Collin Turnbull, “The Mountain People”

Collin Turnbull is one of the most prominent anthropologists of his epoch. His works are focused on different aspects of anthropology but his primary concern was always human culture and human relationships within their social groups. One of his major works is “The Mounting People”, the book which represents a profound research conducted by the anthropologist of the tribe called Ik. At first glance, it is a noteworthy and scientifically valuable research revealing the lifestyle, traditions and basic cultural norms of the researched tribe. In fact, the evidences collected by the researcher are particularly valuable since they refer to the time when the tribe suffered from a profound crisis which threatened to the survival of its members. In such a context, the changes that took place within the tribe are extremely interesting not only for anthropologists but also for psychologists, educators and other specialists working in different fields. In this respect, it is necessary to underline the fact that the research conducted by Turnbull may be extrapolated on the modern society, which the author defines as the “civilized” society (112) or a specific part or social group within the modern society, such as a classroom. In fact, in spite of seeming differences between an African tribe of Ik and the modern classroom, it is still possible to trace similarities which are common to all human beings and which can acquire different forms but remain unchanged in their essence.

Collin Turnbull researched the lifestyle and traditions of the Ik who led a semi-nomadic lifestyle and their settlements were quite different from those of other tribes. This fact is very important when the life of the Ik and the classroom are compared because the nomadic lifestyle differs consistently from the lifestyle of the modern western civilization and, what is even more important, it contributes to the formation of a different philosophy and perception of the surrounding world. What is meant here is the fact that the nomadic lifestyle implies that the tribe or a group of tribes does not have a permanent settlement or residential area where they spend the main part of their life or the entire life. In stark contrast, due to their lifestyle, nomads, such as the Ik tribe, are forced to move from one place to another in order to conduct effectively their socioeconomic activity such as cattle farming, which, as a rule, constitutes the basis of the economy of a nomadic or semi-nomadic tribe, such as the Ik. Consequently, as they change the places where they stay and settle for certain period of time, the Ik are not tied to certain place that produces a huge impact on their perception of the surrounding world. In fact, the consciousness is not limited by national boundaries or by certain territories they belong to or, to put it more precisely, which belongs to them. In actuality, nomadic tribes tend to perceive the world as boundless and they get used to travel freely from one place to another being not limited in any way.

At this point, the Ik tribe is consistently different from a traditional classroom. In fact, the modern classroom normally represents a group of people that are united being members of one group. In such a situation, the territorial factor is of the paramount importance for the entire classroom as well as for smaller groups within a classroom. What is meant here is the fact that the classroom get used to the idea that they belong to one and the same group which live in the same area. Moreover, often the fact of belongingness to certain residential area may be an important factor which affects consistently the relationships within the classroom or relationships of the classroom with other groups. For instance, a group of students living in one and the same residential area or a part of the country tend to group and develop rather friendly relationship because of their common origin or territorial background, while students living in a different neighborhood or part of the country are perceived as strangers.

However, in the modern classroom such a territorial grouping within a classroom may be not as distinctive as it used to be in the past, but still it affects the relationship between students since student having similar territorial background are more likely to develop friendly relations than others. For instance, they can easily communicate with each other because their speech is similar and, therefore, they better understand each other, while in relationships with others they can feel being outsiders because of a different language or communication style. This problem is absolutely uncommon for the Ik because they  can hardly perceive certain territory as a socially meaningful concept. Instead, they perceive any territory in purely economic terms, as a place where they can stay for certain period of time and where they remain as long as it is economically profitable for them.

In such a context, the formation of nation-states in the territories where the Ik got used to migrate raised a very serious problem of the adaptation of the Ik to the new international situation, when they could not freely migrate from one country to another and encountered unsurpassable frontiers which limited them in their movement. This change naturally affected their economic activity because they could not practice any longer the activities they got used to. Instead, they need to adopt a new lifestyle and develop their settlements where they should stay for a longer period of time and which they could change less frequently than they used to do in the past.

At the same time, such a restriction of the movement of the Ik may be closely associated with certain restrictions students should obey in the classroom. To put it more precisely, their behavior is defined by norms and rules established in the educational institution they study at and, therefore, they cannot ignore these rules and norms. For instance, normally, they have to attend their classes regularly. Otherwise, they can face serious problems, while their academic performance is likely to be very poor that may eventually result in their dropping out of school. In this regard, such restrictions can be compared to the changes in the Ik tribe, when their movement was limited consistently after the formation of national states.  After this, the Ik had to obey the common rules and norms which were legally implemented in the neighboring states.

