PEOPLE: Some Reviews, Obituraries and Appreciations

Colin Turnbull: The Romantic as Anthropologist
Ashley Montagu: The Last Public Intellectual
Margaret Mead: The Queen of Anthropology
The Bronte Sisters: Recollections from my life
Charles Lange: The Last Boasian
Kurt Vonnegut Jr.: So It Goes


From The London Review of Books January, 2001

In the hype for this excellent biography of Colin Turnbull (In The Arms of Africa, Richard Roy Glinker, St. Martin's Press) the publishers remind us that he was one of the most famous anthropologists of the twentieth century, along with Margaret Mead and Louis Leakey. For many of the more austere members of the profession, to say that these three are "famous anthropologists" is a bit like saying that Vanna White is a famous lexicographer. To be fair, each of them did something that was a genuine contribution, but the rest was docudrama and promotion. Anthropology seems particularly vulnerable to this form of exhibitionist exuberance. The public's greed for the sensational and the exotic fuels it. The mandate of anthropology is so broad that it easily bursts the bounds of strict professionalism, despite academic attempts at containment. When I was elected to the Association of Social Anthropologists (about 1959), Meyer Fortes told me that it had been formed "to prevent people like Geoffrey Gorer from calling themselves social anthropologists." But while they might keep the Gorers and Meads out, they were susceptible to defection from within.

Turnbull was urged to do his doctorate at Oxford (as opposed to Cambridge, Manchester or LSE) because they were not so fussy there about anthropology as "science." He still had to keep his nose reasonably clean for purposes of his D.Phil., which appeared as Wayward Servants, his mainstream contribution. His advisor was the super-strict Rodney Needham whose standards of thoroughness were in fact of the fussiest. So he was technically in. But he had no intention – it was foreign to his passionate nature – of toeing the professional line of objectivity in fieldwork and analysis. Like Mead with Samoa, he was into utopia, not ethnography. The idyllic Mbuti pygmies and the dehumanized Ik were to become rods with which to beat Western civilization. He had a message, not a theory, and the message was derived from his peculiar personality, not from the "facts" – even though, as the well-stuffed archives he left to the College of Charleston show, he assiduously gathered these in the prescribed manner. But if we never had either contribution it would be no great loss to anthropology proper, however much of a loss it might be to humanity in general.

He rose to popular fame (and fortune) with his books on the gentle Mbuti and the abominable Ik. Peter Brook added to his fame with the theatrical rendition of the latter (Les Ik, to be exact.) Anthropologists were tolerant of The Forest People despite its naïve romanticism, since it was an engaging account, which graphically illustrated the role of the anthropologist as fieldwork hero, and was a painless introduction to ethnography for freshmen. It's musical evocations of the rain forest and the people's oneness with this version of Eden, touched a lot of chords that are obvious in retrospect, but which were then in the growing stages. Its thesis that the Mbuti only appeared to be subservient to the Bira villagers on the edge of the forest, but really manipulated them, was sympathetic and easy to grasp. I used the book as an introductory text on and off for twenty years, having the students do a Popperean exercise by thinking about what evidence might disprove the main contention. It continues to be used widely today, but perhaps for other, more politically correct, reasons.

The Mountain People was another matter. Turnbull's emotional denunciation of the Ik, a tribe driven to extremes of awful behavior by prolonged starvation, was condemned by many seniors in the profession. Not only, said Frederick Barth, was it bad anthropology – if it was anthropology at all, it was morally reprehensible. None of this touched Turnbull very deeply, since he had no scruples about being scientific and objective, and when it came to morals he made his own decisions. But the sensational nature of his attachments and disgusts certainly ensured his place in popular culture. Although of the generation that grew up in WWII, he anticipated the flower children of the post-war baby boom, and they were mostly responsible for his mass-market appeal as they engorged anthropology courses in the sixties and seventies. He did not, however, consciously seek for any particular audience; he wrote to instruct the world in general. Indeed, his book on the Ik, while sensational enough to garner large sales, put him in bad with the now-established politically correct for suggesting that human nature might not be intrinsically all good. In particular he was an embarrassment in that he accused these black people of being profoundly wicked. The self-evident truth that black misbehavior must always be the result of white racism, was already on its way to becoming gospel. But Turnbull called it as he saw it. He may have been wrong, he was certainly subjective, judgmental and naïve, but he was never less than honest.

