Anthropology Friday: Hunters, Pastoralists, and Ranchers (part 3/4)

Illustration from Ingold's book
Illustration from Ingold’s book

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Anthropology Friday: Reindeer Economies: Hunters, Pastoralists, and Ranchers [PDF] by Ingold. As usual, I am using “” instead of block quotes and in some cases I have skipped his in-line citations in order to increase readability.

As always, remember that Ingold is one man with his own opinions, trying to construct a broad theory about the development of pastoralism and ranching from hunting societies, across a wide variety of cultures united primarily by their dependence upon reindeer, though he occasionally looks at other pastoralists.

“In Lapland, for example, reindeer hides were traded throughout medieval times, along with the pelts of fur-bearing species, in exchange for commodities such as cloth, grain, salt, metalware and spirits … Hvarfner (1965) has suggested that the massive systems of pitfalls for trapping wild reindeer, which apparently came into use over many parts of Lapland around the eighth century A.D., may have been constructed in order to meet the demands of this trade, and may have contributed to the decimation of the herds even before the earliest firearms were introduced. Their eventual abandonment during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries may be correlated with the decline of the wild population and the expansion of pastoral herds in their place.

“[However] equally elaborate reindeer-hunting systems, involving large inputs of organized labour for their construction, are encountered throughout the circumpolar zone, including arctic North America. Many are of great antiquity, and cannot be correlated with the rise of mercantile trade. Since the caribou populations of North America appear to have withstood millennia of human predation on a scale as massive as in medieval Lapland without suffering appreciable decline…

“We may take as an example the Skolt Lapps, who began to expand their domestic herds to provide a source of slaughter products as a result of the virtual disappearance of the wild woodland reindeer during the nineteenth century. It is estimated that the Skolt herds multiplied by a factor of thirty in the period 1830—1910. Some owners have built up herds of several hundred head, others continue to concentrate on year-round fishing and keep only a few tens of deer as before…

“Where pastoralists operate on the tundra, the edge of the woods tends to constitute a zone of contention over animal resources. In the course of their expansion, the herds of pastoralists penetrate ever further during their winter migrations into the customary hunting grounds of neighbouring peoples inhabiting the forest interior. For these hunters, the herds represent fair game to be pursued as freely as the wild woodland deer which they displace, and certainly in preference to the slaughter of their own domestic animals. The Skolt Lapps, for example, gained a certain notoriety for their raids on the herds of their pastoral neighbours,…

“There is no doubt that the Upper Palaeolithic inhabitants of northern Europe were as much dependent on the reindeer for their livelihood as the Nganasan, Chukchi or Caribou Eskimo
today … According to Polhausen, the reindeer deposits of the classic Hamburgian sites of Meiendorf and Stellmoor uncovered by Rust and dating back to 13,000 B.C. indicate that two-thirds of the animal population was herded. … Inferences that not only was the ratio of males to females in the kill as high as ten to one, but also that the animals were slaughtered with axes,  led him to reject direct analogies with modern reindeer-hunting populations…

“Simonsen has used just such an indicator to date the introduction of domestic reindeer to northernmost Norway. The faunal remains associated with Late Stone Age settlements in this region reveal a semi-nomadic cycle of movement between winter dwellings on the arctic coast, associated with the hunting of sea-mammals, and a series of inland river-fishing and reindeer-hunting sites, occupied during summer and autumn. Around the second century A.D., however, this pattern appears to have been abruptly reversed, to harmonize with the migratory movements of the tundra reindeer. Winter settlements are found inland, whilst coastal sites indicate an emphasis on fishing for salmon during the summer. …

“On the other hand, there is abundant documentary evidence to demonstrate that the transition from hunting to pastoralism took place throughout interior Finnmark during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries… If it is justifiable to correlate the change in seasonal movements with the introduction of domestic reindeer, and the date suggested for the latter is not unreasonable, then we can conclude that it preceded the emergence of pastoralism by some thirteen hundred years. …

“The Basseri of southern Iran keep sizeable herds of sheep and goats which provide them with a supply of milk, meat, wool and hides not only for their own consumption, but also for trade with neighbouring agricultural communities. In return, they receive flour, sugar, tea, dates, fruit and vegetables, which together make up a substantial part of the everyday diet. According to Barth’s estimates, the normal household needs to purchase annually goods to a value equivalent to some forty to fifty sheep, half the number of animals in a flock of average size.

“Great stress is placed on the growth of the herds, apparently in order to increase the rate of profit, and as a hedge against short-term loss. However, when the herd grows too large to remain entirely under the supervision of the owner, or of members of his household, the costs that are inevitably incurred in the employment of hired labour begin to outweigh the profits accruing from further growth. The more successful of the Basseri are therefore induced to invest in land as a form of long-term security, by obtaining plots in the villages bordering their migratory routes. They do not work the land themselves, for the tasks of cultivation are considered demeaning, but rent it out on terms which, given the high density of population and consequent intensivity of agricultural land-use, are highly advantageous.”

