All Stories, Humour, Short Fiction

The Flexible Rules of Anthropology by Alex Colvin

October 11th, 1997

I am about to make history. That I know beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Armed with several months of supplies and two inept-but-well-meaning graduate students, I have begun what I am sure will be a monumental work of scholarship. I, Dr. Reginald Fitzfauntleroy, will be the first person to contact and live among the ancient and reclusive Sentinelese People. These people have existed for thousands of years, and they have resisted contact with the outside world. There have been attempts, but all previous explorers have been killed or were engaged in skirmishes that made the Sentinelese passionately loath outsiders. To contact or to visit the Sentinelese is considered to be a death sentence. They are the most elusive and dangerous peoples in the world, considered a myth by some anthropologists.

But I have a plan unlike anything in the history of anthropology, a plan to contact them and go forth where no man has gone before. I am certain we will be welcome within the tribe in a matter of days. There is a great deal of preparation to be done before I can venture upon the island, we must begin immediately.

October 12th, 1997

After a hard day’s work, we are ready to begin our contact with the Sentinelese people. Well, contact may be the wrong word. I will not be reaching out to them for some time, but we will be sending them supplies to make them aware and interested in our presence. Specifically, my students and I will be dumping a dozen crates of Nicorette Gum into the Bay of Bengal, where the currents should carry the gum to the shores of North Sentinel Island, where the Sentinelese People dwell. After that, it will be up to them to discover the wonders of gum chewing and nicotine. I made sure to buy the bulk packets of the extra-strength kind too, so the wonders should be readily apparent. Once they have experimented with the gum and have sizeable addictions to the product, I will descend as the white savior they desperately need and live and study them. In the meantime, the graduate students I brought with me can observe them, I’d much rather play that new Pokémon game.

October 14th, 1997

The natives have appeared on the shore of the island to investigate. They are very like what I expected them to be. They are unclothed, they brandish sharpened sticks as weapons, and they have a fully formed language, which is complete with complementary body language and gestures. The most common gesture I have seen, to my horror, is one where a male will grab his genitals and thrust them at another. I cannot yet tell if this is an act of aggravation or respect. When I descend among them, I will examine this practice closely to see what it means, and teach them new forms of body language. But I should not get ahead of myself.

While the natives have appeared on the shore of the island, they have not taken to the crates of gum that have washed ashore. They have been curious about the crates, most certainly. But they have not opened them. Some of the children seem to be more daring, and when the parents are looking away or gone, the children poke at the crates and peek to see what is inside.

We are far enough away in my boat that they cannot see us, and they cannot know who is delivering these goods to them. Surely the children will open the crates soon and grow bold enough to eat the contents.

October 15th, 1997

It has begun.

October 16th, 1997

The gum is being consumed more rapidly than I dared hope. It took the Sentinelese some time to remove the gum from the packaging, but they now are removing the gum from the crates and packages and eating it at a phenomenal rate. From what I can make out from this distance, they are enthralled by the texture of the gum, and they treat the chewing of gum as a game. The children see how many pieces they can put in their mouths while still being able to chew, the adults chew cautiously, uncertain of what stimulation or aggression this new product may bring. I have counted fifty-eight individuals in the tribe thus far. More may exist, perhaps some have not taken to the gum or do not wander the shores, but I only need the majority to need me.

I’d also like to take this moment to address my scientific method in regard to standard anthropological ethical practices. Yes, some fussier anthropologists insist that you cannot affect the lives of those that you study through your actions, and yes, some would suggest it’s unethical to foster extreme addictions to foreign drugs, but the simple truth is this; the greatest leaps forward in history have been achieved with ethics as a secondary consideration.

So there.