His personal life (as we say) added to the myth. He was the handsome and charming hero with the distant, unloving Scottish father and the eccentric Irish mother, who, despite being gruesomely over-possessive, dumped him off for effective care on various foreign nannies. This is a necessary ingredient of the upper-class morality tale, as is Winchester and Magdalen, and service in the Royal Navy. It gave something for his sensitive soul to rebel against, manifested first by his total and lasting devotion to a female guru/mother-substitute in India, Sri Anandayami Ma. His homosexuality was at first ambivalent, and he had a serious engagement for a while, to an Indian woman. He was deeply attached to the Mbuti youth Kenge on his initial visits to the Ituri forest. Then came a life-long tempestuous love affair with Joe Towles – a beautiful black American. After many adventures together, Joe died from AIDS, which Colin had also contracted but which he denied to himself and to the world. Colin buried his spirit in a coffin next to Joe's and retired from the world as a Buddhist monk, through the good graces of the Dalai Lama's elder brother. Colin, refusing treatment and determined to die, is brought back two years later from India, dies and is subsequently buried, in Virginia, in the coffin he had prepared next to Joe's.

Someone must already be writing the screenplay, which would have to be based on Grinker's comprehensive and moving account. Colin's heroic and passionate efforts to help death-row inmates, and to campaign against capital punishment in the face of its crushing popularity, mark him out as a great humanitarian. But it is the "marriage" with Joe, whom he met in a bar in New York while at the American Museum of Natural History, which will naturally spark most interest. It illustrates the driving central need of Colin's life: to identify with the underprivileged and to atone for his own privileged position. (I only knew him slightly, but since we were on first name terms, I will continue with "Colin".) Joe was certainly a profound love object, but he was also the chance to show that one of the underprivileged was, not only as good as, but better than, the rest of us, and definitely better than Colin himself. There is more than a little homosexual masochism in the story, but Colin's abasement before Joe's supposed genius was a playing out of his own guilt on a fairly massive scale.

It was hopeless because Joe was hopeless. Intelligent and even eloquent, he could not fulfill Colin's exaggerated expectations for him. Colin was totally blind to Joe's faults and failings, his lethargy and paranoia. He willed Joe to be a great genius and a great anthropologist. Joe was neither. Colin pushed him through a doctoral dissertation for Makerere University, being careful to serve as one of the examiners of the descriptive thesis on the initiation ceremonies of the Bira villagers: work Joe had done while accompanying Colin on visits to the Mbuti. (Joe, to Colin's annoyance, preferred the villagers to the pygmies.) Despite being hired by the universities that wanted Colin as a star attraction, he was a failure as a teacher. Throughout, Colin persisted in his delusions about Joe, even taking his course on religion and receiving a condescending B, which he insisted was fully justified. Whenever personal failings cost Joe his always precarious jobs, Joe would routinely invoke racism and Colin would hotly support him and resign. But love is always a bit blind, and love wrapped up in guilt is surely the blindest. It is Oscar and Bosie, Achilles and Patroclus (etc.), revisited. The gesture with the two coffins has overtones of Rossetti's burial of his unpublished poems with the body of Lizzie Siddal, except that Colin was more consistent.

You might say that his life, interesting as it was, has nothing to do with an assessment of him as an anthropologist. I'm not sure about that, but where does he then stand professionally? We have accepted Wayward Servants into the cannon, but even then some would claim that he only clarifies and corrects some points in, and adds some descriptive material to, Father Schebesta's monumental account in Die Bambuti. (One wonders if Colin's devotees in the eco-fraternity are not influenced by the fact that "Bambuti" – as we always used to write it, sounds like a diminutive of "Bambi".) What then of the two books on which his fame is largely based? It depends what you think an anthropologist is. Is an anthropologist (social/cultural) someone who lives for a while with native people and records feelings, impressions and judgments about their life? No: that is what a sensitive travel journalist does. There is only a little of lasting use to anthropology in the two books that sealed his fame; some would claim there is nothing in the second one. But there is something there, for it touches us, engages us, and even excites us, in a way travel journalism rarely does. It seems to be telling us something that goes way beyond the parochial and descriptive. It is closer to Conrad or Melville in its effect. It is "literature" in that sense, even if it is not technically fiction. He could wear both professional and literary hats, as is shown by his technically competent thesis, and his autobiographical The Human Cycle. But as the angry jeremiad on the Ik shows even more clearly, he was happiest and most at ease when indulging his sentiments, particularly his moral outrage. This broke all the extant anthropological rules, but it was prescient. In a sense, the current generation of anthropologists has voted for Colin. It may not be "anthropology" they said, but it ought to be. This is what anthropology should be like, not hiding behind a phony and unachievable objectivity. The "post-modern" anthropology of multiculturalism, activism, commitment and self-reflexivity, is the anthropology of Colin being himself, not being what the profession of his day demanded he should be. The baby-boom flower children, now de-flowered and tenured, are the true disciples of Turnbullian subjectivism. Insofar as they are predominantly activists, they could be seen as the heirs to Joe's insistence on helping the Ik rather than studying them. As Colin would have wished, he and Joe triumphed as a team – except that he would have preferred even more for Joe to triumph alone, as he may yet do.

