the igbo, the japanese, shame, justice, and inbreeding

i was thinking about the idea of genetic pacification, specifically via the state or some authority eliminating the most violent individuals from a population (like by execution as frost and harpending propose happened in medieval europe — see also here), and i got to wondering how other societies have meted out justice to violent offenders.

so, like hermione granger, i went to the library (heh! — no, really i just googled it) and found a few interesting things. one of them is that in traditional igbo society, the punishment for murder was left in the hands of the culprit(!) [pg. 285]:

“[T]he Igbo believe that there are both divine and man-made laws, but that the greatest penalties are reserved for breaches of divine law. Thus, a murderer would not be put on trial, because if the evidence were clear and convincing no earthly court could have jurisdiction. Indeed, the penalty prescribed by Igbo tradition is that the murderer is expected to hang himself…. [A]ny Igbo guilty of breaking a divine law would be required to do penance personally to be restored to the good favor of the gods.”

now you might think that leaving enforcement of the death penalty up to the criminal is a really bad idea — and maybe it is — but i was thinking that it might work in a shame culture. an especially strong shame culture. certainly worked in japan (at least among certain classes), which admittedly is the poster child of shame cultures.

couldn’t figure out whether or not igbo society is a shame culture, although most societies lean more toward shame than guilt. however, i do know that igbos — igbo slaves in the new world — had a reputation for committing suicide [pgs. 52-53 and 127-128 – links added by me]:

“Suicide as an ethnic or cultural ‘trait’ is usually associated with Bight of Biafra imports, especially Igbos, in the Americas. As Daniel Littlefield contends, the principle reason why they were among the least desirable of African slave imports was due to the perception among American planters that Igbo or Calabar slaves had ‘a deplorable penchant for committing suicide.’ More recently, Michael Gomez has summarized the historical and contemporary view of Igbos, noting that ‘the sources are therefore unanimous in ascribing to the Igbo greater self-destructive tendencies….’

“Biafran imports were often much cheaper than other Africans. In 1755, Igbo slaves sold in Charleston for only £270 while Africans from other regions cost £300. Henry Laurens — the noted slave merchant of colonial South Carolina — claimed in 1755 that very few Calabar Africans could be sold in the Charleston slave market when others were available. He then recommended the importation of a ‘few fine Negro Men, not Callabars.’ In a letter to Richard Oswald dated May 17, 1756, Laurens also noted that ‘slaves from the River Gambia are preferr’d to all others with us save the Gold Coast, but there must not be a Callabar among them.’

“Much of this prejudice against Igbos and others from the Bight of Biafra was due to their alleged propensity to commit suicide. Guerard complained, ‘As to bite Slaves, I protest against them at any Rate there has been so many instances of their Distroying themselves that none but the Lower sort of People will Medle with them.’ South Carolina planters who did purchase Calabar slaves were advised to buy only ‘young People from 15 to 20’ who were typically ‘not accustom’d to destroy themselves’ like their older compatriots. Based on this assumption, Henry Laurens advised that Bigt of Biafra slaves under the age of fourteen should be the only Africans from that region purchased by Low Country planters. In another assessment by ship captain John Adams, who made ten visits to the Niger River delta between 1786 and 1800, the Ibgo were considered to be ‘naturally timid and desponding, and their despair on being sent on board a ship is often such that they use every stratagem to effect the commission of suicide, and which they would often accomplish, unless narrowly watched.'”

can’t say as i blame them.

the usual explanation offered today for why slaves from the bight so often committed suicide is the belief, widely shared by peoples in west africa, in spiritual transmigration — when you die, you get to go to where your friends and family are — where your living friends and family here on earth still are. so, maybe death was not viewed as a bad solution for a biafran captive who was dragged halfway across the world. in their minds, they’d get to go home. alternatively, maybe they just didn’t want to be slaves. ooorrr…maybe there was an element of shame involved, but that’s pure speculation on my part. would be interesting to find out, though.

no idea if violence is lower among the igbo than other west african groups. need to find out. interesting that they were described as “naturally timid” though.

a further thought i had is that perhaps long-term inbreeding can amplify shame in populations. the japanese used to marry their cousins (although i don’t know how far back that practice went) and they have an extremely strong shame culture. the arabs, too — long-term inbreeders and there’s a lot of shame there, too (family honor, etc.). perhaps shame is a sort-of familial altruism, i guess is what i’m trying to say. dunno. Further Research is Required TM.

in the wake of chanda chisala’s post over at, several people asked me so what about the igbo? are they inbreeders or what?

