Animal Twins – Griaule et Ogotemmêli (3/3)

“‘Animals,’ he said, ‘are superior to men, because they belong to the bush and do not have to work. Many animals feed themselves on what man grows by painful toil.’
“He even went so far as to say that animals were more perfectly made than men, seeing that they lacked speech. It was an excellence in them to be without the power of speech” (Griaule 1965:126).

“‘When the eight ancestors,’ he said at last, ‘were born to the first pair, eight different animals were born in heaven’….
“‘Up to this time they had no connection with the earth. When the eight men appeared, each of them shared a soul with an animal; but the man remained on earth, while his animal associate remained in Heaven’….
“‘The animal,’ Ogotemmêli said finally, ‘is as it were, man’s twin'” (Griaule 1965:127)

Animal ties with humans can be found in many cultures across the world, and a new up-and-coming field of anthropology, called multi-species ethnography, explores human relations with animals. What I find interesting about the Dogon perception of animals, is that they are superior, whereas in many Western (mostly due to Christianity) cultures, animals are inferior. In both cases, speech seems to be the defining factor, but is evaluated differently.

Ogotemmêli goes on to explain how each of the eight families of the Dogon (ancestors of the original eight) is connected to a twin animal, born at the same time. Each animal, however, also has a ‘prohibited partner,’ another animal, that is also born at this time. Thus, each family has a totemic attachment to a wide range of animals.

“‘When I was born,’ said Ogotemmêli, in illustration of his argument, ‘an equine antelope was born too. The antelope’s prohibited animal is the panther. A panther was also born” (Griaule 1965:128).

If interested in learning more about human/animal interconnections, I suggest looking into multi-species ethnography. Try Kirksey and Helmreich (2010), Ogden and Tanita (2013), Haraway (2007), or Kohn (2007) (Kohn’s work is some of my favorite – it is a bit tricky to grasp at times, as it is highly philosophical, but his theories really resonate with me.

An example of margin notes and highlighting. All my books end up rugged and well used, but my notes make it easier for me to backtrack, years in the future, to the exact pages and excerpts I may need.


Griaule, M. 1965. Conversations with Ogotemmêli: An Introduction to Dogon Religious Ideas. Oxford, UK: Oxford University press.

Haraway, D. 2007. When Species Meet. Minneapolis, MN: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

Kirksey, S.E. & Helmreich, S. 2010. The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography. Cultural Anthropology 25(4), pp. 545-576.

Kohn, E. 2007. How Dogs Dream: Amazonian natures and the politics of transspecies engagement. American Ethnologist 34(1), pp. 3-24.

Ogden, L.A., Hall, B. & Tanita, K. 2013. Animals, Plants, People, and Things: A Review of Multispecies Ethnography. Environment and Society: Advancements in Research 4, pp. 5-34.


Migration Spurred by Clothes – Griaule et Ogotemmêli (2/3)

“[Koguem] described how the desire for clothes was causing a number of young people to leave the country. Every year, he said, the Government deplores, here in the cliffs just as elsewhere, the mass emigration of workers in the prime of life, who go to the Gold Coast to earn money and often live there for years and sometimes die there.
These young people, he said, who go off to the Gold Coast or Bamako or elsewhere, go mainly for clothes. They make money there and spend it all, the day before they come back, on gewgaws, turbans or umbrellas, and peacock about in them on market days or at funerals. Dress helps them to get married. The more clothes a man has, the more elegant he is, and the more women go after him” (Griaule 1965:82).

In the 60s, young Dogon workers from Sudan headed to foreign lands to work hard, earn money, and buy clothes. They did this, because in their culture, clothes are valuable and will help them gain a wife. This goes to show that although many cultures across the world pursue money, this does not mean that everybody spends it in the same way. Globalization and the cash economy has allowed many people to access new commodities, but how they spend their money and what they do with purchased commodities often depends on their cultural backgrounds. In this example of the Dogon, we see consumer choices that are fueled by a strong cultural value – well dressed men are prestigious and catch the eyes of more women. Interested in this idea? I suggest reading works by Richard Wilk (see references for two articles), or perhaps Marshall Sahlins’s (1992) “The Economics of Develop-Man in the Pacific.”


Griaule, M. 1965. Conversations with Ogotemmêli: An Introduction to Dogon Religious Ideas. Oxford, UK: Oxford University press.

Sahlins, M. 1992. The Economics of Develop-Man in the Pacific. Anthropology and Aesthetics, 21, pp. 12-25.