So is this the true Turnbull legacy? Perhaps, although his conclusions on the Ik must always make him suspect to the neo-Rousseauians who will be satisfied with nothing less than complete human goodness. The Ik did not show that we humans are basically bad, but that when reduced by terrible circumstances we can behave really badly, and not with the altruism and compassion that the tender-minded would predict. The self-reflexive only want an angelic face to shine back at them from the mirror of the Other. (The Other what? we ask.) But if Colin got the content wrong for them, he got the approach – subjective and moralistic – right, and that is the way anthropology is going whether we like it or not (and I don't.) Even so, I think his real legacy may well lie more in his life than in his art. He was an oracle desperately trying to tell us something about life and how to live it: we should live it like the Mbuti, and not like the Ik. That much is obvious. But should we live it like Colin Turnbull? The quick answer is that we could not for the most part. He represents an extreme – a romantic extreme in the grand romantic fashion. But all extremes have a lesson for the norm. Colin's utter and absolute devotion to Joe; his self-abnegation and promotion of the beloved; the absolute blindness of his love; the almost Wagnerian purity of his death-in-life decision to expire with Joe – all this is a message about passion to a world largely denied the possibility of such passion. The world Colin was raised in was the same world many of us grew up in: the world of emotional repression, and an overall horror of passion. Great passions might be allowed, in the romantic tradition, to great "artists" - but the rest of us had to get on with the job. It must be so. Yet perhaps we need reminding - and this is an anthropological reminder - that people are capable of a fuller, richer, more uncompromising life of the emotions: a life unconstrained by the social rules of what is or is not done. Such total and overpowering love is not for all of us, but it tests the boundaries and so is revelatory; it is a human possibility, and so must be part of any theory of the human condition. Colin rode life like a surfer on the crest of passion. His anthropological encounters with Africa, and with the pretentious but cramped profession, were incidental to his life-work, which was his love for Joe. His major contribution may indeed have been his life and not his art. His truly great legacy to human understanding may have been, as he insisted, his love and not his works.


(From Anthropology News, January, 2000)

Ashley Montagu was born as Israel Ehrenberg, into a poor, illiterate, immigrant Russian Jewish family in the East End of London. He was a precocious schoolboy, and with the encouragement of a kind schoolteacher, he took a skull found on the banks of the Thames to Sir Arthur Keith, and peppered the great man with questions. As a result of Keith’s encouragement he was admitted as a diploma student to University College London, at the age of 17, and studied physical anthropology with Grafton Elliot Smith, and statistics and psychology with Karl Pearson and C. E. Spearman. He was, at the same time, Bronislaw Malinowski’s first student in social anthropology at the London School of Economics. He emigrated to the USA in 1927, where he changed his name to Montague Francis Ashley-Montagu (he was an admirer of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.) He explained that this name opened doors that were at that time closed by anti-Semitic prejudice. He did a PhD with Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict at Columbia (1937) and taught at various universities and medical colleges, but he largely supported himself independently through writing and lecturing. He became, with Margaret Mead, one of the most effective communicators in anthropology, being a regular on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

His sixty books cover an enormous range and vary from technical tracts on human genetics and Australian Aboriginal reproductive beliefs, to more popular accounts such as The Elephant Man (1996), which became the basis for the play and film of that name. In all his work he emphasized the interplay of genetic and environmental factors in producing human behavior. Two books in particular had tremendous influence: Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race (1942), and The Natural Superiority of Women (1953). The former stemmed from his work for UNESCO in its “Statement on Race” (1950), but he had long opposed the orthodox view of the existence of discrete races, and his position that “race” was not a scientific category but a “social construction” has become, in turn, its own orthodoxy. The matter is still in dispute however, and proponents of the “reality” of racial differences are making a comeback. His position on women was prescient, but his argument that their superiority was based on their quality as nurturers of the young caused him to be attacked by early feminists.

He saw himself as carrying out the Malinowskian program of understanding culture in terms of human needs, and this required a detailed knowledge both of culture and of human evolutionary biology. He championed the idea of neotony – the retention of infant traits into adulthood – as the basis of human sociability, with a consequent stress on playfulness, creativity, curiosity and love. Love he saw as the basic human attribute, rooted in the mother-child relationship, and our failure to capitalize on it as our greatest danger. Human neotony was biologically rooted, but it gave us an astonishing flexibility, and the opportunity to create cooperative societies. Montagu’s vision of a unified anthropology that would use knowledge of our evolutionary past to illuminate the possibilities of a peaceful future was perhaps his greatest gift to his science and to mankind.

That was the article for public consumption. On a personal note: When Rutgers, in 1966, asked me to come and help start a new college and a new department there, I protested: "But you already have a department and Ashley Montagu is the head of it. That's what it says on his books." An embarassed dean explained that Ashley had only been there for a year, then took "indefinite leave of absence" while continuing to bill himself as head of the non-existent department. I was puzzled but took the job. Since then various experts on his life and times have maintained that he was "forced out" by Rutgers during the Macarthy years for his left-wing views. This might have happened to (Sir) Moses Finley but Ashley never claimed it nor does the evidence support it. He just didn't think the university was ready to create a department. He was right; it could barely pay his salary.