i haven’t read much about the igbo, but what i do know is that they avoid all cousin marriage. don’t know how far back this goes — whether it’s pre-the introduction of christianity there or not. might be. might not be. they do practice polygamy, though, especially traditionally, which ought to narrow the genetic relatedness between individuals in the population in a way similar to cousin marriage, but…well, more on polygamy another day.

very interestingly, in their traditional society, the igbo had a “quasi-democratic republican system of government” — that’s if wikipedia is to be believed. the igbo also had non-kinship based trading associations or “houses” [pg. 137]:

“In order to exploit the rapidly expanding trade [with the newly arrived europeans] and now having the resources to do so, the delta peoples living in single settlements on the rivers and islands surrounded by protective intricate waterways developed systems of governance for their own city-states. City-states are well known in history, and many have in common a maritime presence. In Europe there were the famous Greek city-states, Athens and Sparta. In East Africa there were the coastal Swahili city-states of Mombasa, Malindi, and Kilwa among others. On the coast of West Africa there were the city-states of the Niger Delta whose citizens devised the means to adminster law and order, justice, and to make war and peace in order to promote their commerce. Each delta city-state, like those of the Greeks, had its own distinct methods of governing. Some had kings elected by the heads of wealthy and prominent families — Bonny, New Calabar, and Warri. Others were like small republics, ruled by the members of political organizations not unlike senates — Brass and those on the Cross River in Old Calabar — Creek Town, Henshaw Town, Duke Town, and Obutong. In the city-states of Old Calabar the *ekpe* or Leopard Association of wealthy men, mostly merchants, ruled the town principally to insure the flow of peaceful trade. Anyone was free to join the *ekpe* if they could afford the exorbitant entry fee that insured that those in power represented only the interests of the wealthy merchants. They regulated the terms of trade with the Europeans and made the rules by which the community was governed by its constituent organizations, known as the ‘house system.’

“Traditional African societies were based on the clans and lineages of large families that were not always the most effective means to carry on business. Rather than the family firm, the house was a cooperative commercial trading company run not by kinship but by the ability of the head of the house, his immediate family, and a host of assistants, servants, and even slaves whose status in the company depended on their success in promoting its trade rather than kinship ties or social privilege.”

the ability to form strong, functioning non-kinship based associations like that usually goes along with long-term outbreeding, in my experience.

well, that’s all i’ve got for you for now.

i finally have admitted to myself — and now i will to you, too, dear readers — that i am too unwell at the moment to write my (what will be a lengthy!) response to prof. macdonald or, unfortunately, to work on my promised (threatened!) medieval manorialism series. am having difficulties putting two coherent thoughts together these days. (yeah, yeah — more so than usual! (~_^) ) so, i’ll just have to leave those on the back burner for now and get to them when i can. i’m due to have some medical tests done in the next few weeks, so hopefully after that, i can get myself sorted out and back in working order. in the meantime, i’ll do some more flakey posts like this which just involve me rambling some of my random thoughts.

more soon! (^_^)

previously: quick review of frost and harpending on the genetic pacification of europeans and fulani, hausa, igbo, and yoruba mating patterns

(note: comments do not require an email. igbo yam festival…in dublin, ireland!)

suicide by death penalty

here’s a strange — and sad — set of homicide statistics from sweden (stockholm) in the early 1700s — from manuel eisner’s Long-Term Historical Trends in Violent Crime [pdf – pg. 112]:

“There is one major exception to this pattern [of male preponderance in serious violent crime-h.chick]. In early eighteenth-century Stockholm, women not only accounted for more than 60 percent of property crime offenders but also 45 percent of murder and manslaughter offenders and 41 percent of assault offenders (Andersson 1995). These are probably the highest female participation rates in serious violent crime found anywhere in the world. Scholars examining this phenomenon emphasize a combination of factors including — besides demographic imbalance — a highly specific cultural configuration, which embraced some kind of otherworldly calculus. More particularly, for fear of eternal punishment in hell, suicidal women appear often to have chosen to kill somebody else, usually their offspring, and then suffer the death penalty imposed on them by the judiciary (Jansson 1998). Homicide would bring them to purgatory for a limited period of time, after which they would enter heaven for eternity, which was definitely to be preferred to consignment to eternal hell because of suicide.”


(note: comments do not require an email. galgberget [“gallows hill”] in stockholm.)

guns and homicides

from brietbart (via drudge):

“Harvard Study: No Correlation Between Gun Control and Less Violent Crime”

“A Harvard Study titled ‘Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?’ [pdf] looks at figures for ‘intentional deaths’ throughout continental Europe and juxtaposes them with the U.S. to show that more gun control does not necessarily lead to lower death rates or violent crime.

