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malnowski,_bronislaw._subject,_method,_and_scope._blackberry

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Unformatted text preview: SUBJECT, METHOD A ND SCOPE b we- - - <---- d b. Imagine yourself suddenly set down surrounded by all your gear, alone on a tropical beach close to a native village, while the launch or dinghy which has brought you sails away out of sight. Since you take up your abode in the compound of some neighbouring white man, trader or missionary, you have nothing to do, but to start at once on your ethnographic work. Imagine further that you are a beginner, without previous experience, with nothing to guide you and no one to help you. For the white man is temporarily absent, or else unable or unwilling to waste any of his time on you. This exactly describes my first initiation into field work on the south coast of New Guinea. I well remember the long visits I paid to the villages during the first weeks ; t he feeling of hopelessness and despair after many obstinate but futile attempts had entirely failed to bring me into real touch with the natives, or supply me with any material. I h ad periods of despondency, when I buried myself in the reading ot novels, as a man might take to drink in a fit of tropical depression and boredom. Imagine yourself then, making your first entry into the village, alone or in company with your white cicerone. Some natives flock round you, especially if they smell tobacco. Others, t hemore dignified and elderly, remain seated where they are. Your white companion has his routine way of treating the natives, and he neither understands, nor is very much concerned with the manner i n which you, as an ethnographer, will have to approach them. The first visit leaves you with a hopeful feeling that when you return alone, things will be easier. Such was my hope at least. I came back duly, and soon gathered an audience around me. A few compliments in pidgin-English on both sides, some tobacco changing hands, induced an atmosphere of mutual amiability. I tried then to proceed to business. First, to begin with subjects which might arouse no suspicion, I s tarted to " d o " technology. A few natives were engaged in manufacturing some object or other. I t was easy to look at it and obtain the names of the tools, and even some technical expressions about the proceedings, but there the matter ended. I t must be borne in mind that pidgin-English is a very imperfect instrument for expressing one's ideas, and that before one gets a good training in framing questions and understanding answers one has the uncomfortable feeling that free communication in it with the natives will never. be attained ; a nd I was quite unable to enter into any more detailed or explicit conversation with them at first. I knew well that the best remedy for this was to c.ollect concrete data, and accordingly I took a village census, wrote down genealqgies, drew up plans and collected the terms of kinship. But all this remained dead material, which led no further into the understanding of real native mentality or behaviour, since I could neither procure a good native interpretation of any of these items, nor get what could be called t he h ang of tribal life. As to obtaining their ideas about religion, and magic, their beliefs in sorcery and spirits, nothing was forthcoming except a few superficial items of folk-lore, mangled by being forced into pidgin English. Information which I received from some white residents in the district, valuable as it was in itself, was more discouraging than anything else with regard to my own work. Here were men who had lived for years in the place with constant opportunities of observing the natives and communicating with them, and who yet hardly knew one thing about them really well. How could I therefore in a few months or a year, hope to overtake and go beyond them ? Moreover, the manner in which my white informants spoke a bout t he natives and put their views was, naturally, that of untrained minds, unaccustomed to formulate their thoughts with any degree of consistency and precision. And they were for the most part, naturally enough, f ull of the biassed and pre-judged opinions inevitable in the average practical man, whether administrator, missionary. or trader, yet so strongly repulsive to a mind striving after the ., SUBJECT, METHOD A ND SCOPE b we- - - <---- d b. Imagine yourself suddenly set down surrounded by all your gear, alone on a tropical beach close to a native village, while the launch or dinghy which has brought you sails away out of sight. Since you take up your abode in the compound of some neighbouring white man, trader or missionary, you have nothing to do, but to start at once on your ethnographic work. Imagine further that you are a beginner, without previous experience, with nothing to guide you and no one to help you. For the white man is temporarily absent, or else unable or unwilling to waste any of his time on you. This exactly describes my first initiation into field work on the south coast of New Guinea. I well remember the long visits I paid to the villages during the first weeks ; t he feeling of hopelessness and despair after many obstinate but futile attempts had entirely failed to bring me into real touch with the natives, or supply me with any material. I h ad periods of despondency, when I buried myself in the reading ot novels, as a man might take to drink in a fit of tropical depression and boredom. Imagine yourself then, making your first entry into the village, alone or in company with your white cicerone. Some natives flock round you, especially if they smell tobacco. Others, t hemore dignified and elderly, remain seated where they are. Your white companion has his routine way of treating the natives, and he neither understands, nor is very much concerned with the manner i n which you, as an ethnographer, will have to approach them. The first visit leaves you with a hopeful feeling that when you return alone, things will be easier. Such was my hope at least. I came back duly, and soon gathered an audience around me. A few compliments in pidgin-English on both sides, some tobacco changing hands, induced an atmosphere of mutual amiability. I tried then to proceed to business. First, to begin with subjects which might arouse no suspicion, I s tarted to " d o " technology. A few natives were engaged in manufacturing some object or other. I t was easy to look at it and obtain the names of the tools, and even some technical expressions about the proceedings, but there the matter ended. I t must be borne in mind that pidgin-English is a very imperfect instrument for