Monthly Archives: September 2008

Why Darfur and Not …?

Black Star Journal recently linked to a long and thought-provoking post back in July by Ethan Zuckerman at My Heart’s in Accra about why the West seems much more concerned about Darfur than about a number of even more horrible conflicts in Africa.

Because you may or may not be an Africa-based journalist, let me unpack the question for a moment. There are a number of international conflicts that have claimed more lives and displaced more people than the conflict in Darfur. The Second Congo War and its ongoing aftermath is believed to have killed more than 5.4 million people, mostly due to “excess mortality” connected to disease and starvation. Other conflicts compare to Darfur in terms of brutality and displacement, but have received far less attention. War between Ugandan forces and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda has displaced more than a million people from their homes, and one in three boys in the region have been abducted, for periods of time or permanently, by LRA forces. The war between Ethiopia and Islamist forces in Somalia – supported by the US military – has created 1 million internally displaced persons and 450,000 international refugees.

It’s admirable that activists have been able to draw so much attention to Darfur. I’m interested in the phenomenon not to criticize focus on Darfur over other conflicts, but because I’d like to help people working on other conflicts gather attention and resources. I see Darfur as a rare example of an international crisis that’s gotten huge attention in the US despite the fact that most Americans have no direct, personal connection to the region. (I’m not the only one trying to do this – John Prendergrast, who’s focused on Darfur for the International Crisis Group, is one of several Africanists who’s started a new organization, Enough, designed to harness some of the attention around Darfur and call attention to situations in DRC, Uganda, Somalia and elsewhere.)

Agreeing with the analysis that attention paid to Darfur is unprecedented, my friend offers a two-part analysis, which I’ve modified to a three part analysis:

– The time was right. Guilt over the failure to intervene in Rwanda, especially on the part of North American and European nations, offered an opportunity to demand intervention in another African conflict.

– In the US, there was already close attention paid to Sudan by human rights and by evangelical Christian communities, based on a perception of the Sudanese civil war as a religious conflict between the Muslim north and Christian (and animist) south. (My contribution to the analysis, based on my experience talking to evangelical friends about their anti-Khartoum activism as early as 2000.)

– The conflict in Darfur has been reducible to a fairly simple media narrative, with good guys and bad guys… even thought this narrative doesn’t accurately reflect the reality on the ground.

It’s this last point my friend and I focused most of our discussion on. The process of covering the conflict in Darfur has convinced my friend that a narrative centered on a merciless proxy army raping, chasing and killing innovent civilians in an attempt to ethnically cleanse a region isn’t wholly accurate. “This isn’t good guys versus bad guys. This is bad guys versus bad guys.”

The rest of the post then provides supporting examples, and faults aid agencies like Save Darfur and reporters like Nicholas Kristof for sacrificing accuracy for advocacy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Darfur, Europe, NGOs, publishing, Somalia, Sudan, U.S., Uganda, war

Anthropologist Rethinks Missionaries, PNG

From Village on the Edge: Changing Times in Papua New Guinea, by Michael French Smith (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2002), pp. 16-17, 20-21:

My desire to avoid areas of strong Catholic Mission influence was rather misguided, because Christianity was ubiquitous in Papua New Guinea and an integral part of the social and cultural change I intended to study. Just a few years later, in 1980, the Pacific Council of Churches would report that 85 percent of all Papua New Guineans considered themselves Christians. Catholicism was the dominant denomination in the East Sepik. German Catholic missionaries of the Society of the Divine Word entered the Sepik region in 1896, just a dozen years after the German New Guinea Company began the first sustained European effort to establish a commercial presence in the region. In Wewak itself, the mission headquarters at Wirui was a local landmark. It was the seat of the bishop of Wewak and headquarters of a diocese that covered most of the province and was staffed by approximately 227 priests, brothers, sisters, and lay personnel. Most of these mission staff were from overseas. Nevertheless, Catholicism was clearly a significant part of the local scene.

