kandahar vs. levittown

the walled family compounds of kandahar


…vs. the invisible boundaries of levittown


previously: there’s no place like home

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damascus courtyard house

from a foreign policy photo essay:

“Above, Damascenes relax in this pristine example of an Ottoman courtyard-style home around the turn of the 20th century. Although it was likely built much later, the building’s architecture hearkens back to a more glorious medieval Islamic era. The black and white horizontal stripes on the far wall are typical of the 14th-century Mamluk period, and the rear mosaics inside the domed alcove are intended to mimic the Abbasid palatial style of the eighth and ninth centuries.

“In the modern era, courtyard homes are gradually disappearing from Damascus — a result of rapid population growth crowding out available land and declining economic prospects.”

previously: there’s no place like home

(note: comments do not require an email. there’s no place like home. woof!)

“people are strange”

the two anthropologists that i quoted at length in my recent posts about kinship in greece made some interesting confessions in the introductions to their respective publications — they both admitted that, at the outset of their research, they didn’t want to have anything at all to do with kinship studies. they thought either that kinship was an out-dated area of research or just simply irrelevant. it was only after they plunked themselves down in the middle of greek society that they realized how important kinship is to greeks. (kudos to them both for acknowledging so and not letting some silly preconceived notion or paradigm mislead their research.)

here is what roger just had to say (i quoted him in this post) [pgs. 114-15]:

“If I may start with an autobiographical note: When, in 1977, I began field work in Spartohori, one of three villages on the tiny island of Meganisi (administratively attached to the Ionian island of Lefkada), I had little enthusiasm for the study of kinship and family. Doubtless prejudice played a greater part than reason, but inasmuch as my reluctance had basis, it involved the following (not entirely consistent) reflections. First, in the 1970s there was a widespread feeling that kinship, for so long anthropology’s sacred cow, might well be ready for poleaxing and that its centrality was perhaps no more than the fetishized product of the discipline’s own history. Second, even supposing the importance of kinship studies could be defended, the very structure of Mediterranean (and European) kinship — or perhaps one should say its lack of structure — seemd to preclude the sort of interest aroused by the study of the formal intricacies of more ‘exotic’ systems. Last, and for me most cogent, had not the whole subject of Greek kinship been more than ably dealt with by those who had gone before? The prospect of making any significant addition to the work of Peristiany, Campbell, du Boulay, and others seemed depressingly remote. In sum, I thought it advisable to leave kinship and family alone and, as contemporary wisdom then enjoined, to explore the more ‘relevant’ issues of politics, economics, and, of course, class.

“It did not, however, take long to discover that my mentors’ interests had not been misplaced. It was impossible to understand anything about the village without first understanding something about kinship. The values of kinship seemed to permeate almost every aspect of village life — from where one shopped to whom one voted for, from the forms of local economic cooperation to the adventures of overseas migration. Moreover, it was impossible to avoid the rhetoric of kinship: ‘My uncle in Lefkada who will help you’; ‘My brother-in-law, the best man in the village.’ Certainly if there were any one thing around which an ethnography of the village could be centered, any one thing that would provide a constant point of reference, a continual series of links between one aspect of village life and another, then it was the Spartohoriots’ concern with kinship and family.”

and here is hamish forbes (quoted in this post) [pg. 117]:

“As later chapters of this book demonstrate, much of the way in which Methanites have experienced their landscape, its history, the patterns of ownerships, especially of their houses and plots of land — and those adjacent to their own — and the locations which they visit within the landscape, has been set within a kinship idiom. However, rather like Just [the author quoted above], my original intention when embarking on ethnographic fieldwork was to have as little as possible to do with studying kinship. My undergraduate degree was technically in Archaeology and Anthropology, but the formal complexities, and (to my mind at the time) irrelevancies of the anthropological study of kinship persuaded me to concentrate on archaeology. Likewise, as a graduate student taking a compulsory taught course on kinship, I felt that kinship studies preferred to categorise and typologise abstract concepts rather than to understand the essentials of peoples’ everyday lives. Cultural ecology, which allowed me to study other societies with my feet and research topic firmly on the ground, persuaded me that ethnographic fieldwork was a viable option. Choosing a European fieldwork location also seemed ideal for minimising time spent on establishing how the kinship system worked: European kinship did not excite the complexitites of anthropological interest that kinship among more ‘exotic’ societies did.

