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Adam Kuper: Police rituals, 21 April 2005

... Baker said. ‘And to remind everyone that he was a person we have given him a name. That name is Adam.’ Adam, he announced, had been brought to the country as a slave, and sacrificed in a barbaric ritual. In September 2002, in a ritual rather like the one performed by Adoye’s parents, the Met held a memorial service ...

Clever, or even Clever-Clever

Adam Kuper: Edmund Leach, 23 May 2002

Edmund Leach: An Anthropological Life 
by Stanley Tambiah.
Cambridge, 517 pp., £60, February 2002, 0 521 52102 5
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The Essential Edmund Leach: Vol. I: Anthropology and Society 
by Stephen Hugh-Jones and James Laidlaw.
Yale, 406 pp., £30, February 2001, 0 300 08124 3
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The Essential Edmund Leach: Vol. II: Culture and Human Nature 
by Stephen Hugh-Jones and James Laidlaw.
Yale, 420 pp., £30, February 2001, 0 300 08508 7
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... Edmund Leach was Provost of King’s College, Cambridge, KBE and FBA, a trustee of the British Museum, a senior fellow of Eton College, the president of societies ranging from the Royal Anthropological Institute to the British Humanist Association, and a noted collector of committee chairmanships. I once asked him how he could square all this with his regular insistence that he was a scourge of the establishment ...

Man Who Burned

Adam Kuper: James Brooke, 12 December 2002

White Rajah: A Biography of Sir James Brooke 
by Nigel Barley.
Little, Brown, 262 pp., £16.99, October 2002, 0 316 85920 6
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... In 1921, a boat carrying Somerset Maugham upriver in Borneo capsized in eight-foot waves, and for half an hour the writer clung desperately to the wreckage. ‘At last, helped by some of the crew,’ a district officer reported, ‘Maugham managed to reach the bank utterly exhausted. Dyaks took the shipwrecked party into their house, revived them with drink and provided them with sarongs ...

Some Flim-Flam with Socks

Adam Kuper: Laurens van der Post, 3 January 2002

Storyteller: The Many Lives of Laurens van der Post 
by J.D.F. Jones.
Murray, 505 pp., £25, September 2001, 0 7195 5580 9
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... In 1972, when his reputation was close to its peak, Laurens van der Post published a novel called A Story like the Wind. Reviewing it in the TLS, I wrote that it was an old-fashioned colonial romance, but since the book carried a portentous preface in which Van der Post described himself as a great authority on Africa, I added that his statements about the Bushmen, the Zulu and other peoples were unreliable and tinged with racism, and that much of his material was drawn uncritically (without acknowledgment) from outdated sources ...

Men’s Work

Adam Kuper: Lévi-Strauss, 24 June 2004

Claude Lévi-Strauss: The Formative Years 
by Christopher Johnson.
Cambridge, 208 pp., £40, February 2003, 0 521 01667 3
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... The tout Paris of mid-20th-century intellectuals seems to have been a small world, small enough to pack into a few cafés, its members visiting each other in their cottages in the country or coming together at weekends in the houses of wealthy patrons. Artists, writers, philosophers and scientists shared a world. Claude Lévi-Strauss was the son of an artist, and two of his uncles were painters who had their moments of fame ...

Like Cutting a Cow

Adam Kuper: Ritual killings in southern Africa, 6 July 2006

Medicine Murder in Colonial Lesotho: The Anatomy of a Moral Crisis 
by Colin Murray and Peter Sanders.
Edinburgh, 493 pp., £50, May 2006, 0 7486 2284 5
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... In the chaotic last years of apartheid – the regime crumbling, local authorities in turmoil, violence a constant threat – there were outbreaks of witch-hunting and medicine murder in what was then the northern Transvaal. Hundreds of suspected witches were burnt to death. In 1988, a medicine murder scandal precipitated the fall of the government of the Venda Bantustan ...