Wilk, R. (2006). ‘But the Young Men Don’t Want to Farm Any More’: Political Ecology and Consumer Culture in Belize. In Biersack, A & J.B. Greenberg, Reimagining political ecology (pp. 149-170). Durham: Duke Univ. Press.

Wilk, R. (2002). “It’s Destroying a Whole Generation”: Television and Moral Discourse in Belize. In K. Askew & R.R. Wilk (eds.), The Anthropology of Media: A reader (pp. 286-298). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Ethnographic Acceptance – Griaule et Ogotemmêli (1/3)

“But the Dogon came to recognize the great perseverance of Marcel Griaule and his team in their enquiries, and that it was becoming increasingly difficult to answer the multiplicity of questions without moving on to a different level. They appreciated our eagerness for an understanding which earlier explanations had certainly not satisfied, and which was clearly more important to us than anything else. Griaule had also shown a constant interest in the daily life of the Dogon, appreciating their efforts to exploit a difficult country where there was a serious lack of water in the dry season, and our relationships, which had thus extended beyond those of ethnographical enquiry, became more and more trusting and affectionate. In the light of all this the Dogon took their own decision, of which we learned only later when they told us themselves. The elders of the lineages of the double village of Ogol and the most important totemic priests of the region of Sanga met together and decided that the more esoteric aspects of their religion should be fully revealed to Professor Griaule. To begin this they chose one of their own best informed members, Ogotemmêli who, as will be seen in the introduction, arranged the first interview” (Dieterlen 1965:xvi)

An anthropologist’s dream – after fifteen years of asking questions and getting evasive answers, the Dogon finally decided to reveal to Marcel Griaule the inner-workings of their cosmology and cultural philosophy, their ‘deep-knowledge’ as they called it. Fifteen years! Griaule began his ethnographic work in 1931, and finally in 1947, after building intimate relationships and showing consistent interest in the culture, the elders finally agreed to let him into their world. No matter how long it takes, I expect the feeling of accomplishment and humility is overwhelming when this ultimate form of ethnographic acceptance into the culture finally occurs. The interviews between Griaule and Ogotemmêli are recorded in a book called Conversations with Ogotemmêli (Original French version: Dieu d’Eau). I have just started re-reading this book, it was assigned to me long ago during my freshman year of college in a class called “Egypt the Cradle of Civilization.” I only read bits and pieces during the class, but now, some seven years later, I am excited to re-read and see how my understandings of the book have changed after all of these years of anthropological education. More from Ogotemmêli coming next.


Dieterlen, G. 1965. Introduction. In M. Griaule, Conversations with Ogotemmeli: An Introduction to Dogon Religious Ideas. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Lisa See and the Island of Sea Women

“We’d been told we couldn’t promote tourism without upgrading the island. We were to have indoor plumbing, electricity, telephones, paved roads, and commercial airlines. This meant, among other things, that thatch roofs had to be replaced with those made of corrugated in or tile. We were told tourists wouldn’t like our three-step farming system, and that we had to get rid of our pigsty latrines. Tourists wouldn’t want to see or smell pigs, and they certainly wouldn’t want to put their rear ends above the pigs’ greedy snouts. I didn’t know one family willing to tear down its latrine, and I’d continue to keep mine for as long as possible. So much change so fast was unsettling, and it undermined our way of life, our beliefs, and our traditions” – The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See, pg. 338.

This quote comes from a novel by Lisa See based on the lives of Korean haenyeo, or divers, from the Island of Jeju. In preparation for writing, See did as most anthropologist would do before writing a book as well — interviewed countless locals and professionals, read extensively on the island and Korean culture, and reviewed her knowledge with those who closely know and have lived these stories. This would certainly qualify as an example of ethnofiction, I believe (see the article Consider Ethnofiction by VanSlyke-Briggs (2009) for more on ethnofiction and its benefits). Wonderful book, heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time and highly relevant to history and the changes the world is facing today.


See, L. (2019). The Island of Sea Women. New York, NY: Scribner Publishers.

VanSlyke-Briggs, K. (2009). “Consider Ethnofiction.” Ethnography and Education, 4(3) pp. 335-345.

“People are everywhere the same except in the ways they differ”

“… ‘People are everywhere the same except in the ways they differ’, which is not, admittedly, a very profound statement. Yet in an important sense it is what a century of anthropology has taught us, and on closer inspection this is no small thing” (Monaghan & Just 2000, p. 145).

