- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Touchstone; 15th printing edition (July 2, 1987)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0671640984
- ISBN-13: 978-0671640989
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 31 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #510,174 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Mountain People 15th printing Edition
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From the Back Cover
In 'The Mountain People', Colin M. Turnbull, the celebrated author of the classic 'The Forest People', describes the dehumanization of the Ik, African tribesmen who in less than three generations have deteriorated from being once-prosperous hunters to scattered bands of hostile, starving people whose only goal is individual survival.
About the Author
Colin M. Turnbull was born in London, and now lives in Connecticut. He was educated at Westminster School and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied philosophy and politics. After serving in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during World War II, he held a research grant for two years in the Department of Indian Religion and Philosophy at Banaras Hindu University, in India, and then returned to Oxford, where he studied anthropology, specializing in the African field.
He has made five extended field trips to Africa, the last of which was spent mainly in the Republic of Zaïre. From these trips he drew the material for his first book, The Forest People, an account of the three years he spent with the Pygmies of Zaïre.
Mr. Turnbull was a Professor of Anthropology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He is a Research Associate at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and a Corresponding Member of Le Musée Royal d'Afrique Centrale.
Top customer reviews
I've always wondered how jungle people live and this one gives a good insight into life in the jungle where people live off the land. Could I? Probably not.
Most surprisingly, The Mountain People is a book not about the Ik or even about anthropology, but about an author's modern social delusions (his insuperable, personal "tulipomania"), Nature's (natural) individual, and the tyranny of the State, seen through the modern "politically correct" eyes of the author, the heart-rending story of the Ik, and the tyrannical inhumanity of the British and Ugandan states. But this would come as a surprise to the author, so blinded by his own instilled and adopted social ideology that he never quite "gets" the simple, obvious "dance" between these three that comprises his own book. In the author's eyes the victims of the story become the inhumane, the inhumane is the innocent, and the unrepentantly-deluded, idee fixe-ated, is the sane.
Early on in The Mountain People (p. 31), Turnbull describes the so-called human virtues, kindness, generosity, affection, etc., and opines that these are not virtues at all for hunter-gatherer societies, but necessities (for survival), without which society would collapse. But this is wrong on two accounts. First with reference to the Ik, their society did not collapse due to the near-disappearance of these virtues from their lives. The fabric and very basis of both Ik society and Ik interpersonal relationships was torn from them by their forced resettlement by the British colonial government, from their natural nomadic homeland to an area where they were precluded not only from continuing their way of life but from even feeding themselves. Second, it puts the cart before the horse. Those "virtues" ... kindness, generosity, courtesy, honesty, affection, friendship, etc. ... are just the natural lingua franca of individual (interpersonal) valuation, whose real currency is value. But under their extreme duress --- gradually dieing from chronic hunger, insufficient food by far, for any one and for all, despite devoting their entire waking energies to a marginal (and obviously unsustainable) quest for personal survival --- what of value could the Ik offer one-another, short of suicide? Thus, their expression of individual valuation of each other is likewise naturally muted. .... On the back cover of this book, and by Turnbull, the Ik are described as "dehumanized", but that is not true at all, either; in fact, it distorts reality --- the Ik are simply driven down to the central essence of their humanity (their innate human abilities and propensities of course intact), forced into (basic human) survival mode, stripped of the higher forms of EXPRESSION of their humanness by their bitter, externally-imposed, circumstances.
In fact, the Ik are epitomized and given a voice by Kauar, the long-legged Kaabong runner: Starving, kindly Kauar and his admitted 'song of hunger', too proud to beg, or even to take a little more sugar or biscuits at tea, hanging on to all he could of his "humanness". No wonder Kauar's 'song of hunger' haunted Turnbull; why didn't he gently push a little more on his friend? (pp. 88- 89), and how could he (Turnbull) NOT have recognized the extremity of Ik hunger and famine? Perhaps if HE had deigned to live and suffer a little more LIKE them, even for a week or a month, he would have better understood them, their debilitating daily struggle, their awful plight.
And, in the face of all of this, Turnbull's colossal insensitivity to the agony of chronic hunger that surrounded him, the nagging hunger of the Ik. A fat, sleek, well-fed, feckless, buffoon in their midst, who soon became "everybody's fool", unaccountably in possession of all they had been deprived of, and more, utterly self-centered yet unreasoningly critical of THEIR innate and essential self-centeredness, brought front-and-center by the inhumanity of their treatment by the British and Ugandan governments. Turnbull even unwittingly condemns the Ik FOR the humanity they hold on to, over and over again, for example their laughter, their sense of humor. Imagine how little the Ik had to laugh ABOUT, how great their grief about the bitter realities of their situation and how few their coping mechanisms; but Turnbull seems not to realize that laughter is quintessentially human, that it is when times are at their worst, when we are numbed by unremitting stress or in the depths of despair and desolation, that we humans need our recourse to laughter most. How could he not recognize their awful sense of futility, their defensive emotional detachment and "withdrawal", in it? Had he never heard of "gallows humor"? And that is but one example of his stunning insensitivity and lack of insight. The Ik were in touch with reality in a way which horrified Turnbull because he was horrified by reality, the same reality which he kept so carefully hidden from himself, unable to face it even when the Ik showed it to him graphically, right before his eyes.