On the other hand, it is necessary to underline that both restrictions concerning students and the Ik may be perceived differently by either group. What is meant here is the fact that students are more accustomed to the restrictive rules and norms, which are widely spread in modern societies and which are practically unknown within nomadic tribes such as the Ik. Consequently, students would accept and adapt to the restrictions easily because they get used to stay at a definite place for a considerable period of time and focus on routine activities, which may repeat day after day. In stark contrast, the Ik got used to constant changes of their environment due to their regular migrations and limitation of their movement between the three states imposed on them a hard burden of staying at a consistently smaller territory without the possibility to move freely to other places.

However, the formation of nation-states and the change of the traditional lifestyle of the Ik was important but not the most remarkable change Collin Turnbull had observed during his research. In this respect, the most remarkable changes had started when the Ik had to start applying various survival strategies and when the entire tribe was on the edge of extinction and faced the problem of starvation. In fact, it is when the real problem of the survival of the tribe raised, the anthropologist had witnessed the most striking and noteworthy change in the behavior, views and norms of the Ik tribe.

In actuality, the problem of starvation and the threat of a death stimulated the Ik to change their relationships and these changes uncovered their real nature, which, by the way, may be attributed to other humans, including the modern classroom, if they are put into the similar conditions of life as the Ik did when they starved. Collin Turnbull underlined the dramatic shift in the consciousness and traditional set of values of the Ik tribe (291). In this respect, it is important to underline the dramatic changes in the attitude of people within the tribe to each other. In fact, in face of the threat of starvation, the Ik became focused on their personal survival, while the life of other members of the tribe became secondary for them. In such a situation, the older population of the tribe and children became the first victims who suffered from the starvation and many of which eventually starved to death. In such a way, the weakest part of the tribe, i.e. children and older people were first victims of the starvation, while the adult and active population applied all their forces to survive.

It is worth mentioning the fact that the survival strategies used by the Ik were different but what they had in common was their striking difference from the traditional norms of morality and ethics. For instance, such concepts as honor became not only highly relative but they acquired quite a negative connotation because, being honest in the Ik tribe was not only illogical but also morally unacceptable. In stark contrast, cheating and thieving became the norm of the life of the Ik to the extent that the ability of a member of the tribe to cheat or to steal defined his or her survival and even his or her social status within the tribe. As a result, people who proved to be able to cheat and steal successfully survived and gain the public approval, while those who failed and remained honest or who were unable to steal or cheat were forced to leave the tribe or die out.

This dramatic shift in the system of values and behavior of the Ik is of the paramount importance for the understanding of the essence of human relations and human nature and the findings of Collin Turnbull, in this regard, can be extrapolated on the classroom. At the same time, it is important to underline the fact that what actually occurred within the Ik tribe was the adaptation of members of the tribe to new conditions of life and to the new environment. In other words, the Ik had to forget or ignore basic moral values and substitute them by the qualities and characteristics which were the most important at the moment and which defined the survival of members of the tribe. In actuality, the survivability became the main criterion which defined the social status and public approval of each member of the tribe, while moral or humanistic values were of no use for the Ik at the moment when they suffered from the starvation.

On extrapolating these dramatic changes that had occurred within the Ik tribe on the classroom, it should be said that the adaptability of the Ik, observed by Turnbull during his research, may be easily traced within the classroom, though the adaptation, inclusion or exclusion of members of the classroom, do not acquire such radical forms as they did in the Ik tribe during the starvation period. Obviously, outsiders of the classroom are those people whose moral views, norms and beliefs do not match the common, standard set of values. If a student does not share the same set of values as the overwhelming majority of the classroom does, this student is likely to become an outsider, to the extent that his or her study in the classroom can become unbearable and in the most extreme case this student may be forced by his or her peers to leave the classroom or even the school and join another one (Williams, 319).

In stark contrast, students who manage to meet the expectations of the classroom, its basic moral and ethical norms and principles are likely to succeed in the classroom. Moreover, the student that is the most successful in the adaptation to the set of values of the classroom is likely to gain the approval of his or her peers exactly as the cheating members of the Ik tribe or thieves gained the public approval due to their ability to take food or other valuable commodities using all possible means, including the theft or cheating.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that, in spite of the seeming difference between a civilized classroom and the Ik tribe, their social relations and basic mechanisms and principles of social interaction are, to a significant extent similar. Obviously, the modern classroom is more concerned with the common background of students, including the common residential areas which is a strong uniting factor for a group of students, while the Ik tribe have a weak concept of a territory as a socially meaningful concept because they get used to lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Nevertheless, it is possible to trace consistent similarities in behavior of members of the Ik tribe and modern classroom, especially in extreme situations, when a part of either tribe or classroom may be excluded or included on the basis of their adaptability to the currently dominating values within either the tribe or the classroom.

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