EvX: Wikipedia has rather little to say about the Basseri, but it does note:

Basseries are mostly Persians. Their origin is the “Pasargadean” tribe.The Pasargadean tribe was the biggest tribe of Persia and the tribe who helped Cyrus The Great constitute the Achaemenid Empire.They named “Karian” tribe in Sasanian Empire period. They were the relers [sic] of some parts of south Persia and the Karyan city of Persia cause They helped Ardashir I constitute the Sasanian empire.

After Muslim conquest of Persia They were under rule of Arabic Tribes of South Persia, who migrated to Persia after its conquest, till the constitute of Zand Dynasty by Karim Khan. In Pahlavi Dynasty period They were settled by the government in 1930 and again started to decamp in 1941. After the Land Reformations of Iran, they were settled in the cities and the villages of Fars Province; but after some years, They again started decamping. after the Islamic Revolution of Iran because of the problems of being nomad including inaccessibility to modern facilities (hospitals, schools, etc); successive droughts; destruction of the migration path; etc they again went to cities and the villages of the province for living.[2] …

The Basseri seem not to be very familiar with Muslim beliefs, customs, and ceremonies.They do not respect to divisions and events of the Muslim year, Although villagers remind them continually.

Perhaps the editor did not mean this to be funny, but I laughed. (BTW, this Wik page does not strike me as the most reliable, but it’s probably mostly correct about recent history.) has some very interesting thoughts/reflections on the same literature as I believe Ingold is working off of in Ritual and Social Drama in the Qashqai. Alamy has some relevant photos, which suggest that the Basseri could really benefit from some rain. According to Persian Travel:

Aryan tribes migrated into the Iranian plateau in the 2d millennium BC. There are over 1.5 million nomads in Iran today. Many of these tribes such as the Kurds, Bakhtiyaris (Bactrians), Lurs, Guilaks, and the Baluchs are descendants of the original invaders who came from Central Asia to settle in the Iranian Plateau.

Most of the tribes of Central Iran are pure Aryan, while others such as the Arabs of Khuzestan and Khorassan, the Qashqai, the Turkmen (decendants of Mongols), Shahsevan and Afshar tribes of Azarbaijan had ancestors who passed through Iran.

By 1920 nomadic pastoral tribes were over a quarter of Iran’s population. Their number declined sharply as a result forced settlement in the 1920s and 1930s. Continued pressure as well as the lure of the cities and settled life has resulted in a further sharp decline since the 1960s. …

There are over one hundred different nomadic tribes today, each with its own dialect, style of dress and housing, and its own chief or leader.

As always, travel websites should probably be taken with a grain of salt. Back to Ingold:

“Whatever the precise moment at which morphologically wild and domesticated forms began to diverge, it is evident that the displacement of wild game such as onager and gazelle by recognizably domesticated breeds of sheep and goats was taking place on an ever-increasing scale during the seventh and sixth millennia B.C., alongside the development of land-intensive cereal agriculture and a network of trading relations bringing adjacent communities of agriculturalists and herdsmen into close economic interdependence. From these beginnings, under pressure of rapid population growth in the villages, evolved the complex, differentiated economy of today, linking specialized pastoralists such as the Basseri with peasant cultivators, craftsmen and traders, and dominated by urban administrative and market centres. …

“the earliest dry-farmers of the Near East may have incorporated domestic sheep and goats as a means of ‘banking’ agricultural surpluses, in order to even out the effects of erratic rainfall. The rapid rate of increase of ovine and caprine herds would permit their exploitation as a supplementary meat resource, particularly in times of drought, whilst the limited numbers of animals that can be maintained within the framework of an agricultural regime, depending upon the supply of winter fodder, would necessitate periodic culling. Moreover, both sheep and goats furnish raw materials of particular value to people whose subsistence is based on the products of cultivation. …

“Though the origins of cattle domestication remain obscure, there is every reason to believe that the ox was initially tamed and bred by sedentary cultivators. Zeuner includes it in his category of ‘crop-robbers’ — animals which would have first come into close contact with man as invaders of his fields, attracted by the patches of lush vegetation in an artificially created environment, and displaced from their natural habitat by progressive agricultural clearance …

“Thus, writing of a band of Naskapi caribou hunters, Henriksen notes that ‘the boundaries of their hunting territory are determined by the distance they wish and are able to travel’. Every household is free to move where it pleases, and no family or group can claim prior rights to any part of the territory or its resources.

