Monthly Archives: November 2012

30 Years Later: The King of Pop In Context And How “Thriller” Changed Everything


The legendary best-selling album of all time, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, was released 30 years ago today.  It was a groundbreaking album that marked a defining achievement worthy of”King of Pop” status.  But do you know why?

Well, It’s a good thing you have a Narcissistic Anthropologist to find some context and share it with you.  😉

A one-gloved high-five goes out to ABC news for this great piece on how this album came to be and why it was such an influential work of musical genius that changed the face of pop culture forever.

Perhaps my favorite bit of context is the following snippet: about how Michael Jackson and MTV bridged the racial divide:

Thriller’ Broke Racial and Other Barriers

Mitchell said the video for “Beat It” helped break the color barrier on a nascent MTV. “At the time, Rick James and other black artists were trying to get on there and that’s when the racist tag got affixed to MTV because R&B videos just weren’t being played,” Mitchell said. ‘Beat It’ was something that MTV just couldn’t deny and certainly opened the door for Prince and others to be on MTV.”

“Thriller” also transcended musical boundaries, incorporating elements of pop, rock, R&B and more. “A key legacy of this album is that music is universal and can speak to people, whether you’re white, black, Asian or whatever,” Mitchell said. “Rock stations were playing ‘Beat It.’ Michael showed that music can be universal and incorporate all these elements, that you can be a mainstream artist and be creative.”

But definitely check out the full article / slide show.  I bet you learn something you didn’t know and will impress your friends and family with your Friday night cocktail conversation knowledge!  Just don’t try and moonwalk.  Trust me, you’re not as good at it as you think you are.


Categories: Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culturematic, Music, pop culture, Racism, Trends, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the US, you killed off your Indians. In Mexico, we forced them into slave labor.

It looks like the U.S. doesn’t own the practice of oppression. An interesting read on rampant classism in Mexico..

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It’s the Ritual That Counts: Gift Giving In Context And Practice

Does holiday shopping stress you out?  Do you pine over what to give to the person who has everything or how to budget so you can give thoughtful gifts without breaking the bank?  Do you worry about saying too much or too little with your choice in gifts?  What about not giving a comparable gift to someone who is particularly generous? Luckily now a days you can even make your own special gift with a laser engraver and give the form you want.

The ritual of gift giving may be fairly commercialized in our American consumer culture, but it is a time-honored tradition of reciprocity that has exited in human (and even monkey) culture throughout the ages.

Many cultures have rules and guidelines for gift giving whether it be in general or based on the holiday.  For instance, in Japanese culture it is considered rude to open up a gift in front of the gift giver, as just in case you don’t like the gift or your reaction is not appropriately gracious you don’t want the gift give to lose “face”.

Once again, I am sharing some great content from Sociology of style on the context of giving, along with some tips on how to negotiate this holiday ritual unscathed and satisfied that you did your very best:

Magical Transactions:

Gift Giving and the Culture of Reciprocity

                                     For it is in giving that we receive.                                                        ― St. Francis of Assisi

Think gift giving is just mindless consumerism?  Think again.  Let’s take a walk through the social significance of gift culture — and you may think differently about what you give and receive this year.

Marcel Mauss, in his classic work, The Gift, explores theories on reciprocity and gift exchange.  In a gift economy, he argues, the exchange of gifts fosters mutual interdependence, social bonding, and — ultimately — solidarity.  In other words, gift exchange is a “total system” that, at its core, builds human relationships. For Mauss, these transactions are both material and spiritual, which leads him to refer to them as “magical.” Gifts are also a gift of the self, as “the objects are never completely separated from the men [and women] who exchange them.”

This sort of exchange has evolutionary underpinnings.  Chimpanzees and bonobos also practice reciprocal giving, exchanging everything from food to grooming.  And what’s perhaps most interesting is that many of these primate exchanges are calculated, with a focus on the long term. Like humans, primates remember and reward those who demonstrated generosity and helped them in the past.

But gifts aren’t all roses and social bonding.  They can foster a feeling of resentment (if, for instance, one party “out gives” the other) and stress from financial strain.  According to the National Retail Federation the average holiday shopper will spend $749.51 on gifts, décor, greeting cards and more this year (with the vast majority of that spending dedicated to gifts).