Worse yet, he continually relates crucial facts (mostly in the 2nd half of the book), only to twist them in order to malign the Ik, and in the process makes a mockery of himself and his field ... if you read this book, be forewarned, you will need to learn to cut through Turnbull's disinformative and contradictory opinions and schizophrenic "analyses", in order to find and appreciate the Ik ... fortunately this is possible, for Turnbull does give the facts needed to do so ... and this is the saving grace of the book, and the only reason to read the last 2/3 of the book which, in all honesty, becomes rather a trying endeavor. Turnbull spends much of this searching for "a unifying belief", "a manifestation of community", and "love", in the Ik, when these are right before his eyes , and he even speaks of them obliquely, without ever understanding. Their "unifying belief" is in their identity as the Ik, the people of their mountain, their union as free, interdependent individuals, with the equality of free individuals, in their quest of living and their fight to survive. Their obvious "manifestation of community" is their constant gathering together at their di's, even when they are reduced to crawling to them. Turnbull cannot see this because they are largely silent there, but they are there precisely TO "commune" and this does not require speech (as Turnbull apparently assumes from our propensity for it, and with which he himself probably interferes by his very presence), they commune simply by gathering together, in shared misery and hope; they are all in the same boat and they know it, all of their lives are bleak and horrid and "boring", essentially the same day after grueling day, they have little energy and are always hungry, what need is there to speak of it?, what do they have to say? It is the closest kind of communion of all, yet Turnbull can't see it. Do the Ik "love"? Of course they do. They love life, why else would they fight so desperately for survival, tolerate such misery? They love their Mountain, their vanishing way of life, which they revere and will not leave, will not give up. They love and respect their fellow Ik, which is why they seek them out to commune. Others are like themselves, are part of their very identity, and they love and respect them. But they are forced into unremitting individual struggle and competition for survival itself and have marginally (at best), and always doubtfully, the strength to survive themselves, and yet they love the others so much that they concede to them the "right" to fight for survival as they do, and by the same means, without condemning them for it. That is why they treat their own inevitable "mistreatment" as they treat that of others, by detachment and withdrawal, by making light of it, by fatalistically ironic laughter, giving vent to their awful sense of futility. Could we manage so much, so well, show such love? Could we cope with such pressure and disheartenment as they endured. .... Poor Turnbull, he couldn't see these things and came to despised and condemn the Ik. He should have admired them. And he himself would then have been much happier for it.
But the final insult, the final irony, the final condemnation, of Turnbull's book appears near its end, when he --- who wanted so badly to aid and nurse the aging, dieing Ik right to the end, easing their suffering at the expense of extending their death agony, and "wasting" resources that could mean the survival of others --- decides that the Ik should be "euthanized" ... not individually, but the whole Ik society per se. Astonishing.
For me, a major lesson from this book is a resolution of a question that has long remained incompletely resolved in my own mind, regarding the mindset of the Liberal faction of our society. This faction "lives" their lives largely in the noosphere (the "world" of ideas), manipulating ideas and relationships therein, to bring them into conformity with their hearts' desires, holding uncompromising reality at bay and largely dismissing it, and imagining somehow that in thus manipulating ideas, "spinning" the facts, "rationalizing", "sugar-coating", they somehow modify reality ... which I have heard expressed as, e.g., "the older I get, the more I come to realize that attitudes are more important than facts". In short, they "spin" cobwebs with which to conceal reality from, and conform reality to, themselves. Now, my question was the degree to which this mindset is a personal, semi-conscious, manifestly hypocritical exercise, practiced so constantly in order to "fit in" and "succeed", and "rationalize" ones behavior, that it has become simply a deeply-ingrained habit, "second nature", vs. the degree to which it is essentially a "religion-like" frame of mind. In other words, the degree to which it is a pleasant and useful "secular" self-delusion, a coping mechanism, vs. a "religious" commitment to chosen ideals and precepts, in which they "believe", and to which they subordinate themselves and others. This book, this author, and the many '"echoing" reviews of the book found above, have finally made me comfortable with an answer.
As I read this book, from preface to end, and added a distinctive new adjective to my vocabulary, "Ichien", .... the Coven song "One Tin Soldier" (google youtube) about "the Mountain People" (no accident I am sure), kept ringing in my mind ... "with our brothers we will share, all the secrets of our mountain, all the riches buried there ... "mount your horses, draw your sword", and they killed the mountain people " ... and still does. Whenever I think of the Ik.
The story of the Ik told in this book has ended, as has the book; but not so the Ik. In the end they triumphed. They survived. And so did their humanity, of course.
I read this book and wept. It provides, through an on site, in depth study of the Ik, one of the clearest definitions of being human that I have ever read. It is horrible, beautiful and very frightening. It describes how fragile humanity is among human beings. It made me face that we are collectively responsible for maintaining the social contexts for being good people.
Most recent customer reviews
"...as it turns out, lo and behold, the Ik are a civilized and perfectly-polite clan, who love their neighbors, the elderly, as well as their...Read more