29.9.06

foraging for...pencils?

The anthropology simulation continues.

Our culture is a foraging community, so yesterday our discussion leader gave us our first activity to determine how we would gather, share, and store food. He told us he'd hidden brightly colored pencils around the building. The guys went to "hunt" the pencils while the girls went to another place to "gather" them.

Once we returned to the classroom, we discovered that there were only ten pencils for a group of about 18 people. "So, how are you going to distrubute this 'food' so that everyone has something?" he asked.

Silence.

Then one girl picked up her pencil, and with a loud crrrack! broke it in half. "Who wants this half?" she asked.

We started smiling at each other. We could do that? Pretty soon there was another crack! and another. When all the pencils were snapped in half, everyone had an equal amount and there was even some left over. We then decided that in our culture, everyone would participate in foraging for food and share in a weekly ritual feast.

It reflected well on our lecture for this week, in which our professor told us about the ritual feasts of his friends in Papau New Guinea. Neighbouring groups would "invade" each other's villages with gifts of food. This is the way that prestige is displayed there, the idea being that one tribe can prepare more food than the other will be able to eat. When it is apparent the the tribe being "attacked" cannot consume all the gifts of the invading village, the leader will parade around and boast about all the people involved in the production of the foods: who planted the potatoes, who prepared them, who brought them to the camp, etc. Then he will exclaim, "We have knocked you down with how much we can give!"

This type of community giving seems strange in a country where we can go to the grocery store and buy the same kind of potatoes without knowing who planted them or packaged them, and sometimes even without a kind word to the cashier who hands us the potatoes. In fact, in New Guinea, it is offensive to receive money in exchange for food - it is important only to remember who gave them to you so that you can return the favor at some point in the future.

I think the simulation is working well. We're barely three weeks into it, and it's already dredging up some interesting questions to ponder...

2 comments:

avila said...

interesting. i think i should one day visit Papua since i'm near to Papue New Guinea.

emily said...

Sounds like your Anthropology course is really interesting, I love the hands-on stuff. We have a few students in our class who are Communication majors, I think there's a lot of overlap between the fields. Then again, it seems that Anthropology is one of those areas which overlaps with almost everything.