Gift giving is a more nuanced social ritual than retailers and advertisers would lead us to believe. While some sort of purchase is often involved, there are many ways of participating in and investing in the gift economy.  Here are some affordable, creative tips to ensure you’re engaged in the ritualized bonding, without the financial burden:

  • Host a holiday party — with a twist.  Offer guests some creative supplies (construction paper, colored foil, confetti) and ask them to create a decoration and gift it to someone at the party.  Playful creativity is a great way to relieve stress.  Then go around the room and ask everyone to share the best gift they’ve ever received and why.  Part of the magic of gift giving is in the memories it creates.
  • Send handmade, handwritten holiday cards to people in your network.  Make them yourself and save money, plus make each one unique. In a virtual, fast-paced world, the gift of time and thoughtful intentions can be one of the most exclusive, luxurious gifts we can receive.
  • Give a coupon book.  I used to create these for my family as a child, but adults will appreciate them as much or more.  Buy some beautiful paper for the cover and create redeemable coupons for significant others, roommates, friends, or coworkers.  Personalize these activity-centered gifts and let them redeem their coupons for their favorite home-cooked meal, a 30 minute massage, or taking out the trash for a month.

Find more suggestions on how to give and spread love while keeping your priorities straight in this cool, downloadable booklet and checklist put out by the Center for a New American Dream.


Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, pop culture, Rituals, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Starbucks To China: “You Will Drink Coffee And Like it!”

Starbucks inside the Forbidden City in Beijing...

Starbucks inside the Forbidden City in Beijing, China Photo by Eugene Tsuprun (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perusing the WSJ this morning (as I am occassionally wont to do on mornings when things come a little slower)  I got a quick jolt from the article below.
The topic is about the critical importance of considering local cultural context when opening a retail oriented business in China  – China being the new “wild wild west”, or rather “wild wild east” for American brands.

I find it interesting that especially the fast foodies feel like this frontier is an essential.  Starbucks is a particularly interesting choice – because we all think “coffee” when we think of Chinese people.  Sure, the numbers will tell you that coffee sales are up….probably because more coffee retailers have been infiltrating the country and people will try anything once or twice.  But then I read deeper and see things like Starbuck’s recognition of parental disapproval of their kids working at Starbucks instead of a bank.  And Chinese citizens don’t exist in a “grab and go” coffee culture, meaning all the stores will have to be big and cozy – lots of retail square footage at high prices in urban centers to make that work.  Then there is the tea thing…

Maybe – just maybe – not every American tradition needs to be exported to China because we “can”.  We have already given them crappy fried fast food like KFC – isn’t that enough? Do we need to make them drink coffee too?  Is it our duty to create a coffee culture in a place where there is none?  Why not leave their culture alone.  In case we haven’t noticed, our American culture has become characterized by consumerism.  China is already being corrupted in that regard but thousands of years of cultural tradition says they still stand a chance.  Drink tea, China.   It’s authentically you.

And by all means, read today’s WSJ article and feel free to visit and subscribe:


BEIJING—After nearly 14 years of working to persuade China to buy into its foreign coffee culture, Starbucks Corp. SBUX -0.59% is aiming to become more Chinese as it plans a rapid expansion in the country.

Belinda Wong, president of Starbucks China, said in an interview that Starbucks aims to roll out 800 new stores in the next three years to add to its existing fleet of 700. Over that period it will increase the number of employees to more than 30,000 from the current 12,000.

The company aims to capture a larger market by going more local and applying its cultural insights, Ms. Wong said. For instance, whereas kiosk-sized stores work well in the U.S., where office workers grab bacon-gouda sandwiches to go in the morning on the way to work, Starbucks has learned that Chinese consumers value space and couches on which to relax in the afternoons.

The coffee company is adding some stores that are nearly 3,800 square feet and can seat consumers who come with groups of friends and business partners. Starbucks also has discovered that Chinese tastes for coffee go only so far. It plans to introduce new Chinese-inspired flavors, building on existing favorites like red bean frappuccinos.

Localization is a critical factor in the success or failure of foreign companies in China. Yum Brands Inc. YUM -0.50% has thrived in China by adding fried shrimp and soy milk, among many other Chinese items, to its KFC outlets and fresh seafood bacon pizza and Thai-style fried rice to its Pizza Huts.

Businesses that have failed to grasp the local culture, importing alien models, have fallen out of favor. In September, Home Depot Inc. HD -0.23% closed all seven of its remaining big-box stores in China after years of losses, having discovered that the do-it-yourself home improvement model doesn’t work well in a do-it-for-me Chinese culture. Best Buy Co. BBY +6.25% closed its nine China outlets in February 2011 after discovering consumers needed washing machines, not espresso makers or stereos.