“This brief foray into autobiography is more than an anecdotal digression. Given the centrality of the study of kinship in cultural anthropology, the reader might be excused for believing that the centrality of kinship in explaining Methana landscapes derives from the core beliefs of the researcher rather than the realities of Methanites’ own lives. However, in my Ph.D. thesis, kinship was largely subsumed within discussion of property transfer — inheritance and dowry — and to an appendix specifically requested by a member of my thesis committee. It was only as I came to explore the deeper meanings of their landscapes for Methanites and to consider issues of identity and belonging that I was forced to conclude that my teachers had been wiser than I thought: kinship was indeed a crucial feature in Methanites’ lives.

that both of these guys initially thought that kinship wasn’t so important in studying greek people might’ve simply had to do with the thinking of the times in anthropology — i.e. all that stuff that the old boys did in anthropology, well, that’s just so out-of-date. (neither of these researchers seems to know anything about inclusive fitness and mating patterns and kinship, but that’s ok.)

i think, tho, that their willful ignorance of the importance of kinship — especially to greeks! — might also have had to do with how difficult it is to understand other people. it’s hard enough to understand where another individual is “coming from” — never mind trying to get what whole groups of other people are about.

most northern europeans (and their decendants in the u.s.) — and just and forbes fit that bill, i think — probably really don’t get the importance of kinship and extended families because kinship and extended families are not really important in their lives. it’s hard to imagine what these things might mean to other peoples and how strongly they affect other peoples’ lives. northern europeans are not inbred, so those powerful inclusive fitness drives to help near kin are just not there — or, at least, they’re not as powerful. it’s hard for not-so-inbred people to know how inbred people feel towards their relatives.

this wouldn’t matter so much if we were just talking about a couple of anthropologists in some ivory towers somewhere. but we’re not. the problem is we’re also talking about people who want to “bring democracy” to the iraqis and afghanis — something most iraqis and afghanis probably couldn’t care less about. (not to mention all the people who want greeks to “just say no” to corruption. heh!)

previously: ελλάδα and more on greece

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child swapping

in the south pacific:

“Warring Pacific tribes swap two young children to end violent feud”

“In a move designed by Vanuatu tribal chiefs to heal the rift, a young boy and girl will be exchanged between the groups – a practice that has not taken place on the island for more than 200 years.

“Warring tribes on the tiny Pacific island of Tanna have agreed to swap two children to settle a long-running land dispute that descended into violence.

“The clans, who have been arguing over property rights on the island for more than two decades, revived the ancient and controversial custom of child swapping in an attempt to end hostilities after the feud turned violent and several people were injured in a brawl.

“Such a child swap has not taken place in more than 200 years.

“Seth Kaurua, from the Vanuatu Council of Chiefs, said the feud between the two tribes had been going on for 27 years, but the chiefs had to step in when it turned violent and several people were injured….

“The aim of the exchange was to ‘build a bridge between the two tribes and make the relationship stronger….’

“Exchanging children is rare in Tanna, and frowned on by the court system, but it is does take place from time to time. It is not uncommon on the island for a female child to be given away to replace a lost family member – for example if a child is killed in a car accident, the driver could offer one of their own children as reparation….

“While the child does not have to move to its new tribe immediately, they will grow up in the knowledge that they no longer belong to their parents, and will eventually have to leave, Mr Kaurua said.”

from another article on the story:

“Vauatu and dispute settled through child swap”

“WILSON: So does the child typically maintain contact with both families?

“KAURUA: Yes, the child will always stay wherever he wants, he or she can go to the other family as well as the other family, so that’s how, I’m saying it’s like building a bridge across the two different families….

“WILSON: How is the child or the family involved, how are they selected?

