Guest of the Shiek
Guest of the Sheik Course Number: Instructor’s Name: Course Name: Anthropology 102 Thesis Statement In her ethnography, Guests of the Sheik, Elizabeth Fearer writes about her experience living in Iraq with her husband, an anthropologist on assignment performing field research for his doctorate in anthropology. Fearer speaks of her reservations about being such a stranger, entering an unfamiliar environment, and shows her animosity at beginning her married life living in a two-room mud hut with no plumbing or connecting doors to the other room.
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In those short years, Fearer wrote about the inhabitants of this small village, their traditions, gender roles and family kinship system. She faced many obstacles in the beginning of her work. However, she overcame those handicaps by learning the language and building good relations with many women in the village. Fearer, demonstrates her own abilities with the systematic recording of the life in El Naira; adapting to life in ethnocentrism through her words and actions. Moreover, through time and experiences, she became aware of her ethnocentrism, an important element in producing a clear ethnology in anthropological research.
In this paper I will briefly explain the concept of ethnocentrism and its relationship to anthropological research, then I will discuss how Fern’s book, written some 48 years ago is still used today in collegiate studies to demonstrate how ethnography gives us a different perspective versus a Despite the fact that she and her husband were respected westerners, Fearer had to recognize that the role of woman in the Iraqi village forced her to adapt to new unpleasant gender-based social norms. Iraq being largely an Islamic country, gender roles were clearly defined as they are for most Psalmists.
Islam is a strictly masculine religion such that men are at the head of their family unit and therefore society in generally. The role of women in Islam is also clearly defined. They are expected to be strictly obedient to their husbands. Their role in the general public is as a wife and mother, taking little or no part in public affairs, especially politics and self- improvement through education. In most cases women are not allowed to have a driver’s license let alone operate a vehicle. They are also expected to be modest in their manner of dress at home and in public, keeping most of their body covered, specially the face and hair.
After her first official visit to the sheikh, Fearer states that “Bob would eat with the men in the sheiks muddied or guest house, and I would lunch in the Harem, or women’s quarters” (Fearer, E. W. , 1965, p. 24). Fearer stressed that there are a few key elements of the life which underscore the gender differences among western and eastern societies. Firstly, the relationship between women and the rearing of the children; women, with child or not are expected to rear the children, provide comfort and prepare the meals. Secondly, the process of marriage and attitudes associated with it.
Iraqi marriage is described as a contract; arranged by families as the family’s needs are considered most important. The men make the final decisions on everything from the child’s education to the method in which the females cook. The difference is stark compared to the western civilizations as Fearer wrote, “[They] pitied me, college-educated, adequately dressed and fed, free to vote and to travel, happily married to a husband of my own choice who was also a friend and companion…. No mother, no children, no long hair, thin as a rail, can’t cook rice, and not even any gold!
What a sad specimen I must have seemed to them (Fearer, E. W. , 1965, p. 316). After marriage, the family kinship systems emerge. Couples can live in either of two ways; with the husband’s extended family, or as a nuclear family. At present with Iraq’s economic hard-ships, families tend to live with extended households. The extended family unit consists of the older couple, sons, their wives and families, and unmarried daughters. Other dependent relatives also may make up part of this group, and the oldest male heads the group.
This similar type of structure used to exist in western states and is known as enumeration households. Grandparents, parents and children lived in one house. Parenting came from both the parents and then their parents or grandparents. Burdens were eased as the parents could both work while the grandparents took care of the rearing of the children. Similar to the Iraq’s, but only the responsibility of the women for hands on, the men were or are only there to make final decisions as they are the head of the household.
By having these types of kinship structures, you are more likely to hand down generational culture, language and religion keeping the Emily and kinship, the Iraq’s were doing the same as Fearer wrote “the women of El Naira could not understand why Elizabeth was not with her entire family, and why it was Just her and her husband Bob: “Where is your mother? Sultana asked. I told her she was in America far away, and when Selma repeated this in a better accent, the women clucked in sympathy. “Poor girl”, they said. “Poor child”.
To be alone without any of one’s womenfolk was clearly the greatest disaster which could befall any girl” Fearer, E. W. , 1965, p. 36). The women did not recognize her American lifestyle as accurate. This is the ethnocentric fallacy, “if we condemn or reject the beliefs or behaviors of others (Robbins, R. , 2012, p. 8). This is not only ethnocentrism on the part of the El Naira women because of their belief system that you are supposed to have your parents living with you or near you but American’s do not see this as a bad thing to live far from ones parents.
As an active military member, with recent experiences of Iraq during a time when we as a nation did not understand the Iraqi culture, I feel that this book should be required reading for all college students, civilians and especially Journalist alike. When the Iraq wars started, western societies only knew and understood what they seen from news reports and Journalist articles. Journalist report on the “now’ because there is not enough tie to educated the masses on culture.
What we see, read and hear is skewed by the media as fact based truth off society or culture. In the U. S. We are brought up to believe that we live better than most people in the world, and that everyone should be envious of us because of our material wealth, freedom, and mobility. Time has passed since Fearer lived and wrote about her experiences, however, the Iraqi culture has not hanged much meaning we can still learn from her work and about the culture and country today.
This was true of Fearer generation and is true of ours now. The understanding is not of the mechanics, but the teachings we get from the book; yes, we learned about the Iraqi culture, but the real lessons are in understanding how we see and interact with the rest of the world. In this paper, we have seen how Elizabeth Fearer skillfully overcame her fears of being a stranger in an unfamiliar environment, her animosity of beginning her marriage and dream life abroad living n conditions not experienced by her or westerns.
Fearer embraced her current state by writing “How little I really knew about the society in which I was living! During the year I had made friends, I had listened and talked and learned, I thought, a great deal, but the pattern of custom and tradition which governed the lives of my friends was far more subtle and complex than I had imagined” (Fearer, E. W. , 1965, p. 266) and immersed herself in the local culture, learning the gender roles, not Judging the family kinship system and giving us a perspective vastly different of what a journalist could offer.
Even though she published this book over 50 years ago, her stories are still so relevant to the understanding of modern Iraqi culture. This book provide more than Just a two year study of a woman living in a small village in Iraq; it withstands the boundaries of time and provides a modern day lesson about the ethnographic perspectives of how we can see and understand the world around us. Fearer, Elizabeth Warnock. Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village. New York: Anchor Books, 1965. Robbins, R. H. (2012). Cultural Anthropology. Headwords, Coinage Learning. Belmont, CA