Home Depot said it is focusing on specialty stores in China now, having recently opened one paint-and-flooring store and one home-decorations outlet. Best Buy said it is working with its Chinese subsidiary, Jiangsu Five Star Ltd., to sell more appliances.

Starbucks’s Ms. Wong said the Seattle-based company understands the complexities of operating in a country where consumers in smaller cities are just getting their first Starbucks and where established big-city coffee drinkers already need upgraded stores.

The coffee company has recently hired local graffiti artists to redecorate one of its older stores in Beijing’s popular Sanlitun Village, a shopping district that, like New York’s Soho, attracts the young and wealthy and sparks trends.

Starbucks is also coming to the realization that family expectations will have a big impact on its success.

To retain its employees, whose parents would rather their children be working behind bank counters than serving up Sumatra, Starbucks earlier this year launched a family forum, inviting parents to hear testimonies from managers who have worked their way up the career ladder.

“We don’t do one size fits all,” said Ms. Wong, noting that over the past two years Starbucks has opened a Chinese design center to build out its new stores and has launched a research and development center to fill the stores with sandwiches like the Hainan chicken and rice wrap or the Thai-style prawn wrap.

The company is aiming to cater to noncoffee drinkers like Cheng Xiaochen, a 27-year-old English teacher who hates coffee but occasionally meets his students and business partners at Starbucks in the afternoon. “It’s a good place to meet people,” said Mr. Cheng. “But the coffee is so bitter it tastes like Chinese medicine.” Mr. Cheng said he sticks to mint hot chocolate and looks for other sweeter flavors.

China remains a tea-drinking nation, but coffee sales rose 20% in 2011 from a year earlier, reaching 6.25 billion yuan ($995 million), according to market research firm Euromonitor International.

China is an important growth market for Starbucks, whose executives want the country to become its largest market outside the U.S. The company doesn’t break out China sales, but executives said this month that China-based sales have increased 52% year-over-year. They didn’t offer further details.

Industry watchers say that although Starbucks has been successful in China, it faces challenges. Food companies from U.K.-based Whitbread WTB.LN +0.52% PLC’s Costa Coffee to Korean SPC Group’s Paris Baguette, are expanding rapidly across China, said Torsten Stocker, an analyst for consultancy Monitor Group. “All of these are not only fighting to increase their ‘share of stomach,’ but also for top real-estate locations and the talent to expand and manage their stores,” said Mr. Stocker.

Experts agree that corporate localization in China is crucial, as most consumers have culturally entrenched tastes that differ from Western ones. While China has an elite band of consumers who buy only foreign brands, the typical consumer is more parochial.

Still, some caution that Starbucks can’t veer too far from its Western image. “It’s extremely critical to keep authenticity and consistency,” said Vincent Lui, a partner of Boston Consulting Group.

Such worries would be misplaced, Ms. Wong said, as Starbucks aims for the authentic experience. While Starbucks is planning to hype Chinese New Year more than ever this year, it has just rolled out its U.S. Christmas cups for the Chinese stores.

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, pop culture, Rituals, Trends, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gangnam Style In Context: A Global Phenomenon In Appreciation of Irony?

If you are among the youtube watching masses, music enthusiasts or otherwise avid followers of popular culture, then you are likely among the close to 900 million viewers and counting who have seen this video by prolific South Korean superstar hip hop artist Psy:
What kind of content could possibly overtake Justin Bieber (who held the previous YouTube record) in global popularity?  At first glance, this journey through ridiculousness:  a  mixture of late 90’s and early 2000’s “bling”-oriented, sexist hip hop with a bit of Napoleon dynamite sprinkled in, might seem a bit behind the times, albeit entertaining.

But on closer look at the context, it gets more interesting.
Lets start with what the heck “Gangnam Style” means.  It refers to a subculture  lifestyle associated with the Gangnam district in Seoul, Korea.  Think Beverly Hills 90210.  However, this part of town has really only recently “come up”.  Up until about the 1980’s it was actually one of Seoul’s least developed districts, but due to intensely rapid development over the past 30-ish years has become the most populated district in Seoul and is now one of the most affluent and influiential areas in South Korea.

It is a city very popular with the U.S. military and global financial and  diplomatic community:  having hosted hundreds of U.S. military personnel events as well as the 2010 G 20 Summit and 2012 Nuclear security summit.  It also boasts local headquarter representation for global corporations like Google, IBM and Toyota among other bustling domestic and international businesses.  The bustling economy has made real estate a bit ridiculous (an average apartment costs over $5,500 a month in rent) drawing a largely affluent population.

