When Western scholars write about non-Western societies, do they inevitably perpetuate the myths of European imperialism? Can they ever articulate the meanings and logics of non-Western peoples? Who has the right to speak for whom? Questions such as these are debated in this text. Marshall Sahlins addresses these issues head on, while building a case for the ability of anthropologists working in the Western tradition to understand other cultures. In recent years, these questions have arisen in debates over the death and deification of Captain James Cook on Hawaii Island in 1779. Did the Hawaiians truly receive Cook as a manifestation of their own god Lono? Or were they too pragmatic, too worldly-wise to accept the foreigner as a god? Moreover, can a "non-native" scholar give voice to a "native" point of view? This volume seeks to go far beyond specialized debates about the alleged superiority of Western traditions. The culmination of Sahlins's ethnohistorical research on Hawaii, is a reaffirmation for understanding difference.
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University of Chicago Press
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US Kirkus Review »
Round two in an academic fistfight concerning interpretations of the Hawaiian perception of Captain Cook (1728-79). In The Apotheosis of Captain Cook (not reviewed), Gananath Obeyesekere claimed that the notion that Hawaiian natives mistook Captain Cook for their god Lono was a cultural myth perpetuated by "Western" scholars - Sahlins in particular. In this openly hostile response, Sahlins (Anahula, not reviewed, etc.) contends that it is ludicrous to assume, as Obeyesekere does, that native Hawaiians were endowed with a "practical rationality" that would have made it impossible for them to mistake a European man for a Hawaiian god, and points out that the notion of practical rationality is itself a Western concept. He next attacks the premise that Obeyesekere, as a native Sri Lankan, has a "privileged insight" into Hawaiian culture. Sahlins asserts that Polynesian culture and the culture of South Asia share little in common except a vaguely similar experience of Western domination. One of Sahlins's main criticisms is that, by dismissing their testimony as tainted by Western influences, Obeyesekere systematically silences the voices of Hawaiian informants. (Since Hawaii had no written language at the time of first contact, information was recorded by Europeans.) He also undermines Obeyesekere's argument by uncovering numerous errors of omission, inaccuracy, and misinterpretation. After addressing these flaws in Obeyesekere's book, Sahlins launches into a point-by-point defense of his own analysis of the Makahiki ritual (which concerns the cyclical return of Lono) and its resonance with the interactions between Cook and the natives as noted in the diaries of several crew members. The larger debate between "Western imperialist" anthropologists and their younger deconstructionist cousins is left unsettled, but there can be no doubt the Sahlins defends his own work persuasively. Virtually no appeal to the general reader, but essential reading to anthropologists caught up in the general theoretical upheaval affecting the discipline. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Marshall Sahlins
Marshall Sahlins is the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. The author of numerous books, Sahlins is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.