During my 45-year tenure at Cleveland State University (CSU) I never thought of retirement, but around 2013 a concatenation of events changed my direction. A cut in pensions by 23 percent was being planned, and my department was to merge with sociology/criminology. Saddened by the loss of anthropology’s independent identity that I had helped establish in 1970, I also learned my large and richly decorated office as well as the adjacent Center for Healing Across Cultures, home to my Meditation Gathering, both meaningful spaces for me, were to be demolished. It was the death of an era.
This also meant the ending of my professional association with Ethiopia. Since 1966 I had been reading about, researching in, and teaching about Ethiopia in all its dimensions, from paleoanthropology to cultural and psychological inquiries, to the nature of revolutions and resolutions.
I first traveled to highland Ethiopia in 1967, with generous funding by a National Institute of Mental Hhealth grant, providing stipends for my wife, two children, (Lisa, five, and Michael, two), and the purchase of a Land Rover. My objective was to learn about gender identity and masculinity at the levels of culture and personality. Research was a two-year emotional roller-coaster ride, but I learned what I needed for my dissertation. Arriving home, I sat on the floor of my mother’s house, staring at 4,500 bound half sheets of paper in a state of reverse culture shock. Yoga brought me out of that.
Opportunities for fieldwork ended with a brutal 1974 “socialist” revolution. The decades-long war ended with the northern Eritrean and Tigray armies overpowering the junta in 1991. With the establishment of a new regime, I returned to Ethiopia with a Fulbright, another wife and two other children. I was excited to help establish a master’s program at Addis Ababa University, to provide for a 3,000-volume anthropology library, to create masters-level courses in theory and methodology, and especially to supervise the theses of six bright, highly motivated students with ethnographic research into remote regions of the country. Two Land Cruisers, contributed by a Norwegian Foundation, allowed us to locate tribal groups amenable to their study. Funded by a two-year Fulbright, I initiated six studies of my own: on the evolution of Addis Ababa, the life and ecology of sex workers, the aging populations in the city, the Rastafarian community, an ethnography of the Afar of the Danikil Desert, and the popular entheogenic Ch’at, which students often utilized to help with final exams. These studies relied heavily on my multilingual students, who not only translated, but provided a safety net on somewhat sketchy field studies.
With a third Fulbright in 2005, I introduced a social science program at the University of Bahir Dar. A four-day trek in the spectacular Semien Mountains with my wife Wendy, including the ascent of Mt. Bwahit awakened nascent spiritual interests. Coming home, I began to study the world of spirit, particularly through shamanic practice. Wendy and I explored journey work with Hank Wesselman, renowned paleoanthropologist and shamanic healer and teacher in 2014. His book, The Bowl of Light, about the last great Kahuna, Hale Makua, sparked my interest in Hawaiian cosmology, spirituality, and healing methods. Funded by a CSU grant and fundraising, I embarked on my last sabbatical leave—in Hawai’i!
We received a warm welcome by the Volcano Goddess Pele. Soon after we moved into our tree house jungle home in Puna, she opened the Pu’u O’o vent, whose lava threatened to cut off the whole Puna district from the rest of the island. Fortunately, Pele held her flow from the road and we spent four months studying the Hawaiian language, interviewing healers and Kahuna specialists, attending ceremonies and rituals, visiting sacred sites, and learning about Hawaiian ecology, both ancient and modern. I became fascinated by the indigenous traditions of Hawai’i.
Since retiring in 2015, I’ve deepened my study of spiritual healing, returning to Hawaii to spend time with healers, including Kahuna Harry Uhane Jim with his healing art of lomi-lomi. This visit was more relaxed. An excursion to the live lava flow was both hazardous and exhausting, with the heat of a 2000-degree Fahrenheit magma just under the crust toasting our feet. We explored sacred sites like Mauna Kea, which, at 13,796 ft., is the tallest mountain on earth (measured from the sea bottom). Pu’uhonua o honaunau, the ancient place of refuge, great rock temples and prehistoric petroglyphs captivated our imagination.
I’m currently working with some core concepts of indigenous Hawaiian culture. The multilevel polysemy of “Aloha” fills pages. The sovereignty of self and a system connecting humanity and all living creatures to the earth relates to other indigenous cosmologies. The Kahuna tradition of over 20 lineages of specialized skills provides rich material to pursue. Today, I teach, look for ways to analyze this data, and write. Working on indigenous Hawaiian cosmology and healing should carry me well into the foreseeable future.
Anthropology continues to be an ongoing journey of discovery and inspiration. As professor emeritus I engage my love of teaching with some very special students; their spark of interest fuels me. Anthropology teaches us about humanity in all its diversity and we learn about ourselves in the process. Speaking personally, that process has been the path to the evolution of my own consciousness.
Ron Reminick is professor emeritus of anthropology at Cleveland State University.
Susan Kenyon is contributing editor for the ASA section news column.
Cite as: Reminick, Ron. 2020. “Retirement and a New Beginning.” Anthropology News website, July 9, 2020. DOI: 10.14506/AN.1458