The prosperity and trendiness of Gangnam are the central focus of the song and Psy’s video: featuring him dancing “horsey style”on top of landmarks like Seoul’s world trade center and even in horsey stables, the subway and high-end nightclubs complete with pin lights through haze!  🙂  And lets not forget all the well dressed “sexy ladies”.

But if you ask this anthropologist what’s really happening here, I will tee it up to the popularity of Irony.  If you look at all the global youth, young adult and lifestyle trends, they all point to an appreciation and prioritization of balance:  with regard to finances as well as lifestyle.  People are decidedly more well-rounded, wellness-minded, pragmatic and appreciative of the simple things and traditions that both bring us happiness and remind us of our humanity.

The tone of this music video, while seeming to “glorify” an affluent, shallow lifestyle, does more to poke fun at excess than anything.  The cartoon-like nature of the characters and mocking dance moves (horsey ride?) can only logically be assumed to be tongue in cheek – and very “hipster chic”.

I encourage you to have a look at the international pop sensation and form an opinion of your own.  I will promise you, however, that even if you don’t see the irony you will at bare minimum be entertained – like if you were watching a bullfight or a train wreck.  In either case, you might be horrified but generally speaking unable to turn away.

Ironic indeed.

Categories: Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Fashion, hipster culture, Marketing, middle class, Music, pop culture, Trends, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Irony Of Being A Hipster-Hater

I have spent much time living as a participant observer (turned mostly observer) among the hipster populations in the urban and suburban metro area I have called home for the last 8 or so years.

I’ve also spent a lot of time studying youth culture:  what is it that floats Gen Y’s boat and what is the context that keeps their various pockets of culture and decision-trees above water?

I’ve learned a good amount about the importance and nature of Irony over the course of said exploration. Especially when it comes to Millennials who grew up in a more suburban or middle class setting.  You see, if you didn’t grow up with an abundance of hardship in a time (the 80s, 90’s and early 2000’s) when our American culture was not really creating much by way of original culture, there are two things that can happen to one’s sense of self and place in the world.  Some sociological theory will tell us that if there isn’t a “fight” to champion that we will create one to give ourselves purpose.

I think Gen Y chose the fight against a culture driven by consumerism and void of meaning – and did this by co-opting the absurdities of previous generation’s and current consumer culture in a way that kind of puts the joke on us as well as on them.  And such the modern-day hipster was born.  Instead of wearing black and hiding out in coffee houses writing poetry, this generation of middle class misfits decided to don various styles of garish and vintage attire and anti-status objects  – especially with regard to transportation (bikes, scooters, beater cars)  music (turntables, headphones as opposed to ear buds, vinyl, the 80’s) and  fashion (band t shirts, trucker caps, desert-military scarves, high top sneakers) the 80’s) to create their own ironic value and subculture out of them.

And the irony of the hipster existence is that they simultaneously make fun of pop culture’s past and present while voraciously consuming it.  Can you say “lets go to Urban Outfitters”?

But it seems that said hipsters are content in their ironic existence.  But there are many in the same age-gap, if not just slightly older, who fall a bit to the “hater” side – feeling like this subculture is just a cop-out- a way of validating one’s perpetual adolescence by creating a “scene”.

These critics would also say hipster is a hiding place for those who can’t stand the thought of living a sincere existence and examining the void they are filling with shallow self-expression.  And I suppose there is the idea of actually creating something real rather than making fun of the absence of real and thus making fun of yourself in the process.

But is criticizing ironic hipster culture ironic in and of itself?  I would argue that there is indeed an intellectual rigor to hipster culture that, albeit exhausting and probably exerted more productively elsewhere, is still its own original thought and necessary commentary on the state of our American consumerism.

In any case, I was particularly intrigued by last week’s article on “How To Live Without Irony” in the New York Times Sunday Review.  The writer took the time to dig deep in dissecting the elements of hipster culture and confronting her own demons with regard to her intellectual perspective.

Here is an excerpt I found particularly entertaining on the purpose of and  absence of Irony in culture:

“Throughout history, irony has served useful purposes, like providing a rhetorical outlet for unspoken societal tensions. But our contemporary ironic mode is somehow deeper; it has leaked from the realm of rhetoric into life itself. This ironic ethos can lead to a vacuity and vapidity of the individual and collective psyche. Historically, vacuums eventually have been filled by something — more often than not, a hazardous something. Fundamentalists are never ironists; dictators are never ironists; people who move things in the political landscape, regardless of the sides they choose, are never ironists.