October 17th, 1997

I suspect they will run out of gum within the next day. After their supplies run dry, I will wait a single day, and then I will land upon the island with a new supply of gum. I imagine the people will be overjoyed, as I descend upon them in my elegant clothes, crates of gum in hand, a beautiful white god, here to help them and study them to lead them into the future. It will be a glorious day. There are so many things I am curious to know about them. For example, in such a small population, are there cultural taboos about incest? For in such a small tribe, there would be a distinct lack of genetic diversity on the island. It will be fascinating to study.

For I have come to believe that genetic diversity is key to creating stronger people and more varied culture. Take me, for example, I am unbelievably handsome despite being Welsh. That is because (hundreds of years ago) Spanish explorers crashed onto the island my ancestors dwelt upon, to the delight of the local Welsh women. No longer constrained to pasty Welshmen, and able to feast upon the darker, taller and more muscular Spaniards, the population underwent a remarkable shift as future generations were born with much darker and more attractive features, leaving the paler and sicklier Welshmen to die off without reproducing. This simply goes to show the first rule of anthropology: white women prefer dark meat. The reverse is also true, as I discovered during my graduate studies when I studied ‘ethics and capitalist practices in Bahaman whorehouses’ as part of my PhD. I still can’t believe I got funding to do that.

On that note, I expect I will be extremely popular with the women of the tribe. Would it be bad anthropology to breed them and inject their island with a vibrant strain of DNA, which has resulted in myself, a tenured professor at Sheaffe University, with aquiline features and a handsome stock portfolio in Beanie Babies and Image Comics? Perhaps in this instance, it would be nobler to improve the genetics of the Sentinelese, rather than to strictly observe the guidelines of anthropology. Something to dwell on, I suppose.

October 19th, 1997

I am prepared to ascend upon the island. I have a small raft, several packs of gum, supplies to last a week, and numerous gifts and trinkets to cause them to revel in my presence. I agonized for weeks over what gifts I should bring to win the Sentinelese people over. Firearms and alcohol were the obvious choices, as they did wonders for the settlers’ relations with Native American tribes, but they are difficult to obtain in bulk and might have required a great deal of paperwork to bring to this part of the world. So I settled on things that I felt were pillars to suburban life and staples of consumer culture. I have counted the children I have seen, and I will present each of them with a Rubix Cube or a Gameboy, or perhaps roller skates. I also have gifts, which are sure to impress the adults, underarm deodorant, hair elastics, and oven mitts. My wife picked out the oven mitts and my children picked out the toys, and I am sure they will help me to succeed.

I can see it all now. I will descend upon them in my raft, slowly pulled onto the beach by the leisurely afternoon tide. They will be frightened at first, and perhaps even violent. But I will kneel at their feet and open the case of gum before them, showing them I am here to improve their lives and strengthen them. They will be delighted, dancing and singing will ensue. The children will be showered in gifts, and will treat me with profound reverence when they are not roller-blading or catching Pokémon. The women will move towards me slowly, as if in a trance, and touch me tenderly. They will fight over me and beg for my attention, the men will nod respectfully and make me their eternal chief. I will be welcome in their village like none other before, I will see their huts, their shrines, their rituals, and I will rise amongst them to an apotheosis, resulting in my everlasting domination over their kind!

October 22nd (?) 1997

I have managed to escape the Sentinelese for now.

Oh God, what a horrific time I have had. When I descended upon the island, they did not treat me as a savior. They hoisted me from my raft, ransacked everything I had brought, took the gum, and dug through the rest of the contents. The Rubik cubes were smashed; the Gameboys were gutted, with bits of plastic now adorning the necklaces of those who hacked them apart. They even desecrated my personal items! I had brought many books and magazines to read, in case their culture was boring (and I didn’t want to be completely cut off from the civilized world) and they tossed everything away. What savages!

They might be suffering from a severe withdraw of nicotine, which I will admit, is partially my fault. Their powerful addictions also make it difficult to guess if they would normally treat an outsider in such a fashion. I suppose that is another slight mistake on my part. Even so, I still examined enough of their culture to know these people are not worth studying in the least. They are very boring, when they’re not trying to kill me.

