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Myers, F 1988 Burning the truck and holding the country: property, time and the negotiation of identity among Pintupi Aborigines, In Barnard A and Woodburn J ed.s Hunters and Gatherers, Vol 2, Property, Power and Ideology.

The chapter discusses what meanings indigenous people, in particular the Pintupi, who live in the Australian Western Desert, attribute to various objects. Myers argues that among the Pintupi, various objects (this also includes land) and other things (duties or some prerogatives) are of social value once they serve expressions of shared identity and autonomy. Basically, the social life of objects may be characterized by the following descriptions:

-         Ownership of land is not a particular kind of property, rather it is a set of rights that define relationships to the living area, which is perceived as an inseparable part of ecologically conditioned existence

-         Rights of the Pintupi to these various “things” (i.e. objects, duties, etc) are not  based on the material use-value principle, they are based on the perceptions of these “things” identity in relation to forming social aggregations


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Ownership is characterized by the following statements:

-         the Pintupi are open to including other people in co-owning their “things”;  

-         this is the expression of the shared identity and serves the basis of Pintupi social interaction

-         property is perceived as a ‘sign’, i.e. it has low material use-value significance, but rather serves as a means of people’s interaction, applying certain meanings, etc.

-         these “things” have not a material value, but their value is that of the social life reproduction

-         co-ownership is a normal way of property existence, it means that one object can have a few owners, i.e.“the right to use the object without asking”

-         the way to prevent an object from the possession of other people is to put it out of their immediate reach

-         theft is taking without asking

-         in food sharing, ‘mutual taking’ is common, i.e. women who gather food distribute it on the basis of relevance among the co-residents

-         men, who hunt, share meat among those who kill; also, it can be a gift; on the basis of inter-domestic ties (i.e. parents, relatives)

-         food is shared on the basis of shared identity, so people do not refuse food, but if they wish to, they hide it

-         ownership is an opportunity to give and express some relations

-         ‘to have a car is to find out how many relatives one has’

-         Land ownership – a result of negotiations between people who claim and assert their ownership and how these negotiations finish

-         The basis of claims are cultural, places ‘bear the imprint of persons’

-         Places are owned by many people, especially the so-called sacred boards

-         Objects are perceived as replaceable, the Pintupi are willing to share

Verdery, K. 1994 The Elasticity of Land: problems of property restitution in Transylvania, in Slavic Studies.

            The Law on Agricultural Land Resources (1991) liquidated numerous collective farms in Romania and regulated that the lands were given to those households that gave them for collectivization purposes. The former owners fully restored their rights to land. The article shows how the restoration of the rights to land failed in traditionally Western sense. The process of rights-to-land restoration was characterized by the following realities:

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-        Tension among potential land owners in the rural areas because it was hard to decide to whom land should have been given (someone emigrated, someone stayed in the village, also among members of ethnic groups)

-         The land was not redistributed but underwent restitution (was given back); yet, not more than 10 hectares per a person, by the law; at the same time, land could have been bought (up to 100 hectares)

-         Many people’s property claims came to be based on land that had disappeared for natural reasons, so they claimed their right not to those areas that vanished but to other areas; instead, people from the nearby places posed their claims as new lands appeared due to elasticity of the landscape (i.e. river landscape)

-         Stretching land phenomenon: claimant’s need were satisfied by ‘stretching’ land by local authorities: bringing new land in cultivation; draining wetlands, filling swamps, plowing pastures, etc. Another way is to pay out the dividends from ‘missing’ land

-         In the 1950s much land was shrunk on paper since people wanted to hide it; now they find difficulty to stretch it back with their lands being much bigger than recorded, or if they fictionally sold, presented it to someone.

-         People who owned gardens on the land that was subject to restitution took to court newly found owners, since the former also had a right to that land by the law

-         When land can’t be restored (i.e. there are buildings on it), the owners should be  given land somewhere else

-         The power to restitute land is abused locally: people forcefully plant their crops; corruption is common.

-     Major losers in this decollectivization process: widows, former village poor, people who live in cities, and immigrants.


Luhrmann, T. (1989) The goat and the gazelle: witchcraft. In T. Luhrmann Persuasions of the witch’s craft: Ritual magic and witchcraft in the present-day England. Oxford: Blackwell, 42-54.