Many anthropologists have seriously neglected the importance of Christianity in Melanesia. Perhaps, like some tourists, they have been looking for “the last unknown” and have found Christianity insufficiently exotic. Whatever the reason, they have often failed to recognize the extent to which Melanesians have made Christianity their own. I harbored some personal prejudices against Christian missionary activity. Raised in a liberal, church-going Protestant family, I acquired a stern Protestant Christian conscience—enough in itself to account for an aversion to churches—but I failed in my efforts to believe in God in more than a terminally abstract sense. I also found the idea of going around the world denouncing indigenous beliefs and raising the specter of eternal damnation—as many Christian missionaries have done in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere—extremely distasteful.

I had little firsthand knowledge of Christian missionaries in the Pacific. One of my uncles, however, had been sent to Australia as a Mormon missionary in the first decade of the twentieth century, when he was only seventeen years old. He had left school before he was ten to help support his neglected branch of a polygamous family and, as he told the story, he set off on his mission ignorant, illiterate, and reluctant. He left the Mormon Church long before I came to know him, and the stories he told of his misadventures in Australia were very funny and portrayed the missionary endeavor in a most unflattering light. Told that God would put words in his mouth, he had received no such assistance and had, he claimed, turned more people against Mormonism than any missionary before or since.

Fortunately, despite such prejudices and influences I managed to keep a somewhat open mind. This allowed me to learn as the year progressed that Catholicism was very much apart of the local culture in Kragur and that there was no simple way to describe or evaluate its contribution. Kragur villagers’ own understanding of Catholicism tended to encourage the kind of painful self-doubts colonialism often sows. Kragur people also, however, had found ways to use Catholicism to assert their independence and moral worth. Looking too sharply askance at Catholicism in Kragur would have made it very difficult for me to understand life there in general.

Keeping my anti-mission bias in check also let me accept, without feeling too hypocritical, the considerable assistance and hospitality that mission personnel offered me. This began with a free passage to Kairiru on the St. John’s Seminary boat, a small, hard-used inboard with an ungainly open wheelhouse. We arrived late in the day at St. John’s, where the staff offered me a hot shower, a clean-sheeted bed for the night, a cold bottle of good homemade beer, and a seat at the dinner table. Such hospitality took some of the edge off my prejudices….

I also saw that many of the St. Xavier’s [school] staff had no interest in imposing their own religious beliefs on their students. Largely members of Catholic orders, principally the Society of Mary, they took their religion very seriously; but they did not seem alarmed that some of their students, themselves raised in Catholic villages, asked pointed and skeptical questions about the faith.

Had I known more of either Catholicism or the mission in Papua New Guinea I would have been aware that both had changed significantly since the early years of the twentieth century. In those days, missionaries conducted mass baptisms of the living and sometimes baptized the dying by stealth and tallied the souls they thus saved. Since then, the Catholic Church and the Catholic Mission in Papua New Guinea had been moving away from emphasizing individual conversion, religious ritual, and the veneration of religious artifacts toward what some of my mission acquaintances in the East Sepik called “building Christian communities.” And the daily business of many Catholic Mission personnel I met in and around Wewak was not gaining converts but running health and education programs.

I was to find that some Kragur people were not comfortable with the mission’s diminishing emphasis on religious rites and were themselves rather intense in their devotion to Catholic ritual. Had I first come to Kragur only six months later I would have encountered along the way rather dramatic evidence of many villagers’ deep involvement with Catholic rites and symbols: the statue of the Virgin Mary that Kragur people would erect in a broad clearing at the top of the trail over the mountain in April 1976. Villagers passing the statue on their travels often paused to stand reverently in front of it and recite the rosary.

1 Comment

Filed under education, Papua New Guinea, religion, scholarship, U.S.

