At the Wedding Party

Not at a wedding, but a nice photo of a sweet lady with a traditional drum.

(written on 30 June)

The music downstairs shakes the windows and my tongue is still numb from drinking boiling hot coffee. Yes, it’s wedding season in Dhiban. As seasonal visitors to this large town we inevitably become enmeshed in the local social scene and attend at few weddings each season. After slinging a pickaxe all day the absolutely last thing I want to do is go to a wedding, but they are socially awkward to avoid.

It seems that a lot of people liked the post Haram at the Beach, so I thought I’d open up another tiny little window into Jordan–the local wedding parties. The definitive work on this subject has been done by Jennifer Jacobs, and I can only provide a faint ghost of her analysis, based mostly on what she’s told me and what I’ve been able to pick up on my own.

As an ajanibia athar (foreign woman archaeologist – probably misspelled) I always feel scruffy when I attend a wedding, especially since the unmarried women there are out of their burqas and dressed to the nines in tight-fitting club gear and blingin’ high heels. The married women are still dressed up, but are covered, and the old ladies are mostly in full black. There aren’t any men–they have their own party, ostensibly guarding the house by drinking coffee in a tent nearby. After greeting the bride (more about her later) we are served several rounds of flaming hot coffee to start–it’s a special green bedouin coffee that tastes like a strong herbal tea and is served by the hostess out of a thermos into one or two cups. She stands over you as you drink it, and you are expected to drink it in a single gulp. It is bad form to serve cold coffee, so it’s always scalding. After you burn the entire interior of your mouth, you shake the cup, indicating that she can move on to serve/burn the next person. Then there are rounds of tea and sweets and I usually try to sit next to a really old lady so that we can pretend to understand one another while we engage in small talk. My Arabic is still completely awful, but I can at least exchange pleasantries.

After sitting and drinking tea for a while, the Persian pop starts thumping and the unmarried women dance with each other. There is some circle dancing and ululation, but it is club-like dancing for the most part. The dancing can get mildly risque, which can be strange with women you don’t really know and hardly ever see out of their veils. The bride sits on a big, overstuffed chair on a platform several feet above the action. At the couple I’ve been to she often looks bored and mildly distressed and is dressed in the most unbelievable sequin-Barbie concoction with sky-high heels and intense make-up. We dance for her, and sometimes she comes down to dance with us. An interesting side note–I was wearing a big scarf to make one of my short-sleeve shirts less “risque” but the scarf was triumphantly torn off of me, not once but twice now. The comfort and security of being around all women and being able to show bare arms and legs was an extraordinary feeling.

Anyway, after some dancing and awkward chit-chat with older ladies, the groom’s female relations come in, chanting their acceptance of the bride into the family. It’s a very moving scene and the chanting is interspersed with ululation. This chanting happens off and on throughout the night, and is accompanied by fantastic drumming. I’m told that the chants are customized for each occasion with specific references to the bride and her circumstances.

Throughout all of this, there are some great intergenerational interactions going on. There are always hoards of little kids around, getting in the way and begging for attention, but generally just running around in a big pack and enjoying themselves. The younger married women sit inside the diwwan (receiving room) and frown. If you talk to any one of them, they’ll instantly break into a smile and be chatty, but the default is a look of general disapproval. The old ladies are all outside of the hot diwwan, sitting in chairs in long rows and hectoring the small children and chatting with each other. They are my favorite, and before I sit down with one of the ladies I’ll exchange several kisses on alternate cheeks with them. I used to be confused with the whole cheek kissing thing in Turkey and England, with one, two, or three kisses given, but this is just a long series of kisses until either party seems to want to stop. There’s probably some order to it, but I generally lose count after five. Quite a few of the older ladies have facial tattoos, and a few of them have gone through a curious set of motions with me, touching each of their tattoos and touching the corresponding place on my face, like they are transferring them to me. They also quite like holding my hand and pinching my cheeks. After the relentless negative attention from men we ajanib attar get while walking down the street, it can be quite comforting to be with the women in their own environment.

So the night winds down, and the next day the bride is taken to the groom’s house for a small, informal marriage ceremony. After living in this world of women’s world of sisters and grandmothers it seems like it might be scary to move into a man’s household, but I’ve never asked. I just go to the women’s parties, drink hot tea, dance, and watch the summer wedding fireworks that dot the horizon.

Why do people litter?


