Write an essay comparing the merits of fieldwork and armchair theory, with reference to the anthropologist’s rite of passage into fieldwork. Incorporate at least 3 ethnographies into your discussion.
Malinowski’s fieldwork among the TrobriandersResearch methods in cultural anthropology are different in various ways compared to those used in the 19th century. Most anthropologists that exist today collect intensive information through fieldwork method. Fieldwork method involves going to the field of interest, so as to learn the cultural practices and beliefs of a given group of people through direct observation. With the used of fieldwork method, the anthropologist will have a long-term interaction and experience with a given group of people and their way of life. With the use of this method, an anthropologist will have the opportunity to immerse him or herself in a given culture and observe the cultural activities of the native people
Fieldwork is such an effective way of gathering information about a culture by involving themselves in the culture; the anthropologists can study the culture’s functions while having informants to clarify to them the significance of the different rituals and beliefs. The worth of fieldwork is its ability to get a very in-depth and close analysis of culture. This allows the anthropologist to experience more fully the culture and its rituals and traditions. However, armchair anthropology was not a passive pursuit, with the minimal analytical reflection that simply analyzed the materials of the past anthropologists. It was also detached from the activities of informants who were collecting and recording data in the field.
Fieldwork method is best-known mans for undertaking cultural research, however, this method faced by some challenges. For instance, the presence of an anthropologist in a given field may change the daily lives of the people involved. For instance in the book Number Our Days, Barbar Myerhoff, an anthropologist, is looked upon as an educated woman who should be shown great honor and respect by the central people. However the fact that she only spent too much time with one person compared to other people in the same culture. Others assumed this as discrimination and hence Barbar Myerhoff could not extract important information from that population has some had already developed a bad attitude towards her. She, therefore, influenced this people’s response and normal behavior, and the potential of fieldwork was not fully utilized in this context. This is not the case in armchair anthropological methods as one does not have direct contact with the people he is expected to source information from (Sillitoe, Paul, &Young Par 4)
British anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski played a major role in developing the primary methods of anthropological fieldwork; Malinowski is also known as the father for functionalist school. He carried out his anthropological fieldwork among the Trobriand Islanders and managed to collect detailed information about the culture of Trobriand Islanders, for instance, he collected extensive information about the people’s marriage activities, trade, religious customs, language, cultural beliefs among others. Malinowski is widely known for his classic books that include The sexual life of Savages in The North- Western Melanesia (1929), Crime and Custom in Savage Society (1926) as well as Magic, Science, and Religion and Other Essays (1948). He managed to make other developments in the fieldwork methods, for instance, his ideas of sociological and psychological fields of inquiry from an evolutionary focus. He also argued that the level of cognitive reasoning is similar, despite the ones’ educational or social background.(Marcus George par5)According to him, both primitive people and people from advanced ideas were in a position to give the same level of cognitive ideas. He also argued that, going to the exact people of interest for anthropological information, is the only way to first-hand information, that is free from any manipulation or any other self-interest (Sillitoe, Paul, &Young Par 4-6)
Malinowski did not wholly introduce the idea of fieldwork. However, his careful and brilliant observations and studies help in popularizing the importance of fieldwork. His work can be compared with that of his American counterpart. Franz Boas. They both emphasized the significance of an anthropologist to immerse him or herself into deeply into native languages or language. He believed in the aspect of studying the daily life and recording what the tribe or native people said about marriage customs, trade relationships, sexual practices or religious beliefs he also believed in measuring the impact of these cultural activities on their daily lives. (Marcus George par 6)
Malinowski, continued with his process of fieldwork method, together with his students and he was able to expose the significance of the use of field work over armchair method. The past anthropologists like Sir James Frazer and Lewis Henry Morgan, who embraced the use of armchair methods were wrong in many ways. For instance, their argument that all that all societies passed through similar and predictable stages and order along a linear trajectory was not true, Malinowski with his intensive research discovered that societies were diverse and more difficult to predict or comprehend, and the value of diversity was greater than what the past anthropologists had found out. (Norick, Frank Albert & Malinowski Par 2-3)