“Indeed, for any population of hunters dependent for their subsistence on a nomadic species, territorial compartmentalization would be profoundly maladaptive, since it would prevent them from adjusting to local fluctuations in the supply of game whose movements are not constrained in the same way. …

“Nevertheless, it is alleged that amongst many peoples of the taiga zone, in both Old and New Worlds, a division is made into exclusive ‘family hunting territories’ which appear to be subject, as any form of landed property, to rules of partition and inheritance …

“On the other hand, if game resources are available in such concentration and abundance as to permit the establishment of more or less permanent communities, as around the north Pacific coast, political enterprise may take on all the attributes of ‘bigmanship’. Through calculative munificence the bigman not only attracts but compels, so obligating his followers as to be able to exert a deferred claim on their productive effort. Drawing on a fund of credit established over many years, he can amass a surplus of consumables sufficient to challenge rival leaders from neighbouring communities in lavish giveaways. Such was the strategy of the Alaskan Eskimo umealit, literally ‘whaleboat captains’ but more generally ‘men of influence’, the most prominent of whom wielded an almost despotic power. …

From Ingold
From Ingold

“Today, the domestic deer of the Nganasan are indistinguishable from the wild tundra form. Their numbers appear to be growing rather rapidly. In former times, it is said that ten animals per household was the normal limit, a figure that conforms well with those for other hunting peoples employing domestic deer for transport. As on the Plains, people who lacked sufficient animals, and who could not borrow, had to pull their belongings themselves, on hand sledges. Nowadays, Popov recounts, a household with fifty domestic deer would be considered poor; yet the Nganasan remain hunters, and kill their deer for food only in emergencies. One consequence of herd growth has been to increase the quantity of stored food and household effects that may be carried along on migrations, including one or two sledge-loads of dowry goods for every marriageable girl.

“In particular, the availability of draft animals constrains the size of the household’s tent, which has consequently become one of the most conspicuous indicators of wealth and status. Among the tundra Nenets, pastoralists who share with the Nganasan a uniform cultural tradition, a wealthy man might possess three or four tents, to house not only his own family, but also those of his herding assistants. To transport all his belongings, he might require as many as a hundred sledge deer…

“It will be recalled that the Tungus employ small herds of domestic deer principally as beasts of burden, but also as providers of milk. Yet it would appear that these animals are themselves subject to rules of redistribution in times of economic stress: Although the reindeer belong to unit-families, when epidemics rage among them the clan may divide all the reindeer belonging to the members of the given clan among all the unit-families … Owing to this practice, units possessing over sixty animals have not been recorded: it happens too often that reindeer are divided among the poorer members of the clan.

“Why is it that among the Nganasan, or the Blackfeet, a man without domestic animals has to attach himself to a wealthy owner in the hope of obtaining loans for his hunting and transport requirements, whilst among the Tungus such inequalities of wealth are moderated by periodic redistribution?…

Nuer man at the Tuut Gatkuɔth cattle camp, from Pictures of Nuer Culture
Nuer man at the Tuut Gatkuɔth cattle camp, from Pictures of Nuer Culture

“Among the Nuer, ‘cattle are everywhere evenly distributed. Hardly anyone is entirely without them, and no one is very rich. Although cattle are a form of wealth that can be accumulated, a man never possesses many more beasts than his byre will hold’. The Nuer herds, like those of the Tungus, are periodically afflicted by epidemics, which effectively constrain their increase. Moreover, Nuer cattle are the subjects of complex and protracted social transactions, revolving principally around the institution of marriage, as a result of which several people besides the individual in whose byre an animal resides may have claims on it of one kind and another.”

EvX: The Nuer are closely related to the Dinka and among the tallest people in the world; they live in Southern Sudan, which as you probably know has been wracked by all kinds of warfare.

“Unfortunately, Shirokogoroff presents no details as to exactly how the division of reindeer during epidemics is carried out among the Tungus. He does say, however, that it operates through the clan rather than necessarily being confined within it, and that reindeer usually pass as gifts or loans. Moreover, we are told elsewhere that ‘the clan provides its members with wives and husbands, also with dowry and kalym [“brideprice”]’.

“I think it is legitimate to infer that the distribution of reindeer occasioned by epidemic follows the same principles as that occasioned by marriage: in other words, that the clan system constitutes the structural framework within which live animals pass in reciprocal transactions from household to household along particular chains of kinship and affinity. One of the most striking features of these transactions is their long-term character. There is little to distinguish between a loan and a gift when both involve a similar obligation to repay at some unspecified date with some unspecified animal, preferably of greater value than the one received. For all practical purposes, a borrowed animal is incorporated into the recipient’s herd….

“To sum up: through their incorporation into the domestic groups of hunters, live animals can become the objects of reciprocal transactions across household boundaries. However, the nature of these transactions varies significantly from one hunting society to another. In some instances, domestic animals may be used to fund the creation and maintenance of extensive networks of social relationships, as a result of which every herd comes to embody an aggregate of separable but overlapping interests. These interests will be mapped out in the distribution of meat from domestic sacrifice. But in other societies, there is little or no transference of stock from one domestic herd to another. Surplus animals are not given away but accommodated through the employment of herding assistants, and loaned only on a short-term basis to those who would use them for the procurement and transport of hunted produce. Consequently, a fortunate household may be able to accumulate sufficient wealth to be in a position to destroy a part of the incremental increase in the herd for food and raw materials. Moreover, it is not bound to distribute the products so obtained beyond the immediate domestic circle. Such are the social conditions that give rise to carnivorous pastoralism.”