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Witchcraft among those  who practice it in the present-day England:

-         By its followers, witchcraft is perceived as an “ancient magico-religious cult, secretly practised, peculiarly suited to the Celtic race”

-         It is perceived as an ancient nature-religion whose god was determined as devil in Christianity

-         Modern witchcraft in England was created in the 1940s by Gardener – a civil servant.

-         Gardner took his ideas from  Murray’s account of witchcraft presented historically as “a pre-Christian fertility religion” which was named by demonologists later – as devil-worship; he was influenced by Masonic and Crowley’s ideas of rites practices

-          Witchcraft is presented as worship of earth as a goddess and worship of nature

-         Witches are said to connect to the world around them

-         Gardner organized his followers in covens – groups run by women called high priestesses; these covens meet on days “dictated by the sky” – these are seasonal ritual meetings known as sabbats; on the full moons – esbats. Members number – between 3 and 13.

-         1 year it takes to be initiated

-         A traditional coven has 3 degrees: initiation of novices into witches; meeting death; mystical sexuality;

-         Tools of witchcraft: knives, altar, whips to purify each other, incense burners; candles – 4; they work in nude;

-         There are feminist covens, mostly popular in the States;

-         There are solo witches, who call themselves this way, but were not initiated.

-         The author presents a romantic view of witchcraft.  He is an initiated witch himself.  

Levi-Strauss, L. (1963) “The sorcerer and his magic.” Structural anthropology, 167-185. New York, Basic Books.

-         While there have been many cases when curses and magic worked, it has been found that the major catalysts of their efficacy were purely psychological: the sorcerer’s belief in that his technique are effective; victim’s belief that the sorcerer has the power; the group’s expectations that the ritual will work. Thus, the effectiveness is explained by the sympathetic nervous system functioning.

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-     Shamanism is perceived as a fake, “fabulation of a reality unknown in itself”. Based on a variety of representations, this fabulation is grounded on the experiences: of the shaman himself, who experiences various psychosomatic states; of the sick person, who either does or does not feel the improvement; of the public, who generate the emotional and intellectual support and satisfaction. These are elements of the shamanistic complex.

-          Shamans cure people because of the psychological factor though they also have some  empirical knowledge. In the case of shaman Quesalid, he cured only some of his cases. This is attributed to the fact his patients knew they were being treated by a great shaman, not that Quesalid became a great shaman because he was able to cure.

-         Failure is secondary to the perception of the shaman by the public, it may or may not be followed by disruption of social consensus. If it is, the shaman is made a laughingstock of the public. So, the public is the most important.

-       Shamans are presented as using false and dishonest techniques, with success being a purely psychological factor; they admit to their failures and leave the community with dishonour.

-       In rituals, it is often hard to tell apart truth and deception; ‘good’ shamans do that the way people can’t see where the trick is.

-         Experiences of the sick person – the least important aspect in the shaman’s practice and recognition: he may or may not be cured, just as the supernatural forces wish.


Hannerz, U. (1987) The world in creolization. Africa, 57 (4), 546-559.

-       “Creolization” is the way the global forces run modern local cultures and cultural conditions as well as preferences.

-       Cultures are no more as autonomous and limited by bounds  as they were in the past; they have been reshaped by complex flows that come in asymmetrical patterns;

-       These reshaped cultures are not likely to result in that global homogenization that is widely spoken of today;

-      The periphery (i.e. Third World countries, such as Nigeria) is much stronger that it appears; creolization, thus, takes place which means that it is not Third world countries that absorb the culture of the Western World, but that it is also the Western World that absorbs it back, hence creolizing. This means that the global market witnesses the production of the new commodities based on affinity between cultures of the centre and of the periphery. The examples are reggae music, and the Olympic Games.

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Lee, R.   Power and property in twenty-first century foragers: A critical examination. 