Since Malinowski had an intensive interaction with the people in the Trobriand Islands, he was able to realize that superstitious savages were given more value, and the native people were ready to protect the purity of what they believed about their culture, in fact, more than how the missionaries and colonialists had interpreted it. For instance, he discovered that religious practices and tribal marriages were of great significance regarding the health functioning of the community. These practices played a vital role in community cohesion, trade, and social stability. He discovered that the people of the Trobriand Islanders opted to magic rituals to control their fear and carry out any risky activity ahead of them. For instance, they always performed magic rituals before going out to for fishing in a risky ocean that encompassed the danger of sharks, drowning unpredictable waves and other difficulties out there. Therefore, with the use of fieldwork method, Malinowski was able to learn that the Trobriand Islanders believed in their ritual activities in matters that were beyond their material control. These ritual practices also allowed for direct involvement of the community members in social and economic activities. (Malinowski pg 16)
Despite the significant information that can be collected from fieldwork method as conducted by anthropologists, some information might vary from one person to another despite the fact that they live in the some society. Some people are prone to misinterpretation of cultural practices. For instance; one is likely to collect very different opinions about people’s perception on the issue of gay rights and abortion. The answers obtained will depend on these people’s cultural beliefs as well as their personal values and how they affect their thoughts on different cultural issues. There to avoid this problem one has to analyze the information that has been fairly collected and depend on the majority view so as to make a true conclusion. The fact that the anthropologist will have a direct interaction with the community involved, he or she can make a valid judgment and hence avoiding this challenge. The challenge is also not experienced in the armchair method, as the anthropologist will only focus on the documented information that most probably was manipulated to fit a certain context.
After collection process, with the use of fieldwork technique, the information obtained should be organized and driven in a way that can give a comprehensive understanding of the culture that the anthropologist has been studying. For example, similar information can have a different interpretation depending on whether the anthropologist is using is using either, “etic” or “emic” anthropological ideas. The “etic” method involves generalization of practices and traditions hence developing a conclusion that is more detached and less specific. The “emic” approach, on the other hand, involves direct involvement of the anthropologist in the process of understanding a certain culture as opposed to the creation of models that explain a particular culture. The armchair method, on the other hand, involves the dependence of the past analysis of the other anthropologists in the study of culture, this method is limited to change and updated information as it involves the circulation along what had already been researched and analyzed. (Weiner, Annette par 3)
Malinowski developed three elements of field methods of anthropology regarding culture. The first was staying with the people for an extended period will going round in the process of data collection. The second is learning the people’s local language, as extended his stay to two years in Trobriand and during this time, he managed to learn the language and be able to understand and speak the same language the native people used. This enabled him to avoid the language barriers involved in his field work process; the third element that he developed was the sense of community with the native people. This involved the participation in and the observation of the people daily life. (Weiner, Annette par 4)This prevented the influence of the diversity that existed between him and native people, it created a both friendly and open relationship with the people hence ensuring the information obtained is accurate, original and free from the influence of diverse backgrounds. He, therefore, made it easier for the upcoming anthropologists that were likely to be faced with the drawbacks of fieldwork methods. For instance, language barrier, social influence, and inaccurate information(Weiner, Annette par 4)
In the book The Argonauts of the Western Pacific by Bronislaw Malinowski, the author derives the contents of the book from his personal experiences with the natives; he had inter-personal experiences with them and utilized their native languages as a means of communication so as to avoid the inaccuracy that could be caused by language barriers. Moreover, Malinowski watched the natives as they worked and played and hence he managed to drive every single piece of information from the surest source. (Malinowski pg131) In his work, Malinowski came up with the theory of functionalism. Which involved the aspect of needs and responses, he argued that just like every human have biological, psychological and cultural needs to satisfy. He added that people use customs to satisfy their needs.