EvX: To be continued (and finished) next week!

Anthropology Friday: Reindeer Economies (pt 2/4


I have been preparing for today’s anthropology Friday by tromping around in a blizzard, seeking insight into our northerly neighbors’ lives.

Apparently circum-polar people live in a state of constant exhilaration, appreciation of the sublime beauty of nature, happiness, exhaustion, and cold toes. I am reminded of de Poncins’s descriptions of the Eskimo he lived with as counter-intuitively far happier than the people he knew from tropical, sun-kissed lands. Alas, I didn’t record that passage, but here is a similar one:

I thought of the months on the trail, of the hardships and even miseries I had endued, and of a sudden I began to miss them with an intensity which amazed me and which, since then, has never left me. … God knows we were poor enough. Our poverty was total. We possessed nothing: not even the snow was our own. … But there was a cheer and a contentment in our existence which I continue to muse upon and cannot altogether explain to myself….

Day after day a wind would raise, a sign of danger would appear in the air, and we would respond together, each forgetting himself and striving in the common cause. Outside, it wanted war and flood to give man this sense of brotherhood: here it was a commonplace of life.

Anyway, back to Ingold and the domestication of the reindeer:

“The second chapter deals directly with the nature and process of animal ‘domestication’. … My central contention is that the source of pastoral property relations lies in the particularistic, social bonds established through the incorporation of animals into a domestic division of labour; and hence that a precondition for the direct transition from hunting to pastoralism is the capacity of animals to function both as labour and as a source of food and raw materials.”

[EvX: You say “Cultural Marxism is just a conspiracy theory.” I say, “What the hell have you been reading?”]

“It may reasonably be assumed that where a pastoral economy has arisen directly out of predatory herd exploitation, the animals’ ‘main importance lay in their meat-producing qualities, as wild animals did not form wool or produce large quantities of milk’… In other words, such an economy would be based on slaughter products rather than those which can be obtained from live animals. It is true that wild herbivores can be milked, if only with difficulty, but the yield barely exceeds the animals’ own calving requirements, and could not form the staple of a pastoral diet.

“Now, it may fairly be objected that most modern forms of pastoralism are based on the production of milk rather than meat, and therefore that a precondition for their emergence must have been the initial taming and breeding of animals as milk-producers in connection with developing agricultural systems. Milch pastoralism is thus a secondary phenomenon … which would have arisen through the migration of men and herds into arid and uncultivable regions where the animals could not survive without human assistance.”

reindeer being milked
reindeer being milked

EvX: Since we don’t know actually how pastoralism arose, I must object that this is speculation. To counter: it is simple to make the yield exceed the animal’s calving requirements by eating the calf and then milking the mother; second, mammals can easily increase milk production in response to increased nursing/milking–domestication not required. Indeed, it is easy to imagine a grieving hunter-gatherer man whose wife has just died, desperately in need of milk for his infant, looking at a nursing doe and having a flash of inspiration.

“Reindeer pastoralism has the double distinction firstly of having emerged in regions far beyond the climatic limits of agriculture, and secondly of having remained confined within the original zone of distribution of the species. It is possible, therefore, that the reindeer is unique in having constituted the object of a direct transition from hunting to pastoralism. This would account for some of its most obvious peculiarities as a pastoral resource: its apparent ‘wildness’, both morphological and behavioural, and its relatively poor milk-yielding potential. It is probably true to say that in historic times the reindeer has been the only animal to form the basis of an exclusively carnivorous pastoralism.”


EvX: Speaking of milk, I’d love to try reindeer milk. Imagine the cheese and butter it would make!

Wikipedia has a short page on reindeer cheese, with this quoted historical description:

Reindeer cheese, of which we present two illustrations taken from a paper by Barthel and Bergman may be called the richest of all whole milk cheeses, as nearly half its weight consists of butter fats. It is, in fact, a rich cream cheese. It is yellow on the outside and white on the interior, except in the neighborhood of the numerous cracks, where it is also yellow. When cut into, the white rapidly changes to a golden yellow. The taste is very mild, very creamy, and the cheese melts very easily in the mouth, with the fine aroma of the reindeer milk; it easily becomes rancid and then acquires a strong odor and a burning taste.

Unfortunately, Wikipedia also notes that reindeer only give 1.5 cups of milk a day. I’m not sure how reindeer calves survive on that.

In Finland, a cheese called Leipajuusto was traditionally made with reindeer milk:

The milk is curdled and set to form a round disk from two to three centimeters thick. After this, leipäjuusto is baked, grilled or flambéed to give it its distinctive brown or charred marks. …

Traditionally, leipäjuusto was dried and could then be stored for up to several years. For eating, the dry, almost rock hard cheese was heated on a fire which softened it and produced an especially appetizing aroma. Even today, the cheese may be dried by keeping it in a well ventilated place for a few days. It has a mild flavour.