Modern hunters and gatherers live under constant pressure from the world that is getting globalised.Their lifestyle is characterized by the following features:

-         Most peoples function as minorities encapsulated in a larger system

-         Their economic order is either fully or partially enmeshed with their region commerce

-         The have lost many social, political, and spiritual characteristics which made them unique

-       They have been brought to the lowest of the social ladder and experience discrimination and stigmatization; have intensified feelings of being “other”

Scholarly descriptions of hunter-gatherers in the 1960s and 1970s (and prior) allowed distinguishing common features in their organization:

1)  the basic unit of hunter-gatherers organization was a band. They were small and had 20-50 people, had flexible membership, and were quite mobile, also – based on certain principles that guided their life (compatibility, post-marital residence, etc);

2)  were egalitarian in nature (based on belief in equality of mankind): leaders would often persuade people rather than command;

3)   were mobile: people moved residence a few times a year while looking for food, which was a significant element in their politics; that allowed resolving conflicts;

4)   exhibited a pattern of concentration as well as dispersion: one part of the year the societies spent dispersed into smaller units, the other part of the year they aggregated in larger units.  

5)   Had a land tenure system that was based on CPR (common property regime).

6)   The focal rule of these societies was sharing, which was an obligation, both strict and absolute.

Moral characteristics - as observed by the 20th century scholars (by Les Hiatt):

-         Generosity

-         Readiness to share

-          Hospitality

Aspects that witness variations among different hunter-gatherer socities across the world:

-      Lifestyle: not all live in small and mobile bands, some live(d) in large segments with chiefs, slaves, and commoners;

-       Status of women: in most hunter-gatherer societies women have a higher status than women in other world societies; they have a bigger freedom of movement, greater involvement in decision-making, and lower levels of domestic violence.

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The influence of the bureaucratic state and market economy on foragers:

-         Loss of political and economic autonomy (i.e. self-sufficiency, independence):

they are subject to commercialization, i.e. local economy is subordinated to outside control; loss of political autonomy means integration into state structures.

The transformation of property and economy:

-         ‘whitefella’ economy values and ‘blackfella’ practices are clearly distinguished; capitalist values so not penetrate fully, only to some extent; in most societies, the rule of sharing persists; those who accumulate property (in Australian foraging societies) are humiliated and are unlikely to receive help once they are in need. 

Marginality and discrimination:

-        Face discrimination and denigration on the part of their farming neighbours or those who have become dominant; are at the outskirts of social life and are even subject to ethnical genocide as in Rwanda back in 1994 (Grinker, 1990; Hitchcock, 2002; Levis & Knight, 1995);

-         Denied rights and segregated; stigmatized status is used to justify their denial of rights including their rights to the land, which is often taken away by farmers;

Post-foragers and the future:

-         Change of status: from masters of their life and being to encapsulated minorities

-         Despite pressure of capitalist values, foragers today are able to resist it by adhering to a set of their own values based on the principles of sharing and egalitarianism

-      Foragers have a nice opportunity to cooperate politically, socially, and economically under the banner of indigenous peoples

-         They are able to protect their rights by the possibilities of negotiations over the land rights, recognition of past wrongs, and compensations.

Kin-based societies

Jean-Klein, I. 2003. "Into Committees, Out of the House? Familiar Forms in the Organization of Palestinian Committee Activism during the First Intifada." American Ethnologist 30(4): 556-577. 

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Intifada – Palestinian Arabs’ uprising against the occupation by Israel of the Gaza Strip and of the West Bank territories. Started in late 1987 and lasted into the beginning of the1990s.

The article explores the social and material forms that lay at the foundation of Palestinian committees which stirred enormous political activity at the time of intifada. There were 4 major movements that promoted the idea of social transformation and national liberation: Fatah, PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), DFLP (the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine), and PCP (the Palestinian Communist Party). These committees all worked under the leadership of PLO (the Palestine Liberation Organization). Two key branches of committee member’s activity included militant and civil resistance. Civil measures were strikes, networking campaigns on the international level, boycotts, building of institutions, etc. Male youths also engaged in militant actions in which, armed with stones, they confronted the military forced of Israel. At that time, there was no Palestinian state.

 An important role in the committees functioning belonged to women. Contrary to popular view that Palestinian women had left the house (i.e. home, household, or kinship association) to participate in the movements, the author says that they did not actually “leave the house” to take part in political life. It was kinship that worked as the key method of political organization.

