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Journeys to the Edge

In the Footsteps of an Anthropologist

Peter M. Gardner

Publication Year: 2006

In this fascinating and vivid account, Peter M. Gardner takes us along with him on his anthropological field research trips. Usually, the author’s family is there, too, either with him in the field or somewhere nearby. Family adventures are part of it all. Travel into the unknown can be terrifying yet stimulating, and Gardner describes his own adventures, sharing medical and travel emergencies, magical fights, natural dangers, playful friends, and satisfying scientific discoveries. Along the way, we also learn how Gardner adapted to the isolation he sometimes faced and how he coped with the numerous crises that arose during his travels, including his tiny son’s bout with cholera.

Because Gardner’s primary research since 1962 has been with hunter-gatherers, much of his story transpires either in the equatorial jungle of south India or more than one hundred miles beyond the end of the road in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Other ventures transport readers to Japan and back to India, allowing them to savor ancient sights and sounds. Gardner closes the book with a journey of quite another sort, as he takes us into the world of nature, Taoist philosophy, and the experimental treatment of advanced cancer.

Throughout this fast-moving book, Gardner deftly describes the goals and techniques of his research, as well as his growing understanding of the cultures to which he was exposed. Few personal accounts of fieldwork describe enough of the research to give a complete sense of the experience in the way this book does. Anyone with an interest in travel and adventure, including the student of anthropology as well as the general reader, will be totally intrigued by Gardner’s story, one of a daily existence so very different from our own.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

Come with Me

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To the Very Edges of Our World

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pp. 3-6

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be an anthropologist plunging into an exotic culture? The delights and terrors may be hard to imagine. Let me share some stories about the eighteen months I spent doing fieldwork with hunting bands in the tropical forest of India. ...

With Hunter-Gatherers in the South Indian Jungle

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Stumbling into the Tropics

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pp. 9-21

“Getting there is half the fun,” people say. I certainly have had fun along the way, but far more memorable are the awful moments when I was beset by disasters. ...

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Seeking the Quiet People

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pp. 22-29

With Trudy and baby Heather safely situated atop the hills, I could begin looking for groups I might study. In 1908, F. Dahmen, a Jesuit, published a thirteen-page article on Paliyans, some of whom were employed at a Jesuit-run coffee estate midway up the Palni Hills. Within a few days I learned that the coffee estate remained in operation. ...

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Utopia in a Thorn Forest

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pp. 30-37

Before getting to the exciting highlights of my time with the Paliyans and in their jungle, I must spend a few pages on something that trumped all the other experiences. It startled me. Paliyans treat fellow humans so considerately that my year and a half with them was unforgettable. ...

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Whimsy, Wild Boars, and Wilder Spirits

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pp. 38-54

Each morning as I sat in front of my tent fixing breakfast, I watched my Paliyan neighbors waking, tending to their babies’ needs, then ambling off in search of patches of sunlight where they could squat. Their bodies welcomed the warmth of the sun after a cool night on the ground. ...

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With Princes into Wilderness

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pp. 55-66

A great misty-blue range along my route kept beckoning. I felt the pull of Saduragiri each time I passed the midpoint of my ride to Shenbagatoppu. My eyes were drawn to its forested slopes and to its savanna uplands, hidden at times in clouds. ...

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Bulls, Bites, and Other Challenges

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pp. 67-78

What is luck in the forest? Is it having encounters with wildlife? Or is it surviving such encounters? Or avoiding them altogether? Surely that depends on one’s personal goals and interests. Little more need be said here about my two brushes with elephants on Saduragiri, other than that they were stimulating ...

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Rewards of Fieldwork

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pp. 79-84

I can’t tell you that everything was a disaster. To start with, there were two extraordinary pleasures: spending eighteen months in the company of tolerant people, and discovering I was making sense of a wholly alien way of life on my first try. And my other rewards were many; I will describe just three of them. ...

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Travel, Paris, and the Devil’s Advocate

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pp. 85-92

Paul Friedrich, by then at the University of Chicago, suggested I seek an extension of my fellowship in order to spend time in Paris on the way home, at L’École Pratique des Hautes Études, discussing my Paliyan materials with Louis Dumont. Motorcycling regularly through the area of Dumont’s Kallar research made it apparent ...

Lured Back to India

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Through Alice’s Looking Glass

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pp. 95-103

With my doctorate finally in hand, I taught for the summer at Penn, then bustled off to a tenure-track teaching post at the University of Texas in Austin. It was another world, balmy and relaxed, really relaxed. During my first week on the campus, I heard a passing student tell a companion, ...

