York University (Maggie MacDonald).

Meilleur A, Brien. Clones within Clones: Cosmology and Esthetics and Polynesian Crop Selection. Anthropological, 1998. (60): 71-82.

In this article Brien Meilleur deals with the organization of multiply types of Polynesian crops. The author focuses on social and cultural life in Hawaii as an important but often ignored motivation for crop selection, structure and function. The author sets his argument within the framework of food. His discussion goes beyond dietary function and environmental ecological factors. Meilleur argues that a possible motivation for Hawaiian crop selection can be seen in an esthetic emphasis that is tied into the cultural and ritual significance of Hawaiian life. The crops that are used as the basis in this study were not indigenous to Hawaii but were imported. These crops where reliant on human care in order to flourish and sustain in their new ecological environment.

There are two main theories that the author deals with and points as plausible explanations to which crops where selected to propagate. The first theory asserts that crop selection is indicative of environmental factors. In this theory the diversity of crops is linked to the cultural economic life in Hawaii, crops that flourish are propagated based solely on yielding a successful harvest. The author does not argue against this theory, however, he does point out that it is not (discursive) or accurate. He cites the case of the sweet potato crop, as a crop that did not have a successful yield but continued to propagate in large numbers. The second theory of Polynesian crop selection and diversity is linked to cultural roles. This accounts for the selection of crops as an impetus for expanding and facilitating leverage amongst the stratified cultural, social and economical roles in Hawaiian society. Meilleur, challenges that these theories can neither be wholly proven or denied because they are based on assumptions from Paleolithic-botanical evidence, but they do not consider the specific cultural relevance or context in the selection of crops. The author indicates that Hawaii was a stratified society. Ritual and esthetics effected all levels of social organization in Hawaii. This theory is based on patterns of consumption and food rituals within Hawaiian life. This is backed up by evidence found in Hawaiian literature, where certain food was only consumed by the chiefly classes and, in other instances, agriculture was associated with particular Gods. The three colors associated with chief class in Hawaiian society are also the three colors found in the most prevalent crops that where selected and nurtured. This suggests that crops may have been selected to function as part of a ritual, cultural life – something that the other two theories do not account for. The author considers esthetic and cultural life and its importance when looking at crop selection in the Polynesian life.


EMILY SIMMONDS York University (Maggie McDonald).

Meilleur A. Brien. Clones within Clones: Cosmology and Esthetics and Polynesian Crop Selection. Anthropologica, 1998. 40(1): 71-82.

The journal article’s major focus is on the multiple (cultivated varieties) of crop species or cultigens in Polynesia. The diversification of crop species in Polynesia has been attributed to ecological adaptation by humans. However the author attempts to prove that human factors and preference were key factors in selection of crop specialization and diversification.

Brien contends after analyzing the structural and functional aspects of crop selection, issues such as cosmology and esthetics are equally as viable in what determined and determines Polynesian cultivars. This is part of a larger overall view of rituals and traditions have a direct impact on agriculture.

The evidence used is a study of five major Hawaiian cultigens which are banana, kava, sugarcane, sweet potato, and taro. Three theoretical explanations of the specific selection and maintenance of the five crops are discussed. The first is an ecological explanation, in which human societies adapt their crops to natural ecosystems. The second theory is that cultural (but non-ecological) reasons are given for crop maintenance and selection. The third theory and one that is most favored on is the cosmology and esthetics of crop selection.

The third theory is set up in a very convincing fashion as the author discusses how cosmology and esthetics are rarely considered as reasons for polyvarietal phenomenon. A detailed analysis of Hawaiian rituals are linked to specific crops that would appease chiefs and gods. A special emphasis is placed on beauty and how many chiefs and gods were associated wit rainbows and bright colours.

The author concludes with the notion that cosmology and esthetics is not the only explanation but a broader appreciation for the complexity of crop selection and maintenance is necessary to fully grasp the full sophistication of Polynesian cultural achievement


NADIR SHIRAZI York University (Maggie MacDonald).

Ridington, Robin. The Cry of the Living Creatures: An Omaha Performance of Blessing. Anthropologica, 1998. 11(2): 183-196.

Robin Ridington’s paper on the Omaha culture details characteristics of two events, which are the initiation of the father for the Night Blessed Society and the Mark of Honour that the man’s daughter receives thereafter. The men and their daughters participate in these events and their corresponding rituals, whereby they become distinct from the rest of society. The article commences with terms that are used throughout the paper and continues to describe many important rituals through examples given by two individuals who explain their Omaha cultural past.