Things were better by 1967 when I arrived and I got to know Ashley, and his gentle wife Marjorie, who for many years were friends and neighbors in Princeton NJ. He was a marvellous mixture of a man, inspiring anger in many and love in a few. We were intellectual adversaries on some issues like aggression, but I learned more from arguments with him (always friendly, even funny) than with all the agreement of colleagues. He became a kind of adopted grandfather to my three girls who called him "Mr Nicely" because they were told to "say goodbye nicely" to him. They quite adored him. He was one of the few older men who ever gave me really sound advice in my life, including telling me not be so anxious to "know everything." "Good judgement is worth any amount of sheer information" he would tell me. He himself was the best read person I ever knew and his Princeton house was lined solidly with books, which Marjorie called "my insulation." He was a great ballroom dancer and he and my wife could do a competition-level quickstep. I contributed to his festschrift (on aggression) but lost touch for stretches of time as I was turned toward Europe. In his last years Lin and I visited the Montagus almost weekly to have tea. They could not drink tea, so they drank hot water to keep us company, and we contributed the thin, delicate cucumber sandwiches they both liked.

He loved literature and read everything poetical I produced and wrote a handsome review of The Violent Imagination, which with some additions became the Foreward to The Passionate Mind. When he was essentially waiting to die in a Princeton nursing home, I visited him several times weekly and brought him a tape recorder and earphones and tapes of old BBC Radio plays, including a Sherlock Holmes series, which he loved. (A passion we shared. We would test each other on details of the stories. He always won.) He would tell me stories of his own childhood, of his mother who spoke no English and was "a barbarian"; of a kind schoolteacher who saw his promise and encouraged him and loaned him books.When I told him I was writing my own autobiography he said "Always tell the truth whatever the cost; it is worthless otherwise." I might have been the last person outside his small family who saw him alive. We remained friendly with sweet and funny Marjorie until her death. She had a particular delight in Tiger Woods, and if you visited her while he was on TV there was no conversation during his shots. With Ashley's death the world lost a great public intellectual; I lost a great personal friend. They really don't make them like Ashley any more.


(From The New York TImes, Nov. 19th, 1978)

LOS ANGELES – The reaction of the anthropologists gathered here for their annual convention was pretty uniform. On the first day of the conference, Margaret Mead, with her usual flair for the dramatic, died, and the feelings of all were summed up by a young anthropologist who had never known her personally – “Anthropology without Margaret Mead – unthinkable.”

Then the memories came tumbling out – one image above all: a tiny, striding, pixie-faced woman wearing a flowing cloak and carrying a long thumb stick. (She was typically precise and particular about this: it was not a “crook” or a “pole” – it was a “Thumb Stick.”) She was left over from the time when to be an anthropologist was to be by definition eccentric, and to be a famous anthropologist demanded a striking public presence. She never let her public down.

The difficulty in assessing her part in American culture is in separating the public person from the scholar – and it’s probably not worth the effort. She was part of the new wave of anthropologists who, in the 1920s and 1930s, created a place for the subject in the public mind, and created the subject as they went along. The two processes were inseparable, and Maggie was the arch publicist.

She loved the public role and did it supremely well. Armed with little more than a brief from Franz Boas to look for cultural determinants of human behavior, she hit pay dirt with the Samoan adolescents and Coming of Age in Samoa, became the first anthropological best seller.

Much as Malinowski had shaken the public with what he called the “sexual republic of the children” among the Trobriand Islanders, Margaret mead struck a raw nerve with her compelling picture of a trauma-free adolescence in Samoa. Perhaps it was a one-sided picture. Perhaps it depended on the remarkable felicity of her prose – but, right or wrong, it fixed the idea that “culture determines personality” in the public mind, and influenced a whole generation of liberal educators and psychologists. Again, with her books on Sex and Temperament and Male and Female, she can be seen as ahead of her time in her concern with the variability of sex roles.

But was she simply ahead of her time, or did she in fact help to bring about the intellectual climate in which the sexual revolution and the sex-role revolution could occur? Certainly in any conservative demonology of the corrupters of youth she ranks with Dr. Benjamin Spock and Herbert Marcuse as an arch-villain. And she never gave up. She delighted the youth movement by testifying for the decriminalization of marijuana possession – and she typically spoke her mind regardless of opinion.

Being a legend in her own time meant she was free from any petty involvement of her ego in her work. That ego was unassailable: She could change her mind freely and did so. She realized, with a clarity that many lesser minds in the profession cannot manage, that the cultural determinist dogmas of “Papa” Boas were outmoded. “He told us what to look for and we went and found it,” she announced with disarming honesty – adding that anthropology should become better acquainted with the new material on the biology of behavior that had accumulated in the past three decades. She made opinion, she did not follow it.