He related seven basic needs to their cultural responses, for instance. Reproduction of kinship, the movement to activities, growth to training, metabolism to commissariat (satisfying the need for food) and health to hygiene he made these splendid achievements because of perfect fieldwork skills. (Malinowski pg135) As he established himself in the Trobriand Islands he took part in normal village life, he attended and participated in festive events, he also paid attention to gossips and all developments of the village occurrence, and he always presented himself just like any native could do. He managed to draft an academically acceptable work has he could combine a description of ethnographic facts with theory. This idea was contrary to what armchair anthropologists believed in. They had the notion that facts could be explained later by someone else; it is a limitation of armchair methods as the challenge of inaccuracy or misinterpretation is likely to occur as particular information is passed to various people. (Malinowski pg 14) From the introductory part of Argonauts of the Western Pacific, it is noted that Malinowski studied different aspects of ethnography and with methods like documentation of concrete evidence like maps, charts, synoptic tables among others, recording data in a native language and ethnographic diary. (Malinowski pg 4) In his work, he included every detail that that could bring out a picture of the society in question. He observed the native’s daily life and recorded the information obtained in a questions and answer method. He filed the natives’ interactions, hostility or friendship, moreover, the fact that he could speak the native language, he managed to follow conversations among the natives, and he could, therefore, take notes rapidly in dialect. (Malinowski pg 16) In his research, he outlined the Trobriand kinship systems, economy, ceremonies, beliefs, political institutions so as to expound on the tradition of valuable exchange also called Kula. He used the information obtained from the Kula system to clarify on social concepts. (Malinowski pg136) He was, therefore, able to analyze the facts and relate them to the existing theories on culture by himself, unlike the armchair anthropologists who depended on a second party so as to complete their anthropologist work. (Malinowski pg 143)
Piers Vitebsky’s fieldwork among the SoraThere are many small-scale societies that exist in the world. Some of the societies are illiterate. How can we then access information about them? The only way that we can access information about them is through an ethnography, which is written by an anthropologist. Ethnographies, however, date quickly and later generations may fail to understand the work that was done earlier. Anyway, a substantial source of information should be from an ethnography that has credible fieldwork. The life of societies changes over time. If an anthropologist carries out a re-study of a society, there are high chances that he or she may get different information from earlier works. This is because a new experience is meeting the society. For instance, a cross-examination of Evans-Prichard’s work on the Neur and Sharon Hutchinson’s work on the same presents differences. Evans-Prichard’s fieldwork holds its closure. (Folklore.ee par 4)
Piers Vitebsky first arrived at Sora in 1975. Sora was among the societies in the central and eastern India that were highly regarded as tribal. He found rugged people who were clad in loincloths. They lived in a dense jungle. The color of their artifacts looked similar to that of the earth or resembled dried vegetations from which they were made. The society practiced a form of communication with the dead. This communication between the living and the dead was the most elaborate and communication of its kind ever to be documented in the world. The dead spoke in a trance through female shamans. The living and the dead spent years together and engaged in dialogue that articulated the various unspoken emotional needs of the two sides and also resolved any interpersonal needs among them. (Vitebsky pg 256)
The living and dead among the Sora had a means to confirm the resolution of the interpersonal tensions among the two. This was done through the recycling of the names. The names of the dead would be recycled by naming the new-born descendants the same names. An open-ended negotiation characterized the dialogues. Piers Vitebsky was interested in studying shamanism. The interest took him further to Siberia. Here, he worked with the Eveny that was a semi-nomadic reindeer herding society. Shaman originated from Eveny’s language. The Sora, as well as the Eveny, was amongst the remotest societies in their countries. Piers Vitebsky described his fieldwork in the two communities to be a magical one, with each of them dazzling his memory with a mythical baseline. (Vitebsky pg 244)