The author comments about the father obtaining membership into the recreation of the 19th century Omaha society ceremony by giving away 100 or more gifts known as Wathin’ethe. These offerings are sanctified and given up, whereby the only gift in return to the man is honour from society. Throughout the initiation into the Hon’hewachi society, many rituals and performances are presented including the expression of personal emotion, presentations of mythical teachings and the Watha’wa, which is a Feast of the Count of how much the man has offered to the Hon’hewachi people. After the final song, the initiates’ daughter dances in front of the community whereby she prepares herself for her Mark of Honour.

Ridington notes that the Mark of Honour performance, which consists of meaningful sequences of individual images. As the Omaha culture participates in their rituals, tattooing is seen as a cosmic design on the body of a young female’s forehead. There are numerous rituals that are performed such as when the tattooing can occur, the direction the daughter faces (toward the sun), and the certain people that can attend the tattooing ritual. During the tattoo ceremony, the chief outlines the sun and star on the girl’s forehead with a flint and the charcoal pigment. While creating the tattoo, the sun song is sung by the chief, whereby the chief pricks the skin against the rhythm of the song. One final song is sung when the chief has finished the tattoo, in doing so, he eliminates the residual blood and charcoal with his mouth.

Although the above is stated throughout Ridington’s article, it is acknowledged at the conclusion that Robin Ridington attended the ceremony of reburying one hundred and six remains that had been uncovered fifty years ago by a group of archaeologists. The reason they had been excavated is because the artifacts show signs of the Mark of Honor.

Ridington undertook the research by interviewing few indigenous women who have experienced the ritual of being tattooed. Although these females do not know why they have been tattooed, they have learned to be proud of their heritage as they progressed into adulthood.


CARMELINDA GALOTA York University (Maggie MacDonald).

Robertson, Leslie. A Penny for Your Thoughts: Properties of Anthropology in a Transnational Present. Anthropologica, 1998. 40(2): 197-214.

This article examines the issues regarding the ownership of cultural and intellectual property, using indigenous peoples as an example, in a local, national and transnational sense. The issues at hand are the problems regarding knowledge, fieldwork and materials as well as who is legally and culturally entitled to have the rights to these properties. In one respect the tribal context of ownership of these properties is defined by tradition while, as Robertson describes, anthropological discourses are surrounded within particular hegemonic structures of the west. Robertson examines the issue of ownership of cultural and intellectual property by exploring three phases of research. The first is entering the field to do research and obtaining permission to do so. Then she explores the controversy surrounding the ownership of field notes and their creation. And finally, looking at the academic and institutional sanctions on research materials.

Robertson suggests that the control over the creation, ownership and dispersal of knowledge vary within different social constructs. For indigenous peoples the protection of cultural and intellectual properties is essential to the preservation of their cultural identity as well as their economic survival and development. The United Nations deals with the protection of cultural and intellectual properties by indigenous peoples as a human rights issue, by which denying indigenous peoples their right over cultural and intellectual properties disregards their territorial rights and self – determination. The Draft of the Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples claims that they have the right and are entitled to recognition of the full ownership, control and protection of their cultural and intellectual property.

However, fieldnotes incorporate intellectual properties that are exhibited through the interaction and research done by anthropologists. Hence, creating more controversy because fieldnotes are viewed as anthropological products and in some cases intensely personal. But this controversy raises the question of whether or not ethnographic fieldnotes should be returned to the subjects that were studied. Anthropologists that were given this question had strong opinions. Some agreed while others did not, however some suggested those indigenous peoples be entitled to copies of the research they were subjected to.

Legal copyright and academic sanctions also pose a problem. Institutions such as the Department of Canadian Heritage of the Federal Government are legally allowed, as stated by Robertson, to accumulate information in areas such as archaeological sites; natural resource extraction; traditional land use and culture. This information is generally sent to Universities and also preserved by museums. Indigenous peoples should be given more rights to their cultural and intellectual property than what currently exist. It is largely forgotten that their culture is also of great importance and value.


THEREZE BAHADOOSINGH York University (Maggie MacDonald).

Sparrow, Kathy Bedard. Correcting the Record: Haida Oral Tradition in Anthropological Narratives. Anthropologica,1998. XL (2): 215-222.