India’s Infrastructure: Bad News, Good News

From India: The Rise of an Asian Giant, by Dietmar Rothermund (Yale U. Press, 2008), pp. 157-160:

Next to airports, India’s seaports require thoroughgoing modernization. The biggest and most famous of them all, Mumbai, has a notorious reputation for terrible delays and incompetent handling of goods. A few years ago, turnaround time was about eight days, regardless of the size of the vessel; this has improved somewhat but even now about four days are required to load or unload a ship. This is due to deliberate negligence as the port earns more by collecting demurrage charges than by any other means. The trick of this trade is the stranglehold which Port Authority labour has on the loading and unloading of goods. In most other ports around the world, the port authority is merely a landlord, providing berths and cranes, etc. but no labour, with loading and unloading done by labour hired by the shipowner or his agent. The port authority with ‘dedicated’ labour is a British legacy. In British ports it may have made sense to retain a labour force specialized in loading and unloading ships, particularly in the past when most of this work was not mechanized. Nobody would have thought that delay rather than speed would be the result of retaining specialized labour. Making money on demurrage charges is, of course, a flagrant example of being penny-wise and pound-foolish. No shipowner in his right mind would enter a port such as Mumbai unless he absolutely has to because it is his destination. Bulk breaking is taking place elsewhere in efficient ports like Singapore or Colombo. Many a ship with only part of its load to be delivered to India would rather call at those ports than enter an Indian port. Jawaharlal Nehru Port across the bay from the old port of Mumbai is supposed to be somewhat more efficient than the old one, but it is first and foremost a container port under the management of the Indian railways and is thus not a direct competitor of the old port. Although Jawaharlal Nehru Port is India’s largest container port, it handles only about 10 per cent of the freight handled by Hong Kong, the world’s largest port of this kind. The inefficiency of Indian ports is not only delaying imports, it is also harming the export trade. In the old days of ‘export pessimism’ this was ignored, but now when producers in India wish to export some of their production to achieve economies of scale, they may give up such plans as their goods get stuck in the port….

The story of Sunil Bharti Mittal, who is now the biggest private operator in this field, is a good example of the rise of the new type of Indian telecom entrepreneur. He is not related to the famous steel tycoon Lakshmi Niwas Mittal, and his rather unusual family name Bharti is made up. His father, who belonged to a caste of traders, married a woman of a higher caste. This inter-caste marriage was frowned upon at that time and the couple adopted the name Bharti. Sunil started making cycle parts in Ludhiana. In 1983 when many imports were still banned, he hit upon the idea of manufacturing push-button telephones and then launched his Airtel brand of mobile phones in 1995. From making phones it was only one further step to acquiring two mobile phone licences and one fixed net licence. Subsequently Mittal expanded his operations and now provides his services in all 23 mobile telephone circles of India in which field he has overtaken the public sector firm BSNL. In order to raise the capital for this relentless expansion he linked up with foreign investors. In 2001 the American firm Warburg Pincus acquired about 6 per cent of Bharti Televentures; later the Singapore firm SingTel and the British firm Vodafone also acquired shares in Mittal’s company, but they are all minority shareholders. Meanwhile Sunil Mittal dominates the Indian telecom scene and continues to win prizes both in his personal capacity as an exemplary entrepreneur and for his company as the best in its field. He has also pioneered broadband connectivity in various fields and is always a step ahead in adopting new technologies. Mittal had started from scratch as an innovative entrepreneur. As he has stated, he was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s words: ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then they lose.’

Leave a comment

Filed under economics, India, industry, labor

Policing the Pirates of Puntland

The India-oriented blog, The Acorn, recently noted that the Indian navy is proposing to join the multinational effort to police the pirate-infested waters off the Horn of Africa, many of them operating out of Somalia’s “self-governing” region known as Puntland.

Among the tasks assigned to the Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150)—an international naval task force comprising, among others, of US, British, French, Pakistani and Bahraini ships—are maritime security operations in the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. While its purpose is to deny the use of the seas to smugglers and terrorists the main problem in the area under its watch is piracy.

CTF-150 doesn’t have enough ships to secure one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. So it advises large, slower vessels to travel in convoys so that it can better watch over them. But since this is not always possible, around one in 500 ships fall victim to pirates. Since the monthly traffic is around 1500, pirates succeed in raiding three or four ships each month.

Now the Russian navy is sending a warship to the area after one group of the pirates may have bitten off more than they can chew.