Continuing on:

“Whereas for the gatherer a crop unharvested is equivalent to a crop planted, the cultivator must reserve a portion of the harvest for replanting… Consequently, the inception of cultivation entails new social relations of production, which establish control by solitary groups over the fields they have laboured to prepare, and control within each group over the storage and distribution of the crop… It is these social relations, rather than new techniques, which provide the impetus towards population growth and surplus production under cultivation. …

“It is obvious that a discontinuity precisely analogous to that between gathering and cultivation cannot be posited in the case of animal husbandry. A ‘harvested’ animal is a dead one, and dead animals do not reproduce. They cannot therefore be ‘replanted’.”

EvX: This distinction makes no sense. A grain of wheat, once ground up and eaten cannot be planted. A cow, once eaten, cannot reproduce. But the cow’s mother, who birthed it, may continue producing more calves: she is not used up. By contrast, the stalk of wheat is used up at the end of the season; a new one must grow from seed the next year. In both cases, you eat some portion of your resource–seeds or cows–and hold some portion in reserve so it can reproduce. But I am complaining; let’s look for the good parts:

“Both cultivation and milch pastoralism increase the efficiency of the energy conversions yielding calories for human consumption: in the first case through the substitution of slow-growing woody plants by fast-growing weedy plants, in the second case through a shift from meat-production to milk-production. Moreover, the maintenance of tame milch animals requires a relatively intensive labour input, and increasing overall yields permit the support of higher populations. Thus, within limits set by the abundance of pasture, a positive correlation obtains between animal and human population numbers, and the spread of milch pastoralism represents an accommodation to the increase of both.

“The dynamics of carnivorous pastoralism are different in every respect. Its adoption in place of hunting harnesses no new material or energy inputs, nor does it improve the efficiency of ecological production. A wild animal is as good a converter of pasture to meat as a pastoral one.”

EvX: DATA PLEASE. Are raising cattle and hunting bison on America’s Great Plains more, less, or equally efficient? Do the few commercial sellers of buffalo burgers find pasturing and hunting buffalo equally efficient?

Comanche Nationball
Comanche Nationball

I don’t have any data on this (if you do, I’d be happy to see it.) Wikipedia estimates that 30,000 to 40,000 horse-mounted Comanches, living primarily off the Buffalo chase, lived in the southern Plains in the mid-1800s. But the Comanches are only one of many groups; SettlersInTheWest estimates a total of 75,000 Native Americans lived in the Plains in the mid-1800s.

But prior to the introduction of the domesticated horse by the Spaniards, hunting (on foot, assisted by dogs) was much more difficult, and total plains population must have beenlower. According to Wikipedia:

It was the Comanche, coming to the attention of the Spanish in New Mexico in 1706, who first realized the potential of the horse. As pure nomads, hunters, and pastoralists, well supplied with horses, they swept most of the mixed-economy Apaches from the plains and by the 1730s were dominant in the Great Plains south of the Arkansas River.[18] The success of the Comanche encouraged other Indian tribes to adopt a similar lifestyle. …

The farming tribes also hunted buffalo, deer, elk, and other game. Typically, on the southern Plains, they planted crops in the spring, left their permanent villages to hunt buffalo in the summer, returned to harvest crops in the fall, and left again to hunt buffalo in the winter. The farming Indians also traded corn to the nomadic tribes for dried buffalo meat.

With the arrival of the horse, some tribes, such as the Lakota and Cheyenne, gave up agriculture to become full-time, buffalo-hunting nomads. …

1280px-alfred_jacob_miller_-_hunting_buffalo_-_walters_371940190So domestic horses + huge herds of animals definitely tip the initial economic balance away from farming and toward hunting. The problem here is that it is really easy for humans to drive all of the buffalo over a cliff and then run out of buffalo.

(Paleolithic hunters didn’t have horses, but they still might have wiped out most of the ice-age megafauna.)

According to Beef Industry Statistics, there are about 619,000 farms/ranches currently specializing in raising beef cattle, and a further 300,000 presumably in dairy. Assuming that each of these farms supports at least three people (farm couple plus child,) that’s about 2.7 million people directly engaged in pastoralism, though of course not all of these people live in the Great Plains. To this number we should add all of the people who consume beef and milk but aren’t engaged in raising cattle, just as Comanche tribes included women, children, and old people who were not personally involved in hunting but still enjoyed eating the meat hunters brought home–which I suspect is most of America’s other 300 million people plus many folks abroad:

Value of total U.S. beef exports (including variety meat) equaled $6.302 billion down from $7.135 (billion)
Top export markets for 2015 (in order): Japan, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong, Middle East (U.S. Meat Export Federation)

Historic range of the American Bison
Historic range of the American Bison

Pre-1800s, Wikipedia estimates that there were 60 million American bison, who ranged from New York to Florida, into Mexico, up through Canada into Alaska, into the Rockies, northern California, and eastern Oregon. Beef Industry Stats counts 92.0 million US cattle in 2016.

These cases aren’t exactly analogous, especially since today’s people have very different technology than pastoralists in the 1800s or 500s had, but it’s the data I can find, and it suggests that pastoralism is more efficient, long-term, at producing both animals and humans.

