“Oh Lord, please slow me down
And guide my hand
The rivers around me
Have all turned to sand
And the people around me
Are all blind to see
That there is no ‘them and us’
There is only ‘we’”
(Excerpts from a poem by David Green)
Social and Cultural Anthropology
Social and cultural anthropology is a field that few students at Sotogrande would have considered as a career path. Jean Sassoon’s visit to an M4 class on the 14th May might well have changed that.
At 91 years of age, Jean’s story is a remarkable one. An expert in both archaeology and anthropology, few people can claim to be able to match her wealth of experience. She studied archaeology at Edinburgh University and at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, excavated megalithic tombs in the south of Scotland and was the first woman to be employed in the Antiquities Department of the British Museum. She worked under armed guard in Kenya at the peak of the Mau Mau uprising, was involved in excavations in many sites across Africa, was the socio-anthropological consultant for the U.N and has lectured at such institutions as Harvard. Her list of achievements, Indiana Jones-esque stories and once in a lifetime experiences could fill volumes.
Jean Sassoon shares her experiences
Lighting the room with her intellect, wit and enthusiasm, it is Jean’s 25 years of anthropological research into the Pokot people of Kenya that she has come to share with the Sotogrande students. Social anthropology is a discipline that has evolved from ‘armchair’ observation during the early 20th century (shockingly a time when humans held other humans captive in zoos of New York, London and Paris.) Bronisław Malinowski (1884-1942) is famed for shifting the methodology of study from the armchair to observation in the field. In doing so he was able to highlight that societies and cultures around the world might seem radically different from each other, but they also share in having incredibly complex social and cultural mechanisms. Understanding this leads us to question whether ‘primitive’ is a suitable term to use to describe any of the peoples of the world and to highlight our shared humanity. This understanding has led to increased variety in anthropological studies with modern anthropologists being employed in a variety of industries to include in the study of fashion and youth cultures.
Pokot people of Kenya
Jean’s presentation, demonstrated through a series of exquisite photographs, provoked excited debate amongst the students. An image of the Pokot collecting blood from the jugular of a cow might appear shocking, but how does this compare to ‘modern’ methods of food production? ‘Zero waste’ is ‘on trend’ but the Pokot have been practising this principle to the extreme for centuries. The hierarchical nature of the group raises questions with regard to gender roles, equity and equality. The traditional dances, sounds and attire of the Pokot highlight their incredible oneness with nature, an indigenous knowledge providing important lessons for us all. Finally, the elaborate headdresses, belts and ornaments of the Pokot draw fascinating comparisons with the Nike trainers, Apple headphones and smartphones on display in the classroom.
There is no ‘them and us’
If we are to truly act as global citizens, promoting education as a force for good, and to include protecting the planet on which all of humanity depends, then such comparisons can play an important role in highlighting that there is no ‘them and us’ there is only ‘we’.
The staff and students of Sotogrande International School would like to express their gratitude to both Jean and Harriet for taking time to visit us – you are both an inspiration to us all. Thank you!
Individuals and Societies & Theory of Knowledge (TOK)