In the article written by Kathy Sparrow, the overall concern that is addressed here is that when writing about history it is important to look at all the sources, oral as well as written, in order to get a true and honest account of what went on. Historically oral traditions have been seen as inferior to the more dominant written record, which were made through the contributions of the white Western societies. Oral traditions were not deemed as worthy or appropriate to record, and because of this, there’s a concern that some events in history have not been recorded to represent the actual accounts that occurred throughout history. Recently, there has been a tremendous effort by scholars to recognize these oral traditions and to also take a closer look at White-recorded Native history. These studies will provide a detailed picture of Native history and an insight into Aboriginal people’s views of their own history. An outsider recorded most of their history and due to this they feel their culture has been misread and misrepresented.

In order to bring her point across, Sparrow provides a case study, which involves contrasting accounts of Haida chief Albert Edward Edenshaw’s narrative, which is a written record, and the oral traditions of the elders in Haida community. Through this case study Sparrow wants to show how despite the narrative of Edenshaw being publicized and given credibility, the oral narratives reveal the importance of public opinion in granting and refuting claims of legitimacy in their own culture. What will be revealed in this case study is Edenshaw’s claim to be ‘the greatest of all Haida chiefs’, and how this claim has been greatly disputed by lineages from the past and present.

Sparrow’s case study begins with a historical look at the Haida people and their social organizations, mainly the process of being a chief. Edenshaw had claimed to be rightful successor to the previous chief, a claim he had made to the Whites, which was then later publicized. The oral accounts made by the elders reject Edenshaw’s claim of replacement. In their account he was not only symbolically denied his claim, but his actions were not recognized as legitimate at the time. In order to support her argument, Sparrow uses other field data by Barry Gough as well as logbooks and journals of American ships. These accounts offer a more detailed view of what kind of person Edenshaw was, and how his actions led up to the belief the Whites had about his status as chief. Edenshaw has become the single most-documented and popularized Haida chief to date.

It wasn’t until 1988, when Boelscher acknowledges the importance of oral tradition in the Haida society, and begins to crosscheck and record the oral narratives of several of the Masset Haida elders. What is included in these accounts is the legitimacy of the takeover by Edenshaw. Together with the Haida oral history and Gough’s work, they reveal Edenshaw’s attempt to use the approval of the Whites to his own advantage. Through the organization of the case study , the historical accounts, and contributions of other field data, Sparrow provides an argument that reveals the importance of oral culture and the mistakes and misrepresentations that are made when an outsider tells historical accounts. The importance of taking accounts from more then one person is crucial when the history of a culture is at stake and the voices of the people within are heard.


ANDREA MARTIRE York University (Maggie MacDonald).

Whiting, Alfred. Selected Essays. Anthropologica, 1998. 40(1): 99 –108.
The Author, Alfred Whiting, is known for his works on ethnobiology, and the purpose of these two essays is to recognize and add on the ongoing reflections in ethnobiology.
In the first essay, “Some Remarks on the Principles and the Status of Ethnobotany” the author is concerned with the question “is Ethnobotany a Science?” The author states that ethnobotany must be a hybrid science so that the offspring are often mixed and frequently show characteristics. He gives the definition of ethnobotany, as being a technique more than a science. Ethnobotany appears to be a mixed collection of odd stuff covering a wide range of anthropological interest. Some problems the author brings up is if there is any reason for considering ethnobotany a separate field, and is it a science in itself? He argues that since science is a field of investigation that produces valid generalizations, therefore ethnobotany cannot be a science. The author then discusses problems ethnobotanists encounter and probable solutions. He believes some of them do not realize that their material has little or no significance to itself, and should pay more attention to how the anthropologist wishes to use this material. This would involve not only the linking of a native name with a scientific name, but also include some indication of the range, availability, and properties of the plants discussed, with a best account of the usage for the native. This essay is useful in the sense that the author examines certain contributions that ethnobotany can make to anthropology.
The second essay, “Language, Culture and Ethnobotany” deals with the importance of language in ethnobotanical investigation and is concerned with finding out what constitutes ethnobotany. The author argues that an ethnobotanist should be concerned mainly in defining the scientific classification of his own culture: the groups of plants that in another culture are called by a single name and are used for a similar purpose. The article discusses the importance language has in the ethnobotanist’s work: first: a connection between the vernacular and the Latin names should be made, and second an analysis of the vernacular names themselves so it can reveal their cultural specificity. The author reveals the richness and complexity of the formation of vernacular plant names and insists on the comparative method in this field.


MARIA ARASARATNAM York University (Maggie MacDonald).