But back to Ingold:

“The reindeer, although independent by nature, is amongst the easiest of animals to tame. It is of gentle disposition, of manageable size, and appreciative of the comforts that association with man can provide. Above all, it is ‘a highly social creature, impressing its friendship on man’ … Consider, for example, the domestic reindeer of the northern Tungus, which is kept in small herds for milk, riding and pack transport. It is said to be ‘of a very mild and kind nature . . . attached to man and especially to those who use it kindly, speak to it, caress it, and generally pay attention to it’ … Every deer has a name, which it recognizes, and its particular characteristics are intimately known (p. 35): ‘The intimacy of relations makes the Tungus love the reindeer nearly as human members of the family, and when a Tungus is alone he may talk to the reindeer which, according to the Tungus, can understand’…

Ingold's diagram, from the book
Ingold’s diagram, from the book–human resource-exploitation ranges on the left, reindeer migration paths on the right.

“Moreover, the animals are not herded. ‘The Tungus’, Shirokogoroff tells us, ‘have no shepherds’ (1929:33). Rather like the domestic pigs of the Maring, the Tungus reindeer are allowed to forage freely in the environs of the human camp or settlement, for they generally return of their own accord, even after an absence of several days, and despite ample opportunities to defect to the wild population. Whereas the pig returns for its ‘daily ration of garbage and substandard tubers’ … the reindeer returns for a lick of salt and human urine, for both of which it has a peculiar craving. In summer, when the deer are plagued by swarms of mosquitoes, the Tungus make life more bearable for their animals by lighting smudge fires in camp, or even by admitting them inside their tents, whilst in autumn and winter the camp provides the only refuge against wolves.”

EvX: This is quite similar to the theory that dogs and cats became domesticated because they initially found it convenient to live in close proximity to man, this association selecting without conscious human decision or even desire for “tame” animals who desire to be near humans.

There are other species that have also become somewhat “tame” by virtue of their close association with human settlements, such as rats and pigeons, but these animals have no traits that people find useful and so are seen as pests.

samiball1“… the care of the herds is entrusted almost entirely to women and children, leaving the men free to hunt and trap, or to loaf. At dusk, when the deer return to the tents of their owners, it is the mistress of each household who deals out shares of salt to her particular charges. During the fawning season, she must keep a close watch over the pregnant does to prevent their leaving to give birth in the forest, for the constant attention bestowed on fawns from the moment of birth is crucial to the establishment of enduring bonds of tameness. After fawning, she milks the does regularly, making from the milk a kind of gruel used as children’s food. When the deer come into rut, does and fawns have to be kept alternately within enclosures, in order to bind the does to camp and to prevent their
abduction by lustful bucks, including undesirable intruders from the wild population. …

“Amongst those peoples of the taiga who do not milk or ride their domestic reindeer, the relationship between man and animal is rather less close. The Sel’kups of the Taz region, for example, use their deer only for draft purposes in winter, to transport household effects between successive hunting and trapping sites. … Those with very small herds can keep them in the vicinity of their fishing sites throughout the summer, building substantial stalls of logs and bark to provide the animals with a shelter from the mosquitoes and the heat of the sun.

“… it is usual to allow the animals to go their own ways after fawning, rounding them up again only after the first snows of autumn. Each owner, in effect, must ‘hunt his own herd’, tracking the domestic deer as he would wild animals … a large proportion of each year’s fawns may be sired by wild bucks…

“The hunting peoples of the tundra and tundra—taiga margins differ from their taiga neighbours both in the scale of their migrations, of hundreds rather than tens of miles, and in the extent of their dependence on the wild reindeer as a subsistence resource. Though the possession of draft animals enables a people such as the Nganasan of the Taimyr Peninsula to cover the entire range of migration of the tundra reindeer in their annual cycle, their predatory association with massed herds creates special problems which are not encountered in the taiga, where the wild reindeer is both more dispersed and of relatively minor economic significance compared with other forest game. During the autumn migration, the most critical period of the hunting year, the Nganasan have to drive their own herds away from the path of the travelling column of wild animals to prevent their being carried along in its wake…

“Indeed, the attitude of the Tungus towards their tame reindeer mirrors that of the Nuer towards their cattle. Like the Tungus, the Nuer keep small herds of tame beasts for the products and services they yield during their lifetimes, but whereas the Tungus obtain the bulk of their subsistence from wild game, the Nuer staples are milk and millet. In neither society does the number of domestic animals greatly exceed the size of the human population. Nuer slaughter their cattle only for sacrificial purposes or in times of severe famine, but ‘any animal which dies a natural death is eaten’, evidently with some enthusiasm.”

EvX: I am skeptical of this, simply because a cattle herd only needs 1 male for every 10 or 40 or however many females. The excess males are what we eat. Neither the Nuer nor the Tungus have any practical reason to spend energy raising excess males who will produce nothing but meat except to eat that meat.