She could also be marvelously witty: the secret of successful marriage, she told her readers in Redbook, was to marry someone whose interests were the same as your own.” “I always did that” she said, “and all my marriages were a great success.”

Is anthropology unthinkable without her? The anthropology she helped to create was the work of a small, dedicated, eccentric bunch. They were very close to each other. Today anthropology has changed vastly. Post-sputnik spending led to a mushrooming of departments. The little gang of strange brilliant people suddenly became a huge “profession” dedicated to starting dozens of research industries to keep itself going like a self-perpetuating golem.

Some of anthropology’s current concerns are still very Meadian – sex roles, education, cultural change (the work on the Manus of the Admiralty Islands is still a classic), while others, such as ecology, primatology and mathematical analysis are departures.

Anthropology today does not have the same unity as it had, of necessity, when a few students were all doing the same thing. The move from concern with tribal people to urban and minority studies has rendered it little different from sociology. Imported French fads like “structuralism” and cabalistic analyses of symbol systems, while recognizable to a Meadian, lack a solid location in culture as she understood it – a vehicle for the human emotions of human beings to come into some kind of intelligible order. But with her marvelous open-mindedness she welcomed it all – except for the fanatical fringes, which she disliked and sternly rebuked.

No one knows where anthropology is going, if anywhere. And perhaps the student was right: The anthropology she helped to create may well have died with her, being unable to survive the plague of professionalism.

But the discipline is unimportant. Work will go on. What she will be remembered for most is her contribution to fostering, not just another academic discipline, but that long, informed, liberal, questing, progressive, courageous, challenging tradition of critical humane inquiry that is so essential a part of the eternal vigilance. When some future Marx writes The American Ideology, there will have to be a chapter on “Margaret Mead and Anthropology.” What a pity she couldn’t have written it herself.


In Participant Observer: Memoir of a Transatlantic Life (Transaction Books, 2004), I remember my early years in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s. I wrote these memories in the third person since, at this distance of years, they seemed almost to be about someone else.

“Warm summer days on the moors when he walked with them over to the village where it all started (it was called Haworth they said, because it was high above the river Worth). His mother told him about the three little girls who once lived in the parsonage there; how they grew up to be famous in London… The three famous sisters had a brother, it seemed, who went the way of the pub and disgrace and an early grave. Despite this the brother was somehow important, because their [his parents] earliest house as a family had been just a few houses down from the inn at the Crossroads (the Crossroads Inn, no less) where the brother used to walk in the rain with his writings rolled up inside his top hat. He went to read them to his friends in the room over the bar, and the friends said later that one of the sisters had stolen his story about ghosts on the moor, but no one believed them.

The poor brother wasn’t much talked about. Instead she talked about the three girls with the funny name, (she wrote it for him: Brontë – Why were there those funny dots? So you knew to say the “e” – it wasn’t just “Bront”) and about their success, and about how their father, like her father, was from Ireland, where his name had been plain old Brunty. (Why did he change it? Goodness knows; people do strange things.) So was the husband of the eldest girl from Ireland. He was a curate in the father’s church at the top of the steep hill, past the dangerous pub, past the house where some of the cousins lived.”

Later I went to the Grammar School at Thornton, and noted the names of the founders (in 1673): “Messrs. Drake, Ellis, Sunderland and Sagar” - and that the names were still common in the area:

“Mr. Brontë, when he was the curate there, had preached at the now ruined Old Bell Chapel. The sisters had chosen the pen name “Bell” and Emily was even “Ellis Bell.” This couldn’t be coincidence. He would go and stare at the tiny birth house – half of it now a butcher’s shop – with the little commemorative plaque, and wonder and dream of nothing too definite, but of things beyond here, beyond now, in that world still to be discovered where all would be revealed.

He would drag his friends to the ruins of Top Withens, the supposed site of Wuthering Heights [see photo below], close enough to his natal village, where he would commune like a brooding Heathcliff with the souls of the three sisters, whom he now knew to be the famous Brontës. He only seriously read Wuthering Heights; the rest were seen as women’s romance slush. He would lean on the broken windowsill at twilight, close his eyes, and imagine the ghost of Cathy crying out in the night.”

Still later, as a student at the London School of Economics (in the early 1950s) I remembered Mrs. Gaskell’s story of Mr. Brontë having the children wear a mask in order to speak to him:

“There was method in most of his seeming madness, not least with the mask, for this would have seemed decidedly peculiar at the time to the no-nonsense West Riding hill-folk so well (if sensationally) described by the good lady and friend of Charlotte. Things had not changed all that much between the 1860s and the 1930s. There were very old people who as children had known the aging, virtually blind, clergyman, and his sad bereaved son-in-law, with their Irish accents, and their lonely life at the parsonage. And the principle of the mask was unchanged: the voice behind the mask was still the safe voice, the one that did not expose you, that let you weigh your answer according to the circumstances. The old vicar had been so very right: when dealing with the adults, reach for the mask.”