Where can we find other examples of nonironic living? What does it look like? Nonironic models include very young children, elderly people, deeply religious people, people with severe mental or physical disabilities, people who have suffered, and those from economically or politically challenged places where seriousness is the governing state of mind. My friend Robert Pogue Harrison put it this way in a recent conversation: “Wherever the real imposes itself, it tends to dissipate the fogs of irony.”

Observe a 4-year-old child going through her daily life. You will not find the slightest bit of irony in her behavior. She has not, so to speak, taken on the veil of irony. She likes what she likes and declares it without dissimulation. She is not particularly conscious of the scrutiny of others. She does not hide behind indirect language. The most pure nonironic models in life, however, are to be found in nature: animals and plants are exempt from irony, which exists only where the human dwells.

What would it take to overcome the cultural pull of irony? Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks. It means undertaking the cultivation of sincerity, humility and self-effacement, and demoting the frivolous and the kitschy on our collective scale of values. It might also consist of an honest self-inventory.

Here is a start: Look around your living space. Do you surround yourself with things you really like or things you like only because they are absurd? Listen to your own speech. Ask yourself: Do I communicate primarily through inside jokes and pop culture references? What percentage of my speech is meaningful? How much hyperbolic language do I use? Do I feign indifference? Look at your clothes. What parts of your wardrobe could be described as costume-like, derivative or reminiscent of some specific style archetype (the secretary, the hobo, the flapper, yourself as a child)? In other words, do your clothes refer to something else or only to themselves? Do you attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or ugly? In other words, is your style an anti-style? The most important question: How would it feel to change yourself quietly, offline, without public display, from within?”

Want more? You can read the full article here:

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Another blogger taking a socio/anthropological spin through the topic of Blogging. I have taken you to James’s room before and here we go again with some “Millennial” perspective:

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The American Ritual Of Giving Thanks Immediately Followed By Wanting More

As I sit staring out from my temporary living-room at the still blue gulf and sun-drenched sky, I can’t help but be incredibly thankful for many things, including having a job that allows me the income to rent a beach house for the week as well as the right combination of family and friends to fill it  and share it with.  I am also thankful I have the perspective to appreciate the great bounty life has given me on many fronts.

One distinct fact I am particularly appreciative of today:  that I am NOT anywhere near a mall, Wal-Mart, department store or otherwise frenzied commercial activity.   Somehow, American cultural tradition has managed to turn our annual celebration of being thankful for what we have into a subsequent immediate race to consume more.  But WHY?

We ought to remember that capitalism and consumption are the backbone of what makes our country “work” (in theory).  Black friday as an annual tradition began as a way to ensure that our country continued to do so by bolstering the retail industry as we got closer to the end of the year.

Here is an excerpt from an article on that helps break it down:

How did Black Friday became such a big shopping day?

It’s hard to say when the day after Thanksgiving turned into a retail behemoth, but it probably dates back to the late 19th century. At that time, store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades were common, and once Santa Claus showed up at the end of the parade, the holiday shopping season had officially started.

In those days, most retailers adhered to an unwritten rule that holiday shopping season didn’t start until after Thanksgiving, so no stores would advertise holiday sales or aggressively court customers until the Friday immediately following the holiday. Thus, when the floodgates opened that Friday, it became a huge deal.

So retailers were always hoping for an early Thanksgiving?

You bet. They weren’t just hoping, though; they were being proactive about it. In 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season wouldn’t begin until after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday in November, retail sales would go in the tank. Ever the iconoclast, Roosevelt saw an easy solution to this problem: he moved Thanksgiving up by a week. Instead of celebrating the holiday on its traditional day—November 30th that year—Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday in November to be the new Thanksgiving, instantly tacking an extra week onto the shopping season.

Brilliant! How did that work out?

thanks-georgiaNot so well. Roosevelt didn’t make the announcement until late October, and by then most Americans had already made their holiday travel plans. Many rebelled and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on its “real” date while derisively referring to the impostor holiday as “Franksgiving.” State governments didn’t know which Thanksgiving to observe, so some of them took both days off. In short, it was a bit of a mess.

By 1941, though, the furor had died down, and Congress passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November regardless of how it affected the shopping day that would become known as Black Friday.

Why call it Black Friday?

If you ask most people why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, they’ll explain that the name stems from retailers using the day’s huge receipts as their opportunity to “get in the black” and become profitable for the year. The first recorded uses of the term “Black Friday” are a bit less rosy, though.