“KAURUA: The child is normally selected from the family that is the ringleader to that particular violence.”

fair enough.

child swapping in the form of hostages and fosterage was pretty common in medieval europe — hostages amongst the carolingians and fosterage in the “celtic” fringe for example. in fact, fosterage seems to have lasted into the late eighteenth-century in remote parts of scotland (i know — that last phrase is redundant).

back to the south pacific — tanna sounds like a fun place! it’s the home of the john frum cargo cult! and another cult that i hadn’t heard of until just now — the prince philip movement!:

“The Prince Philip Movement is a religious sect followed by the Yaohnanen tribe on the southern island of Tanna in Vanuatu.

“The Yaohnanen believe that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the consort to Queen Elizabeth II, is a divine being; the pale-skinned son of a mountain spirit and brother of John Frum. According to ancient tales the son travelled over the seas to a distant land, married a powerful lady and would in time return. The villagers had observed the respect accorded to Queen Elizabeth II by colonial officials and came to the conclusion that her husband, Prince Philip, must be the son from their legends….”

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“the tribal imagination”

so, i’m still reading robin fox‘s “the tribal imagination” (reviewed in the american interest here). it always takes me forever to finish a book ’cause i’m always reading about a dozen at the one time (bad habit — impatient) — and then there’s all the knitting and baking projects that need to be done, too (you think i’m kidding, right? i’m serious!).

if you remember, i read chapter 3 first (another bad habit) and i talked about that, and chapter 1, here. lemme go back, now, and look at the other chapters i’ve read (i’m reading them in order now!).

first of all, maybe i should say that when fox uses the word “tribes” in this book he’s referring broadly to pre-modern groups of people. he’s not, necessarily, talking about alliances of clans or any more specific definition of the word. he’s just looking at — yeah — groups of people as we were before we lived in any sort of civilization or state. more-or-less. he does sometimes bring up modern tribes, too, though.


chapter 2 is about “human rights.” i liked chapter 2. chapter 2 was good. in it, fox takes a look at what we mean by “human rights” and if any such class of things actually exists in the known universe(s) — like, independently of us making it up. he comes pretty close to saying, no — “human rights” or “rights” don’t exist in nature, altho he hedges a bit by saying that, perhaps, there is a right to participate in reproduction.


i, myself, like to go all the way with this one and have simply concluded (a while ago) that there are no “rights” in life and whatever actions or activities our drives are inclining us to do — well, you just gotta fight for the “right” to do them. sometimes the fight is easy, or there is no fight at all, ’cause everyone more-or-less agrees that, for instance, we won’t just all go around murdering each other all the time. modern humans are kinda silly in claiming that this is because we all believe in everyone’s “right to life” when it’s really just a behavior that has, obviously, been selected for ’cause it works. on the other hand, some “human rights” might be hard to come by, depending on the circumstances. i dunno — the “human (or, maybe, political) right” for everyone to participate in elections. doesn’t come so easy in all places in all times. (and maybe that’s not such a bad thing.)

chapter 4 was also really interesting. it’s entitled: “Sects and Evolution: Tribal Splits and Creedal Schisms.” in this chapter, fox takes a look at the existence of thousands and thousands of religious sects (iirc, 34,000+ christian ones alone, for example) — and he also, amusingly, examines academic sects — and points out that, principally — biologically — the academic sects are no different than the religious ones. heh. here’s a great quote [pgs. 109-110]:

“The school is to the academy, what the sect is to religion. Functionally it is the same thing, and demands the same explanation. In the modern setting of science, with many large research universities, the opportunities for sect formation are almost too tempting. Potentially every department is its own sect, with tenure and grants and lavish resources to fund the prophet and his followers. And it is perhaps remarkable [no it’s not – hbd chick] that despite the influx of women into the universities, almost all the prophets are still men.

“A modern pioneer of ideological dispersal gets his PhD, moves to a new department, sets up his school with the proper flourish of ritual publications, and starts to attract disciples — graduate students — and to disperse them in turn. As Englels fortold, modern communication, now instant with e-mail, texting, and social networking sites, enables the disciples to stay in close touch despite physical dispersal, and this may well prolong the life of scientific sects. Or it may just facilitate great segmentation; we shall have to see how this turns out. But there are several distinct requirements for the process. The prophet has to make certain promises, the main one being novelty. The old prophet could preach a return to ancient and pure ways, but his progressive counterpart has to declare something new. What use is there in science for anything old; it is ipso facto out of date, which is the worst of scientific sins. Try to get graduate students to read anything more than five years old. To do so give them genuine physical pain.

