this one’s for g.w.

(^_^)

from Ecological Sensitivity and Resistance of Cultures in Asia (southeast asia in particular) published in 1978(!):

“Ecological influences on culture have been demonstrated by several investigators. Many such studies have been done in Asia where two ecological niches extend over vast areas. One of these is the highland or mountainous territory 500 meters above sea level; the other consists of plains and plateaus under 500 meters….

“…The HRAF files were used to compare cultures in the highlands with those in the lowlands. The files indicate that certain items may be ecology sensitive (that is, more apt to change with ecologic shift). These include agricultural methods, sociopolitical organization and preferred marriage forms….

“Sociopolitical Organization. … Lowland societies had larger communities, larger states, more nonhereditary local head-men, complex social distinctions, and exogamy. More lowland [sic – should be upland] groups had small communities, small states, hereditary headmen, no exogamy, and less complex class distinctions.

“Family, Marriage and Kinship. … Eskimo/Hawaiian cousin terms corresponded to the quadrilateral/nonlateral cousin marriages found in lowland cultures. Iroquois/Omaha/Crow cousin terms were found in association with matrilineal/patrilineal cousin marriages in the highlands….”

eskimo kinship terms are the ones that we use in the anglo/western world, and the eskimo kinship system is a very generalized one — eg. we don’t distinguish between maternal or paternal cousins, they’re all just “cousins.” so lowland southeast asians have similar kinship terms to us — or they use the hawaiian system which is even more generalized — all your brothers and male cousins are just “brother” and all your sisters and female cousins are just “sister.”

the iroquois, omaha, and crow systems used by the uplanders are all more complex, each distinguishing cousins in different ways — but none of them are as complex as the sudanese system which is the one used in the arab world — and in china. and it used to be used by the anglo-saxons before the Big Change in kinship terms in medieval europe.

“…Discussion

“As observed by previous students of southeast Asia, the most parsimonious explanation for these sociopolitical and marriage findings is the production of surplus food in the lowlands. Intensive agriculture favors both increased population density and increased total population. Communities become larger, nation states are formed, and kingship comes into existence. The cetripetal nature of kingship government probably accounts for nonhereditary local headmen replacing hereditary headmen. Surplus rice allows a money economy, towns, a priestly class, social stratification, teachers, and writing.

“Swidden agriculturists in the highlands, on the other hand, maintain simple social and political organization. Small groups migrate more easily, keeping themselves politically and socially intact during and after the move. Each family, even that of the village chief, must raise its own food. Class stratification is simple and large towns are nonexistent. There are part-time shamans, but no priestly class. Even though writing systems (such as Chinese ideography) are near at hand and readily usable, absence of surplus food and large communities obstruct the development of literacy. Such small autonomous communities, numbering between 50 and 400 persons, do not form nation states.

These data again demonstrate the political role of preferred marriage forms. Exogamy and lack of cousin marriage within large lowland nation-states aid in uniting disparate clans and villages. By contrast, the absence of exogamy and the presence of preferred cousin marriage intensify relationships within the small upland social units. Among both societies, the preferred marriage types comprise a social strategy that reinforces the political organization of the group.

yup!

i wonder if these se asian “swidden agriculturalists” are/were also pastoralists (since cousin marriage and pastoralism seem to go together — see the arab world), or if just living in a marginal — and remote — upland environment is enough to push a group towards inbreeding, irregardless of whether one’s group is pastoralist or agriculturalist?

(note: comments do not require an email. dreamed i was an eskimo….)

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20 Comments

  1. Awesome. So simple and yet so full of explanatory win.

    “i wonder if these se asian “swidden agriculturalists” are/were also pastoralists (since cousin marriage and pastoralism seem to go together — see the arab world), or if just living in a marginal — and remote — upland environment is enough to push a group towards inbreeding, irregardless of whether one’s group is pastoralist or agriculturalist?”

    Yes, i think the key driver may be population density and the correlation with pastoralism may (at least partly) be simply because pastoralism generally maps onto lower pop. density.

    I sort of think pastoralism ought to have an effect in itself though if for no other reason than because it’s easier to rustle sheep than wheat or fish so purely for path of least resistance reasons i’ve been assuming a pastoralist culture would be *more* inclined to raiding and violence but maybe that isn’t needed e.g. the Auvergnants?

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  2. If it’s all about agricultural surpluses wouldn’t this argue for more cousin marriage in hunter/gatherer societies?

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  3. “If it’s all about agricultural surpluses wouldn’t this argue for more cousin marriage in hunter/gatherer societies?”

    I think it would unless the h-g population densities were so much lower the need to explicitly outbreed e.g. a moeity type system, outweighed the other factors.

    Say the same valley at different times in history could support
    – 400 HGs
    – 1000 pastoralists
    – 4000 farmers

    In the HG case they might have had to have an exogamous a marriage culture as possible simply because of the very low total population pool. They’ll still all be cousins whatever they did but with a moeity system it wouldn’t be as concentrated.

    (Personally i think this may have something to do with HG health.)