It’s hard to escape it in the Middle East–loads of garbage lining the streets, blowing across the desert, and covering the beaches.  I was surprised at how shocked and outraged I was the first time I saw people casually throwing large bags and empty bottles out their car windows–we are fairly well-indoctrinated in the States against that sort of behavior, outside of smokers who still toss their butts on the ground.  I try to carry a plastic bag with me to the archaeological sites I visit so that I can pick up at least some of the trash, but it feels pretty futile.

Like any good anthropology nerd, I started doing a little bit of research.  I realized that while we research trash exclusively as archaeologists, there isn’t a whole lot about modern attitudes toward trash beyond William Rathje’s Garbology.  (As a side note, Rosemary Joyce mentions the excavation of Spoerri’s “Lunch Under the Grass” over on the Berkeley Blog – I have to look into the project!)

In the journal Waste Management–and it thrills me beyond all belief that there is such a thing, I mean, they have articles on food waste as a peat fuel replacement and the physico-chemical and calorific values of poultry manure! Pure gold!–there is an article on solid waste management in Jordan by H.A. Abu Qdais cites the increase in population and life-style pressures combined with lack of funding from individual municipalities as exacerbating Jordan’s problems, especially in large metropolitan areas.  Still, this does not explain behavior in a very satisfying way.

In Fall of 2008, Keizer, Lindenberg, and Steg published a fascinating study in Science about disorder, crime, graffiti, and the Broken Window Theory.  As it is taught in most intro Sociology and Anthropology classes, Broken Window Theory (or BWT) is a familiar concept, introduced by Wilson and Kelling in the early 1980s and used in the 1990s to clean up New York.  Basically, if there are existing signs of neglect or vandalism, more neglect and vandalism will follow.  This concept has been hotly debated in social science ever since.  The Science article, The Spreading of Disorder, describes six field experiments that specifically test the BWT, providing high correlations between visual (and audio!) disorder and the increase in bad behavior, including littering and even theft.  So if you are surrounded by garbage already, according to this article, you are much more likely to litter.  Indeed, you are more likely to behave poorly in general!

This all seems a bit too easy though.  Richard Sampson’s publication Disparity and Diversity in the Contemporary City: Social (Dis)order revisited (freely available!) claims that these perceptions of disorder are contextually shaped by social conditions and that “Seeing disorder…is intimately bound up with social meaning at the collective level and ultimately inequality.”  In other words, if signs of disorder are not perceived and evaluated negatively, it’s not seen as a problem.  So it’s possible (maybe even probable) that the trash just isn’t seen in the same negative light.

I would be more inclined to believe that had I not witnessed the constant maintenance of the sidewalks in front of shops by shopkeepers.  They are always sweeping and spraying down the sidewalks, pushing trash into gutters. So could it be a differing perception of personal space and civic responsibility? Now we’re getting back into the realm of archaeology.  Hodder’s classic The meaning of discard: ash and domestic space in Baringo describes differing discard patterns among the Baringo in Kenya and how discard is linked intimately with social interactions. (PS: Hodder, you have lots of students, assign one of them to link your publication off-prints to your webpage–it’s the nice thing to do.)

This has gotten too long for a blog post and I want to go for a swim, so I’ll try to wrap it up.  How would we stop people from throwing trash around? Would more trash receptacles help? A nation-wide campaign like Don’t Mess With Texas, the incredibly successful 1980s anti-litter slogan that everyone outside of Texas thinks is just another expression of Texas machismo? Better drinking water so that everyone doesn’t constantly use bottled water?  I’m not sure.

Any ideas?

Haram at the Beach

Dead Sea Family by Lisa

Last night I watched the sun set over four countries. Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are all visible from the beach on the Red Sea south of Aqaba and I had plenty of time to contemplate geopolitical vagaries as I dug my toes into the sand.  A hot wind was blowing in from the Jordanian desert and I watched the various families settle in around me.  The beach is a liminal zone in Muslim countries, where negotiations of culture, politics, and religion come into high relief.

The public beaches at the Red Sea, the Dead Sea, and the Turkish coast of the Mediterranean all have their own particular local mores and acceptable configurations of the highly contested terrain of women’s bodies.  Haram is a very rough equivalent of the word “sinful” in Arabic.  As a Western lady working in the Middle East, I hear it a lot. Pork is haram, chicken is not haram, exposing one’s hands may or may not be haram.  At first I tried fairly hard to figure out how to behave and dress respectfully, but it is contingent on so many factors that it is incredibly difficult–probably impossible since I am foreign anyway. Even my most conservative mosque-going wear was rejected at the Great Mosque in Damascus and I had to put on an Orko-like cloak to enter.  So now I just do what I can in most situations to not draw too much attention to myself, with one notable exception: The Beach. I wear a regular swimsuit and get stared at, but there are usually enough other scantily-clad foreigners to soften the impact. My tattoos also attract attention, perhaps only slightly more than on Western beaches where people pretend not to notice.

