Humor: Do tribal people have fun with anthropologists?

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Posted by Steve Price on March 20, 1999 at 07:28:48:

In Reply to: Re: Humor Across Cultures posted by R. John Howe on March 17, 1999 at 05:09:32:

Dear Pilgrims,

One of the things by which I've been struck for some time is how uncertain we are about how some tribal weavings were intended to be used. This makes me wonder whether telling tall tales to anthropologists might be a form of entertainment to some tribespeople.

For an example, consider the Turkmen germetch. It is generally regarded as a utilitarian object, hung at the threshold of the tent to keep small animals and chickens from entering (Andrews, WIE BLUMEN IN DER WUSTE), or as a sort of dust ruffle (O'Bannon, VANISHING JEWELS). In HALI (#99, p. 51) I pointed out that in the rare germetch that still have their fringes, the total height would present a barrier to adults going into and out of the tent, but small animals and chickens would have no trouble going through the fringe. That is, the conventional wisdom about how germetch were used seems unlikely to be correct. They are more likely to have been trappings for animals or the tent.

Now, we might ask, how did the conventional view arise? Was it because the decoration of these things is somehat like the bottom panel of the tent door rug (ensi)? Or did some Turkmen enjoy a joke that has become propagated, now even to the internet?

Just a thought.

Steve Price

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