Despite scholars’ claims that successful political organization could only be based on rejection of kinship (it was criticised for its patriarchal structure, inequalities in access to wealth, status, in gender, etc), political committees and the kinship structure did not antagonize in the case of Palestine. It was rather continuity coupled with mutual creativity that characterized connection between political activism and kinship. Based on the specifics of the Palestinian society, where women did not have a special status in kinship but were still considered equivalent proprietors (female heads of household) to their husbands, it was natural for women to be full and “highly visible” members of the political committees which they helped to enact.  

Moreover, it was not only women that took part in political activism. Due to specific kinship structure, mothers, sons, sisters, and other members of the household of different genealogical status, provoked one another to participate in committee movements. Even in the circumstances when families seemed to be living in nuclear fashion, i.e. separately from the kin, Palestinians preserved the same value of kinship ties by buying flats in the same neighbourhood and cooking together, i.e. sharing the same kitchen. Single women participated too, because behind them there were always brothers that provoked them to be socially active. Unmarried girls participated in street actions and in political visiting. Matrons participated in supervision of young girls. Women committee activists worked together with strike force (young males) and sometimes with trade unions. It is admitted that women’s hierarchical organization in social activism was clear, oriented at collaboration with regions, and with fewer problems that the organization of the overall movement, in which intellectuals and big persons often considered themselves higher than the masses that set the movement forth.

Overall, the kinship structure and societal organization had a great impact on how the political and social activism of the Palestinian society was enacted, i.e. committee structures reflected the household structure in many ways. Even women activity was not unexpected and could be explained by the role of a woman within a household as a female proprietor and keeper of kinship ties.   

Bodies and Houses

Douglas, M., (1991) “External Boundaries” In Douglas, M., Purity and Danger pp.141-159, London: Routledge.

The author argues against assertions by other anthropologists who claim that primitive or ‘archaic’ cultures’ traditions are the result of those people’s underdeveloped or neurotic personalities, complexes (rituals involving genital bleeding in women are done because of males’ envy of women’s fertility), or the underdeveloped or retarded nature of the overall society. He also argues against the idea that by these rituals people seek to escape from reality or gain success (by marking oneself) while losing success on the external level (i.e. being unable to influence the world), or solve psychological problems (on the infantile level). Instead, he explains, these rituals aim at affirming the reality’s physical fullness. Bodily symbolism is used to confront experience full of inevitable losses and pains.  

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The rituals involving manipulations with human bodies are based on belief in the fact these margins are invested with danger and power. Initiations also involve inhering in the bodily margins. Bodily refuse is perceived as a symbol of power and danger in myths. This is explained by:

a)   The fact that these rituals are led by erotic desires that are inherent in common infantile fantasies;

b)  The fact that because all margins are dangerous, pulling them this or that way alters the shape of fundamental experience.

c)    Anything that goes from the body is thought as more dangerous and is thus associated with pollution and fear.

The conclusion inferred by sociologists is that just as everything symbolizes the body, the human body symbolizes everything else. In primitive cultures, danger to the boundaries of the community is expressed through body symbolism. The body is treated as if it were an exit and ingress of some sort of traitors or spies. Hence, whatever issues from the body should never be taken inside again. Impurity is perceived as the most dangerous. For example, in India the issue of purity determines the place of a caste in the society. The most impure caste – those who remove dirt and touch excrements, corpses, etc – are of the lowest status. At the same time, the purer the caste is the more it is likely to belong to minority.

In the purest castes, the question of guarding sexual purity is the foremost then. Women are not allowed to sleep with men of lower castes since they are perceived as entrance to the higher caste. Men can, but they will have to undergo a cleansing ritual. Overall, men are advised to sleep with women minimally or not to sleep at all to preserve the purity of their semen.

The question of food pollution is important, too. Bodily orifices are believed to symbolize social preoccupations about entrances and exits, so cooked food is perceived as connected to the one who cooked it. Thus, a ritual should be held to purify the cooked/preparing food from the contact with its cooker (he may be of a certain occupation, which deals with what goes outside the human body, i.e. a barber, washerman, sweeper, etc).

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The author comes to the conclusion that primitive rituals do not try to treat or prevent personal neuroses by doing public rituals, their rituals are attempts to form a certain culture based on a set of experiences that will control the everyday experience. Rituals do not mean withdrawal from reality, they enact the social relations and make these relations visible. This helps people to know their own society. 



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