Anyway, I will always remember the first time I saw a conservative young couple come to the beach. She was dressed in a full burqa and niqab (face-veil) and he was in short swim trunks.  She sat down under and umbrella and fanned herself as he went splashing off into the sea.  He occasionally came back to check on her, but otherwise she just sat there, sweating in the 50 C heat.

Since then I have seen this same scenario played out several times, with different age-ranges in different states of dress.  I’ve only seen the vaunted burkhini twice, both times on pre-teens who were passing through another liminal state, becoming a sexually mature (and therefore covered) woman.

So it was a familiar scene last night, a woman with her husband and four children, she completely covered and the rest of the family ready for the beach.  She sat in the sand while her husband played with the children and splashed around.  A scholar that was more sympathetic would probably say that she was still the nucleus of the family, that she guarded with the rest of the beach gear, but she seemed very much forgotten in all of the fun.  So, to my surprise, she started playfully throwing rocks at her family and they giggled and dodged the rocks.  This continued until after sunset, when she finally hiked up her burqa and waded into the surf up to her knees.  I looked around and saw that many women were doing this semi-covert dusk activity and that couples were drawing closer together in the dim light of shisha coals.  There’s been daytime swimming as well, women being held tight by their husbands while their burqa swirls around them.  I guess it might not be so different than when I wore a t-shirt to the pool as a self-conscious little kid.

I think I will continue to find beaches in Muslim countries fascinating for both the changing ideas of how women should dress and how foreigners are integrated into the social scene.

Kroeber Anthropological Society – The University in Crisis

The UC Berkeley anthropology grad student journal put out a new issue and one of my photos is on the cover! I gave them four photos and they picked the photo above. The quality seems a bit low and it’s pretty dark–I wonder if I accidentally gave them a lower rez version.  Anyway, there it is!  It’s a very solid issue as well:

The KAS Journal is the oldest graduate student-run anthropology journal
in the country. Since 1950, it has published scholarly articles in all
anthropology subdisciplines and in related fields that are of theoretical
and practical interest. Internationally renowned and peer-reviewed, the
journal is published twice a year.

Issue 98:  “The University in Crisis”
Revolution at Berkeley: September 1964 – December 1964: An Excerpt from “We Still Have a Dream”
Bethany Slentz

Understanding the True Realities and Politics of Higher Education Funding in California
Stanton  A. Glantz

The University in Crisis: Public Good or Private Good?
Laura Nader

Centralized Power in the UC Board of Regents
Katherine Jamison-Alward

Cuts to the UC and the Unraveling of the American Dream
Alan H. Schoenfeld

A Better Plan for the University of California’s Future
Charles Schwartz

The Habit of Courage
Nancy Scheper-Hughes

When Batons Beat Books: A Study of the UCPD as an Arm of the Administration
Waseem Salahi

SOLIDARITY: Not in My Name
Ananya Roy

Curiosity under Attack: The Anatomy of an Anti-Critical University
Gregg Sparkman

Laurie Wilkie and the Archaeology of Mardi Gras Beads

"Mardi Gras, beads at the ready", a CC licensed photo from Kevin King

Yesterday I attended one of the department’s 290 lectures, Disentangling Beads:  A Contemporary Archaeology of Mardi Gras, presented by Laurie Wilkie and it was a lot of fun.  Laurie has been working on her collection for a decade, collecting beads and finding fascinating trends and shifts in what seems like a trivial trinket.  She’s observed “bead bleed,” a phenomenon where Mardi Gras-esque beads have begun to sprung up at sporting events, St. Patrick’s Day, and even in Breast Cancer Marathons.

The material and originating location of the beads has changed over the years from Czech glass beads, to occupied Japanese and German glass, to Hong Kong plastic, and has undergone a remarkable shifts in size even within the last ten years.  She was able to demonstrate diffusion of these beads from one parade to the next, even between cities in Louisiana, pre and post Hurricane Katrina.