“Because the findings so clearly demonstrate that more gun laws may in fact increase death rates, the study says that ‘the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths’ is wrong.

“For example, when the study shows numbers for Eastern European gun ownership and corresponding murder rates, it is readily apparent that less guns to do not mean less death. In Russia, where the rate of gun ownership is 4,000 per 100,000 inhabitants, the murder rate was 20.52 per 100,000 in 2002. That same year in Finland, where the rater of gun ownership is exceedingly higher — 39,000 per 100,000 — the murder rate was almost nill, at 1.98 per 100,000….

“And when the study focuses on intentional deaths by looking at the U.S. vs Continental Europe, the findings are no less revealing. The U.S., which is so often labeled as the most violent nation in the world by gun control proponents, comes in 7th — behind Russia, Estonia, Lativa, Lithuania, Belarus, and the Ukraine — in murders. America also only ranks 22nd in suicides.

“The murder rate in Russia, where handguns are banned, is 30.6; the rate in the U.S. is 7.8….”

oops. =/

so, the official gun ownership rate in russia is low. could there be a large cache of illegal guns out there? still — much higher homicide rates in eastern europe than in western.

here’s a table from the report for you to enjoy:

european gun ownership and murder rates

and here are some bits about my favorite little country that could:

“A second misconception about the relationship between firearms and violence attributes Europe’s generally low homicide rates to stringent gun control. That attribution cannot be accurate since murder in Europe was at an all‐time low *before* the gun controls were introduced. For instance, virtually the only English gun control during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the practice that police patrolled without guns. During this period gun control prevailed far less in England or Europe than in certain American states which nevertheless had — and continue to have — murder rates that were and are comparatively very high….

“Stringent gun controls were not adopted in England and Western Europe until after World War I. Consistent with the outcomes of the recent American studies just mentioned, these strict controls did not stem the general trend of ever‐growing violent crime throughout the post‐WWII industrialized world including the United States and Russia. Professor Malcolm’s study of English gun law and violent crime summarizes that nation’s nineteenth and twentieth century experience as follows:

‘The peacefulness England used to enjoy was not the result of strict gun laws. When it had no firearms restrictions [nineteenth and early twentieth century] England had little violent crime, while the present extraordinarily stringent gun controls have not stopped the increase in violence or even the increase in armed violence.

“‘Armed crime, never a problem in England, has now become one. Handguns are banned but the Kingdom has millions of illegal firearms. Criminals have no trouble finding them and exhibit a new willingness to use them. In the decade after 1957, the use of guns in serious crime increased a hundredfold.’

“In the late 1990s, England moved from stringent controls to a complete ban of all handguns and many types of long guns. Hundreds of thousands of guns were confiscated from those owners law‐abiding enough to turn them in to authorities. Without suggesting this caused violence, the ban’s ineffectiveness was such that by the year 2000 violent crime had so increased that England and Wales had Europe’s highest violent crime rate, far surpassing even the United States….

“[T]he conclusions of the premier study of English gun control. Done by a senior English police official as his thesis at the Cambridge University Institute of Criminology and later published as a book, it found (as of the early 1970s), ‘Half a century of strict controls…has ended, perversely, with a far greater use of [handguns] in crime than ever before.’ The study also states that:

‘No matter how one approaches the figures, one is forced to the rather startling conclusion that the use of firearms in crime was very much less [in England before 1920] when there were no controls of any sort and when anyone, convicted criminal or lunatic, could buy any type of firearm without restriction….

hmmmm. i wonder what’s different about england now as opposed to back then?

read the whole report here [pdf] — you really should, because it’s chock-full of info. (harvard is certainly proving to be quite the den of politically incorrect thinking, isn’t it? (~_^) )

edit: see also Guns & Homicide, Map Form from jayman.

previously: outbreeding, self-control and lethal violence and what pinker missed

(note: comments do not require an email. don’t forget your gun safety!)

does this make you feel suicidal?


via ncbi rofl:


“In a sample of 18 European nations, suicide rates were positively associated with the proportion of low notes in the national anthems and, albeit less strongly, with students’ ratings of how gloomy and how sad the anthems sounded, supporting a hypothesis proposed by Rihmer.

“‘For most of the 20th Century, Hungary had the highest suicide rate in the world and, also, among immigrants to the United States, Hungarians had the highest suicide rates (Lester, 1994). Hungary is also known for the ‘suicide song’ — ‘Gloomy Sunday‘ — which was written by a Hungarian (Rezso Seress) in 1933 and which was banned from radio stations since it seemed to induce people to commit suicide (Stack, Krysinska, & Lester, 2007–2008). Rihmer (1997) noted that the Hungarian national anthem was very sad and, in an informal study of suicide rates in European nations, declared that higher national suicide rates were associated with more low notes in national anthems….