“The closest approach to a pure milch pastoralism based on reindeer is found among the Todzha, a people of the Sayan mountains of southern Siberia. They keep small herds of extremely tame animals in much the same manner as the Tungus, but the milk obtained from lactating does provides the staple food for the entire summer, though it is supplemented by wild roots… The exceptional productivity of the Todzha deer is largely due to the luxuriant summer pasture in this region, which is situated so far south as to adjoin the great steppes of Middle Asia. During the remainder of the year, however, Todzha subsistence is based almost entirely on hunting and trapping.

latest-2“…according to Wiklund, ‘the Lapp milking system with its entire nomenclature was borrowed from the Scandinavians in pre-Nordic times’ … The remaining Uralic, Samoyedic and Palaeoasiatic peoples of Siberia have never systematically milked their reindeer…

“Besides the provision of food and raw materials, the uses of domestic reindeer are all concerned with transport, with the exception of their employment as decoys. Hunting with decoys is the most widespread of all techniques involving the use of tame deer, and has been recorded throughout northern Eurasia. …

“The mounted deer of the Tungus is equipped with a saddle derived from Mongol patterns, whilst the Sayan form of reindeer riding shows the clear influence of Turkic cultures native to the Altai steppe. On these grounds, Vasilevich and Levin posit two close but distinct centres of origin for the domestication of the reindeer, one amongst the ancestors of the Tungus around Lake Baykal, the other amongst the original Troto-Samoyed’ inhabitants of the Sayan mountains. Both populations underwent subsequent dispersion, retreating perhaps from military turbulence on the steppes. …

samiball1“In Lapland, where dog traction was lacking, domestic deer were harnessed singly to the small boat-shaped sledge, or pulkka, which had been designed originally to be pulled by hand (figure 15B). Thus the distinctive technique associated with the employment of domestic reindeer in Lapland, including milking and packing as well as the pulkka, may be attributed to local conditions and contacts with horse- and cattle-keeping Scandinavians, and does not discount the hypothesis that the deer themselves were initially obtained from the Samoyed.

“There is an alternative view regarding the origins of reindeer driving, which holds that it arose in imitation of the horse and ox traction of southern Siberian steppe pastoralists. …

The Greenland Norse raised cattle and sheep, but the Greenland Inuit were exclusive hunters
The Greenland Norse raised cattle and sheep, but the Greenland Inuit were exclusive hunters

“Unlike the Samoyed of northwestern Siberia, none of the Palaeoasiatic peoples east of the Yenisey uses dogs for herding. In northeastern Siberia, the mutual antagonism between dog and reindeer is such that the two can be kept together only with the greatest difficulty, for dogs can wreak as much havoc as wolves if let loose on a herd… Consequently, the substitution of reindeer for dogs is, in this region, a more or less irreversible process. However, the reindeer is wholly unsuited to the semi-sedentary maritime adaptation of the north Pacific peoples, for it has to wander in search of food, and pasture does not grow on the ice. On the other hand, the sea yields an abundant supply of storable food for both man and dog … The exclusive reliance on dog traction along the coasts on both sides of the Bering Strait must therefore have acted as a buffer, effectively blocking the diffusion of the domestic deer into North America, until their importation from Siberia at the end of the nineteenth century.

a-i-of-little-understand-it-o-o-nunavutball-with-1314788EvX: This is an interesting theory, but if a dog attacks your chickens or cattle, you remove it from the gene pool and breed dogs who don’t attack your food animals. There’s nothing magical about northeastern Siberia that makes dogs there attack reindeer–though I do note that Siberian Huskies and related Eskimo dog species have been recently back-crossed with wolves (probably to give them traits necessary for survival under extremely cold, harsh conditions,) and I wouldn’t be surprised if this wolf DNA made them more aggressive toward prey animals.

“My contention, then, is that a connection can be traced between the heart of Old World pastoralism in the steppe country of Middle Asia and the emergence of reindeer pastoralism in the Eurasian tundra. Thrusting a vast and impenetrable wedge between these two zones, the great taiga forest presents a formidable barrier rich in game but inimical to any form of extensive herding. In the course of its expansion into the forest, the predominantly milch pastoralism of the steppe becomes progressively attenuated, giving way to hunting as the dominant basis of the economy. Where meat had been a secondary by-product of keeping domestic herds for milk, in the taiga milk production becomes subsidiary to the maintenance of tame animals as means to mobility in the procurement of meat…

Reindeer calf with mother
Reindeer calf with mother

“During the Pleistocene era, steppe and tundra were merged to form a single, homogeneous zone carrying a rich diversity of big game species. The advance of the forest across this zone, following the glacial retreat at the onset of the Holocene, left only a strip of tundra in the far north whose peculiarly arctic conditions hastened the extinction of much of the indigenous fauna that could adapt neither to the forest nor to the hot, southern steppes.”


EvX: I think that’s enough for today; we’ll wrap this up next Friday!

