Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Entries Tagged as 'anthropology'

Trial by Laughter

November 25th, 2013 · No Comments

From one of the best-titled anthropological papers of the past several decades, a brief account of one way in which Inuit shamanic gatherings could try the resolve of the easily amused: On the north shore of Hudson Strait, at Akuliaq, when the masked dancers, there called Ekko, appear “the people are not allowed to laugh […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:··

When Curves Were King

October 17th, 2012 · No Comments

We’re all aware that standards of beauty shift over time, which is why there is such a vast difference between the body types of Peter Paul Rubens’ subjects and today’s Olive Oyl-ish fashion icons. How the taste pendulum swings seems largely tied to a basic law of economics: our species values things according to their […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:··

A Clear Division

October 12th, 2012 · 3 Comments

I am generally no great fan of books about mountaineering disasters, but Buried in the Sky really got its hooks into me. That’s partly because of its unique narrative viewpoint: the tale’s protagonists are not the Western adventurers who met with bitter fates on K2, but rather those adventurers’ Sherpa guides. The authors did a […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:······

The Power of Gorgor

August 28th, 2012 · No Comments

A mammoth gold mine on Papua New Guinea’s Lihir Island is currently shut down due to a compensation dispute. There is, of course, nothing unusual about that situation, for conflicts between foreign mining companies and local interest are par for the course in the resources-extraction game. What makes the Lihir protest notable, however, is the […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:·····

“The Basest Treachery is Often Employed”

February 16th, 2011 · No Comments

The ruins on Nusa Roviana, an island off the coast of New Georgia, include a baker’s dozen worth of skull shrines. These mystical fixtures were vital to the political structure of Nusa Roviana’s society, which centered on all-powerful chiefs who claimed an ability to communicate with deceased ancestors. But the islands’ inhabitants were not only […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:····

Heaven to the Kaliai

November 9th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Staying on the near-death experience theme from yesterday, I went and dug up one of my all-time favorite papers on the topic: Dorothy Counts‘ 1983 study of NDEs in New Guinea. Of particular note were the visions described by the Kaliai, a people who inhabit West New Britain. When they hallucinate about the Great Beyond […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:·····

A Perfect System, Soaked in Blood

November 1st, 2010 · 1 Comment

Though my gambling amounts to little more than the occasional hand of $5 blackjack while in Vegas, I’m fascinated by the work of oddsmaking. It takes a special kind of genius to create a system in which the house will always win in the long run, though by just enough to preserve the game’s entertainment […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:······

An Alternative to Patronymics

August 19th, 2010 · 4 Comments

A long, drunken subway ride last night gave me the chance to finish The Black Nile, Dan Morrison’s account of a harrowing trip he took from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean Sea. There’s enough grist in this excellent travelogue to craft a dozen killer Microkhan posts, but for now I’ll just limit myself to a […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:······

A Feat Worthy of Zatoichi

July 1st, 2010 · 1 Comment

Count us among the many millions who are counting the seconds until The RZA’s directorial debut, Wu-Tang vs. The Golden Phoenix, hits the big screen. In the meantime, we must sate our martial-arts jones with less cinematic fare, starting with this 13-year-old account of Manipuri swordfighting. The denizens of the Indian province have long been […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:······

Fending Off the Shades

April 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

Every member of our species naturally fears death, given that we can never satisfactorily answer the question of what comes next. And so we’ve invented a zillion different ways of coping with that anxiety, many of which involve rituals that confirm a belief in the spirit’s indestructibility. Few of these rituals, however, are quite as […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:····

The Liver Knows Best

March 25th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Of all the various methods that mankind has devised to foretell the future, none is quite as bizarre as the reading of entrails. We have no idea who first came up with the idea that a deceased animal’s innards could cast light on upcoming events, but the practice certainly dates back to the heyday of […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:······

Against Ivan Barleycorn

January 21st, 2010 · No Comments

More than we might care to admit, cultures are defined by their attitudes toward alcohol consumption. And so it makes sense that amateur anthropologists can learn a lot by paying attention not only to consumption habits, but to the psychological tactics that societies use to scare folks away from Demon Rum. Those tactics are on […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:·······

A Language Not Quite Universal

January 6th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Contrary to what we learned in Mrs. Glickman’s Algebra II class lo those many years ago, mathematics is not a language that transcends all cultural barriers. That’s because tackling math problems requires a willingness to give in to abstraction, a leap that not all cultures are equipped to make. Just check out how the Saora […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:·····

What Young Men Still Do

December 30th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Headhunting of the literal sort figures quite prominently in Now the Hell Will Start, our 386-page labor o’ love. We dedicated an entire chapter to the practice, and thus field frequent questions from readers regarding whether or not the tribal inhabitants of North-East India and northwest Burma still take skulls. Our stock answer is that […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:·········

Twinkies for Peace

December 23rd, 2009 · 10 Comments

Staying on the food-taboo theme, we recommend this recent paper from the eternally irresistible Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. The whole thing is worth a read, especially the authors’ various theories regarding why taboos exist. Our favorite nugget comes in the section dedicated to explaining why taboos may have formed to protect human health: Eating […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:····

The Mob Psychology of Desperate Men

July 2nd, 2009 · 2 Comments

It took us well over a week, but we finally got around to finishing Harp of Burma last night, while sitting on the 2 train back from Brooklyn. Yes, a week-plus is an awful long time to tackle a so-called children’s book, one which clocks in at a measly 132 pages. But such is life […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:······

First Contact: The English and the Inuit

July 1st, 2009 · 10 Comments

Continuing our ongoing First Contact series, today we’re gonna look back at the 1576 encounter between the English and the Inuit of Baffin Island. The details of the meet-up were recorded by one Christopher Hall, a member of a Martin Frobisher-led expedition in search of the fabled Northwest Passage to China. Upon first landing on […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:·······

First Contact: New Guinea Highlands

May 22nd, 2009 · No Comments

For the second installment of our nascent First Contact series, we’re gonna hit the layup and blog about this classic culture-clash documentary. A prized Microkhan correspondent and former New Guinea resident summarizes the film with far more acumen than we could ever manage: Basic story is that the initial European settlements in Papua (south side […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:······

First Contact: The Dena’ina

May 13th, 2009 · No Comments

Perhaps our favorite passage in all of American literature can be found on the last page of The Great Gatsby. No, not that celebrated last line about boats fighting the current. Rather it’s the snippet located a few paragraphs before the end, in which Nick Carraway waxes rhapsodic about Dutch explorers: And as the moon […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:·····

Take a Load Off, Insan

May 11th, 2009 · 5 Comments

In today’s installment of NtHWS Extras, we’re gonna revisit one of Microkhan’s very favorite topics: headhunting. Perhaps the most famous anthropological study of the practice is Renato Rosaldo’s Ilongot Headhunting, 1883-1974. The Ilongot, who inhabit the Filipino island of Luzon, are peculiar in that they don’t preserve their captured heads as keepsakes. Rather, they discard […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:·····

Paint the Far Corners

May 8th, 2009 · 1 Comment

In the process of prepping a special series on first contacts (which will launch next week), Microkhan recently became acquainted with the work of John Webber, an English painter best known for accompanying Captain James Cook to Hawaii. Fortunately for us, Webber did not share Cook’s bummer of fate, and went on to create some […]

Share

[Read more →]

Tags:·······