expressing one's ideas, and that before one gets a good training in framing questions and understanding answers one has the uncomfortable feeling that free communication in it with the natives will never. be attained ; a nd I was quite unable to enter into any more detailed or explicit conversation with them at first. I knew well that the best remedy for this was to c.ollect concrete data, and accordingly I took a village census, wrote down genealqgies, drew up plans and collected the terms of kinship. But all this remained dead material, which led no further into the understanding of real native mentality or behaviour, since I could neither procure a good native interpretation of any of these items, nor get what could be called t he h ang of tribal life. As to obtaining their ideas about religion, and magic, their beliefs in sorcery and spirits, nothing was forthcoming except a few superficial items of folk-lore, mangled by being forced into pidgin English. Information which I received from some white residents in the district, valuable as it was in itself, was more discouraging than anything else with regard to my own work. Here were men who had lived for years in the place with constant opportunities of observing the natives and communicating with them, and who yet hardly knew one thing about them really well. How could I therefore in a few months or a year, hope to overtake and go beyond them ? Moreover, the manner in which my white informants spoke a bout t he natives and put their views was, naturally, that of untrained minds, unaccustomed to formulate their thoughts with any degree of consistency and precision. And they were for the most part, naturally enough, f ull of the biassed and pre-judged opinions inevitable in the average practical man, whether administrator, missionary. or trader, yet so strongly repulsive to a mind striving after the ., 6 SUBJECT, METHOD AND SCOPE SUBJECT, METHOD AND SCOPE 7 objective, scientific view of things. The habit of treating with a self-satisfied frivolity what is really serious to the ethnographer ; t he cheap rating of w hat t o him is a scientific treasure, that is to say, the native's cultural and mental peculiarities and independence-these features, so well known in the inferior amateur's writing, I found in the tone of the majority of white residents. * Indeed, in my first piece of Ethnographic research on the South coast, it was not until I was alone in the district that I began to make some headway ; a nd, at any rate, I found out where lay the secret of effective field-work. What is then this ethnographer's magic, by which he is able to evoke the real spirit of the natives, the true picture of tribal life ? Asusual, success can only be obtained by a patient and systematic application of a number of rules of common sense and wellknown scientific principles, and not by the discovery of any marvellous short-cut leading to the desired results without effort or trouble. The principles of method can be grouped under three main headings ; first of all, naturally, the student must possess real scientific aims, and know the values and criteria of modem ethnography. Secondly, he ought to put himself in good conditions of work. that is, in the main, to live without other white men, right among the natives. Finally, he has to apply a number of special methods of collecting, manipulating and fixing his evidence. A few words must be said about these three foundation stones of field work, beginning with the second as the most elementary. Proper conditions for ethnographic work. These, as said, consist mainly in cutting oneself off from the company of o ther white men, and remaining in as close contact with the natives as possible, which really can only be achieved by camping right in their villages (see Plates I and 11). I t is very nice to have a base in a white man's compound for the stores, and to know there is a refuge there in times of sickness and surfeit of native. But i t must be far enough away not to become a permanent milieu in which you live and from which you emerge a t fixed 1 m ay note at once t hat there were a few delightful exceptions to that, to mention only m y friends Billy Hancock in the Trobriands : M. HatTael Brudo, another pearl trader ; and the missionary, Mr. M . K . Gilmour. 1 1 1 hours only to " do the village." I t should not even be near enough to fly to at any moment for recreation. For the native is not the natural companion for a white man, and after you have been working with him for several hours, seeing how he does his gardens, or letting him tell you items of folk-lore, or discussing his customs, you will naturally hanker after the company of your own kind. But if you are alone in a village beyond reach of this, you go for a solitary walk for an hour or so, r eturn again and then quite naturally seek out the natives' society, this time as a relief from loneliness, just as you would any other companionship. And by means of this natural intercourse, you learn to know him, and you become familiar with his customs and beliefs far better than when he is a paid, and often bored, informant. There is all the difference between a sporadic plunging into the company of natives, and being really in contact with them. What does this latter mean ? On the Ethnographer's side, i t means that his life, in the village, which a t first is a strange, sometimes unpleasant, sometimes intensely interesting adventure, soon adopts quite a natural course very much in harmony with his surroundings. Soon after I had established myself in Omarakana (Trobriand Islands), I began to take part, in a way, in the village life, to look forward to the important or festive events, to take personal interest in the gossip and the developments of the small village occurrences ; t o wake up every morning to a day, presenting itself to me more or less as it does t o the native. I would get out from under my mosquito net, t o find around me the village life beginning to stir, or the people well advanced in their working day according to the hour and also to the season, for they get up and begin their labours early or late, as work presses. As I went on my morning walk through the village, I could see intimate details of family life, of toilet, cooking, taking of meals ; I could see the arrangements for the day's work, people starting on their errands, or groups of men and women busy a t some manufacturing tasks (see Plate 111). Quarrels, jokes, family scenes, events usually trivial, sometimes dramatic but always significant, formed the atmosphere of my daily life, as well as of theirs. It must be remembered that as the natives saw me constantly every day, they ceased t o be