Later still, after my father’s death, in the late 1960s, I returned from the USA to visit Haworth and see my cousin John, a sign painter, who was named after my father:

“They drank together at the Black Bull and the Crossroads Inn, and talked of Branwell, and old man Patrick, and Mrs. Gaskell’s infamies, and the Worth Valley Railway with its rejuvenated steam trains, and other local things. They remembered the local sport the lads enjoyed of misleading southern tourists (Charlotte’s “lisping cockneys”) who asked the way to “Wethering Hates.” The helpful lads would cheerfully send them off into some trackless bog and collapse laughing behind a dry stone wall. It was raining and cold (of course) when he went to the parsonage. He was a life member of the Society and could have gone in free, but he paid his two-shillings anyway; it was little enough. He looked out from Emily’s tiny room, at the churchyard, and remembered the poem Matthew Arnold wrote about the three sisters. He thought he should write one for his father, but nothing came.”

I went on to become an anthropologist, and to found a department of anthropology at Rutgers University in the USA where I still live and work. With Lionel Tiger I wrote the best seller of the ‘70s The Imperial Animal, and have written some nineteen other books.
I am still a life member of the Society and attend meetings of my local American branch in New Jersey, where I have lectured on the Brontë’s lives and work. However far afield I travel, the Brontës of my birthplace continue to haunt my memory and imagination, and I am glad to have been able to share some of this in Participant Observer.

The Legacy of the Pink Adobe
An appreciation of CHARLES H. LANGE

(Written for an anticipated festschrift on Lange called The Last Boasian.)

Some people and events profoundly change one’s life. A common observation I suppose, but a true one for many of us. I was graduate student at Harvard in 1958 in the old Social Relations Department, having come over from The London School of Economics. We had to pass examinations not only in social anthropology, my subject, but also sociology and clinical and social psychology. I was not enthused by much of this, but fortunately this was a time when linguistics was gaining enormous prestige as a rising discipline, and I had Clyde Kluckhohn on Navajo, Paul Friedrich on descriptive linguistics and Dell Hymes on language and culture.

My supervisor was Evon Z. Vogt, known affectionately as “Vogtie” to his lucky students. They were lucky, because Vogtie was an indefatigable worker on their behalf in the matter of getting grants for fieldwork. He had arranged with the SSRC to create a fund of grants for summer fieldwork. I was something of a whiner and complainer about being smothered with exams and not being able to get on with independent research. I really was very unsure I wanted to be an anthropologist at all, having gone to Harvard only because Cornell reneged on an offer to do philosophy there. Vogtie rightly saw that my bluff should be called and I should be packed of “into the field.”

It was also my incredible luck that he was from the Southwest (New Mexico) and had worked on Zuni veterans and homesteaders. What is more, he had markers to call in, and he told me he would contact Charles Lange of the University of Southern Illinois who was working in the Pueblo of Cochiti, New Mexico, one of the few that allowed anthropologists to stay there. Boas was there briefly and Ruth Benedict and Esther Goldfrank has spent time there and published, as had a missionary priest, Father Demarest. But it seemed no one had cracked the code of Cochiti kinship terms. Were they, as the common wisdom went, established by Fred Eggan in The Social Organization of the Western Pueblos, an acculturated version of the “Western Pueblo” kinship system? This seemed plausible, but with Goldfrank’s work particularly there seemed to be something else lurking there. This was a problem I could live with and even love, doubling up my interests in kinship and language.

But what of Charles H. Lange about whom I knew nothing and who would obviously make or break this adventure? I was afraid he might be annoyed at being thus forced to adopt an orphan student, but not at all. He wrote me most cordially and said he welcomed the cooperation. Kinship terms were not particularly his bailiwick, and he thought it a good idea I should concentrate on them. This of course meant learning as much of the language as I could. There was very little written about it and no grammar and dictionary existed. Lange (I didn’t dare to call him “Chuck” until much later) told me to get Boas’s Keresan Texts from the Peabody Museum library. There was a grammatical sketch Boas had done from them which, while based on another dialect of Keres, would give me at least an introduction to the language. I buried myself in the texts, and the delightful unfamiliarity of the Amerindian tongue – difficult, but damn sight easier to handle than the painfully difficult Navaho.

