Cyril Belshaw (cbelshaw@EZNET.CA)
Mon, 15 Jul 1996 10:54:14 +0000

Monday, 15 July, 1996

It interests me that all of a sudden anthropologists are touched by a
disaster, Bertha to wit, that affects their personal lives, leading
to all sorts of questions. There used to be an Anthropology of
Disasters -- hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic explosions and so on.
I thought at the time this could be rather significant, and would
enable us to make a modest contribution to the sociology of
preparation, and the culture of reaction. It is true that, on the
whole, people attacked by disaster want to return as quickly as
possible to their homes. This seems to be there whatever the culture.
It was there in the Mount Lamington eruption in Papua in `51 or `52
which Felix Keesing and I wrote about independently. The people
couldn't get back to their temporarily ruined gardens quickly enough,
and myths of explanation and symbols of reconciliatory control
emerged. What is missing right now is a Papuan anthropologist on the
spot to study you guys and your neighbours. And further, if the
return-come-what-may observation is right, its study has major
implications for other kinds of man-made disaster -- drought,
ethnocide, atomic explosion, and the forced movement of populations.
Who, in anthropology, is studying these kinds of things now?