Nacimera and Rastas
We had a change of pace for the sixth day of the “Lionfish in the Caribbean” course, where we had Georgia Southern University Associate Professor, Jennifer Tookes as an instructor for today’s class! With a formal educational background in anthropology, Dr. Tookes helped us to understand not only the overall history of the Caribbean islands, but also the ins and outs of conducting field research in the Caribbean.
First, we were introduced with the story of the Caribbean islands and how they came to be what they are today. We were given a map similar to the one pictured below but with no labels and as we went through the lecture, we were able to label these different islands. We traced the main historical points of the Caribbean from when Columbus first arrived to when the U.S. bought the current U.S. Virgin Islands in 1917. Some important points were the use of African slave labor on sugar plantations as well as the migration to and from and within the different islands once slavery was abolished.
Learning about the history of the Caribbean helped to give us a little bit more insight into the culture of the islands as the U.S. Virgin Islands do have a very different culture from the “mainland.” Thus, we began discussing the article we were assigned the night before called, “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” which satirizes the early social rituals of America, or “Nacirema” backwards. Similar to some of my classmates, I was tipped off of the satirical nature of the article when they mentioned a noble hero who is known by the great feat of the “chopping down of a cherry tree in which the Spirit of Truth resided.” Another classmate googled “Nacirema” to figure out what the article was exactly alluding to and I decided to do the same to see what came up. I found the political cartoons as seen below which perfectly sum up the purpose of the term “Nacirema” and the article.
In conclusion, the Nacirema article is supposed to change the perspective of the reader to show how the American cultural norms can be seen as extremely radical and unusual when put into different words or as seen by an outsider. Therefore, it pushes its audience to not be so quick to judge other cultures and that while we may see other culture’s practices as completely bizarre and sometimes scary, we must be quick to stop ourselves and to be completely objective when observing.
To elaborate of this topic, we did an exercise in class where pairs of us made similar paragraphs to that of the Nacirema article but adapting different American cultural practices. For example, one group described the rituals of Christmas as when families put up a tree-like shrine, often made of plastic trimmings in which we ordained with plastic spheres, and that on a certain day, a large man would break into homes to leave presents under such shrine.
Furthermore, we also read an article called “Nice Girls Don’t Talk to Rastas” which explains an incident where a female student doing research in Barbados is seen hanging out with a Rasta man and all of her previous relationships which she had built up over the previous months, disappear as the community begins to shun her because she spends time with a social outcast. Therefore, while we are out doing our research, it is vital to realize that every community has a set of cultural norms and just because we are tourists or researchers, we are not exempt to those norms.
Dr. Tookes also offered some last-minute tips when conducting field research. She mentioned “participation observation” (participating in a culture but at the same time, observing and analyzing to achieve a greater understanding, identifying the unspoken, contradictions between words and behaviors(conflicts, unstated actions, deception “sucker bias”)), explaining yourself (be prepared for questions both hostile and friendly), and presenting yourself (discussing proper attire and professionalism when conducting surveys). She gave an overview of what to expect on the islands and an interesting point she made is that we are NOT doing this:
This Instagram account pokes fun at how volunteers often use their work as an opportunity to show off and to show themselves as a “self-sacrificing saint.” While the work many volunteers do is actually meaningful, such a presence on social media takes away from their sincerity and authenticity and is it up to us to not aspire to be like this. And while we will be on beautiful tropical islands, we should refrain from Instagramming ourselves “saving the Caribbean islands one lionfish at a time.” More information can be found at this website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/white-savior-barbie-hilariously-parodies-volunteer-selfies-in-africa_us_570fd4b5e4b03d8b7b9fc464
On a final note, last week I had mentioned in class of the use of lionfish patterns on surf suits to deter sharks from attacking surfers. After some research, it seems there is still a bit of skepticism in the effectiveness of this product. If interested, more information can be found on this article: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2013/07/01/lionfish-patterned-suit-said-to-repel-sharks/. It even has a special mention of the proposal of training sharks to attack lionfish!