GOING NATIVE

W hat it is not:


Old Playboy cartoons often portrayed semi-clad male or female anthropologists eagerly shedding their scholarly, presumably more civilized persona to engage in wild sex with the natives. This popular image of what "going native" means was fueled by the more respectable National Geographic. This magazine offered "scientific", but nonetheless seductive and often false representations of the third world, and especially the Pacific Islands, on a monthly basis to a burgeoning middle-class eager to demonstrate its knowledge and sophistication (see Lutz and Collins 1993). While anthropologists may be sexually attracted to their informants and in a few cases participate in sexual liaisons (see Kulick and Willson, eds., 1995), wild sex is very rarely a part of fieldwork. No matter how lonely and disturbed, or adapted and enamoured an anthropologist may become, most choose not to complicate their lives in the field and not to take advantage of potential lovers whom they will ultimately, in most cases, leave behind when they depart from the field. Often, the anthropologist's hosts are every bit as concerned that the anthropologist's sexuality be kept under control so as not to disturb local relations or to constitute a threat to decent behavior (see Whitehead and Conaway, eds. 1986).

Fieldwork at a personal level:


The anthropologist's sexual orientation and gender, as well as their age, class, race, ethnicity, nationality, and other aspects of their personality and individuality are of course relevant in both their choice of fieldwork topics and in their experiences in the field. Anthropology is a personal undertaking and in its best sense, "going native" refers to the process of learning, adjusting, expanding, and accepting that goes on as anthropologists deepen their involvement with their hosts and their hosts' cultures through long-term fieldwork and participation. This process of absorbing another culture is psychologically challenging. At times the anthropologist will resist the process of assimilation, exhibiting signs of neurosis and obsessive behavior, while at other times they will plunge headlong into the lives and behaviors of their hosts, forgetting for a time that they ever lived anywhere else. In spite of all the specialist, and even necessary methodology anthropologists use in the field, much of the learning process is unconscious. Only after I left the field did I discover how much I had taken on the behaviors and assumptions of a normal Gende woman. At crowded graduate student parties I found myself unable to step over men's outstretched legs for fear that I would "harm" my friends with my dangerous sexuality. Upon reuniting with family and friends in the United States, I unselfconsciously hugged and petted them only to have my greetings spurned by many, unused as most Americans are to "too much physical contact" in non-sexual relationships. To this day, students and others are often stunned by my directness, a trait I possessed before I went to the field, but one which flourished in a social context in which mature, socially responsible women will say what is on their minds and even the smallest child is encouraged to stand up for its interests. When it is all said and done, good fieldwork involves relationships - some friendly, others more distant - in which you and at least some of your hosts come to understand one another's lives and ways of doing things. Two books that capture the nuances and relationship between anthropology and friendship are Ruth Behar's revealing account of her work and friendship with a Mexican market woman (1993) and Grindal and Salmone's collection (1995) of fourteen narratives written by anthropologists working in different parts of the world.


Copyright 1996 by Laura Tamakoshi and Brian Cross