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Mentawai law and religion

Since 2014, Manvir has conducted long-term ethnographic fieldwork with Mentawai communities in southern Siberut (Indonesia). This research involves a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, from participant-observation to systematic surveys and field experiments. Research topics have included taboos, shamanism, witchcraft, a local water spirit, and justice.


Manvir interviewing a sikerei, or Mentawai shaman, in 2017. Photo credit: Luke Glowacki


Together with Tian Chen Zeng (Harvard) and a large interdisciplinary team, we are building Anansi, a global database of myths, legends, and folktales named for the West African trickster who delivered literature to humanity. Anansi currently consists of over 1,500 stories drawn from 76 diverse cultures. We have two goals with Anansi: (a) to understand how narratives compare across human societies, and (b) to provide researchers with a new tool for studying psychology and norms across time and space.


The Natural History of Song

Since 2014, Manvir has co-directed the Natural History of Song (NHS) with Sam Mehr (Auckland) and Luke Glowacki (Boston University). The Natural History of Song comprises two cross-cultural resources: a discography of 118 field recordings and a collection of ethnographic descriptions of song from 60 societies. You can read more about the project here and find some of our publications here, here, and here.


A map showing the locations of the 60 societies in NHS Ethnography.

Our research focuses on behavioral traditions that are shaped by cultural transmission yet appear universally or nearly so, such as shamanism, music, justice, myth, property rights, and marriage.


As anthropologists, we move between the trees and the forest, studying case studies in rich detail while asking how those case studies connect to similar phenomena in very different contexts. Here are some of the long-term projects based in the lab:

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