    In both the farmer and pastoralist case the marriage culture might *in intention* be designed to do the opposite i.e. be more endogamous for inheritance reasons, but the higher population would partially counter-act that effect (but more so in the higher density farmer case than the lower density pastoralist case).

    In other words the overall effect might be the product of total population times marriage culture so the above three cases might be
    – very low * exogamous
    – low * endogamous
    – medium * endogamous

    If so then at least in some places HGs may have been more outbred in their HG form than their later farmer/pastoralist form (if they remained on the same land) at least on the more marginal, low pop. density agricultural land (or perhaps only on land that had been particularly good for HGs but wasn’t so great for farming – river deltas?)

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  4. I think geography alone would probably lead to more inbreeding. Moving around in the mountains is a bitch. Even in a car it takes so much longer to get from point A to point B, and much worse in winter. Mountain men don’t seem to travel as much as lowlanders no matter what their occupation. Their lifestyles and cultures become very self-contained. My grandparents grew up in a small NC mountain town, where the class sizes are about 25 and the whole education district fits in one building. There were many early marriages from the grads of that small high school, at least in their day, and many of the grads are still friends and neighbors 60+ years on.

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  5. I doubt food surplus could be a significant factor, since both lowland and mountain dwellers lived at the Malthusian limit anyway. Population density on the other hand is very different, also it is much more difficult to raid a mountain than a lowland village.

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  6. @g.w. – “I sort of think pastoralism ought to have an effect in itself though if for no other reason than because it’s easier to rustle sheep than wheat or fish so purely for path of least resistance reasons i’ve been assuming a pastoralist culture would be *more* inclined to raiding and violence but maybe that isn’t needed e.g. the Auvergnants?”

    well, the auvergnats were (are?) pastoralists — very much so! all the fighting was always over who got to graze their sheep where. it wasn’t the “who? whom?” question, but “who? where?” (~_^)

    teh anthropologists who are interested in fbd marriage (the russian guy, korotayev, for instance, and ausenda too, i think) keep saying that fbd inbreeding happens so the wealth — the flocks — are not broken up, but i can’t see why that shouldn’t also apply to the fields of agriculturalists? maybe i’m missing something? i still don’t see the connection between fbd and pastoralism, although there definitely appears to be one.

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  7. @luke – “If it’s all about agricultural surpluses wouldn’t this argue for more cousin marriage in hunter/gatherer societies?”

    i think we have to think about it all more fundamentally and not just consider agricultural surpluses, but simply the availability of resources, whether they be the ones out there in nature for the taking, or the stuff people sometimes grow for themselves.

    and you’ve got to add in population density, too, like g.w. mentioned.

    so it’s resources ÷ population density = amount and degree of inbreeding.

    or something like that.

    bushmen live in a relatively rich environment (lots of large game roaming about — problem having enough water, though) with, i think, low numbers of people — traditionally anyway. not so much need to inbreed then (inbreeding keeps the resources from flowing out of the group, of course). eskimos, too, lived in a relatively rich environment. i know it doesn’t seem like it, but there’s LOTS o’ calories in a seal! not very densely settled up in nanook-land, either. not so much inbreeding.

    the yanamamo and the png’ers, otoh — not so much big game in the rainforest, really (except for long-pig!). you gotta survive on grubs and other slimy things. (bleh!) you’re gonna have to start inbreeding if there starts to be too many people in the neighborhood. which they do (fwiu).

    there’s even more to it than all that, but that’s the basic foundation … i think … maybe.

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  8. @g.w. – “In both the farmer and pastoralist case the marriage culture might *in intention* be designed to do the opposite i.e. be more endogamous for inheritance reasons, but the higher population would partially counter-act that effect (but more so in the higher density farmer case than the lower density pastoralist case).”

    yes, that makes sense. total numbers are crucial here.

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  9. @bleach – “I think geography alone would probably lead to more inbreeding. Moving around in the mountains is a bitch.”

    there is probably something to that, too. although whenever someone mentions this, i always remember the case of the medieval northern italians and how some groups in the hills/mountain outside of florence made a point of traveling pretty far to find a mate. maybe they were just exceptions to the rule. (~_^)

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  10. @nador – “I doubt food surplus could be a significant factor, since both lowland and mountain dwellers lived at the Malthusian limit anyway.”

    i think the author/s meant “surplus” in the sense that the lowlanders could produce more food than the uplanders, and thus that they could have a higher population. not, necessarily, that they had lots of extra food hanging around.

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  11. hubchik
    “well, the auvergnats were (are?) pastoralists”

    yes, doh

    .
    “teh anthropologists who are interested in fbd marriage (the russian guy, korotayev, for instance, and ausenda too, i think) keep saying that fbd inbreeding happens so the wealth — the flocks — are not broken up, but i can’t see why that shouldn’t also apply to the fields of agriculturalists? maybe i’m missing something?”

    yes same. i feel i’m missing something too. maybe it’s nothing or maybe it’s something to do with your equation

    resources ÷ population density = amount and degree of inbreeding

    where it’s somehow related to the divisibility of particular types of resources or something like that? dunno. the more i think about this stuff the more i think the drivers behind particular individual facets of it are logically very simple so i think i’m missing something.