SOMALI PIRATES who seized a Ukrainian ship carrying 33 T72 battle tanks – apparently bound for the autonomous government of South Sudan – yesterday warned against any attempt by Western navies to rescue the vessel’s weapons cargo or its crew.

Januna Ali Jama, a spokesman for the pirates in the breakaway north statelet of Puntland said the pirates would soon begin the routine Somali pirate tactic of negotiating the return of the cargo ship Faina to its Ukraine state owners in exchange for a ransom.

Jama told the BBC Somali Service that the pirates demand is £18 million from the Kiev government because apart from the Russian made tanks the Faina is carrying “weapons of all kinds”, including rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft guns and many hundreds of thousands of ammunition….

The pirate syndicates – of which there at least five, each about 1000-strong – operate out of Puntland, far to the north, wrapped around the Horn of Africa where the Gulf of Aden meets the Indian Ocean, which declared itself separate from the Republic of Somalia 10 years ago. Puntland is to Mogadishu what Kurdistan, semi-autonomous and far off in the northern mountains of Iraq, is to Baghdad.

Unrecognised internationally – although the British Embassy in neighbouring Ethiopia maintains close contact with the Puntland government, which is allowing oil exploration by three Western companies – little diplomatic pressure can be put on Puntland, which says piracy grew after international “sea robber” fishing fleets plundered and wrecked its rich fishing grounds. The United Nations estimates that fish worth at least £50 million a year are plundered illegally from Somali waters by Spanish and other foreign boats.

The pirates are unlikely to be unable to unload the tanks because of a lack of specialist heavy-lifting gear in the tiny ports and innumerable coves of Puntland, a barren land three times the area of Scotland which historically depended on fishing and camel and goat-herding.

But that will hardly discourage the pirates. What they want is booty, in the form of on-board cash, cargo and, most importantly, ransom money, which owners are increasingly willing to pay, given the huge values of ships and their cargoes and the daily costs of maintaining them at sea. On the same day as the Faina was captured, another Puntland pirate syndicate released a Japanese ship and its 21-member crew after a £1 million ransom was paid. The 53,000-tonne bulk carrier Stella Maris had a valuable cargo of zinc and lead ingots. And as the Stella Maris was being freed, Somali pirates were hijacking a Greek chemical tanker with 19 crew on board as it sailed through the Gulf of Aden from Europe to the Middle East.

The Faina is believed to be heading to the pirate port of Eyl, the main destination of hijacked ships where Puntland entrepreneurs run special restaurants for the hundreds of seized crewmen and where the pirates’ accountants make calculations on laptops and drive state-of-the-art land cruisers….

Worldwide, pirates attacked a known 263 large vessels in 2007, up from a reported 239 in 2006, according to Choong’s piracy reporting centre. Southeast Asia, especially the shipping lanes of the Malacca Straits between Malaysia and the huge Indonesian Island of Sumatra, used to be the world’s busiest place for pirate attacks. Better co-operation between southeast Asian nations and the consequences of the 2004 tsunami have greatly reduced the number of attacks. Many pirates operated out of Aceh, the northern province of Sumatra, but the tsunami destroyed their ports, wrecked their boats and killed many of the pirates.

Somali piracy easily tops the world table, both in terms of the number of attacks and the money made. It is the Somali financiers sitting mainly in Dubai, Britain, Canada, Denmark and Kenya who make the big money by keeping the bulk of the ransom payments. Pirates based in Nigeria and Peru are also climbing the league table.

France is now circulating a draft resolution in the UN Security Council urging nations to contribute more warships and aircraft to the fight against piracy off Somalia. While the Foreign office has ordered the Royal Navy, to the incredulity of the nation’s maritime industry, not to detain Somali pirates from fear of human rights complications, the French are being pro-active.

UPDATE: On The Atlantic magazine’s blog The Current, Robert Kaplan describes a bit of the lifestyle of these pirates.