According to researchers, the name “Black Friday” dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s. The Friday in question is nestled snugly between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game that’s played in Philadelphia on the following Saturday, so the City of Brotherly Love was always bustling with activity on that day. All of the people were great for retailers, but they were a huge pain for police officers, cab drivers, and anyone who had to negotiate the city’s streets. They started referring to the annual day of commercial bedlam as “Black Friday” to reflect how irritating it was.

So where did the whole “get in the black” story originate?

Apparently storeowners didn’t love having their biggest shopping day saddled with such a negative moniker, so in the early 1980s someone began floating the accounting angle to put a more positive spin on the big day.

Do retailers really need Black Friday to turn an annual profit?

Major retailers don’t; they’re generally profitable—or at least striving for profitability—throughout the entire year. (A company that turned losses for three quarters out of every fiscal year wouldn’t be a big hit with investors.) Some smaller outlets may parlay big holiday season sales into annual profits, though.

Is Black Friday really the biggest shopping day of the year?

It’s certainly the day of the year in which you’re most likely to be punched while grabbing for the latest Elmo doll, but it might not be the busiest day in terms of gross receipts. According to, Black Friday is generally one of the top six or seven days of the year for stores, but it’s the days immediately before Christmas when procrastinators finally get shopping that stores make the serious loot. Black Friday may, however, be the busiest day of the year in terms of customer traffic.

Snopes’ data shows the ten-year span from 1993 to 2002, and in that interval Black Friday was never higher than fourth on the list of the year’s busiest shopping days by sales volume. In 2003 and 2005 Black Friday did climb to the top of the pile for sales revenue days, but it still gets stiff competition from the week leading up to Christmas, particularly the Saturday right before the big day.

Read the full text here:
–brought to you by mental_floss!

Categories: Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Marketing, Rituals, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Honoring A Global Tradition Of Thanksgiving

English: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymo...

English: “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may think that American’s are the only one’s who have a holiday set aside for giving thanks.  Perhaps it would surprise you to know that setting aside a day / rituals for giving thanks is a global tradition that spans many cultures and has been around for a long, long time.

On  this morning I found a great series on the Thanksgiving from a global perspective, starting with Thanksgiving customs in other cultures:

We generally think of Thanksgiving as a uniquely American holiday, but there’s actually a long tradition of harvest-time celebrations and thanksgiving celebrations.

­Every autumn, the ancient Greeks enjoyed a three-day festival to honor Demeter, the goddess of corn and grains. The Romans had a similar celebration in which they honored­ Ceres, the goddess of corn (the word “cereal” is derived from her name). The Roman celebration included music, parades, games, sports and a feast, much like modern Thanksgiving.

In fact, one of the most prominent Thanksgiving symbols, the cornucopia, actually dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The term (generally describing a horn-shaped basket filled with fruit, flowers and other goodies) comes from the Latin cornu copiae, literally “horn of plenty.” In Greek mythology, the cornucopia is an enchanted severed goat’s horn, created by Zeus to produce a never-ending supply of whatever the owner desires.

The ancient Chinese held a harvest festival called Chung Ch’ui to celebrate the harvest moon. Families would get together for a feast, which included round yellow cakes called “moon cakes.”

In the Jewish culture, families also celebrate a harvest festival, Sukkot. This festival has been celebrated for 3,000 years by building a hut of branches called a Sukkot. Jewish families then eat their meals beneath the Sukkot under the night sky for eight days. The ancient Egyptians participated in a harvest festival in honor of Min, the god of vegetation and fertility. Parades, music and sports were a part of the festivities.

In the British Isles, the major Thanksgiving forerunner was a harvest festival called Lammas Day, named for the Old English words for “loaf” and “mass.” On Lammas Day, everyone would come to church with a loaf of bread made from the first wheat harvest. The church would bless the bread, in thanks for that year’s harvest.

Thanksgiving day is also related to the English Puritan’s practice of setting apart individual days of thanksgiving. These highly religious occasions usually followed times of great difficulty: The Puritans would praise God in thanks for enduring a hardship. In practice, American Thanksgiving isn’t a religious occasion, but it is centered around gratitude.
Click on the link  to learn more about the origin of Thanksgiving and other fun facts and be thankful that we have the internet to give us some education and perspective.

I know I am thankful for the internet so I can spend less time blogging and more time prepping the turkey….

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Some Pre-Thanksgiving Native American Education: The Creek Indians

In the spirit of Thanksgiving’s connection to the Native Americans (If you recall from the stories of the pilgrims, they helped us find / grow food so we wouldn’t die when our pasty white ancestors were fresh off the boat) and as inspired by my vacation travels, I thought I would drop a little knowledge.
Yesterday whilst exploring some uninhabited small islands off the gulf coast of Florida, we came across a treasure trove of shells and driftwood and other objects of nature that will end up gracing the surfaces of our home.  But one set of objects we found which we are not allowed to take home are more worth the telling:  shards and remnants of Muskogee (otherwise known as Creek Indian) pottery.

