when did you stop beating your wife?

from The Yanomamo by napoleon chagnon [pgs. 126-27]:

“Women must respond quickly to the demands of their husbands and even anticipate their needs. It is interesting to watch the behavior of women when their husbands return from a hunting trip or a visit. The men march dramatically and proudly across the village and retire silently into their hammocks, especially when they bring home desirable food items. The women, no matter what they are doing, hurry home and quietly but rapidly prepare a meal. Should the wife be slow at doing this, some irate husbands scold them or even beat them.

“Most physical reprimands meted out take the form of blows with the hand or with a piece of firewood, but a good many husbands are more severe. Some of them chop their wives with the sharp edge of a machete or ax or shoot them with a barbed arrow in some nonvital area, such as the buttocks or leg. Some men are given to punishing their wives by holding the glowing end of a piece of firewood against them, producing painful and serious burns. The punishment is usually, however, more consistent with the perceived seriousness of the wife’s shortcomings, more drastic measures being reserved for infidelity or suspicion of infidelity. It is not uncommon for a man to injure his sexually errant wife seriously and some men have even killed wives for infidelity by shooting them with an arrow.

Women who are not too severely treated might even measure their husband’s concern in terms of the frequency of minor physical reprimands they sustain. I overheard two young women discussing each other’s scalp scars. One of them commented that the other’s husband must really care for her since he has beaten her on the head so frequently!

“A woman can usually depend on her brothers for protection. They will defend her against a cruel husband. If a man is too severe to a wife, her brothers may take the woman away from him and giver her to another man. It is largely for this reason that women usually abhor the possibility of being married off to men in distant villages; they know that their brothers cannot protect them under these circumstances. Women who have married a cross-cousin have an easier llife, for they are related to their husbands by cognatic ties of kinship as well as by marriage. Bahimi is, for example, Kaobawa’s Mother’s Brother’s Daughter (MBD), and their marital relationship is very tranquil. He does punish Bahimi occasionally, but never cruelly. Some men, however, seem to think that it is reasonable to beat their wife once in a while as if the objective is ‘just to keep her on her toes.'”

yanamamo men married to their mbds (or any cousin) will prolly physically hurt their wives less, on average, than men not married to theirs since the man+mbd couples are more related to one another than the non-cousins couples. wouldn’t make any sense for lots of excessive (i.e. lethal) violence towards very close relatives to have been selected for. (although see below.)

however, the fact that there is quite a bit of violence towards women in yanomamo society (yes, i know that there’s a lot of violence in yanomamo society in general), and the fact that yanomamo women prefer to marry close to home, reminds me of arab/middle eastern/maghrebian/ mashriqian/south asian muslim societies where very close marriage (fbd marriage) is the preferred form.

very close marriage is also preferred in yanomamo society, albeit of a different form (the preferred form is not parallel-cousin marriage like the arabs, but cross-cousin marriage to a mbd, but since two clans usually exchange brides exclusively — or that’s the ideal anyway — a man’s mbd is also often his father’s sister’s daughter [fzd] as well. i’ll explain it in a later post — for now, see here.)

my impression is that when you have a lot of very close marriage, you get what i’ve (jokingly) dubbed inclusive-inclusive fitness behaviors like honor killings and the like — extreme forms of “altruistic” behaviors in which even family members can be sacrificed for the benefit of the remaining family members. weird, but true (i think). i think the killing of unfaithful yanomamo wives by husbands who are usually relatives of some sort is another example of this. on the other hand, maybe it’s just that the yanomamo have an extremely strong violent streak.

more on the yanomamo anon!

see also: Domestic violence gets evolutionary explanation

(note: comments do not require an email. yanomamo girl.)

12 Comments

  1. @john – it’s an ages old problem, isn’t it? that a man has to deal with a lot of trouble and strife from his trouble and strife. (~_^)

    Reply

  2. @luke – “Is Chagnon a reliable ethnographer? I know there was a controversy but can’t remember how it turned out.”

    i think chagnon is ok. it was tierney (the journalist who went after chagnon) — and then the american anthropological assoc. which wigged out over all the non-pc stuff that chagnon, et al., reported about the yanomamo — who was/were in the wrong. see here and here [pdfs].

    Reply

  3. In one of Naipaul’s earlier books about the Indian community in Trinidad, he talks about how the wives try to exaggerate their screams when they’re being beaten by their husbands, so everybody around will know.

    Reply

  4. @fred – “In one of Naipaul’s earlier books about the Indian community in Trinidad, he talks about how the wives try to exaggerate their screams when they’re being beaten by their husbands, so everybody around will know.”

    ’cause it’s a good thing, right? (~_^)

    Reply

  5. @hbd chick – when did you stop beating your wife?

    When DNA testing gave me the ability to find out if the kids are mine and a functioning legal system gave me the option to peacefully and legally avoid paying for kids that are not mine.

    Sorry about that, but it is the only answer that cuts through the cultural baggage and addresses the crux of the issue.

    Reply

  6. @vasilis – “When DNA testing gave me the ability to find out if the kids are mine…”

    heh! yeah, the dna doesn’t lie!

    i don’t think that the yanomamo beat their wives only over that, though. there seems to be other stuff going on, too — pride or honor or something that you have a good quality wife or something like that. btw, the yanomamo make sure that their wives are not cuckholding them by following them into the fields everyday when they go to tend the gardens. the men don’t help with the gardening, of course — just sit around and keep an eye on their wives. (~_^) they need some access to dna testing! or maybe the saudi solution. (~_^)

    @vasilis – “…and a functioning legal system gave me the option to peacefully and legally avoid paying for kids that are not mine.”

    yes. i’ve seen some cases in the news where a man has been made to pay child support for kids that are not his, and that is just WRONG! wrong, wrong, wrong!

    Reply

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