“Male and female suicides rates were weakly associated with the ratings of gloomy (Pearson rs = .30 and .42, respectively, one-tailed ps = .11 and .04), with the ratings of sad (rs = .23 and .40, respectively, ps = .18 and .05), and with the proportion of low notes (r = .63 and .54, respectively, ps = .003 and .01). The proportion of low notes was associated with the ratings of gloomy and sad (rs = .52 and .44, ps = .02 and .04, respectively). Thus, Rihmer’s suggestion was supported by the present analysis….”

cheery lyrics to the hungarian national anthem, too:


O Lord, bless the nation of Hungary
With your grace and bounty
Extend over it your guarding arm
During strife with its enemies
Long torn by ill fate
Bring upon it a time of relief
This nation has suffered for all sins
Of the past and of the future!

You brought our ancestors up
Over the Carpathians’ holy peaks
By You was won a beautiful homeland
For Bendeguz’s sons
And wherever flow the rivers of
The Tisza and the Danube
Árpád our hero’s descendants
Will root and bloom.

For us on the plains of the Kuns
You ripened the wheat
In the grape fields of Tokaj
You dripped sweet nectar
Our flag you often planted
On the wild Turk’s earthworks
And under Mátyás’ grave army whimpered
Vienna’s “proud fort.”

Ah, but for our sins
Anger gathered in Your bosom
And You struck with Your lightning
From Your thundering clouds
Now the plundering Mongols’ arrows
You swarmed over us
Then the Turks’ slave yoke
We took upon our shoulders.

How often came from the mouths
Of Osman’s barbarian nation
Over the corpses of our defeated army
A victory song!
How often did your own son agress
My homeland, upon your breast,
And you became because of your own sons
Your own sons’ funeral urn!

The fugitive hid, and towards him
The sword reached into his cave
Looking everywhere he could not find
His home in his homeland
Climbs the mountain, descends the valley
Sadness and despair his companions
Sea of blood beneath his feet
Ocean of flame above.

Castle stood, now a heap of stones
Happiness and joy fluttered,
Groans of death, weeping
Now sound in their place.
And Ah! Freedom does not bloom
From the blood of the dead,
Torturous slavery’s tears fall
From the burning eyes of the orphans!

Pity, O Lord, the Hungarians
Who are tossed by waves of danger
Extend over it your guarding arm
On the sea of its misery
Long torn by ill fate
Bring upon it a time of relief
They who have suffered for all sins
Of the past and of the future!

(note: comments do not require an email. or a box of tissues. *sniff*)

suicide in japan

good lord:

“In 2009, the number of suicides rose 2 percent to 32,845 exceeding 30,000 for the twelfth straight year and equating to nearly 26 suicides per 100,000 people. This amounts to approximately one suicide every 15 minutes. However, this figure is somewhat disputed since it is arguably capped by the conservative definition of ‘suicide’ that has been adopted by the Japanese authorities, which differs from the WHO’s definition. Some people thus suggest a rather larger figure of 100,000 suicides a year. Currently, the conservative per year estimate is still significantly higher than for any other OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) country. In comparison, the UK rate is about 9 per 100,000, and the US rate around 11 per 100,000….

“Typically most suicides are men; over 71% of suicide victims in 2007 were male. In 2009, the number of suicides among men rose 641 to 23,472 (with those age 40–69 accounting for 40.8% of the total). Suicide was the leading cause of death among men age 20–44. Males are two times more likely to cause their own deaths after a divorce than females. Nevertheless, suicide is still the leading cause of death for women age 15–34 in Japan….” [source]

genes contribute to suicide, of course (to paraphrase dennis, how could they not?) — 30-50% of the variance in suicide rates can be accounted for by genetics.

as an extension of that, ethnicity clearly plays a role in suicide. For example: “[I]n the U.S., non-Hispanic Caucasians are nearly 2.5 times more likely to kill themselves than African Americans or Hispanics.” and, of course, there’s the finns and ugrics.

perhaps suicide is altruistic — a person removes his genes from the gene-pool when he feels he has failed in some way (failure presumably negatively affecting one’s inclusive fitness). certainly in japan they have had long traditions of taking one’s own life in connection with one’s honor and, perhaps most tellingly, the honor of one’s family.

or maybe they just don’t handle alcohol.

an interesting side note: suicide has not been documented in any other animals.

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