I spoke recently with several U.S. Navy officers who had been involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia, and who had interviewed captured pirates. The officers told me that Somali pirate confederations consist of cells of ten men, with each cell distributed among three skiffs. The skiffs are usually old, ratty, and roach-infested, and made of unpainted, decaying wood or fiberglass. A typical pirate cell goes into the open ocean for three weeks at a time, navigating by the stars. The pirates come equipped with drinking water, gasoline for their single-engine outboards, grappling hooks, short ladders, knives, AK-47 assault rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades. They bring millet and qat (the local narcotic of choice), and they use lines and nets to catch fish, which they eat raw. One captured pirate skiff held a hunk of shark meat so tough it had teeth marks all over it. With no shade and only a limited amount of water, their existence on the high seas is painfully rugged.

The classic tactic of Somali pirates is to take over a slightly larger dhow, often a fishing boat manned by Indians, Taiwanese, or South Koreans, and then live on it, with the skiff attached. Once in possession of a dhow, they can seize an even bigger ship. As they leapfrog to yet bigger ships, they let the smaller ships go free. Because the sea is vast, only when a large ship issues a distress call do foreign navies even know where to look for pirates. If Somali pirates hunted only small boats, no warship in the international coalition would know about the piracy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Middle East, piracy, Russia, Somalia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, U.S., Ukraine

Combining Manner and Path in One Clause

Speakers of most languages have the means to describe a motion event in such a way as to indicate both the Manner of motion and Path of motion in a single clause. Some of the most interesting work along these lines has been done by Leonard Talmy, who compared semantic structures in two utterly different languages, English and Atsugewi, for his doctoral dissertation at the University of California at Berkeley in 1972. I first heard a bit about his work in a course on lexical semantics taught by Charles Fillmore at the 1977 LSA Summer Institute in Honolulu, when I was a grad student just back from fieldwork in Papua New Guinea.

In subsequent work, Talmy (1985) proposed an interesting typology of motion events based on the encoding of Manner and Path. The seminal insight can be summarized thus: Languages like Spanish and Japanese tend to encode Path in the main verb when describing motion events, while relegating Manner to a satellite role, expressed, for example, by gerundive constructions. An English analog would be ‘They entered the house running’. In contrast, languages like German or Finnish tend to encode Manner in the main verb, while relegating Path to a satellite role, expressed, for instance, by adpositional (prepositional or postpositional) phrases. An English analog would be ‘They ran into the house’.

The language on which I did fieldwork, Numbami, renders motion events by means of verb serialization, encoding both Manner and Path in fully inflected verbs, which perform many of the functions of adpositions or adverbs in other languages. However, it resembles Japanese in requiring a Path verb when describing motion events (see Shibatani 2003). The Manner verb sounds strange conveying motion without the support of a Path verb. Numbami is Austronesian, and Talmy (2000) notes that Polynesian languages (and possibly other Austronesian languages) resemble Japanese in requiring a Path main verb when describing motion events.

JAPANESE

*Kodomo-wa gakkoo-ni arui-ta.
 child-TOP school-to walk-PAST
‘The child(ren) walked to school.’

Kodomo-wa gakkoo-ni arui-te it-ta.
child-TOP school-to walk-ing go-PAST
‘The child(ren) went to school walking.’

NUMBAMI

*Ekapa-kolapa ti-dodomu su lumana.
 girls-boys   3P-run    to school
‘The children ran to school.’

Ekapa-kolapa ti-dodomu ti-wesa su lumana.
girls-boys   3P-run    3P-go to school
‘The children ran off to school.’

MOVE verbs

Numbami verbs describing Manner of motion include -dodomu ‘run’, -kota ‘swim, wade’, -lapa goleme ‘row’ (lit. ‘beat oar’), -lapa woya ‘dance’ (lit. ‘beat dance’), -lowa ‘fly’, -nggewe ‘chase, hunt’, -ngguni ‘punt, pole’, -nzolo ‘scatter, scram’, -paandalowa ‘walk’ (< -pai ‘do, make’ + andalowa ‘path, road’, akin to Indonesian jalan), -so golonga ‘dive’ (lit. ‘stab deepwater’), -tatala ‘sink’, -usi ‘tread, step’, -wose ‘paddle’ (akin to Hawaiian hoe), and -yele ‘steer, sail’. We can classify all these verbs as examples of a prototype verb we can label MOVE.

