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!)

fulani, hausa, igbo, and yoruba mating patterns

the war nerd says of some of the populations in nigeria:

“Nigeria’s three parts were simply nailed together by the British for their Imperial convenience: The North is a Muslim theocracy dominated by the Hausa and Fulani; the West, where the Yoruba kings (Oba) ruled city-states; and the East, where the Igbo operated on something a lot like ancient Greek assemblies, with every freeborn man entitled to a voice.”

hmmmm. doesn’t that sound interesting! more…

“The Yoruba were the first to meet the whites and take up Western education. They dealt with the British town by town; to the Yoruba, your town was more important than the broader ethnic identity. The Igbo came late to British rule but took to education very quickly. The Igbo get called ‘the Jews of Africa’ because they’re good at book-learning and business.

“And then there were the Northerners, the Hausa-dominated Muslims of the dry inland territory. In a way, you wouldn’t be far off thinking of the great Nigerian divide in California terms: the coasts vs. the hot inland redneck zone. The North, in Nigerian terms, is usually called ‘Hausa,’ or ‘Hausa-Fulani,’ but it includes the Kanuri of the Northeast, who are the most remote from the coast and the fiercest opponents of anything coastal, Christian, or modern. These were all war-forged Sahel caliphates, with no tradition of local loyalties like the Yoruba, or egalitarianism like the Igbo. They had the traditional Sahel-Muslim organization, top-down all the way: Sultan gives orders to Omda, Omda gives orders to Sheikh, Sheikh gives orders to commoners. And commoners obey.”

so we’ve got clannish/tribal northerners — the fulani and the hausa. and then we have the city-state yoruba and the “egalitarian” igbo.

i’d just like to point out that:

– the fulani prefer first or second cousin marriage and specifically father’s brother’s daughter (fbd) marriage. they’re pastoralists. there are good chances i think that, like other groups elsewhere, the fulani adopted the fbd marriage of the arabs when they converted to islam (starting in the 1400s?), but perhaps they simply practice fbd marriage because they’re pastoralists.

– the hausa also prefer cousin marriage, but it seems cross-cousin marriage, so we’re talking father’s sister’s daughter (fzd) or mother’s brother’s daughter (mbd) marriage. they are also largely muslim, but don’t seem to have adopted the fbd marriage of the arabs like their neighbors the fulani. islam has been present in hausa lands since the 1200s, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that it had fully penetrated the population.

– cousin marriage doesn’t seem to be very prevalant amongst the yoruba [pg. 74] — definitely they don’t seem to *prefer* any particular form of cousin marriage [pg. 102]. some subgroups of yoruba do have very high cousin marriage rates — the people in the town of oka akoko were found to have a consanguinity rate of 51% which included uncle-niece marriages [pg. 4]. notably, oka akoko is in a mountainous region. another case of mountaineers marrying closely? dunno. Further Research is RequiredTM!

– the igbo avoid cousin marriage altogether. no form of cousin marriage is permitted. no idea how far back this goes, but it would sure be interesting to know. if wikipedia is to be believed, the igbo had a “quasi-republican” form of government in the 1400s (see also here). wouldn’t it be cool if that system was connected to mating patterns?! dunno though. we shall have to wait and see if any further info presents itself.

oh, and btw — polygamy is present in all of these groups — and probably has been for a long, long time.

perhaps there’s something in all this, perhaps not, but these groups do seem to fit the usual pattern — closer mating patterns=more closed societies, broader mating patters=more open societies. dunno. just sayin’. Further Research is RequiredTM!


previously: the bamileke of cameroon

(note: comments do not require an email. jaja of opobo.)

flatlanders vs. mountaineers revisited

if you’ve been following along, you’ll know that last year i posted about a bit of research by an anthropologist(?) by the name of joseph westermeyer the results of which suggested that peoples in lowland areas below 500m above sea level have a tendency to outbreed (i.e. avoid cousin marriage) while uplanders above 500m above sea level (and, perhaps, peoples in other marginal areas) have a tendency to inbreed (i.e. favor cousin marriage). (see also here.) westermeyer only looked at southeast asia, but i, too, seemed to be finding that pattern repeating in many places: balkans peoples – largely inbreeders, especially the ones way up in the hills; populations in the caucasuses – inbreeders; the auvergnats in france – inbreeders; heeland scots – inbreeders until quite late; afghanis – generally inbreeders, but more so in the mountains than in lowland areas; etc.