For starters, they do not even have fire. Can you imagine? They do not create or control fire in any way! How would I have cooked my supplies, had they made me their chief? Their huts are little more than canopies of leaves suspended on sticks, and they do not do anything fun, like sacrificing animals or mixing plants into dangerous hallucinogenic drugs.

Instead, they have regular mating rituals, which I was forced to watch for an hour! I don’t mind studying human sexual practices when it is between two white, athletically built, fully shaved professional porn-stars; to watch it between the Sentinelese was horrifying! I didn’t come here to watch the unpleasant or base parts of their culture, I just wanted to go in, observe, become chief, write and publish a bestselling novel and get a handsome movie deal about my experiences. Is that too much to ask for?

I have to stop writing and keep moving. I am sure I can outwit these savages and easily escape their measly island. I should be back on the boat in no time.

Date Unknown

I escaped! Ha! Stupid savages! But I have not eaten for some time. I am so very thirsty, too. I have yet to find a source of fresh water on the island, how on earth do these sentinel people get water, anyhow? I aim to head west, back towards my boat, but I am unsure if I am heading in the right direction. I have no compass, and I don’t remember if the sun sets in the East or the West. Or is it that it sets in the West in the northern hemisphere and sets in the East in the southern hemisphere? I don’t remember. Eventually, I will hit the coastline, and then I just have to follow it until I see the boat, or until my students see me. What a story I will have to tell them!

Something is coming.

Date Unknown

Victory! I have captured my own Sentinelese child who came upon me in the forest! When I heard the movement in the forest, I leapt to my feet, ready to fight for my life. When the approaching figure burst forth from the bushes, I saw it was a boy, perhaps as much as eight years old. He watched me warily, sharpened stick in hand, not making a sound.

I stuck my hands in my pockets, desperate for a weapon. I had thought to stab him with the pen I write these journal entries with, but I came across something greater: A piece of Nicorette gum! I held the gum out to him and I saw his eyes go wide. I held the gum out for him, and he took it instantly. Now he refuses to leave my side, so I will take him with me for research purposes.

Once we are back in Canada, I will teach him English, bathe him, feed him a delicious fast-food hamburger, and he will tell me everything about his culture! It’s more than I ever could have hoped for! Until now, it had ever occurred to me to just take a child or two for examination. My, how much simpler that would have been! If I make a return trip in a few years, I will just recruit a volunteer or two and ship them back with me. That is far more pleasant that working in this forsaken jungle. Yes, next time will be easier.

Ah, I think I hear more tribe members moving through the underbrush. But they no longer frighten me. I have won the child over, and I will simply gesture that the child and I are leaving, and that is all there is to it. This child adores me now, and he will follow me into the depths of oblivion-

I had to cross that out. At the sounds of the Sentinelese approaching, he started hollering in some basic language and ran towards the movement. I can hear them coming. If only I had more gum… but maybe… maybe I can still be chief! Maybe they’ll be so impressed with my escape that they will welcome me with open arms! That sounds plausible, given how their primitive minds work!

There’s nothing to lose by trying!

I’m going to put this journal in a plastic bag and throw it out to sea. Someone will find it someday, and see what a champion I have become! If you’re reading this, swing by North Sentinel Island to see my new kingdom. I’m sure I’ll have these people playing racquetball and cribbage in a week or two. Ah, here they are! They’re so enamored with me that they won’t stop shouting or waving their sharpened sticks! I know, I know, you’re welcome! Really, it’s my pleasure to civilize you, it’ll be fun!



Alex Colvin

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3 thoughts on “The Flexible Rules of Anthropology by Alex Colvin”

  1. Hi Alex,
    I really enjoyed how you incorporated some old ideas into an updated version of some type of ‘Ripping Yarn’.
    His thoughts and solutions became more ludicrous as the story went on.
    You built this up into a very entertaining, funny and perceptive piece of writing.
    Please keep sending!


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