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THE word anthropology may sound very strange to many people. It is therefore important to start this article by stating the meaning of the word itself.

Anthropology is the study of human societies and cultures and their development. It is the study of human biological physiological characteristics and their evolution.

The purpose of this article is to illustrate the pivotal role that anthropology played in the colonial project and the role that it continues to play in the control of liberated nations by the colonial powers. 

I always avoid using the term, former colonial powers because the colonial masters are still controlling the affairs of the world.

“The colonial project is ultimately about justifying the occupation and exploitation of indigenous land and the maintenance of the unequal relationships between non-native and native; it is of paramount importance that the colonised remain contained as objects of the colonial state.”

A statement by the University of Pennsylvania Department Of Anthropology on Anthropology, Colonialism and Racism sums up the role that anthropology played in the colonial project and how it continues to be applied to divide and destabilise Third World nations.

“No form of scholarly enquiry is neutral, and anthropology is no exception,” the statement says.  “Anthropology began as a colonial science, the product of a settler colonialism uniquely focused on the story of the languages, history, culture and biology of non-European peoples seen as primitive or ancient all around the world.”

Anthropology is implicated in the projects of domination, rule and control of the natives. It is accused of using extractive approaches that “positioned Native Americans, Africans, Asians, Latin American and other human subjects and field sites as objects or sources of data rather than as partners in knowledge production or legitimate owners of their own bodies, voices, histories and cultures.”

In relation to anthropology and racism, the University of Pennsylvania states as follows:

“One legacy of anthropology that is especially painful to confront is its connection to and complicity with so-called ‘scientific racism,’ in which the University of Pennsylvania played a key role. 

“Anthropologists and other scholars used ostensibly ‘objective’ procedures to advance various forms of racism, by placing humans on a graded scale of civilisation, and advancing fraught theories of ‘cultural evolution.’ These programmes were presented as scientific findings and used to support racist agendas. The damage caused by this kind of work was extensive and significant, reinforcing racial inequality, and undergirding arguments for the inferiority of non-European ‘others.’”

And according to Professor Irene Watson, an academic and a member of the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement in South Australia, the colonial project has embodied a centuries-long, ongoing campaign to annihilate, define, subordinate and exclude the “native” and an arsenal of tools has been applied to these ends.

“Mast-headed with the Christian mission to ‘civilise’, First Nations laws were deemed non-existent and for more than 500 years, the colonialist construct of an absence of law in First Nations’ territories was supported by its idealised notions about the ‘savage’ and ‘backward native’” says Professor Watson.

Professor Watson goes on to say that European constructs of backwardness and savagery continue to prevail in contemporary times.

“Many appeals made for recognition under international law by First Nations have failed because international law has been created by colonial nations and in the interests of colonialism itself,” she says.

International law, she states, grew out of the distinctions made between civilised and no-civilised states and those distinctions confirmed that international law applied only to a civilised “family of nations.”

Oren Kroll-Zeldin, an assistant professor at the University of San Francisco states that few topics in the discipline of anthropology are as important and controversial as colonialism.

“The historical origins of anthropology are rooted in the colonial enterprise thus forever linking colonialism and anthropology and as such, colonialism is one of the most widely explored and written about subjects in the history of anthropology,” Zeldin says.

This intricate relationship between anthropology and colonialism remains at the centre of the imperialists’ grand plan to dominate the Third World or the natives through neo-colonialism.

Third World politicians, particularly those in Africa. should be aware that anthropological studies are used to determine the course of political manipulation in the continent. The neo-colonialists know very well the cultural, biological, and physiological construct of each and every tribe in Africa.

They very well know which tribes would be subservient unquestionably. The neo-colonialists can, using anthropological knowledge, be able to divide countries into belligerent regions without the peoples of those countries realizing that they are being exploited while they fight each other.

I hope I will not be faulted to warn Zambians that we are not immune to these neo-colonial tactics built on the colonial era anthropological studies. We should seriously ask ourselves if there are any good reasons to regionalise our politics.

What are the origins of foreign powers preferring one party over the other? What are the interests of foreign powers? Why do they impose their laws and legal systems on our countries? We have a lot to think about as we conduct our political activities.  

Future Zambian leaders must study and understand the role of anthropology in the conduct of modern politics and commerce.

Yours truly


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