An “ethnography” or “ethnographic report” is the most important production of a cultural anthropologist

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An “ethnography” or “ethnographic report” is the most important production of a cultural


Second Writing Assignment
Anthropology 100
Turnbull, Colin: The Forest People
An “ethnography” or “ethnographic report” is the most important production of a cultural
anthropologist who works “in the field,” studying other people. It is a factual account of
observations, mixed with the anthropologist’s own interpretations of the meanings of the cultural
events that s/he observes.
In anthropology, the word “Culture” is generally understood to mean “all of the beliefs,
behaviors, and practices that are learned by, shared among, and meaningful to the members of a
society.” Everything from what clothing to wear, what foods are considered good to eat, “table
manners” about how to eat those foods (e.g. with fingers, forks, or chopsticks), what kind of
music to make, how and when to dance and sing, where to sit, how close to stand to others, and
all of the other little things that seem “obvious” to us because “everybody (in our society) does
them” are all aspects of our culture.
The ethnography The Forest People is one of the classic and most widely read books in cultural
anthropology. Colin Turnbull spent several years living with the BaMbuti “pygmies” of the
nation of Congo, and recording, describing, and explaining their daily experience of life. The
BaMbuti culture is about as different from American culture as it can be, and yet despite the
differences, Turnbull’s descriptions of the Mbuti people are easily understood, due to the
similarities that all humans share.
Read The Forest People, and reflect on the ways that their culture differs from our own. While
you read this ethnography, consider the similarities and differences between Mbuti life in the
Ituri forest and your own life here in the United States.
We have an economy, we have ways of settling disputes between citizens, we have ways of
building homes and communities, and we have ways of engaging in religious rituals. So do the
Mbuti people, although their ways are markedly different from our ways. Anthropologists do not
ask “which way is right?” Instead, we ask “what makes their behavior appropriate for them,
while our ways are appropriate for us?”

Your essay should address the following issues:

1) In what ways are Mbuti cultural practices similar to our own?
Despite our cultural differences, all human societies have some things in common (a need to get
food, water, shelter, and social stability, as well as the need to make friends, teach children,
protect ourselves against dangers, etc.). Consider the cultural practices from the ethnography and
ask yourself “in what ways are the Mbuti similar to us?” Select a minimum of three similarities
between Mbuti culture and your own experiences in life – these may be “general” similarities,
such as “respect for elders,” or “sharing food among relatives,” or they may be more specific
topics, such as “they don’t like to be teased by their neighbors,” or anything else. Describe three
events in the book that are similar to events in your own personal experiences.

2) In what ways are Mbuti cultural practices different from our own?
Each  society adapts to its own natural and cultural environment. The Ituri  forest is very different from the environment in which most of us live.  Select a few aspects of Mbuti culture (“learned, shared, meaningful  behavior”) and ask yourself “what makes their culture appropriate for  their environment?” You can do this by contrasting their behaviors with  our own. (For example, Americans and Mbuti both need food, but they get  most of their food from hunting and gathering wild resources in the  forest, while we get our food from the store.) Why do we do things in  such different ways? What makes their way of life suitable and a “good  fit” to their
Environment? What makes our way of life suitable for  our environment? Why would their way of life not work well here? Why  would our way of life not work well there? Are they trying to be just  like us, but they “can’t quite manage to do so”? Or is there a better  explanation for why they are different from us?

3) Why is there cultural diversity?
We have grown  up in a society with a specific set of cultural “rules” that tell us  which behaviors are appropriate, and which are not. The Mbuti people  have also grown up with a set of cultural rules for appropriate  behavior. We often assume that our way is “right,” and the Mbuti are  just as certain that their way is the “correct” way to be a human.
What  is the benefit to cultural diversity? What makes variation in cultures a  valuable and desirable thing? In what ways (if any) might life be  better if all humans shared just one culture, and in what ways would it  be worse?
Your paper should be a minimum of 7 pages, in 12 point font.


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