What happened next blew me away (as we now say.) Chuck sent me a large parcel, which turned out to be the manuscript of his forthcoming book Cochiti: A New Mexico Pueblo Past and Present. I came from the British school of detailed ethnography, and had been warned that Americans did not have the same high standards. Not so. This book was remarkable in its detail and sharp in its analysis. And it was exciting to me because it was so decidedly Boasian. I was reared in a-historical British Functionalism, where history, social evolution and archaeology were taboo topics, and linguistics simply meant learning contact and fieldwork necessary languages. G. P. Murdock complained that British social anthropology was not anthropology at all but really a kind of sociology. I followed my idol Raymond Firth in accepting that as a compliment.

But I had come very much to respect the American idea of a “four fields” kind of anthropology that was not afraid of the past and tried to incorporate it in its analysis. Firth went as far as to say that the “historical dimension” of societies should not be ignored. Chuck pointed this out in a letter to me and thought his approach met that challenge. The Boasian approach while eschewing evolution as a series of stages, looked carefully at regional history. Kluckhohn had explained that Boas thought this a necessary analytical stage before any kind of comparative work could be done. History would “clear the way for science” was the doctrine. But this could often get lost in the “ten-foot shelf” of ethnographic detail in which Boas and the Boasians immersed themselves.

Cochiti, however, while rich in detail, incorporated the known history of the tribe and the archaeology of the tribal region. In fact Chuck had a field school outside the Pueblo that was excavating an ancient Pueblo ruin. Imagine the amazement of a hard-nosed Functionalist condemned to sifting sand in 100 degree-plus heat in the New Mexico desert. But that was the plan. I was to go to Santa Fe, meet the Langes and the students from SUI, and stay for a week in the camp. It was the week before the summer Corn Dance, and evidently the Cochiti did not like strangers around while they were doing their rehearsals for the ritual. But Chuck made arrangements for me to rent a house from Joe Trujillo, an old friend and a fine gentleman who became my friend in turn. It was best, Chuck said, not to have a car or you would just end up being a chauffeur in and out of Santa Fe (forty-five miles over bad tracks and arroyos then.) Another graduate student, Roy D’Andrade – who was to help found cognitive anthropology, was heading for Penasco, and offered me a ride. So we set off west in a cheap car, with all that optimism of youth.

I have told the story of our adventures at length (perhaps too much length) in Participant Observer: Memoir of a Transatlantic Life. On the way, as we stopped at night to camp in state parks, I studied by torchlight two books. One was Spanish Made Easy, the other was Chuck Lange’s Cochiti. I drank in everything I could about the economics and the clans and the ceremonies: I tried to memorize all the Kachinas. Eventually we arrived in Santa Fe, Roy dropped me off and I met Chuck, his wife and the students. He she and they were all charming, hospitable and interested in my notions of how Fred Eggan might be wrong about the state of Keresan kinship terms. It was “bucking theory” they said and evidently a good thing. Chuck took me to the candle-lit Pink Adobe and I had my first taste of the different and delicious Mexican style food that I have loved ever since. When I think of Chuck I always think of chiles rellenos and pollo con mole.

The field school was tough – physically tough, but I still value that early lesson in how to do careful empirical archaeological fieldwork. There is no substitute for doing it, and Chuck was a careful and tolerant teacher. Being one of nature’s antinomians I asked why they bothered going on digging once they had dated the ruin. Chuck was amused and set that as their exam question for the end of the course. He and I used to sit by the water tank and talk a lot in the cool of the evening while the coyotes howled, and as he listened to what I had to say about the Egan thesis he told me that the only way to settle it was to know the history of the founding and development of the various pueblo villages. I was approaching this entirely through glottochronology (dating the splits between dialects by the relative similarity of vocabulary.) This suited my analytical cast of mind, but Chuck insisted I measure this against the dates and sequences established by archaeology. He gave me the reading list. I groaned but acknowledged he was right and would start on this once I returned to Harvard in the Fall.

I describe Chuck in Participant Observer as “A large man with a big head and receding chin, he could have played a good Mr Chasuble (Myles Malleson style) in an American Importance of Being Earnest.” He was I said, a “tolerant, serious and kind man.” He welcomed the idea of cooperation. There were several Cochiti men helping on the dig and of course I peppered them with questions and took down hundreds of words and even songs – when I should have been digging and sifting. The dialect of Keres was different from that Boas wrote about, but the grammar was recognizable. I particularly liked the existence of a dual number as in Greek, and the only marked tense being future. At Harvard I had been taught the Pueblos were “past oriented.” That didn’t seem to fit. But perhaps over impressed by my enthusiasm Chuck suggested that I should think about doing “A Note on Cochiti Linguistics” that he would put as an appendix to Cochiti – if the U. of Texas press agreed. This was remarkable. I was a wet-behind-the-ears graduate student with no field experience and not a lot beyond enthusiasm to recommend me. But Chuck saw something and took a gamble. It would be my first publication and a serious one based on fieldwork. If I wanted a job back with the Functionalist Brits, this would truly be a lift. Firth had sanctioned my trip to Cochiti (he had actually lectured on Goldfrank’s account) saying the Pueblos were exempt from the usual disdain for American ethnography and were a “classic case.” Thanks to the generosity and wisdom of Chuck Lange, I was embroiled in classic anthropology: born, baptized, confirmed and ordained.