As a practicing socio-anthropologist who once had aspirations of focusing on Archaeology, I was giddy with excitement about these artifacts so rich with tales of their own and realized I knew little to nothing about the Creek Indians, even though I a) studied Native American tribal culture in undergrad and b) lived in Florida for a solid chunk of my life.

So here are some facts I found on Wikepedia and an short-attention-span-approprite website on Native Americans for Kids:

First, an excerpt of the “academic” lowdown from Wikipedia:

The Muscogee (or Muskogee), also known as the Creek or Creeks, are a Native American people traditionally from the southeastern United States.[3] Mvskoke is their name in traditional spelling. The modern Muscogee live primarily in Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Their language, Mvskoke, is a member of the Muscogee branch of the Muscogean language family.

The Muscogee were descendants of the Mississippian culture peoples, who built earthwork mounds at their regional chiefdoms located throughout the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries. The historian Walter Williams and others believe the early Spanish explorers encountered ancestors of the Muscogee when they visited Mississippian-culture chiefdoms in the Southeast in the mid-16th century.[4]

The Muscogee were the first Native Americans to be “civilized” under George Washington’s civilization plan. In the 19th century, the Muscogee were known as one of the “Five Civilized Tribes“, because they had integrated numerous cultural and technological practices of their more recent European American neighbors. Influenced by their prophetic interpretations of the 1811 comet and earthquake, the Upper Towns of the Muscogee, supported by the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, began to resist European-American encroachment. Internal divisions with the Lower Towns led to the Red Stick War (Creek War, 1813–1814); begun as a civil war within the Muscogee Nation, it enmeshed them in the War of 1812 against the United States.

During the Indian Removal of 1830, most of the Muscogee Nation moved to Indian Territory. The Muscogee Creek Nation based in Oklahoma is federally recognized, as are the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas.


And now for some more robust but nicely chunked ethnographic info from a website for Kids:

Where did the Creek Indians get their name?
The white settlers called them Creek Indians after Ocmulgee Creek in Georgia. They originally called themselves Isti or Istichata, but began to identify themselves as Muskogee soon after Europeans arrived.

How do you pronounce “Muskogee”? What does it mean?
It’s pronounced “muss-KOH-gee,” with a hard ‘g’ as in ‘go.’ Sometimes it is spelled Muscogee or Mvskoke instead. It comes from Maskoke, which was originally the name of a particular Creek band. Later, this name became used to refer to Creek people in general. Today, many people use the two words together: Muskogee Creek.

Are the Creeks Seminole people?
No, but some Seminoles are Creek people. The Seminole tribe was originally an alliance between certain Creek, Miccosukee, Hitchiti, Oconee, and other Indian people of northern Florida and southern Georgia. Only some Creek people, not all of them, joined the Seminoles.

Where do the Creeks live?
The Creeks are original residents of the American southeast, particularly Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and North Carolina. Most Creeks were forced to move to Oklahoma in the 1800’s, like other southern Indian tribes. There are 20,000 Muskogee Creeks in Oklahoma today. Other Creek people are living in southern Florida as part of the Seminole tribe, in the Poarch Creek band in Alabama, or scattered throughout the original Muskogee homelands.

How is the Creek Indian nation organized?
There are two Creek tribes today. The Poarch Creeks in Alabama live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to the tribe and is under their control. The Oklahoma Creeks live on trust land. The Creek Nation has its own government, laws, police, and other services, like a small country. However, the Creeks are also US citizens and must obey American law.

In the past, each Creek village was led by a chief called a miko who was selected by a tribal council. Historically, all these chiefs were male. Today, the Creek councilmembers and principal chief are elected, just like senators and governors, and can be either gender.

What language do the Creeks speak?
Most Creek people speak English today. Some people, especially elders, also speak their native Muskogee Creek language. If you’d like to know a few easy Muskogee words, hesci (pronounced heese-chee) is a friendly greeting, and mvto (pronounced muh-toh) means ‘thank you.’ You can also read a Creek picture glossary here.

What was Creek culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is a link to the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma, where you can learn about the Creek people past and present. You can also read simple articles about the Creek Indians here and here.