Perhaps my favorite part of the talk though was her discussion of how uniquely archaeological her study was, and she gave one of the most cogent “defenses” of contemporary archaeology that I have heard yet–when a socio-cultural anthropology professor in the crowd stated “well, in India they use plastic prayer beads to evoke the goddess and it doesn’t matter that they are plastic….” I wanted to answer her myself!  It DOES matter that they are made out of plastic. By foregrounding the materiality of the objects you are able to query practices and cultural interactions in a way that can be invisible through more traditional ethnographic study.

Further, she made a fairly incisive remark regarding actor network theory and asymmetrical archaeology being too tidy at times to explain the complications and seeming chaos of the past.  All in all, a great talk, and I’m looking forward to her upcoming book on the topic.

Dead Birds and Penis Sheaths

Part of grad student professionalization as nascent professors is developing your own class syllabi.  I already have a bit of experience in this from teaching Ancient World History at San Quentin, and Ruth allows a fair amount of my input into the classes we teach together.  Still, it’s good to have a few stock syllabi, especially for job applications and the like.

I’ve been trying to develop a syllabus for a class I’d really like to teach and this involves watching a lot (more) ethnographic films.  I’ve seen quite a few already, but access to these films is restricted at UC – we have to go into the media room and watch them in uncomfortable little cubicles.  Needless to say, my further research has been fairly limited.  That is, until UC gained trial access to Alexander Street Press’ Ethnographic Video Online.  It’s a pay model, but I’m really pleased with the format and the interactive follow-along transcript accompanying the movie.  Our trial access runs until May 4th and I hope it is extended, but in the meantime I’ve been soaking up as much ethnographic film as I can stomach.

Earlier this week I watched Robert Gardener’s 1964 classic Dead Birds. He filmed it among the Dani of West Papua, who at the time he characterized as having an “almost Neolithic culture.”  The film follows a day-in-the-life-of narrative structure, following the lives of a Dani man, woman, and child.  The narrative is done entirely in voice-over, with Robert Gardener’s solemn, commanding voice telling us the inner dialogues and motivations that drive the on-screen action of these people.  He notably characterizes the child Pua as being lazy, smaller, and more awkward than his playmates.  Poor Pua.

In 2007, Robert Gardener released a book about the film, Making Dead Birds, which includes his extensive notes while taking the film, along with an amazing collection of letters and photographs of his time with the Dani.  It reveals the impact that his stay had on the people, and of the reactions they had to his film, many years later.  In all, it’s a great resource, especially for the class that I’m planning.

One small consideration that adds to the challenge of teaching this material is the Dani’s gourd penis sheaths.  They’re pretty standard ethnographic fare–Peter Ucko published a comparative study of them in 1969 that is a classic (and at times hilarious) study of material culture.  They are a somewhat distracting feature of the film, with different morphological details and attachment schemes sometimes upstaging the interaction between people.  A higher-minded anthropologist would probably disdain my distraction, but it brings to mind cultivation strategies, processing times, and the possibility of even recognizing such a thing archaeologically.  So, Dead Birds makes the cut. I hope I get the chance to teach it!

Four Stone Hearth #80

If you follow 1-80 for 2,900 miles, you end up in New York.

While much of the world has already woken up, drank their coffee and read the newsp….er, checked out news online, it’s 6am here in California and time for a new Four Stone Hearth! I like the big, round numbers in our honored series, having hosted Four Stone Hearth #60 just a little while ago. So let’s start!

For those of you thinking of hitching your way down FSH80, you might be relieved to know that thumbs are not required for tool use among animals. Michelle over at SpiderMonkeyTales disputes the anatomical linkage to a perceived exclusive use of tools by humans and chimpanzees. Thumbs? Who needs ’em?

A few other pieces from our friends who study our more or less distant cousins, a discussion of the Science article regarding chimpanzee and human amino acids from John Hawks and from Ed Yong. A Primate of Modern Aspect has a post on The third trochanter and gluteus maximus of Ardipithecus and what they tell us about locomotion. Sadly, Eric Michael Johnson comes along to put poor Ardi in her place, with Breaking the Chain: Ardipithecus is not a Missing Link. Finally, Ad Hominin zeros in on the fascination with the forehead and the differences between us, Homo erectus, and Neandertals in Full Frontal Hominins.

Influenza porcina en México by Sarihuella.