Human beings are known to modify their surroundings. The physical universe also acts upon the human beings. The human beings are therefore linked to the world through a circuit of activities. Both humans and their surroundings depend on each other in attaining full identity or their meaning. The mutual dependency could be used to characterize the avant-garde ecological position. It also describes the shamanic view where everything may be permeated with spirit. The animals, plants, rocks, rain and wind are all imbued with spirits. The idea of understanding any system of belief is an insightful theological as well as the psychological problem. The shamanic thinking translated a spirit as the essence of any phenomenon. For instance, it is what made an animal an animal. The spirit could also mean consciousness. All creatures possess the consciousness that is similar to that of humans. (Vitebsky pg 260)
Spirits exist own their own. Despite existing on their own, they can act deliberately upon humans, causing events in their lives. The spirits can decide to love humans, nourish them and also feel compassion. They, however, have emotions and needs as well. They can be hungry, jealous or proud. For this, they can decide to attack humans, eat them or drive them mad. Such religious sensibility provides a means for the spirits to act upon the world. Shamanism is both a practical and also pragmatic religion and rather not a mystical one. The consciousness of the spirits can merge into that of human beings. The soul of a human being becomes a spirit after death. Death may turn a human into an ancestor or an elemental spirit. The soul may be in the form of a body. According to the Sora, a soul has contaminated itself in the body. It, therefore, assumes the same shape of the body that it fills. (Vitebsky 259)
The Sora’s shamanic logic started from the fact that a soul can leave a body. This is something that happens at death. The experience of dreaming is considered by societies that practice shamanism as one where a soul can wander around independently and return to the body without resulting in death. The shamanic societies, therefore, see the flight of the soul during trance as a form of dreaming that is controlled, where shamans are turned into other forms of controlled technique. Most people believe that humans could possess many souls. One soul wanders, and represents the consciousness or personality of the person. The other soul is responsible for the purpose of maintaining the functioning of the metabolism of the body. The first soul has to return to ensure a long survival for the second one. Some societies in the Southeast Asia discouraged someone from awakening someone whose soul did not have time for a safe return as they considered it dangerous. (Vitebsky pg 182)
Piers Vitebsky returned to Sora society in 1992. No one from Sora had ever contacted his since his first encounter in the 1970s. Piers Vitebsky attributed this to the level of illiteracy among the Sora. His account of the dialogues with the dead had become fulfilling and was even acknowledged by psychoanalysts. He had however not foreseen the possibility of the practice ever changing. By the 1990s, the Sora young adults had taken in Hinduism and Christianity and were drawn into Indian politics. The young Sora only had Christian and Hindu pamphlets to read. Shamanist techniques were being repudiated and rapidly ceasing to exist. Piers Vitebsky had not foreseen such developments. The ancestor’s names were being abandoned replaced by a homogenized repertoire of biblical names. While the old regarded this as a heavy loss, the young ones saw it as a progressive move. (Vitebsky pg 190)
Piers Vitebsky discovered Eveny’s clear contrast to the Sora. The Eveny was not any different when Piers Vitebsky returned to their land. The Sora had greatly changed. However, the changed was spontaneous. No one was compelled to convert. At the same point, no one was punished if they failed to convert. Piers Vitebsky still believes that his Sora baseline about the practice of the living holding dialogue with the dead was psychologically accurate and that he understood the culture. He also believes that the loss of the culture was indeed a great loss of human achievement. He was influenced by the older British style that underlined the isolation of the ‘tribals’ from India’s mainstream. (Vitebsky pg 201)
Michael Harner has taken over the world on shamanism since Mircea Eliade’s death. He is an anthropologist by profession, and is considered to be a leader on the subject, and possess more authority than that of an armchair. Michael Harner was introduced into shamanism as he was conducting his fieldwork in the upper Amazon. He, therefore, learnt shamanism by first-hand. During his initiation, he had various visions. He is a teacher of shamanism and practices it as well. Michael Harner is one of the anthropologists with an added armchair authority on shamanism. Shamanic experienced is found to overlap with the theme of death. Harmer experienced an ego death, which is different from the physical death. Similar experiences have been reported in the past. For instance, Grof and Halifax (1977) had similar experiences in their early works.