“Thus we find novelty paraded in book titles: ‘Evolution: The Modern Synthesis;’ ‘Sociobiology: The New Synthesis;’ ‘Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind;’ ‘Evolutionary Psychiatry: A New Beginning.’ (Remember that these remarks were first addressed to a meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society.) Very often this newness is simply a reinvention of the wheel, redefined by the prophets as a ‘circular motion-facilitation device’ (or ‘standard social science model,’ or for that matter, ‘meme’). No matter: the claim must be made. The sectarians then go to work on the prophet’s new list of normal science problems, reading only each other’s publications and citing only each other, thus maintaining the purity of sect doctrine. The exception to the ‘nothing older than five years’ rule is the ritual citation, in every paper, of the canonical works of the founders. That these citations are mostly ritual can be seen in the case of the original work of William Hamilton, where early on a mistake occurred in the cited pagination, and this has been faithfully repeated by the disciples down to the very present. Nevertheless, the names and works must be ritually intoned: In the name of Williams, and of Hamilton, and of Robert Trivers, Amen.”

ha! i have to say, i lol’d at that last sentence there. (^_^)

fox explains all this sectarianism that pops up everywhere in human societies by claiming that this is a reflection of a basic biological urge (really basic — like, microscopic organisms even do it) to disperse. sexually reproducing organisms are, apparently, particularly prone to it ’cause the whole point (maybe?) of sexual reproduction is to get, or increase, the genetic variation — and that will work even better if at least some members of the population disperse elsewhere. altho it makes sense to me, i’m not so familiar with this topic so i can’t really comment on it. further reading for another summer vacation maybe. i like his theory, tho, ’cause it’s pretty reductionist, and i like reductionism. ’cause reductionism works (often).

chapter 5 — “Which Ten Commandements?: Tribal Taboo and Priestly Morality” — kinda lost me, even though it was also interesting. fox examined at length the two sets of the ten commandments in the old testament (who knew?! i didn’t.) and how that whole scenario came about. one — the set most of us (christians) are prolly most familiar with — is the set from the movies (here and here) and is a set of moral codes; the other is, apparently, a set of ritual codes. fox argues that the ritual codes were the earlier version that were later replaced by the moral code version.

part of the reason for the initial ritual codes, he claims, was to keep the early hebrew tribes distinct from other tribes in canaan, i.e. you shouldn’t cook the meat of a calf in its mother’s milk, like those other tribes do. iow, these ritual codes were a cultural method of keeping the hebrew tribes hebrew. pretty straightforward stuff — most peoples have cultural rules (norms) to keep them separated from unrelated peoples. that’s (usually) one of the main points of having a culture, after all. fox says that the moral codes were later inserted into the old testament at a time when the hebrews started living in a larger community — when it became more important to not kill your neighbor rather than to be concerned about cooking meat in milk.

i think those were the major points of that chapter, altho i have to admit that it wasn’t the most gripping chapter for me. interesting, but not profoundly so. your mileage may vary.

and … that’s as far as i got when i got distracted by cavalli-sforza, et. al., and inbreeding in italy. (^_^) i’ll (try to) get back to reading fox now. and, of course, i’m also still “reading” todd … and mitterauer … and jack goody … and, omg, i have to start knitting christmas presents!!

previously: what else i did on my summer vacation

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there’s no place like home

changing gears for a sec (kinda): peoples who inbreed regularly build different types of houses than people who do not (or maybe that should be the other way around). particularly — or maybe mostly — those that live in urban areas.

if you’re a bedouin and your whole clan lives in tents and travels together and marries one another, the following prolly doesn’t apply since you don’t normally encounter other, unrelated people on a daily basis, so there’s no need to wall yourself in. however, if you and your clan are inbreeders and you live in a place where you’re likely to encounter unrelated people quite often, your response will prolly be to build…