on friday, i posted about the wrist-knife wearing, ak-47 some sort-of big gun carrying turkana of east africa (kenya) who also appeared to confirm the pattern: they are a bunch of outbreeders (they avoid anything closer than second cousin marriage) and they live in a lowland region. and they’re pastoralists to boot — teh anthropologists keep saying that pastoralism leads to close marriages (like with the arabs). not!

well. last night i came across this book — Reproduction and Social Organization in Sub-Saharan Africa (1989) — which just blows this flatlanders vs. mountaineers theory right out of the water! (yipee! it’s almost like i’m doing real science! almost. ok, not really. but uncle karl would be so proud!)

in the second chapter, “The Components of Sub-Saharan Reproductive Regimes and Their Social and Cultural Determinants: The Empirical Evidence,” there’s a table on pages 74 and 75 indicating the presence or absence of cousin marriage for 47+ sub-saharan populations (data from murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas), and, as far as i can tell, there’s no rhyme or reason for why some groups inbreed and others don’t. at least the pattern (if there is one!) doesn’t appear to be connected to living in upland or lowland areas.

here is the table from the book (i’ve removed the columns that weren’t related to cousin marriage):

cousin marriage - africa

so far i’ve only run through the outbreeders (mostly), but here’s what i’ve got for where these different groups live. i’ve divvied them up by country and indicated approximately where each of the groups lives on the maps (topographic maps from wikipedia — click on maps for LARGER views — not sure who the Kru people from liberia are, so i’ve skipped them for now):

KENYA [source]
0-Kalenjin – uplanders
0-Kikuyu – uplanders
0-Kisii (AbaGusii) – uplanders
0-Luhya – uplanders
0-Luo – uplanders
0-Meru-Embu – uplanders
0-Mijikenda – lowlanders
0-Turkana – lowlanders
1-Arab groups [somalis, etc.] – lowlanders

kenya - ethnic groups + topography

0-Adamawa groups – uplanders
0-Bafia – uplanders
0-Baya (Gabaya) – uplanders
0-Cameroon Western Highland groups – uplanders
0-Duala – lowlanders
0-Mandara groups – uplanders

cameroon - ethnic groups + topography

0-Diola (Jola) – lowlanders

(btw – check out the HUGE velingara circular structure to the right of where i typed “diola.” impact crater? [pdf])

senegal - ethnic groups + topography

0-Kusasi – lowlanders (below 500m)
0-Tallensi – lowlanders

ghana - ethnic groups + topography

0-Mossi – lowlanders

burkina faso - ethnic groups + topography

see? that’s eleven upland groups right there which are — if the data are correct — outbreeders not inbreeders. either the flatlanders vs. mountaineers theory is wrong, or the sub-saharan africans are some sort of exception to this rule.

again, most of the groups practice polygamy which does complicate the picture wrt genetic relatedness. i’ll work the inbreeders into the maps one day soon. promise!

previously: this one’s for g.w. and the flatlanders vs. the mountain people

(note: comments do not require an email. velingara circular structure.)


on west africans and their (on average) greater amounts of fast-twitch muscles:

Peering Under the Hood of Africa’s Runners

“…The differences don’t stop with body shape; there is also evidence of a difference in the types of muscle fibers that predominate. Scientists have divided skeletal muscles into two basic groups depending on their contractile speed: type I, or slow-twitch muscles, and type II, fast-twitch muscles. There are two kinds of the latter: type IIa, intermediate between fast and slow; and type IIb, which are superfast-twitch. Endurance runners tend to have mostly type I fibers, which have denser capillary networks and are packed with more mitochondria. Sprinters, on the other hand, have mostly type II fibers, which hold lots of sugar as well as enzymes that burn fuel in the absence of oxygen. In the 1980s, Claude Bouchard’s team at Quebec’s Laval University took needle biopsies from the thigh muscles of white French Canadian and black West African students. They found that the Africans averaged significantly more fast-twitch muscle fibers — 67.5% — than the French Canadians, who averaged 59%….”

i am totally going with my own personal theory for why west africans have more fast-twitch muscles, and that is because of sexual selection.

for how long have various west african populations been showing off their skillz — like this! — on the dance floor?:


yup. sexual selection. that’s my theory (with a small “t”), and i’m sticking with it!

(note: comments do not require an email. rude comments WILL get you banned.)