Only one submission from our friends in the Socio-Cultural realm this edition: Krystal D’Costa’s Anthropology in Practice takes on issues of authority and knowledge in the modern day in her posts Much Ado About the (Swine) Flu and Minerva Revealed: Questions of Authority in a Digital World.  I hadn’t heard of the Korean financial guru “Minerva,” but I constantly encounter anthropologists who are worried about interpretive authority and authorship online, so it was a good read.

Junction of US 64 and US 160, Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, from Gambler's House

Plenty from the archaeologists, however–we’re a bit talky, I suppose.  Gambler’s House has a long, lovely photo essay and discussion of Pueblo and Navajo identity, past and present. Farther north, Northwest Coast Archaeology tackles a controversial CRM Problem in Cadboro Bay. Apparently a builder had an archaeological assessment performed on land that had a lot of archaeological sites, and then completely ignored the report and built anyway. It will be interesting to see how this case develops.

Martin, the pater familias of FSH, blogs about a curious statue that was found by metal detectorists in Denmark. Is it Odin? No, it’s Freya!

One of my colleagues responded to my call for blog posts on Facebook with this entry about the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq and their changing way of life.

Finally, in what is perhaps a first, a facebook blog post from John Bartram about a British bank who is now investing in the treasure-hunting firm, Odyssey Marine Exploration. Has the financial world come completely unglued?

Oh, hey, it’s already 7:30!  People in England have just started to think about their first beers of the day, and the sun has fully set in Abu Dhabi, so I should get this posted.  I hope you have enjoyed this edition of Four Stone Hearth, look for the carnival next time at Spider Monkey Tales.

Four Stone Hearth 80 – Call for Submissions

Broken Heart, by Phoenix Daily Photo

I’m hosting the next Four Stone Hearth on November 18th, please send your submissions to me:

For this edition, it would be nice to get a lot of photos with captions! I need some inspiration–my camera hasn’t seen much use lately.

Four Stone Hearth 79 was hosted at

Linguistics and Nerd Cadence

Geek Girl Blogger
"Geek Girl Blogger" - normalized nerd performance?

I’ve always been a little curious about what I’ve informally called “nerd cadence.”  Probably best typified by the “Comic Book Guy” on the Simpsons TV show, nerd cadence is a form of ultra-precise, highly melodic speech with clipped enunciation that is performed in communities of self-identified nerds or geeks.  Like most people, I’ve encountered it off and on over the years, and it was in full force at the new Star Trek movie showing in Emeryville last week.  Finally, in a fit inspired by Final Cut crashing on me for the third time I decided to look it up.  My knowledge of linguistic anthropology is weak at best, but I was able to find a few sources in pretty short order.

First, I found out that what I had called “nerd cadence” was termed “superstandard English.”  In her article, “The Whiteness of Nerds: Superstandard English and Racial Markedness” (and also in earlier article, “Why be normal?”: Language and identity practices in a community of nerd girls”) Mary Bucholtz calls the performance of superstandard English “central to nerdy practice… (there) is a particular emphasis on language as a resource for the production of an intelligent and nonconformist identity.”  Superstandard English draws on both ideological and linguistic motivations, “contrast(ing) linguistically with Standard English in its greater use of ‘supercorrect’ linguistic variables: lexical formality, carefully articulated phonological forms, and prescriptively standard grammar” to distinguish the speaker from the umarked colloquial standard English and non-standard English.  Bucholtz goes on to note the particular lack of current slang, and found that it was one of the “rare instances when the nerdy teenagers (she) spoke to were willing to admit to ignorance.” I wonder how much of that has changed with the growing prevalence of the internet and nerd culture.

Bucholtz frames a lot of her article in terms of the black/white racial divide at the Bay Area high school where she performed her research. This is particularly interesting to me, as I took an Urban Anthropology class with John Hartigan in…2002 (?) at the height of research on “whiteness” and have recommended The Possessive Investment in Whiteness and How the Irish Became White to several of my students who professed a perceived lack of ethnic identity. (Hartigan was great, but I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for making me read The Future of Us All, Sanjek’s mind-numbing ethnography of the inner workings of meetings in a New York city district.  Zoning laws.  Parking meters. Ugh.)  Anyway, nerds, Bucholtz writes, “inhabited an ambiguous racial position at Bay City High: they were the whitest group but not the prototypical representatives of whiteness.”  They were “not normal because they were too normal.” They were not “white because they were too white.”

So, anyway, I looked up some of Mary Bucholtz’s newer work and she is currently studying “The Development of Scientist Identities and the Retention of Undergraduate Women in Science Majors,” funded by the NSF. Hey, cool.

Any thoughts?

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