The rest of the story I tell in Participant Observer, and the reader is referred to it in all its wonderful details. After Cochiti I was in absolutely no doubt about what I wanted to be and where I wanted to be. No more hankering after philosophy; it was anthropology or bust. Chuck left me at the end of the Summer and I was on my own, but with his good friends and now mine to guide me I plunged into the language and talked kinship talk as much as they would tolerate. Through all this my constant companion was Chuck’s manuscript. It saved me the impossible task of doing any kind of complete ethnography (British style) since of course I didn’t have time. I checked numerous points with the Cochiti, and I can report that I never found a contradictory fact. What is more I found his general judgments about the society to be dead on. I used his data on the baseball teams to check the kinship affiliations of the teams and came up with some notions about their rivalry. I put this in a short article “Pueblo Baseball: A New Use for Old Witchcraft” for the Journal of American Folklore. This in fact became my first publication, and of course Chuck had arranged it with the editor.

I came back to Cochiti the next year (1959) and forged ahead as much as I could. I met Fred Eggan in Santa Fe and he was interested if skeptical about my kinship ideas. Chuck was, he said, “In the tradition of Leslie White, but with a better sense of history.” As he left he said, “Do a great job in Cochiti” and I tried to. The reader may judge from The Keresan Bridge: A Problem in Pueblo Ethnology. This was based on the thesis I wrote for London University in 1965 and was published in 1967. It took a long time since I was earning a living in the process (including fieldwork on a remote Irish island) and had to do it in my “spare time.” Chuck reviewed it for the American Anthropologist and was very nice about it – as one would expect. I returned to the LSE and the profession, but I was too hooked on the American vision of anthropology to stay there, and when Rutgers offered a chance, in 1967, I came back and have been here ever since, trying to live up to the high mandate of anthropology that Chuck was instrumental in passing on to me.

The essence of what I discovered about Cochiti kinship and then used to reanalyze Keresan kinship generally and eventually the history of kinship in the Pueblos, was that it was not as Eggan thought an acculturated version of the Western Pueblo “Crow system” of matrilineal kinship terms, but a more like a stage on the way to full development of such a system, exemplified by the Hopi. It was based on the most elementary of systems as is found in Australia, among the Dravidians and Melanesians and even the Maya as Eggan himself discovered. This involved alternate generation terms and self-reciprocal terms, both items that Eggan had relegated to a footnote but which were crucial. The variations in Crow systems, I concluded, represented various points of development and change from this basic system. You can follow up the details in my various books including The Challenge of Anthropology and The Tribal Imagination.

Final Thought

This is all a long way from a Santa Fe evening in the Pink Adobe and the sifting of sand with Cochiti Indians at an archaeological dig in the desert. But the perceptive reader will see how without the necessary stage of Chuck Lange and his own Boasian vision it would not have been possible: I simply would never have started on the road. This is my inadequate thanks to a great anthropologist, and a gentleman in the true sense of that word.


Below: (Top) Top Withens, near Haworth, W. Yorkshire. The supposed inspiration for Wuthering Heights. Photo taken in the 1930s. Today the house, even then in sad repair, is a ruin. The more recent picture (2012 Bronte Gazette - I am a life member of the society) shows its present condition and the attempts to save what is left. The trees have borne up remarkably well.

(center) Ashley Montagu (bottom right) Cochiti Pueblo Corn Dance c. 1890 (Photo by Charles Loomis - from Lange's Cochiti.) Nothing at all had changed in the dance in 1958-9.

(bottom left) Margaret Mead

Top Withens (Wuthering Heights) c. 1930
                                                Top Withens today
Ashley Montagu


Kurt Vonnegut (in 2003) sent me this cartoon of him on the back of a letter, which I shall reproduce once I find it.(You can see his typing showing through the cartoon.) I think it sums him up better than any words. For my thoughts on him as an anthropologist see Reproduction and Succession p.187-8.
Here is the letter. We had been writing since about 1989 about one thing or another, but this was in response to my sending him the paper that ended up as the chapter "In The Company of Men" in The Tribal Imagination. I'm sure he wouldn't mind me sharing it with you. I wrote there (following Lionel Tiger) that the emotion of male bonding was primeval and related to the need for absolute support in war and the hunt. I looked at the great epics of male bonding from Gilgamesh through the Illiad to the Morte D'Arthur, and particularly at the profound poetry of mourning for the loss of a companion. No one who had not been through battle and the bonds it forged could truly understand this, I said. It was stronger than the bond of marriage. This was Kurt's response.
Cochiti Indian Corn Dance, 1890