Anthro-to-go: Three words for hibiscus

Shisha smoke sun beams 2

Shisha smoke and sun beams at a cafe in Amman, Jordan. May 2010

The beverage at lunch yesterday was jamaica (pronounced ha-mike-ah), a Mexican drink made from hibiscus flowers. I walked by a guy from the U.S. describing what the drink was to a guy from Sudan.

“Ah, I think it’s karkadee,” Ahmad said, using the Arabic word for the refreshment.

“Yeah—karkadee,” I interjected instinctively as I passed. I knew the word from my time in Egypt and other countries in the Middle East.

Ahmad looked surprised and pleased. I walked away recalling an afternoon drinking karkadee and smoking argila (a.k.a. hookah, another habit with many names) with a friend in Amman, Jordan.

My travels have been geographically broad, yet the small similarities in environment and culture are a continuous surprise.

Early anthropologists (1800’s) debated whether diverse cultures developed similar beliefs and practices by learning from each other—diffusion—or by independent invention. Today, anthropologists are less concerned with this question, because we know that change is not uni-linear and that cultures impact each other in complicated ways.

 Muchas gracias to Emily for her anthropology consultation on this post!

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