We, as the human population may not be entirely familiar with other countries, clans, tribes and their various traditions and cultures. Such is the goal of the anthropologist- to study, observe and understand people through their culture. We may or may not understand the internal cultural rationale of different populations, however we need to address them as meaningful and valuable ‘norms’, regardless of whether we agree or approve of such traditions. (The Conversation, 2016, para. 3,29). Realistically speaking, culture shock is inevitable- even among anthropologists. But to live in a culture, as a native, until all feelings of discomfort, confusion and homesickness has worn off, until one has familiarized himself completely with this culture and is adept at being an insider, is when the anthropologist has accomplished his goal. As is the case of Dr. Bruce Knauft (2015), who finds himself amidst the Gebusi- a cultural group within the Nomad River area of the East Strickland River Plain (Knauft, 2015, p.18).
Towards the beginning of their arrival, Dr. Knauft had been presented with starchy bananas, a ‘gift’, showing welcome and hospitality. Although the heat and humidity had added to their discomfort, Knauft chewed on the bananas with enthausiams and appreciation, being careful to not upset his hosts, he even signaled that ‘his stomach was small, the food was large’ and that the food could be shared among the villagers (p. 14). In my opinion, this is the first experience of clture shock Knauft felt during his journey with the Gebusi. The gift-exchange to show appreciation and generosity, plantains that did not necessarily please his taste-buds at first and being scrutinized by a tribe were just the beginnings of what Knauft was about to experience.
One of the prime examples from chapter one is the exclusion of women from the Kogwayay rituals, while the men participated in loud and humorous conversations as the women resorted to hushed whispers in the cramped sleeping room (p. 24). Men were the dominating figures in the Gebusi and often took credit for craftsmanship performed by the women and would even beat their woman counterparts if needed (p. 25). This male bias is seen to make Knauft wary and uncomfortable.
I had experienced something similar in my life; in the year of 2013, my family and I flew to Saudi Arabia for the purpose of Hajj- a religious pilgrimage in Islam. Throughout my one month stay in the date abundant land of camels and palm trees, I had noticed something in the everyday life of the Saudis- the exclusion of women, not so entirely as in the Gebusi, but to a fair amount. Women were not allowed to drive, women were dressed in long veils and head scarves, that only revealed their face and in some cases, only their eyes. Women would have to be accompanied by a male counter-part, a husband or a brother if they wished to go to the mall or simply out to a restaurant; sometimes women could accompany other women, but a ‘good woman’ would not typically go on such endeavors by herself. At first, I felt infuriated- I had always been a firm believer of equal rights. Then I felt discomfort, as I too had to dress in the long veil and head scarf, revealing only my face. I was accustomed to wearing the head scarf previously, but only when it was time for prayer. Here, the head scarf and being covered from head to toe in the unbearable heat of 40 degrees Celsius was a daily requirement. This was a very significant case of cuture shock that I had personally experienced.
Another major issue that bothered the researchers was the diet- as mentioned in the text, ‘Gebusi practically eat anything that moves’. (p. 31) Their diet, although high in starch, lacked nutrition and protein and consisted of hunting wild pigs, possums, lizards, rats, large birds and tarantulas. There is also some ethical tension as it is mentioned in Chapter one, cannibalism, although common in the past, had indeed taken place a year and a half prior to the researchers’ arrival. (p. 4) This lack of proper food and hygiene, along with several diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, influenza that frequently contributed to many deaths, no doubt, concerned Knauft with skepticism. (p. 39) Speaking from personal experience, I too, had faced quite a bit of a dilemma during my trip to Bangkok, Thailand, particularly because of the street food. Flies buzzing arond, undercooked meat, not to mention the unsaniytary conditions the food was prepared in, left uncovered for hours in the heat are all factors that contributed to food poisoning I had experienced, quite often throughout my stay in Bangkok. In addition to this, deep fried insects, namely crickets, giant water bugs and silk worms were a popular commodity. After a lot of hesitation, I decided to bite into a fried cricket; the taste of it was not terrible, but I could barely bring myself into swallowing it- just the thought of a six-legged creature sliding down my throat was instantly revolting! Throughout my two-week stay there, I experienced culture shock to a great extent. My experiences have enabled me to relate to Knauft, who was certainly experiencing culture shock. His overall encounters with the various Gebusi practices did indeed leave him confused and uneasy at certain periods, however, he chose to observe these customs in order to gain an in-depth understanding of the Gebusi.