But Path itself is a complex notion that involves at least three components: starting point, trajectory, and destination. Three classes of verbal prototypes that often co-occur in Numbami renditions of motion events are: GO, AIM, and REACH.

GO verbs: Deictic directionals

Numbami deictic verbs distinguish three directions: -ma ‘come toward speaker’, -uwa ‘go toward addressee’ (glossed here ‘go.to.2’), and -wasa ‘go away from either speaker or addressee’. They are ubiquitous in Numbami discourse—although -uwa ‘go toward addressee’ is by far the rarest of the lot. Not only do these verbs cover the functional range of ‘come’ and ‘go’ in most other languages; they also add directionality to manner-of-motion (MOVE) verbs, and deictic directionality to other directional (AIM) verbs. Finally, they also perform functions similar to directional adverbs such as here and there in English (or hither, thither, hence, thence, and yonder in more archaic English).

Inami bingsu   Lene   i-woti i-ma.
Our missionary Lehner 3S-descend 3S-come
‘Our (excl.) missionary Lehner came down toward us.’

Mana-paandalowa bouna    mana-uwa.
1XP.FUT-walk    overland 1XP.FUT-go.to.2
‘We’ll (excl.) walk overland in your direction.’

Although deictic directional verbs in many languages are intransitive, Numbami GO verbs can take overt direct objects, so long as (a) those objects indicate target locations, and (b) those target locations are compatible with the deictic target direction of each verb: toward speaker, toward addressee, or away from either. Unlike most Austronesian languages, Numbami makes no morphological distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs.

Another important point to note about GO verbs in Numbami is that they denote movement toward a target location, but make no claim about arrival at that target. Thus, ti-wesa Lae (lit. ‘they went Lae’) is more precisely translated ‘they left for Lae’ or ‘they went Lae-ward’ instead of ‘They went to Lae’. The presence of a REACH verb or preposition is required to specify arrival at the endpoint of a path.

AIM verbs: Other directionals

The other directional verbs resemble the deictic directionals but lack any correlation with first, second, or third person. They include -kawewe ‘steer, turn toward’, -kole ‘turn around’, -leleu ‘return’, -pi ‘ascend, climb up’, -woti ‘descend, climb down’, -sakiya ‘embark, climb up onto’, -kosa ‘disembark, climb down from’, -sake ‘ascend into’, -supula ‘round (a point)’, -weke ‘leave, abandon’, -yowa ‘move aside’.

Balus    i-lowa i-leleu   i-ma.
airplane 3S-fly 3S-return 3S-come
‘The airplane flew back here.’

Ma-kota  tina  ma-sakiya teulu.
1XP-wade river 1XP-embark side
‘We went through the river and up the other side.’

REACH verbs/prepositions

The roots of two specialized REACH verbs in Numbami also serve as prepositions when they lack subject prefixes: -su(wa) ‘reach; arrive at, onto, into (a place)’ is matched by the more general locative/goal preposition su(wa) ‘at, onto, (up)on, to’; and the fairly rare verb -ndenga ‘reach; arrive at (a person)’ is matched by the far more common generalized dative preposition de(nga) ‘to, at’. The same root -ndenga appears in the multifunctional verb –ndengama ‘reach, match, suffice; be possible’, often intertranslatable with Tok Pisin inap (< Eng. enough).

Other verbs of motion can serve as REACH verbs when they occur at the ends of path constructions, as in the examples below. When the REACH component of a motion event is represented by a preposition rather than its corresponding verb, the resulting construction may still be considered a Path construction, even though it may not be considered an serial verb construction unless it also contains at least two inflected verbs.

Wangga i-supula bubusu i-solonga molou.
canoe  3S-round point  3S-enter cove
‘The canoe rounded the point into the cove.’