How do Creek Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do–play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Creek children like to go hunting and love to use their spinning reels for fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like colonial children. But they did have beaded dolls, toys and games to play with. A popular game among teenage boys and adult men was afvcketv (pronounced ah-futch-kitt-uh), which is a stickball game similar to the Iroquois game of lacrosse. Creek mothers, like many Native Americans, traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs–a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were men and women’s roles in the Creek tribe?
Creek men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Creek women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. In the past, the chief was always a man, but today a Creek woman can participate in government too.

What were Creek homes like in the past?
The Creek people lived in settled villages of single-family houses arranged around a village square. Creek houses were made of plaster and rivercane walls with thatched roofs. Here are some pictures of Indian homes like the ones Creek Indians used. They also built larger circular buildings for ceremonial purposes, and most towns had a ball field with benches for spectators. Some Creek villages had palisades (reinforced walls) around them, to guard against attack. Today, the Creeks live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Creek clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Creek men wore breechcloths and leather leggings. Creek women wore wraparound skirts and mantles made of deerskin or woven fiber. Creek men did not originally wear shirts, but both genders wore cloaks in cooler weather. The Creeks also wore moccasins on their feet. Later the Creeks adapted European costume into their own characteristic style, including cloth blouses, jackets, and full skirts decorated with ribbon applique. Here is a webpage with pictures of traditional Creek dress, and here are some photographs and links about Indian clothes in general.

The Creeks didn’t wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Creek men usually shaved their heads in the Mohawk style, and sometimes they would also wear a porcupine roach. (These headdresses were made of porcupine hair, not their sharp quills!) Creek women usually wore their long hair in topknots on top of their heads. Creek men, especially warriors, decorated their bodies with complex tribal tattoos, and often painted their faces bright red during battles and dances. Creek women didn’t usually tattoo or paint themselves.

Today, some Creek people still wear moccasins or a ribbon shirt, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths… and they only wear roaches in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Creek transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes–the Creek Indians made long dugout canoes from hollowed-out cypress logs. They used them alot like stand up paddle boards. Over land, the Muskogees used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) Today, of course, Creek people also use cars… and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Creek food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Creeks were farming people. Creek women did most of the farming, harvesting crops of corn, beans, and squash. Creek men did most of the hunting, shooting deer, wild turkeys, and small game and fishing in the rivers and along the coast. Creek dishes included cornbread, soups, and stews cooked on stone hearths.

What were Creek weapons and tools like in the past?
Creek hunters primarily used bows and arrows. Fishermen used fishing spears, nets, or hooks made of bone. In war, Creek men fired their bows or fought with tomahawks and war clubs. Creek warriors also used hide shields to defend themselves.

What are Creek arts and crafts like?
The Creeks were known for their baskets, woodcarvings, and glazed pottery. When they had to move to Oklahoma, the Creeks couldn’t get the materials they used to use for some of their traditional crafts, so they concentrated more on other crafts such as beadwork.

What other Native Americans did the Creek tribe interact with?
The Creeks traded regularly with all the other tribes of the southeast. These tribes communicated using a simplified trade language called Mobilian Jargon. They frequently fought with the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes. The closest Creek allies included the Yuchi, Miccosukee, Alabama, and Coushatta tribes, who were united into a loose confederacy in the 1700’s.

I read that the Creeks were part of the Five Civilized Tribes. Was that an alliance like the Iroquois Confederacy?
No. Many people guess this, but it isn’t true. “The Five Civilized Tribes” was just a name that the white settlers used to refer to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, and Creek tribes of the Southeast. These five tribes were never part of an alliance together, and they did not call themselves the Civilized Tribes in their own languages. Originally, the white settlers probably called them this because these five tribes were early converts to Christianity. They were also farmers who lived in settled towns under sophisticated government systems, which Europeans and early Americans considered a higher level of civilization than independent bands of hunters who moved from place to place. However, there were dozens of other Native American tribes who also led farming lifestyles, not just these five.

What kinds of stories do the Creeks tell?
There are many traditional Creek legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Creek Indian culture. Here is a story about why oppossums have bare tails.

What about Creek religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Creek rituals or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
Younger readers may enjoy The Great Ball Game, a picture book retelling a Creek legend, or Jingle Dancer, the story of a modern Muscogee girl gathering regalia for a powwow. Older readers may like Gray Eagle, a novel about an 18th-century Creek Indian boy. Two good books about Creek culture and history for kids are The Creek: Farmers of the Southeast and Creek Indians Today. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended American Indian books in general.


Enjoy your pre Turkey Day education and remember to be grateful for what we have and what others sacrificed so we could have it.


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