Ep #74 Colonialism & Monsters:Yasmine Musharbash on Monster Anthropology & Social Transformation

This week Clair brings you an interview with Dr Yasmine Musharbash!

Dr. Yasmine Musharbash is a senior lecturer at the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University. Her fieldwork is based in central Australia, and primarily centred on the Yuendumu, an Aboriginal community about three hours northwest of Alice Springs. Over the years, her research has branched out in an impressive variety of directions, including social relations and personhood of the Warlpiri people, the anthropology of sleep and night, the Anthropology of Emotions, Embodiment, Boredom Studies, death and grieving, and so on. Today, we are talking about Yasmine’s research on monster anthropology, which has blossomed into an on-going inter-disciplinary and comparative project that brings together anthropology and monster studies. Her key publications on the subject include two edited volumes Monster Anthropology: Ethnographic Explorations of Transforming Social Worlds Through Monsters (2020 Bloomsbury w/ Dr. Geir Henning Presterudstuen) and Monster Anthropology in Australasia and Beyond (2014 Palgrave Macmillan, w/ Dr. Geir Henning Presterudstuen)

In this episode, we explore the different ways in which the Aboriginal people live with the monsters that haunt them, in particular in instances of social change and transformation. We first delve into the elementary instability of the term monster, such as how the monstrous bodies rupture classification, transgressing the otherwise clear-cut boundary between taxonomies and how monsters are contingent on the humans they haunt, combining the temporal and spatial perspectives. 

Yasmine then compares and contrasts monster studies versus monster anthropology, before drawing on her fieldwork to investigate how one monster, that cannot be named, morphs and changes alongside the settler colonial state that has been inflicting trauma onto the Aboriginal peoples. We then explore how a more well-known monster, “Pankarlangu”, has adapted to the broader processes of climate change and colonialism, and how the Aboriginal people haunted by it perceive such a transformation. We finally discuss the appropriation of Aboriginal monsters, the clash between different ontologies in fieldwork, and how pandemics and apocalypses may impact on monsters in the Aboriginal country.      

Links and Citations 


Musharbash, Y & Presterudstuen, GH, eds, 2020, Monster Anthropology. Ethnographic Explorations of Transforming Social Worlds Through Monsters, Bloomsbury, London and New York.

Musharbash, Y & Presterudstuen, GH, eds, 2014, Monster Anthropology in Australasia and Beyond, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Auerbach, N. 1995, Our Vampires, Ourselves, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.


Musharbash, Y 2020, ‘Pangkarlangu, Wonder, Extinction’, in Y Musharbash & G H Presterudstuen (ed.), Monster Anthropology: Ethnographic Explorations of Transforming Social Worlds Through Monsters, Bloomsbury, London and New York, pp. 59-74.

Musharbash, Y & Presterudstuen, GH 2020, ‘Introduction: Monsters and Change’, in Y Musharbash & G H Presterudstuen (ed.), Monster Anthropology: Ethnographic Explorations of Transforming Social Worlds Through Monsters, Bloomsbury, London and New York, pp. 1-27.

Musharbash, Y 2014, ‘Monstrous Transformations: A Case Study from Central Australia’, in Yasmine Musharbash & Geir Henning Presterudstuen (ed.), Monster Anthropology in Australasia and Beyond, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp. 39-56.

Musharbash, Y 2014, ‘Introduction: Monsters, Anthropology, and Monster Studies’, in Yasmine Musharbash & Geir Henning Presterudstuen (ed.), Monster Anthropology in Australasia and Beyond, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp. 1-24.

Musharbash, Y 2014, ‘Here be Kurdaitcha: Towards an Ethnography of the Monstrous on the Margins of a Central Australian Aboriginal Town’, in C Douglas, R Monacella (ed.), Places and Spaces of Monstrosity, Inter-Disciplinary Press, Oxford, UK, pp. 117-124.

Thurman, J 2014, ‘The Nine-night Siege: Kurdaitcha at the Interface of Warlpiri/Non Indigenous Relations’, in Yasmine Musharbash & Geir Henning Presterudstuen (ed.), Monster Anthropology in Australasia and Beyond, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp. 143-158.


Gross, L  2004, ‘Postapocalypse Stress Syndrome and Rebuilding American Indian Communities’, The Role of Research in Building Communities: The African American and First Nations Experience Conference. University of Kansas, November, 2004.


“Monsters are contingent on the humans that they haunt. They have to make sense within or against a particular ontology for them to be monsters.”

“Monsters are temporally contingent as well. Just as humans who are haunted by monsters experience historical change, so do the monsters.”

“Not all monsters need to terrify. Not all monsters need to scare or lurk. They might haunt you in a really spooky, potentially evil way, but they might also protect you and look after you.”

“Monster studies often deal with fictional monsters whereas monster anthropology deals with people’s experience of monsters.”

“Monster studies look at how monsters embody what’s the key fears that express an era.”

“Monsters can be seen as independent agents that are completely embedded in time and space, and their relations with humans and other-than-humans as well.”

“One monster comes to embody the settler colonial aspect of the non-indigenous people. Government officials, bureaucrats, and managers drive around the desert in white Toyotas, that particular monster drives around the desert in black Toyotas.” 

“The incredibly high mortality rate (of the Indigenous people) is linked to those monsters. But the monsters kill Indigenous people only, they don’t kill non-Indigenous people. The monsters actually mirror, work with, and emulate non-Indigenous people. It’s like Warlpiri monsters gone rogue and became colonisers, colonising Warlpiri people in the same way that they are being colonised by the settler colonial state.”

“The double process of the humanisation of the monster and the monsterisation of human makes that monster particularly hard to get rid of, because it so expertly adapts to whatever that really makes life horrible.”

“It’s very hard to look at any monster right now in the 21st century – any monster from the Tanami desert – and see it detached from those huge processes, not just of colonialism, but of extinction and climate change that impact life in the desert.”

“The Pankarlangu walked back into the Tanami desert, which is the homeland not just of Warlpiri people but of that Pankarlangu. It had been where the main centres of the settler colonial state and now it was coming home. And it’s changed, because now the Pankarlangu wasn’t a big cannibal hairy male. It was a family. That was a mom and dad and a kid. So the Pankarlangu also got colonised and turned into that other form of family that the settler colonial state at the moment tries to turn Warlpiri people into.”

“There’s some kind of parallel between the ways in which Warlpiri people are being colonised under the pressures of conforming with things like nuclear families and leisure, and the ways that seem to be happening to the Pankarlangu as well.”

“Bunyip was actually a very potent river-dwelling monster that played multiple roles in country, but it has become something cute that the colonisers put on stamps.”

“At this point, there’s not even heavy enough repercussions (from the pandemic) to cause much hubbub in the monster world (in the Indigenous country), because everything else is so bad anyway. This is just one more bad thing.”

Our Facebook page and Facebook group are back up and running so don’t forget to head over to our Facebook group The Familiar Strange Chats. Let’s keep talking strange, together!

If you like what we do and are in a position to do so, you can help us to keep making content by supporting us through Patreon.

Our Patreon can be found at https://www.patreon.com/thefamiliarstrange

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com
Shownotes by Matthew Phung
Podcast edited by Clair Zhang and Matthew Phung

Feature Image: “Sunset, Tanami Desert, WA” by Tor Lindstrand (2016)

Leave a Reply