…a courtyard house:

“A courtyard house is a type of house — often a large house — where the main part of the building is disposed around a central courtyard. The main rooms of a courtyard houses often open onto the courtyard, and the exterior walls may be windowless and/or semi-fortified and/or surrounded by a moat…. Courtyard houses consisting of multiple separate residences have been built in many regions and eras, including the earliest Chinese dynasties and the Inca period…. In Ancient Roman architecture courtyard houses were built around an atrium. Courtyard houses are also common in Islamic architecture. Courtyard houses are also a form of dwelling built in the British Isles late in the Iron Age.”

lots o’ inbreeders on that list.

the point of the courtyard house — well, there are many reasons to build a courtyard house, but the main point anyway — is to keep out unrelated folks. you don’t even want them looking in to your domain in any way. no front yard. no backyard — definitely not one that is barely separated from your neighbor’s backyard! — your neighbor with whom you share hardly any genetic ties whatsoever! and, like the wikipedia description says, maybe not even any outside windows. if you’ve ever been to the greek isles, you know what they’re talking about. in islamic countries, part of the point of the courtyard house is so that women may observe purdah.

here’s a model of a chinese siheyuan (courtyard house):

and here’s the sort of thing that will greet you in the front (this is from a rather wealthy home, according to wikipedia):

a wall with a door in it. it’s a very nice looking wall with a door in it, but it’s still a wall with a door in it.

here’s a machiya house in japan (kyoto) — the front as passersby would encounter it:

and the family’s courtyard:

here’s the front entranceway to a courtyard house in india:

interior of traditional courtyard house in iran (it was under renovation, apparently):

traditional courtyard home in turkey:

and one in morocco (this one’s a vacation rental, so next time you’re in marrakesh…!):

these are all really different from, say, a typical swiss village where all the houses have large windows — and barely any boundaries separating them from neighboring houses at all!:

courtyard houses are also very different from traditional houses found in english villages which typically are oriented toward a common village green:

and they’re very unlike these houses which, again, have large windows, are oriented out towards the street, and have no boudaries between the front lawns (there might be fences between the backyards — and maybe a particularly tall one or two depending on how the neighbors get along (~_^) ):

the ultimate in insular clan housing, tho, must be the hakka walled villages of southern china. entire clans — hundreds of families — could literally hole up in one of these! again, there’s a central courtyard with apartments around the perimeter for all the nuclear families that made up the clan — and not many windows facing outwards — maybe only a few high up:

the interior of one:

further reading (one of these days i might even read these myself!): Courtyard housing: past, present and future and Riyadh’s Vanishing Courtyard Houses. for more on the chinese siheyuan, see here.

update: see also damascus courtyard house

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historic abortion rates in korea

on one of my posts about the gender imbalance issue in china and india (and other places), cinnamon asked about south korea. i replied that i didn’t know anything about gender imbalance in south korea — and i still don’t — but here’s a related story from back-in-the-day when everyone was worried about population control which, according to mara hvistendahl, is when sex selection abortions started to get out of hand. from hvistendahl in foreign policy:

“In South Korea, Western money enabled the creation of a fleet of mobile clinics — reconditioned U.S. Army ambulances donated by USAID and staffed by poorly trained workers and volunteers. Fieldworkers employed by the health ministry’s Bureau of Public Health were paid based on how many people they brought in for sterilizations and intrauterine device insertions, and some allege Korea’s mobile clinics later became the site of abortions as well. By the 1970s, recalls gynecologist Cho Young-youl, who was a medical student at the time, ‘there were agents going around the countryside to small towns and bringing women into the [mobile] clinics. That counted toward their pay. They brought the women regardless of whether they were pregnant.’ Non-pregnant women were sterilized. A pregnant woman met a worse fate, Cho says: ‘The agent would have her abort and then undergo tubal ligation.’ As Korea’s abortion rate skyrocketed, Sung-bong Hong and Christopher Tietze detailed its rise in the Population Council journal Studies in Family Planning. By 1977, they determined, doctors in Seoul were performing 2.75 abortions for every birth — the highest documented abortion rate in human history.”

east asians really like to do a thing thoroughly, don’t they?