‘People are everywhere the same except in the ways they differ’… this is a mantra I have spoken to myself countless times, the simplicity of it making its truth even more profound. The first time I fully understood this statement was when I was visiting the Embera tribe in Panama with my aunt. I was sixteen and spoke no Spanish. My Aunt was laughing with a group of girls, and when I asked her what they were talking about she said, “I was asking them which boys they like.” I remember the girls continuing to giggle and blush, whispering to each other in a language I couldn’t understand. In that moment – it was a time when my own heart was breaking for a boy – I realized that we were the same. Despite our disparate languages, our disparate dress, the disparate places in which we lived, we were exactly the same. We both laughed and blushed over boys. People are everywhere the same except in the ways they differ.

Embera tribe members relax after bathing in a waterfall (2009)


Monaghan, J. and Just, P. 2000. Social & Cultural Anthropology: A Very Short Introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Is there Art in Anthropology?

“To desire art in ethnography is to cast doubt on our commitment to maintaining the sobriety and respectability of anthropology within the university system. To long for art in ethnography is to risk losing it all–our academic departments; our scientific grants; the jobs that eventually allow us to settle down surrounded by native rugs, clay pots, and bark paintings that we are always certain must be of much better quality than the second-rate stuff sold to the tourists; the conferences that awaken us from our poetic day-dreaming and remind us of the real intellectual work remaining to be done” (Behar 2007, p. 154).

You may have noticed that a couple of my posts contain quotes from works of fiction (here and here). I have always loved reading novels and I think that they can be of use to anthropologists in a variety of ways. Like Monaghan and Just (2000) say in Social & Cultural Anthropology: A Very Short Introduction “often we [anthropologists] have found our greatest strengths to be those of the storyteller” (pp. 3-4), the disciplines of anthropology and creative writing have many similarities and often overlap.

However, anthropology has always straddled a hard line between ‘art’ and ‘science,’ which is one of the reasons people like me love it so much, but also makes it difficult to pin down to a specific genre. As Behar notes above, too much art in anthropology might lead to diminishing the prestige of our work. In her article on the art of ethnography, Behar contemplates what it would mean for anthropologists to write more artfully. What I think is missing from the article is a set description of what audience she is proclaiming we should write to, but I think this space can be filled with the work of other anthropologists. For example, Eugene Hunn (2006) advocates for a type of ‘master narrative,’ accessible by all audiences, that is supplemented by more theoretical narratives. Tim Ingold (2016) is another interesting scholar to look at — in his article “From science and art and back again: The pendulum of an anthropologist” he discusses the goals of both science and art in anthropology.

Anthropology is a diverse subject, with a variety of themes and theories that anthropologists use as well as differing writing styles. By accepting art and creative writing into anthropologists’ work, we are simply creating a more inclusive field of study, in which public audiences can understand our work as much as academics. It also doesn’t mean we must get rid of all scientific writing. There exists in our field space for both art and science.


Behar, Ruth. 2007. Ethnography in a Time of Blurred Genres. Anthropology and Humanism 32(2), pp. 145-155.

Hunn, Eugene. 2006. Meeting of the Minds: how do we share our appreciation of traditional environmental knowledge. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, pp. S143-S160.

Ingold, Tim. 2016. From science to art and back again: The pendulum of an anthropologist. ANUAC 5(1), pp. 5-23

Monaghan, John. and Just, Peter. 2000. Social & Cultural Anthropology: A Very Short Introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Katherine Riley on Flawed Ethics

“Anthropologists are bound in principle to study objectively, to cause no harm, and to contribute as little as possible to change. Yet, as is well known, we do intrude in a thousand ways, demanding a lot and leaving detritus in our wake. We plunge into our hosts’ social lives in order to stave off hunger as well as to decipher the local codes of social interaction. As anyone who has done this knows, our best attempts to practice our discipline ethically are inevitably flawed” (Riley 2013, p. 123)


Riley, K.C. 2013. Learning to Exchange Words for Food in the Marquesas. In L. Coleman (ed), Food: Ethnographic Encounters (pp. 111-126). London: Bloomsbury.

Anthropology and Conservation

Although it may seem counterintuitive that the foremost influences on the success of environmental policy could be social, conservation interventions are the product of human decision-making processes and require changes in human behavior to succeed” (Mascia et al 2003, p. 649)

Today more than ever the work of conservationists must rely on the expertise of social scientists like anthropologists. Too many failed conservation projects owe their demise to plans that, while well-intended, did not understand local cultural dynamics and institutions. Conservation often relies on human behavior change, and it is social scientists that are best equipped to guide these changes.

“Ultimately, if the social sciences were truly mainstreamed in conservation, the presence of an anthropologist or a political scientist on a project team would be as commonplace and unremarkable as that of a botanist or an ornithologist” (Mascia et al 2003, p. 650)

(If anybody knows of any conservation organizations looking to hire an anthropologist, I’m currently seeking employment, hint, hint…!)