Wa-dodomu wa-mi   wa-su    nanggi kapala.
1S-run    1S-stay 1S-reach my house
‘I kept running on down to my house.’

Numbami, like many other New Guinea-area languages, thus relies heavily on verb serialization to render complex events by means of a sequence of simplex verbs. In the terminology of Talmy (2000), verbs in languages like Numbami can be said to exhibit low conflation—in other words, minimal incorporation or lexicalization of multifaceted verbal events into individual verbs. For instance, Numbami has no equivalent of the English verb fetch, which conflates three aspects of a motion event—going, getting, and returning—into a single verb. In Numbami, you must use three verbs to render the same event.

REFERENCES

Shibatani, M., 2003, Directional verbs in Japanese. In E. Shay and U. Seibert, eds, Motion, direction and location in languages: In honor of Zygmunt Frajzyngier, 287–297. Typological Studies in Language, vol. 56. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Talmy, L., 1985. Lexicalization patterns: Semantic structure in lexical forms. In T. Shopen, ed., Language typology and syntactic description, vol. 3, Grammatical categories and the lexicon, 57–149. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Talmy, L., 2000, Toward a cognitive semantics, vol. 2, Typology and process in concept structuring. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

1 Comment

Filed under language, Pacific, U.S.

India’s Sweatshop Diamonds

From India: The Rise of an Asian Giant, by Dietmar Rothermund (Yale U. Press, 2008), pp. 96-97:

When India had shielded its economy behind tariff walls, its share in world trade had dwindled into insignificance. As mentioned earlier, ‘export pessimism’ was the prevailing mood at that time. It was not easy to change this mood so only new branches of export production could escape it. Nowadays three new types of commodity account for more than half of India’s total exports. Diamond processing was the first and the most unexpected success story of them all. Of course, India had been known as a source of beautiful diamonds in ancient times, but in modern times South Africa has been the leading producer of raw diamonds and the processing is done in Western Europe in places such as Antwerp. Only a few decades ago Jewish merchants controlled almost the entire diamond trade and Jewish artisans participated in the processing of these precious stones. Suddenly a community of Gujarati merchants from Palanpur cut into this trade and made use of cheap and skilled labour available to them in places such as Surat and other towns of Gujarat as well as on the outskirts of Mumbai.

India has to import the raw diamonds; the contribution of its export industry is the value added by expert processing. A breakthrough was provided to this new industry by the creative use of industrial diamonds. Only about a quarter of all diamonds mined are normally fit for jewellery; the rest are passed on to the makers of machine tools for cutting and grinding. Most industrial diamonds are small. Gujarati entrepreneurs knew how to get these tiny stones processed and adopted novel designs of jewellery which sparkled due to the collective effect of many small stones rather than the individual radiance of larger and very expensive diamonds. This created a new market of middle-class consumers who could not afford expensive jewellery. But the Gujarati entrepreneurs also ventured into the market for very precious stones. They even created new brands such as the Nakshatra diamonds endorsed by the Indian actress Aishwarya Rai, a former Miss World.

The buying of diamonds in places like Antwerp is done by the so-called ‘sightholders’, experts entitled to inspect raw diamonds and select them for their respective companies. Earlier these sightholders were a charmed circle of insiders, but the Gujarati merchants gained access to the circle and now almost dominate it. Eleven of twelve diamonds processed in the world are now processed in India. This, of course, means that the fast growth which this Indian industry registered in recent years is bound to level off. The value of Indian exports of precious stones – mostly processed diamonds – has expanded by leaps and bounds. In 1966 the value of these exports was a mere US$ 25 million; by 2004 it amounted to US$ 14 billion.

India’s greatest advantage is the low wage paid for the rather demanding job of diamond processing. The fixture in which the diamond is held during processing is called a dop. With a semi-automatic dop a worker can polish 800 to 1,000 diamonds per day. The wages of Indian workers in this line are about 10 per cent of those earned by their colleagues in Antwerp. This is why more than 800,000 workers are employed in the various workshops in Surat whereas in Antwerp there are only about 30,000 still active in this field. Surat is just one of the Indian centres of diamond processing, though perhaps the largest. The conditions of the workers are generally quite miserable and children are also recruited for this work. Large profits are reaped only by the entrepreneurs, who have now extended the scope of their work to other Asian countries and even to Russia.