Since initiation, Harner has been working in other shamanic traditions. He has realized that people can learn to journey without the use of powerful psychedelic drugs, despite their use in some cultures. He has been very helpful in availing shamanic techniques to most of the Western countries. He has played a role in revitalizing shamanism practice in other tribal cultures. He uses workshops to expose the Westerners to the shamanic practices. He has reported success with his shamanism students. Most of the students report that their journey experiences have been indeed real and different from fantasy or mere imagination. According to Michael Harner, anyone can engage in the practice with enough practice. He refers to his teachings as core shamanism. (Planetdeb.net par 5)
Sandra Ingerman is another armchair anthropologist. She is both a shaman and also an NDEer. Sandra, as one of the near-death experiences survivor reported having gone to a great blinding light. She described her work as the modern shaman, who helps people who suffer from losing their souls. In modern days, people lose their souls as a result of traumatic events that include incest, surgery, illness, miscarriage, addiction, abuse, verbal abuse, abortion or divorce. Even though the most suitable treatment for these disorders is by psychotherapy, Ingerman argued the aspect from the shamanic perspective. She indicated that lack of the aspect of personality being addressed; the effectiveness of psychotherapy is questionable. (Planetdeb.net par 7)
To retrieve a soul, the shaman must perform his or her task that is entering into nonordinary reality] and then locate the soul. Upon locating the soul, the shaman tries to convince it to return to its ordinary reality and, therefore, reintegrating with the person involved. Upon returning the parts of the souls, a shaman then blows the soul parts back into the individual’s body and seal them, which is done by rattling around the individual. Sandra helped a man known as David to regain his soul, and he continues to enjoy good health till today. (Planetdeb.net par 4)
By cross-examination of Vitebsky’s fieldwork with armchair-based studies, armchair-based studies are more involved in shamanism. In fact, most of the armchair-based studies involve practicing shamanism. This is different to the work of Piers Vitebsky, who studied the practice without taking part in it. Armchair-based studies involve greatly influence the spread of shamanism through their practice, for example, the works of Michael Harner and Sandra Ingerman. The armchair-based studies, however, tend to modernize the practice of shamanism. Michael Harner, for example, refers his teachings as core shamanism. Sandra Ingerman, on the other hand, refers to her work as a modern shaman. This is different from Piers Vitebsky whose aim was to learn the original practice of shamanism. (Shamanism.org par 3)
Early anthropologists such as Piers Vitebsky played a great role in obtaining firsthand information about the shamanism practice. Piers Vitebsky’s fieldwork makes his work a reliable source since he went to the field to collect the information. Fieldwork is more reliable again; we cannot downplay the role played by armchair studies. Their role in developing shamanism is of great importance. They modernize the early works by anthropologists and therefore add value to the earlier works. (Shamanism.org par 4)
Ronaldo’s fieldwork among the IlongotMichelle Rosaldo started her fieldwork among the Ilongot people in 1968. She was an anthropology graduate. She conducted his study together with her husband, Renato. Her main aim was to study headhunting. Her main aim was to provide a new insight basing it on the fact her Ilongot practiced headhunting until early years of the 20th Century. By the ninth month into her study, Ronaldo had realized that about 65 of 70 adult men among the Ilongot had taken one or more heads at the age of 20years and above. She sought to find out the explanation that was the Ilongot gave for the behavior despite their peaceful nature. They simply said that headhunting was an element of an emotional feeling. (Rosaldo pg 4)
Ilongot men said that headhunting was relevant whenever they were angry or underwent strong pressures. They, therefore, had to take a head to “carry their anger”. This was an explanation that an anthropologist could not elaborate. Even though the work of anthropologist is making other cultures intelligible, the Ilongot presented a case of more questions than answers. Rosaldo indicated that she did not understand the practice. She conducted her fieldwork at a span of thirty months. The Ilongot were hunters and also practiced agriculture. They hunted the wild pig and deer and cultivated rice, sweet potatoes, vegetables, and manioc. Headhunting was the main cultural practice among the peoples of Ilongot. (Seasite.niu.edu par 9)
