The week before Thanksgiving, Kathy and I made the journey to San Jose to participate in the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. "Journey" might be a bit of exaggeration: from San Diego to San Jose the plane hardly gets in the air before the descend begins.
One of my contributions to the conference consisted of a poster in the late breaking session on the Manito festival in Ocú, the process of traditions from quotidian experiences to becoming cultural heritage, and how this status as a heritage celebration can be interpreted as an act of resistance to cultural and social changes: in this case, it concerns societal changes such as technological development and increased educational level, but also the context of Panama defining itself as it was still a semi-U.S protectorate after gaining independence from Colombia which followed colonialism. The traditions celebrated at the Manito festival are still part of daily life in some areas, making it particularly interesting to look at how heritage and living tradition intermingles. Click here to download the poster
Kathy presented an analysis of the concept of authenticity with a focus on festivals and tourism, using data from our work in Parita and Santo Domingo. While our participants generally saw their festivals as authentic and saw this as central, it is not clear this assessment of local connectedness to the tradition would continue if more tourists were present. In other locales, increased tourism has lead to local disengagement from certain cultural traditions as those traditions become a performance for outsiders in the process. Tourists wish to experience "authentic local culture", but due to their very presence, what is authentic may have changed.
The Californian wildfires had an impact on the trip: due to poor air quality, we were not able to spend much time outside, such as taking a stroll, walking to a restaurant for dinner or similar. Many people wore masks and some conference attendees reported issues with breathing and headaches. It didn't prevent us from attending talks and presentations, fittingly several focused on global climate change. Another central theme of the conference was the rise of right-wing nationalism in several nations across the globe and associated attacks on the free media. One of my favorite presentations was the keynote speak by Dr. Barbra King at the business meeting of the biological anthropology division. She shared on her work as professor, activist, and science communicator. Much of her work centers on animal behavior, cognition and emotions, and it has long been of interest to me.