Off the Verandah

Adam Kuper: Malinowski’s Papuan peregrinations, 7 October 2004

Malinowski: Odyssey of an Anthropologist 1884-1920 
by Michael Young.
Yale, 690 pp., £25, May 2004, 0 300 10294 1
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... Michael Young’s biography takes Bronislaw Malinowski to the age of 36, when the brilliant Polish anthropologist completed his field study of the Trobriand Islands, married, and prepared to make his career back in Europe. Young is a Melanesian ethnographer himself, and the book comes into its own when Malinowski arrives in Australia, on the eve of the Great War, and begins the expeditions to Papua that effectively marked the beginning of modern anthropology ...

Putting things in boxes

Adam Kuper: Margaret Mead, 24 May 2007

To Cherish the Life of the World: Selected Letters of Margaret Mead 
edited by Margaret Caffrey and Patricia Francis.
Basic Books, 429 pp., £17.99, September 2006, 0 465 00815 1
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... Margaret Mead and her second husband, Reo Fortune, spent nearly two years in the interior of New Guinea between 1931 and 1933. Just 29 years old when they set out, Mead had already published two bestselling books, Coming of Age in Samoa and Growing up in New Guinea. Fortune, a highly competitive, paranoid and occasionally violent New Zealander, had yet to make his name as an anthropologist ...

No Escape

Bruce Robbins: Culture, 1 November 2001

Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress 
edited by Samuel Huntington and Lawrence Harrison.
Basic Books, 384 pp., £12.99, April 2001, 0 465 03176 5
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by Francis Mulhern.
Routledge, 198 pp., £8.99, March 2000, 0 415 10230 8
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Culture: The Anthropologists’ Account 
by Adam Kuper.
Harvard, 299 pp., £12.50, November 2000, 0 674 00417 5
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... patterns. This makeover should come as no surprise. Referring to his native South Africa, Adam Kuper reminds us that ‘protecting’ cultural identities was also an official strategy under apartheid. Today, with brawny arrogance again forcing its way in among the vulnerable minorities sheltering under culture’s umbrella, the example is harder ...

Happy Bunnies

John Pemble: Cousin Marriage, 25 February 2010

Incest and Influence: The Private Life of Bourgeois England 
by Adam Kuper.
Harvard, 296 pp., £20.95, November 2009, 978 0 674 03589 8
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... dethroned liberal-humanist intellectuals and nobody was any longer interested in how to combine Adam Smith with the Bible, or the rule of the many with the wisdom of the few. Yet literature gives back what history has erased. In fact literature – Galsworthy, Woolf, Waugh, Wodehouse, Nancy Mitford, Compton-Burnett – has made this Victorian hybrid, the ...

Hang Santa

Wendy Doniger, 16 December 1993

Unwrapping Christmas 
edited by Daniel Miller.
Oxford, 239 pp., £25, November 1993, 0 19 827903 5
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... adults celebrate Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve while children celebrate Christmas Day. Adam Kuper, writing about the English Christmas, sees New Year’s Eve as a reversal of Christmas Eve. The New Year is launched with a party that contrasts sharply with the Christmas dinner. At Christmas, the English get together in family groups and ...

Pull as archer, in lbs

Mary Beard, 5 September 1996

Cambridge Women: Twelve Portraits 
edited by Edward Shils and Carmen Blacker.
Cambridge, 292 pp., £30, February 1996, 0 521 48344 1
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A Woman in History: Eileen Power 1889-1940 
by Maxine Berg.
Cambridge, 292 pp., £45, April 1996, 0 521 40278 6
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... heeded by some of his fellow contributors to Cambridge Women. Two other essays are worth reading: Adam Kuper on the anthropologist Audrey Richards and Maxine Berg on the medieval historian Eileen Power – who was apparently only too happy to leave a rather dreary Girton in the Thirties for the much more exciting territory of the LSE. This essay is a ...

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