The search for a better explanation took Rosaldo fourteen years. The young men’s explanation was that beheading a person enabled his to gain the spirit of the victim. This act would enable the young man to wear hornbill earrings and created respect among his elders. Headhunting also enabled someone to seek marriage from a woman. Another argument was that men had more passion than women since they traveled to different places. A man, therefore, needed to tame his passion, allow knowledge and encourage growth. According to the Ilongot, headhunting was essential in taming this passion. The spirits of the beheaded victims remained with the killers and could not harm them. The Ilongot believed that the victim’s spirits did not have any relationship with fertility or prosperity. To them, the act of beheading brings a feeling of excitement as well as admiration among the Ilongot young men. The act created the reputation of a person to his elders and easily attracted marriage partners. (Rosaldo pg 8)
Rosaldo compared Ilongot’s headhunting to expiatory sacrifice since headhunting is viewed to be a ritual with collective wisdom sign. A headhunter called the spirit of his potential victim and sought good omens from the spirits. The young men endured hunger and deprived themselves off important aspects of life for days when they wanted to set up a place where they would ambush a victim. Upon killing a victim, the headhunters would toss the victim’s head away. The act meant casting their life burdens away. Before a raid, one would hear a man saying that his burdens of life have made him heavy and entangled. A successful raid was accompanied by music and dance to celebrate the well-being. (Rosaldo pg 15)
Adult men got their motivation to headhunt from the loss of their loved ones. (R Rosaldo, 1984, pg. 16-31). Most headhunting raids were often conducted against people who had killed the loved ones, which one would easily misinterpret as vengeance or an act to create balance. (Rosaldo, 1984, pg. 3-4). The raids, therefore, reciprocated a headhunt of a loved one between families. Also, Ilongot conducted raids to grief a loss after old age, accident or by a disease. (Rosaldo, 1984, pg. 5). A raid was therefore not intended to inflict pain or any bad feelings to the enemies. The raids were rather aimed at overwhelming one’s pain. The headhunters were convinced that the head of the victim carried away the anger as they tossed it away. Headhunting for young men was mostly inspired by adolescent emotions and the desire to build a reputation. On the other hand, older men were inspired by a forceful event.
Rosaldo emphasized on disruptive and violent as the center of cultural analysis, he argued that could not be limited to what is expected or the normal routine of the old concepts, instead on should seek out the most unexpected about a culture. With the use of fieldwork methods that involve extraction of first-hand information this can be achieved as opposed to relying on the past anthropologist’s work as in the armchair theory. Fieldworks can enable an anthropologist to make present what is under study, in simple context; it can facilitate the efforts of updating historical record. However, Rosaldo explained that it was also possible to obtain valuable information from an odd person than a central figure of a typical person. The works of Rosaldo on the Ilongot was presented in a naive realism due to the methods of data collection involved and the little attention that had been given to writing in which a transparent process of writing was highly considered as compared to manipulating the information to make it better to the readers. (Rosaldo pg 7)
From the comparison above, fieldwork is such an effective way of gathering information about a culture by involving themselves in the culture, the anthropologists can study the culture’s functions while having informants to clarify to them the significance of the different rituals and beliefs. The worth of fieldwork is its ability to get a very in-depth and close analysis of culture. This allows the anthropologist to experience more fully the culture and its rituals and traditions. However, armchair anthropology was not a passive pursuit, with the minimal analytical reflection that simply analyzed the materials of the past anthropologists. It was also detached from the activities of informants who were collecting and recording data in the field. Fieldwork method is the best-known method for undertaking cultural research; however this method is faced with some challenges. For instance, the presence of an anthropologist in a given field may change the daily lives of the people involved. Secondly, despite the significant information that can be collected from fieldwork method as conducted by anthropologists, some information might vary from one person to another despite the fact that they live in the some society. Some people are prone to misinterpretation of cultural practices. There to avoid this problem one has to analyze the information that has been fairly collected and depend on the majority view so as to make a true conclusion. The fact that the anthropologist will have a direct interaction with the community involved, he or she can make a valid judgment and hence avoiding this challenge. The challenge is also not experienced in the armchair method, as the anthropologist will only focus on the documented information that most probably was manipulated to fit a certain context. Unlike fieldwork anthropologists, armchair anthropologists had the notion that facts could be explained later by someone else, it is a limitation of armchair methods as the challenge of inaccuracy or misinterpretation is likely to occur as particular information is passed to various people
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