Sunday, 6 September 2015

Nomads: love them or loathe them?

Some thoughts about political musical chairs

Anthropologists love nomads. I worked with a manager who said she wanted to go live with the Bedouins. Some people do find the idea of a group of people traversing huge expanses of land just to find water and food rather romantic, whether these groups are hunter-gatherers, pastoralists or peripatetic minority groups like Romani or Irish travellers (sometimes known -- derogatively -- as gypsies).

My dear second sister -- and many others who have grown up with Enid Blyton books might identify -- used to say she wanted to be a gypsy. At one point I saved enough money to buy a few Matchbox models. One was a caravan.
Image result for matchbox caravan

"Travellers" in the UK do not have a good reputation. The term refers normally to Irish travellers who used to move around from place to place to offer specific services including entertainment, crafts, tin-smithing, knife-sharpening, etc. I think these are the ones featured in Enid Blyton stories for which she was condemned a "bigot".

They have a totally different lifestyle from us sedentists, but who is to say that we are morally or spiritually superior to them? They have their own set of rituals, rules and regulations. They abide by their own code of conduct.

The Mongols, Genghis Khan and all that, they were nomads. They plundered. They conquered. Or the other way around.

Nomads can also be peaceful pastoralists. They move their livestock around, searching for greener pastures literally. Over the years, however, they have worked out a method or cycle of moving around in such a manner that the ground has enough time to heal, for another set of nomads to settle. All very civilized, really.

Those of us who care for the environment will be familiar with how some mega-farms are farming the same bit of earth to death, after which they use man-made fertilizers and pesticides to increase yield which end up poisoning the ground and water.

Compared to these mega-agriculturalists that rape the earth, nomadic pastoralists are angels.

In the context of the Singapore GE2015, what I do not understand is how some forms of nomadism are lauded, while others are decried.

More to the context: complaints that MPs only come around when it is election time (plunder and disappear?). Opposition MP-wannabes work the ground in between GEs. Constituency boundaries change -- some say arbitrarily amidst accusations of gerrymandering, but we won't go into that -- and MP-wannabes who have been "working the ground" (an agricultural metaphor, note) might suddenly find that all the goodwill they have cultivated (more farming imagery) has crossed borders.

Nomadic MP-wannabes or nomadic constituents? Who controls these constituent boundaries and on what basis are they altered? A mystery to all outside government. [Aside: election boundary setting should be made by an independent committee, or at least a cross-party group. Surely.]

What about nomadic PAP candidates? So my old schoolmate has returned to Aljunied and is billed "the prodigal returns". People of Aljunied, time to slaughter the fatted calf. Or is it the sacred cow?

The former "Son of Punggol" is now Step-Son/ Son-in-law/ Second Cousin Once Removed/ some other fictive kin of Ang Mo Kio.


[I hereby give notice that I am "daughter of Tiong Bahru/Tanglin Halt/Tanjong Pagar". Don't say I don't say.]

Indranee Rajah (whose creative energies I had to rein in -- twice -- when she was head of a publication at an NUS group many years ago) reminded my fellow constituents that PAP MPs know their constituents well. This is a plus point for them. Surely.

So why does PAP re-deploy some of their MPs to other constituencies as if they are playing political musical chairs? As if the relationships built up do not -- suddenly -- matter any more? As if, for the sake of a political victory, constituents can now be abandoned? Who is going to write all those letters for the constituents?

Dr Lily Neo, for example. I saw her clinic at Tanglin Halt being decorated (renovated) when she started her practice. She was especially kind to an old neighbour who was a bit of a hypochondriac. She has also treated me. Where is she going next? 


I have been away from Singapore for a long time. (Too long, some say.) Still, I recall Singapore leaders admonishing Singaporeans to venture outside Singapore to find work, to start businesses, to tap the Chinese/Indian markets. So we went.


Whenever I sign up for a major anthropological conference I need to use a software called Nomadit: Nomad IT. When I looked them up, I discovered that "NomadIT is a team of down-to-earth freelance administrators, event organisers and IT specialists who work remotely using internet and email technologies to assist NGOs, educational and voluntary sector organisations to run their organisations and events".

I have no reason to believe that anyone within this group is either wealthy or corrupt, or both. But boy! this software is really useful from setting out calls for panels to calls for papers, to the minutiae of organizing cross-border and sometimes cross-discipline conferences.

You may not be an anthropologist, but it is OK to be love a nomad.

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