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fixing the “bare branches” problem

from new scientist on trying to fix the “bare branches” problem in china:

“How great is the gender imbalance in China?

“In 2005, there were 32 million more men than women under the age of 20 in China. Young men with no prospect of marriage become a disruptive force in society. And with no one to marry, they will have no children and no one to take care of them when they are too old to work.

“Is the imbalance an unintended consequence of China’s one-child policy?

“Gender-selective abortions exacerbate the problem of dwindling birth rates. In China, a son is not just a source of pride, but a financial necessity. A daughter leaves home to join her husband’s family after marriage, so her parents have no one to care for them in their old age….

“How do you stop sex-selective abortion?

“In rural areas it is easier to enforce the rules as most doctors are government employees. The local Family Planning Commission official may monitor pregnancies to ensure that mothers do not abort for reasons other than a medical issue. In cities the policy is harder to enforce, and a black market for sonogram services has emerged.”

and here’s a little more background from the nyt from a few years ago:

“Surplus males: The dangers of Asia’s preference for sons”

“The most populous nations in Asia, including China, India and Pakistan, have acted upon their deep cultural preference for sons by culling daughters from their populations through the use of ever more efficient sex selective technologies….

“The technology to select male offspring before birth began to spread in the late 1980s, and the birth sex ratios began to rise. In China, the official ratio is 117 boys born for every 100 girls, but the reality is probably 120 or more. In India, the official birth sex ratio is 111-114 boys per 100 girls, but spot checks show ratios of up to 156 boys per 100 girls in some locales. For comparison, normal birth sex ratios are 105-107 boys born per 100 girls.

The mortality rate for girls and young women is also much higher than normal in these countries, further exacerbating the deficit. For example, the U.S. Bureau of the Census estimates excess deaths among Chinese females in the first year of life alone to be close to half a million. In India, almost one million more girls than boys die in the first five years of life….”

sounds like infanticide to me. here’s some more:

“Using conservative estimates, in 2020 India will have about 28 million more young males (aged 15 to 34) than young females. In China, the figure will be closer to 30 million; in Pakistan it will probably be 3-5 million.

“In China there is a term for such young men: guang gun-er, or ‘bare branches’ on the family tree — males who will probably not raise families of their own because the girls who should have grown up to become their wives fell victim to female infanticide.

The ‘bare branch’ populations in China and India, comprising about 12 to 15 percent of their young adult males, will be overwhelmingly poor, uneducated, unskilled and possibly unemployed. Throughout the millennia in which son preference has been effected in China, India and Pakistan, the bare branches have been one of the most volatile elements in society, frequently causing great social instability through crime and violence, and when uniting in a common movement, an important threat to the government itself.

“In Chinese history, for example, the Nien Rebellion, the Black Flag Army, the Boxers, the Eight Trigrams Rebellion and even the famous Shaolin fighting monks were all essentially bare-branch collectives doing what they did best: using force to acquire the resources otherwise denied them.

“The Nien, for example, came from an impoverished province where the sex ratio was 129 to 100. They began as petty bandits and smugglers, but soon coalesced into larger criminal brotherhoods. At the height of the rebellion, their leaders could boast of an army of more than 100,000 bare branches, which controlled an area populated by almost six million persons….

China is already experiencing a tremendous increase in crime, and 50 to 90 percent of the crimes in the large cities are committed by bare-branch migrants. Over the course of history, Chinese rulers’ response to the bare branches was to battle them, expel them or co-opt them as soldiers. All Chinese governments have understood that the bare branches are a formidable club — if it is in your hand it can be useful, but poised over your head it is a serious security threat.

“Indeed, the very type of government to which a nation can aspire is affected by a sex ratio abnormally favoring males. History demonstrates that such societies cannot be governed by anything less than an authoritarian political system. Furthermore, high-sex-ratio societies typically develop a foreign policy style crafted to retain the respect and allegiance of its bare branches — a swaggering, belligerent, provocative style….”


previously: india and china’s missing girls and mara hvistendahl is a… and mara hvistendahl responds to dawkins

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