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Savoring India Personally

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pp. 104-116

The scattering of my anthropology colleagues is one reason our year in India involved a lot of travel. Another is that, even though people treat India as a “country” today, it has long been an entity on the order of Europe. It approaches Europe (minus Russia) in its size; its population is similar, too; ...

Braving Canada’s North

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Toward Northern Forest

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pp. 119-129

I would probably have been wasting my time if I had attempted to obtain permission for tribal research in south India in the early 1970s. The Indian government had become sensitive about its nation’s humblest citizens, and the latest visa guidelines for scholars discouraged any such inquiry. ...

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Subarctic Ways

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pp. 130-144

We had found a serene place to do our work, so far from the bustle of twentieth-century Canada that, unless the radio was on or the mail had just arrived, we gave the outside world scant thought. After all, the Northwest Territories in those days had thirty-one square miles per person. ...

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Private Thought Worlds

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pp. 145-150

Amid all of these experiences, did we find answers to the questions about conceptual sharing and diversity with which we began our northern research? We certainly did. Although the way we approached the subject was scientific and rigorous, our findings turned out to be intriguing and fun; some are well worth passing along. ...

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Tasting the North

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pp. 151-159

I located two clean used trailer homes on the Alaska highway at the start of the project—a twelve by forty-eight footer for Jane and her son and a twelve by sixty footer for my family of four. These, and a huge propane tank of cooking gas, were floated by barge 250 miles northward down a mountain river, ...

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Experiments, Puzzles, Exams

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pp. 160-166

The lean young man who served as chief when we began our Dene study was fascinated by our precise Euro-Canadian handling of time. He began using me for experiments and inquiry. For most of his people, time was usually expressed in an approximate way; ...

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The Very Edge of the Inhabited World

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pp. 167-174

Since my teen years, I had yearned to see the midnight sun of the arctic summer. The tundra would be carpeted briefly then with lichens, mosses, and uncountable millions of nesting birds. Although soft to the touch, all would look strangely crisp in the cool, slanting light of the never-setting sun. ...

Quick Asian Postscripts

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Performers in Indian Bronze

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pp. 177-184

During the summer of 1978 I undertook a brief study of how south Indian artists who sculpt sacred images for Hindu temples go about their professional work. My two primary interests lay in their procedures for realizing the images and their ways of passing on and maintaining their professional knowledge. ...

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Time Edges in Japan

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pp. 185-200

For six years, I shared life with Carol, an artist. During the summer of 1982, we both took an accelerated two-year intensive Japanese course at the Monterey Institute for International Studies in California. My goal was to prepare for a seven-month sabbatical leave in Japan. We deepened the experience by living in a Japanese-language house. ...

Treading Old Paths and New

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Journeys That Converge

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pp. 203-210

From my earliest years, I have found calmness in nature. I have always thought of this as nothing more than a personal quirk. An isolated avenue of ancient beech trees behind my grandmother’s three-century-old home in Norfolk, England, was a spot where my sister and I could play alone, happily, far out of sight of the house. ...

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Adapting to the Path of Cancer

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pp. 211-218

I began seeing a doctor in early May 1996 because of recurring pain in my bones. It would appear in one spot (a rib, a shoulder blade, or the rim of my pelvis), linger for some five days, and then vanish for two or three weeks. All the rheumatologists who looked at me confessed that they were baffled by my migrating symptoms, ...

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A Note of Thanks

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pp. 219-220

There are many to whom I am indebted. I am deeply grateful for the patience, accommodation, and kindness of innumerable Paliyans, northern Dene, Tamil sculptors, and Japanese who offered me their time and companionship when I lived among them. ...


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pp. 221-224


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pp. 225-228

Index of Places

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pp. 229-230

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About the Author

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p. 240-240

Peter M. Gardner is author of Bicultural Versatility as a Frontier Adaptation among Paliyan Foragers of South India and coauthor of The Individual in Northern Dene Thought and Communication: A Study in Sharing and Diversity. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780826265227
E-ISBN-10: 0826265227
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826216342
Print-ISBN-10: 082621634X

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 17
Publication Year: 2006

Edition: 1

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Ethnology--Canada--Field work.
  • Ethnology--India--Field work.
  • Chipawayan Indians--Canada, Northern--Social life and customs.
  • Paliyan (Indic people)--Social life and customs.
  • Ethnologists-- United States-- Biography.
  • Gardner, Peter M.
  • Canada--Social life and customs.
  • India--Social life and customs.
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