Leave a comment

Filed under Belgium, economics, India, industry, labor

India’s ‘Fraternal Capital’ and Contractor Networks

From India: The Rise of an Asian Giant, by Dietmar Rothermund (Yale U. Press, 2008), pp. 100-101:

Tiruppur, a town near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, has emerged as a major centre of knitwear production and Sharad Chari has made a fascinating study of the mode of production in this town. He has described the emergence of ‘fraternal capital’ as a typical form of cooperation among small-scale entrepreneurs in this field. Most of the owners of the small workshops and even a large number of their employees belong to the Gounder caste of peasants who have made a successful transition to industrial production. The Gounder peasants are used to hard work in intensive agriculture where the landholder and his labourers are working together and this style of operations has been transferred to the shop floor where the owner is always present, usually controlling the stitching table where the cloth is converted into garments. Gounders who want to emphasise the special features of their work often make it appear as a kind of ‘work ethic’. Actually it helps them to justify the control of labour in their small-scale industry. They do not strive for economies of scale as these would be diseconomies under the official rules favouring small-scale enterprises. Accordingly, successful entrepreneurs do not invest their capital in expanding their production, but in setting up ‘fraternal’ enterprises run by other members of the Gounder caste, albeit these people are not necessarily related to them in terms of family ties. Total production has thus grown very quickly and whereas earlier only men worked in this industry, more and more women have been recruited in recent years. Most workers are paid by piece rate or they work under various types of contracts rather than receiving regular wages.

When production for export increased, a new elite of export merchants arose from the ranks of these small entrepreneurs. Smart young men in business suits, wearing sunglasses, can be seen chatting with their relatives on the shop floor who provide them with the material which they market in New York or elsewhere. Many of these exporters are assemblers rather than producers. The links of fraternal capital connect all these people and make it difficult for outsiders to penetrate this business. In this way fraternal capital provides horizontal and vertical linkages which are otherwise only found in big corporations. Decentralized supervision – and exploitation – of labour is an asset in this type of business organization. Contracting in and out enables the small entrepreneurs to respond to changing demand. Such an organization helps to defend the class of entrepreneurs against labour unions, which have a strong tradition in this area.

Another interesting example of the control of labour in this region is the putting-out system practised by a producer of rag carpets in the adjacent Erode District. He uses rags from the hosiery industry and gets carpets woven for the big Swedish firm IKEA. Initially it was traditional weavers who got involved in this business, but soon the putting-out system was extended to villages whose supply of labour was of a very different kind. In a Gounder village affected by water scarcity, the peasants took up carpet weaving in order to survive. In another village inhabited by migrant construction workers, the women who had also participated in this work shifted to carpet weaving, which they could do at home. Tapping labour resources of different kinds for export production is a characteristic feature of the informal sector of India’s economy.

Similar features of decentralized production and exploitation of labour can be observed in the garment industry of Ahmadabad, a city once famous for its large composite textile mills, most of which have long since closed down or are ‘sick‘. But in the 1990s hundreds of small workshops producing ready-made garments sprang up. Their production is supplemented by home-based women who stitch garments for entrepreneurs who operate a putting-out system. These women had been used to stitching petticoats and children’s wear; they own very simple sewing machines. When they were required to stitch more complicated garments for export their skills and their machines often proved insufficient for the new tasks. They usually earn piece rates which amount to about 2 to 5 per cent of the value of the articles they produce. With such low wages they can hardly afford to invest in add-ons to their sewing machine for new lines of production. Nevertheless, they somehow managed to get on with their work. This area of Gujarat is also famous for its embroidery, which has been successfully adapted to the requirements of export production, a line of production in which India is ahead of China.

Leave a comment

Filed under economics, India, industry, labor