Mascia, Michael B., Brosius, Peter J., Dobson, Tracy A., Forbes, Bruce C., Horowitz, Leah, McKean, Margaret A., and Turner, Nancy J. 2003. “Conservation and the Social Sciences.” Conservation Biology, 17(3), pp. 649-650.

Mehana Vaughan on the Abundance of Kaua’i

“Newcomers see the abundance of Kaua’i, where tropical fruits dangle from trees, as idyllic. Kuleana–the hard work, relationships, and balance of giving more than one takes–on which such abundance is built goes unseen. In reality, bountiful lifestyles depend on a community of families who share the bounty of their varied skills and care for one another. Much of this work is unseen or not recognized as work, such as hours spent watching the movement of schools of fish. Yet, this work is nonetheless critical to community well-being, survival, and abundance” (Vaughan 2018, p. 78).

I myself am a newcommer to Hawai’i (I am currently volunteering on a local coffee farm on the Big Island), and I find myself struggling with my dual roles of tourist and anthropologist (or well-informed visitor). Just the other night ten or so boats floated in the nearshore waters of Keauhou, lights illuminating the dark sea. Manta rays swam below. The boats bring tourists to swim with the rays at night. The woman I work for, who grew up fishing, hunting and gathering in this same region on the Big Island of Hawai’i, remarked that the poor rays would not be able to feed properly because of all the commotion and attention. I was torn between two contradictory feelings – firstly that it would be amazing to dive with rays at night, and secondly, that the tourism industry here has altered the natural environment drastically and continues to do so.

As a tourist, I do see this land as idyllic. The lush mountainside and the never-ending blue expanse of the sea are so different from the flatness of Minnesota, where I grew up. We eat fresh avocado every day and the air is heavy with the smell of flowers. But it is important to realize that this land has indeed been managed and cultivated, since the time that Polynesians first arrived here. And these fruit trees and flowers are mostly imported species in which people have worked hard to nurture. The ocean and its species have been cared for throughout time as well. The tourism industry benefits from the cultural obligations of responsibility, sharing and knowledge, that have protected and nurtured these landscapes, but the industry does not necessarily reciprocate and follow the same ideals. The islands are marketed as untouched, raw beauty, and tourists are often ignorant of the generations of people who have cared for and sustained this “paradise.” Furthermore, the marketing of these islands as a paradise have caused many wealthy mainland Americans to flock to these lands, purchasing plots for exorbitant prices. Because of this, the taxes on surrounding properties rise, making it difficult for local families to keep their traditional lands.

Vaughan’s book is about community on the island of Kaua’i, which has some important differences to the Big Island and the Kona region where I am located, but the themes and messages of the book remain relevant. Vaughan speaks to the importance of respecting resources and sharing the abundances of the island. She also notes the importance of knowledge and understanding the natural world in order to properly protect and nourish it. She also stresses the struggles that native Hawaiians have faced over the years. For any tourists on their way to Hawaii, I would recommend this book as it is easily enjoyed by both anthropologists and non-anthropologists and touches on some important issues that every tourist should be aware of.


Vaughan, Mehana B. 2018. Kaiāulu: Gathering Tides. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State Univ. Press.

Conversations with Teifituteiki (2/2) – On Getting Old

“He says he had three boats. They were there, he went fishing, he taught his children. He taught his children how to fish, and after awhile he started to get old, alone. And there you go, he stopped fishing a little bit. But, for the morale, he still has the morale to go fishing! Oh yes, he still has the morale. It is enough if somebody comes to find him, ‘Let’s go fishing.’ He will go. He will not wait. He gets up, and he prepares.”

Fishing is often not just a livelihood for Marquesans, but also a pastime. Many fishers talk about “la maladie de la pêche,” or the fishing illness, in which fishers “go crazy” if they haven’t been out on the sea in awhile. As fishers get older, it becomes harder to get out fishing–especially in villages like Hanatetena, where the sea is often rough–but, they often can’t shake the deeply ingrained longing that a true Marquesan fisher will always have inside.

Teifituteiki walks up the road towards the church in Hanatetena.

Original French:

Il disait, il avait trois bateaux. Etait la, il ete a la pêche, il a appris ces enfants. Appris ces enfants pratiquer la pêche, et puis après il a commencé etre vieil, seul. Et voila, il a un peu arrêter la pêche. Mais, pour la morale, il a toujours la morale de aller a la pêche! Ah oui, il a toujours la morale. Il suffit que quelqu’un vient le chercher, ‘on va a la pêche’ s’aller. Il va pas attendre. Il se lève, et il se prépare.