PEOPLE IN TWILIGHT: Vanishing and Changing Cultures by Adrien Stoutenberg

PEOPLE IN TWILIGHT: Vanishing and Changing Cultures

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Miss Stoutenberg tries to project the ethos of each of seven broad cultural groups as it was before the direct and/or indirect undermining of its integrity, as it changed with the variously motivated influxes and influences of outsiders, and as it is now wherever extinction (of whatever sort -- genocide, assimilation, malaise) is not yet absolute. She is not an anthropologist and the book presupposes no background: as a survey of many distinct peoples in terms of one common denominator, it's an ambitious undertaking for writer and reader alike, and prey to pitfalls. The organizing principle, such as it is, is naive ethnologically, insofar as geography isn't a viable basis for classification except superficially: and so, superficially, the Prairie, Plain, Forest, and Desert Indians of North America are connected (i.e., lumped together) in the first unit; the last unit, however, is inexplicably random, treating successively and very briefly of some South American Indians, the Lapps, and the Ainus of Japan. After documenting the plundering of Eskimo resources by men who left as a legacy a whole constellation of crippling dependencies, Miss Stoutenberg tellingly encapsules the tragedy as a contrast between originally 'healthy' and presently 'unhealthy' poverty, acculturation frustration being both cause and effect of the current condition and the theme most firmly conveyed across the board here. Next come the Hawaiians beset by missionaries, VD, and ""the disease of commerce""; later appear the South Sea Yaps and Manus, victims of the exigencies of World War II recklessness and no less of their aftermath under a sorely ambivalent American protectorate. The Australian Aborigines (the term is used throughout generically, still with a capital A) are discussed in large part from the viewpoint of Miss Daisy Bates, something of a self-appointed mediator at the turn of the century, and the African Bushmen and Pygmies are profiled in productive apposition to each other as well as vis-a-vis the interlopers (chiefly tourists). There are enough intracultural particulars around to distinguish this kind of approach from the catalogue round-up in Burland's Men without Machines, for example, but nothing to compare with the reliably organic perspective purveyed by the specialized studies (e.g., Sonia Bleeker's on the Pygmies) of the subjects in their own respective contexts.

Pub Date: June 18th, 1971
Publisher: Doubleday