interested or alarmed, or made self-conscious by my 6 SUBJECT, METHOD AND SCOPE SUBJECT, METHOD AND SCOPE 7 objective, scientific view of things. The habit of treating with a self-satisfied frivolity what is really serious to the ethnographer ; t he cheap rating of w hat t o him is a scientific treasure, that is to say, the native's cultural and mental peculiarities and independence-these features, so well known in the inferior amateur's writing, I found in the tone of the majority of white residents. * Indeed, in my first piece of Ethnographic research on the South coast, it was not until I was alone in the district that I began to make some headway ; a nd, at any rate, I found out where lay the secret of effective field-work. What is then this ethnographer's magic, by which he is able to evoke the real spirit of the natives, the true picture of tribal life ? Asusual, success can only be obtained by a patient and systematic application of a number of rules of common sense and wellknown scientific principles, and not by the discovery of any marvellous short-cut leading to the desired results without effort or trouble. The principles of method can be grouped under three main headings ; first of all, naturally, the student must possess real scientific aims, and know the values and criteria of modem ethnography. Secondly, he ought to put himself in good conditions of work. that is, in the main, to live without other white men, right among the natives. Finally, he has to apply a number of special methods of collecting, manipulating and fixing his evidence. A few words must be said about these three foundation stones of field work, beginning with the second as the most elementary. Proper conditions for ethnographic work. These, as said, consist mainly in cutting oneself off from the company of o ther white men, and remaining in as close contact with the natives as possible, which really can only be achieved by camping right in their villages (see Plates I and 11). I t is very nice to have a base in a white man's compound for the stores, and to know there is a refuge there in times of sickness and surfeit of native. But i t must be far enough away not to become a permanent milieu in which you live and from which you emerge a t fixed 1 m ay note at once t hat there were a few delightful exceptions to that, to mention only m y friends Billy Hancock in the Trobriands : M. HatTael Brudo, another pearl trader ; and the missionary, Mr. M . K . Gilmour. 1 1 1 hours only to " do the village." I t should not even be near enough to fly to at any moment for recreation. For the native is not the natural companion for a white man, and after you have been working with him for several hours, seeing how he does his gardens, or letting him tell you items of folk-lore, or discussing his customs, you will naturally hanker after the company of your own kind. But if you are alone in a village beyond reach of this, you go for a solitary walk for an hour or so, r eturn again and then quite naturally seek out the natives' society, this time as a relief from loneliness, just as you would any other companionship. And by means of this natural intercourse, you learn to know him, and you become familiar with his customs and beliefs far better than when he is a paid, and often bored, informant. There is all the difference between a sporadic plunging into the company of natives, and being really in contact with them. What does this latter mean ? On the Ethnographer's side, i t means that his life, in the village, which a t first is a strange, sometimes unpleasant, sometimes intensely interesting adventure, soon adopts quite a natural course very much in harmony with his surroundings. Soon after I had established myself in Omarakana (Trobriand Islands), I began to take part, in a way, in the village life, to look forward to the important or festive events, to take personal interest in the gossip and the developments of the small village occurrences ; t o wake up every morning to a day, presenting itself to me more or less as it does t o the native. I would get out from under my mosquito net, t o find around me the village life beginning to stir, or the people well advanced in their working day according to the hour and also to the season, for they get up and begin their labours early or late, as work presses. As I went on my morning walk through the village, I could see intimate details of family life, of toilet, cooking, taking of meals ; I could see the arrangements for the day's work, people starting on their errands, or groups of men and women busy a t some manufacturing tasks (see Plate 111). Quarrels, jokes, family scenes, events usually trivial, sometimes dramatic but always significant, formed the atmosphere of my daily life, as well as of theirs. It must be remembered that as the natives saw me constantly every day, they ceased t o be interested or alarmed, or made self-conscious by my SUBJECT, METHOD AND SCOPE presence, and 1 ceased to be a disturbing element in the tribal life which I was to study, altering it by my very approach, as always happens with a new-comer to every savage community. In fact, as they knew that I would t hrust my nose into everything, even where a well-mannered native would not dream of intruding, they finished by regarding me as part and parcel of their life, a necessary evil or nuisance, mitigated by donations of tobacco. Later on in the day, whatever happened was within easy reach, and there was no possibility of its escaping my notice. Alarms about the sorcerer's approach in the evening, one or two big, really important quarrels and rifts within the community, cases of illness, attempted cures and deaths, magical rites which had to be performed, all these I had not to pursue, fearful of missing them, but they took place under my very eyes, a t my own doorstep, so to speak (see Plate IV). And it must be emphasised whenever anything dramatic or important occurs it is essential to investigate it at the very moment of happening, because the natives cannot but talk about it, are too excited to be reticent, and too interested to be mentally lazy in supplying details. Also, over and over again, I committed breaches of etiquette, which the natives, familiar enough with me, were not slow in pointing out. I had to learn how to behave, a n 3 to a certain extent, 1 acquired " t he feeling " for native good and bad manners. With this, and with the capacity of enjoying their company and sharing some of their games and amusements, I began to feel that I was indeed in touch with the natives, and this is certainly the preliminary condition of beiny able to carry on su...
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