Human Types

Written By: The Lowdown - Mar• 31•13

2013 03 small coverIn my younger days I worked in Fiji; one of those tiny Pacific Island countries. Being young, I wanted to understand the various cultures obtaining in this idyllic research resort of anthropologists. Needless to say that the first book I bought was Bronislaw Malinowsky’s The Sexual Life of Savages of North-Western Melanesia. It was a persuasive account of his participatory observations of the Tobriands there. The book contained many black-and-white pictures of undressed Melanesians, be it that the men were clad in bamboo tubes in which their penises were put.  I also bought Sir Raymond Firth’s Human Types which contained only a few pictures. Both books belong to that large category of books which one intends to read, but never does. Yet Human Types intrigued me. I found that Sir Raymond had chosen a terrific title; one that makes you ponder about what types of human beings can be distinguished. The book inspired me to observe people from different walks of life, races, professions, and social classes with a view to developing my own typology of human types.

I was helped by the insight of others in my endeavour. I believe that the most fundamental, and at the same time simple, distinction of human types ever made was established by the American philosopher-cum-comedian Woody Allen. His typology consists of two types only: Horribles and miserables. When you come to think of it, you can indeed put anybody under one of the two ‘labels’. Obviously, everybody prefers to be characterized as miserable, especially the horrible types. My advice in this case is: don’t let people choose for themselves. The classification has to be done by an objective person; preferably by yourself!

One of the first cultural outings I undertook in Fiji was to visit the National Museum. There I learned that in the olden days Fijians had the peculiar habit of boiling and then eating European missionaries. They ate them with preciously carved wooden forks which were proudly displayed in a vitrine. This vitrine also contained a brief explanatory history about the Fijians’ peculiar habit. The explanation’s first sentence was reassuring: Cannibalism had been abolished at the end of the 19th century. So, although not a missionary, I didn’t have to fear for my life. The rest of the explanatory note was very interesting: The good old Fijians preferred Catholic missionaries to Protestant ones as the former tasted better!  The reason being, the note said, that Catholic missionaries had eaten better food and drank a lot of wine, which resulted in a rich wine-marinated taste of the meat!

Then and there, I established my first human types typology: cannibals and vegetarians!  I tested it out but I must admit that it didn’t work out in the Pacific; neither in Fiji, nor in Tonga and Samoa. True, the cannibal part was acknowledged; however, there was not one vegetarian to be found on the islands of the South Seas. They all loved fish and, in particular, they loved smoked pork. What they did on the weekends was to put a dead piglet in a sub-soil oven. The meat would simmer for hours on end after which the piglet was dug up again and eaten by the entire extended family.

Having returned to Europe, the vegetarian part of my early typology was suddenly revived. That was because I lived across from a so-called Reform shop. These shops exclusively sell ‘natural’ products, ranging from unadulterated vegetables to quinua (a wholesome bean which only grows on high plains in the Andes). All customers consisted exclusively of skinny women with thin hair, with a terribly unhealthy complexion. So, I had identified my vegetarian human type after all: female reform shop customers!

I haven’t been able to identify many more human types since. However, there is one you can’t miss: Politicians. Without exception, they are all well-dressed and manicured, radiate a lot of joy in life, wear golden watches, and pretend to be genuinely interested in you; no, they act as if they were your friend! While heartily shaking hands with you, they don’t look into your eyes; instead they look frantically around to spot another ‘friend’ they need to shake hands with. Meanwhile they ask about your mother’s health, not realizing that the poor soul passed away seven years ago.  They then don’t even feel embarrassed about their un-thoughtful question, as their attention is already focused on other ‘friends’ in the audience.

True, from time to time one recognizes lawyers and teachers in a crowd. But they are not as singularly recognisable as politicians. That is why I haven’t been able to include them in my typology of human types as yet.

I realize that my quest for more human types is unended as yet. So, should you have a specific human type to suggest, don’t hesitate to contact me, so that, together,  we can evolve the classification of human types that Sir Raymond developed a long time ago.

by Peter de Haan

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