    .
    nador
    “also it is much more difficult to raid a mountain than a lowland village”

    yes that’s another of those practical things i think would make a difference. even if you had upland sheep farmers and valley sheep farmers i’d expect the upland ones would raid more simply because it’s easier.

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  12. @g.w. – “where it’s somehow related to the divisibility of particular types of resources or something like that?”

    well, that’s the part i don’t get. it would seem easier to divide up 50 sheep than parcels of land, wouldn’t it?

    i mean, let’s say we have some pastoralists (i’m thinking out loud now):

    – your son goes and marries his mother’s brother’s daughter, so, if there’s a brideprice to pay, you’ve got to give this unrelated male (mb) some of your sheep. that’s definitely going out of the family, so that’s no good. otoh, if there’s a dowry, then she’ll be bringing you some sheep, but her father won’t like that.

    alternative:

    – your son goes and marries his father’s brother’s daughter, so, either way — bridprice or dowry — the sheep stay in the patrilineage.

    but why aren’t agriculturalists worried about this? if they marry cousins, it’s usually mbd, so land — or some other wealth — definitely goes out of the family.

    brideprice usually happens in societies where there’s a shortage of females, dowry the other way around (basic economics — you gotta pay for what’s scarce). maybe fbd societies often had a shortage of females (lots of infanticide for whatever reason?) and, so, they had hefty brideprices to pay and, so, didn’t want them to marry out of the patrlineage?

    that starts to be very convoluted. not sure i like it. hmmm….

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  13. hubchik
    “that starts to be very convoluted. not sure i like it. hmmm….”

    yes i think if there’s a particular explanation it will be a very simple “doh! of course” type thing. not sure what though. my current very vague ideas on the subject are

    1) it’s not the sheep resource itself it’s something related to it like
    – water supply
    – minimum herd size
    – some simple mathematical relationship connected to pastoralism on average producing less calories per unit of land or something like that

    2) optimal alliance size
    i.e. farmers might *want* to do the same as the pastoralists i.e. it’s the optimal for inheritance but farmers need a broader number of allies maybe as a proportion of population i.e. if there’s 1000 pastoralists in a valley a clan of 250 might be the optimal size for inheritance versus being able to *defend* that inheritance from other alliances. If there’s 4000 farmers in a similar valley then the optimal alliance size might be a clan of 1000 instead. A clan in the farmer valley that stuck with 250 when everyone else was 1000 might not have anything to inherit for long.

    (fbd farmers in the muslim world argue against that idea a bit imo but maybe not if the process of fbd-ization happened to the whole population at the same pace. dunno. if so i think there ought to be lots of examples in post-conquest history of rural conflict especially where there were mixed populations who didn’t fbd-ize at the same pace.)

    dunno. i kind of think it’s something really simple connected to option (1)

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  14. “maybe fbd societies often had a shortage of females (lots of infanticide for whatever reason?”

    hmm yes, some more ideas related to that

    3a) populations seeking to keep a little below the malthusian limit as a safety buffer using female infanticide as a tool such that
    farmers – one womb per farm
    pastoralists – one womb per water supply

    or

    3b) value of female labor higher among farmers

    or

    3c) not a difference in the actual percentage of women but more connected to polygyny and the older wealthy men having all the wives?

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  15. @g.w. – “optimal alliance size”

    i like that idea a lot. you talked about this before: the ideal size of a sort-of “shock troop” of camel raiders — a nice, tight-knit band of brothers (almost literally).

    maybe pastoralists — since a large part of their very existence is based on raiding other groups’ sheep/camels/whatever — simply do not want the larger alliances that the agriculturalists have.

    actually, i’m liking this idea a lot! a lot more than the anthropologists’ “don’t want to break up the herd” idea.

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  16. “actually, i’m liking this idea a lot!”

    cool :)

    if there are two forces involved: the smaller number of inheritees the better vs the larger number of allies to defend the inheritance the better then in theory there ought to be an optimal size related to local population density.

    (and as an aside in a hg society where the only real inheritance is the group’s terriotory then maximal exogamy within the tribal terriotorial limit might make sense too as it’s a group inheritance)

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  17. “you talked about this before: the ideal size of a sort-of “shock troop” of camel raiders”

    yes. i’ve played online multiplayer shooter type games with the bro i get on particularly well with and we always fight as a little team. a tight-knit little clan of three brothers and nine cousins would completely own those kind of games imo.

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  18. @g.w. – “and as an aside in a hg society where the only real inheritance is the group’s terriotory then maximal exogamy within the tribal terriotorial limit might make sense too as it’s a group inheritance”

    THAT definitely makes sense. ’cause then your little band — having marriage connections with that other little band waaaay over there — might have some right/be allowed to hunt by the watering hole that’s over in their territory — or on the border between your band’s territory and that other band’s. works with eskimos, too. you can hunt over on that distant ice floe, too. good one!

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  19. @g.w. – “a tight-knit little clan of three brothers and nine cousins would completely own those kind of games imo.”

    i wonder if arab gamers are playing that way? (~_^) or french ones from the auvergne!

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  20. heh. the thing is people from places like that don’t have teh interwebs. funny coincidence that.

    Reply

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