Anthropology Friday: Reindeer Economies

1024px-reindeer_pulling_sleigh_russiaHello, and welcome to Anthropology Friday! Today we’re having a look at Tim Ingold’s Hunters, Pastoralists and Ranchers: Reindeer economies and their transformations. (1980)

Ingold’s book is not a colorful, entertaining account of life in a reindeer herding community, but an academic attempt to explain why (and how) some arctic peoples have transitioned to reindeer-based pastoralism and some have continued their hunting lifestyle (not a whole lot of gathering happens in the arctic.)

According to Ingold, the most well-documented (as of 1980) arctic Eurasian pastoralists are the Lapps (aka Sami,) Nenets, Reindeer Chukchi, and Reindeer Koryak. Ingold cites several authors whose works may be useful for further reading on the subject, including Manker’s “People of Eight Seasons,” Bogoras’s “The Chukchi of Northeast Asia,” and Jochelson’s “The Koryak.” (On the Nenets, I substitute Golonev and Osherenko’s “Siberian Survival: The Nenets and their story.”)

Ingold is something of a Marxist (he cites Marx explicitly in the prologue) and sets out to prove that cultures (or at least the cultures he examines) don’t evolve in the Darwinian sense because one cultural approach to economic production doesn’t actually produce more babies than a different approach, and thus there is no biological selective mechanism at work. (Rather, he asserts that there are cultural factors at play.)

“Social Darwinism is wrong” is a pretty typical attitude from a Marxist, so with that caveat, let’s head to the book’s interesting parts (as usual, I’m using “”s instead of blockquotes.) Ingold begins with a question:

“Some years ago, I undertook a spell of anthropological fieldwork among the Skolt Lapps of northeastern Finland. These people were, so I imagined, reindeer pastoralists. Yet when I arrived in the field, the promised herds were nowhere to be seen. On inquiry into their whereabouts, I was assured that they did exist, scattered around in the forest and on the fells, and that before too long, a team of herdsmen would be sent out to search for them. Well then, I asked, should I purchase a few animals myself? Certainly not, came the reply, for the chances of ever getting my hands on them again would be remote. They could, after all, take refuge in every nook and cranny of a range of wilderness extending over several thousand square miles. … What kind of economy was this, in which live animal property roamed wild over the terrain, quite beyond the ken of its possessors, and in which simple common sense appeared to dictate against owning any animals at all? …

“[W]hy, if the herds are wild, do we not find a hunting economy[?] …”

EvX: Ingold then backtracks into some necessary ecological background on reindeer and their hunters:

Odin, king of gods, flanked by his ravens Hugninn and Muninn, and his wolves Geri and Freki
Odin, king of gods, flanked by his ravens Hugninn and Muninn, and his wolves Geri and Freki

“Of particular interest is the close, symbiotic association between the raven and the wolf. Flying above the herd, the raven guides the predator to its prey, in the expectation of receiving a share in the pickings… A similarly close relation exists between human hunters and their domestic or semi-domestic dogs, whose partnership with man in the chase is rewarded with left-overs of meat.”

EvX: Man the hunter follows the wolves, and the wolves follow the ravens, and the ravens track the prey. Give man a horse, and he is formidable indeed.

O’er Mithgarth Hugin and Munin both
Each day set forth to fly;
For Hugin I fear lest he come not home,
But for Munin my care is more.[5]

–Poetic Edda

ravens_and_wolves_see_email_3-28Two ravens flew from Óðinn’s
shoulders; Huginn to the hanged and
Muninn to the slain corpses.[9]

–Third Grammatical Treatise(?)


Moving on, Ingold outline the traits which make the reindeer suitable for domestication. They are, first of all, herd animals, a necessary prerequisite for pastoralism. (Pigs, by contrast, don’t form large herds, preferring to live in groups of <10.) This was not surprisng; the importance of predators in making a species suitable for domestication, however, was:

“The association between a pack of wolves and a reindeer herd on which it preys is a very close one. Packs are known to follow wild herds throughout their nomadic wanderings and seasonal migrations, whilst the deer are so accustomed to the presence of wolves that only those deer in the immediate vicinity of a wolf show any concern for their safety…

“Wolves are able to gorge enormous quantities of meat in a short time, and then to go for two weeks or more without food … This ability overcomes the necessity for meat storage in the face of irregularities in food supply.”

EvX: Ingold notes that wolves generally pose little threat to healthy, full-grown reindeer, but exact significant losses among fawns.

raven-pecks-at-reindeer-carcass-scandinavia-video-id1b08577_0005“Very heavy losses are recorded among reindeer fawns during the first months of life under ‘wild’ conditions. McEwan (1959) estimated that 33.5 per cent of fawns of both sexes died in the first three months among barren-ground caribou, and similar figures (33 to 44 per cent in the first four months) are given by Nowosad (1975) for the introduced reindeer herd of the Mackenzie Delta. Among Labrador caribou, fawn mortality over the first nine months (June to March) was found to be as high as 71 per cent, compared with an annual adult mortality rate of only 6 per cent (Bergerud 1967:635). These figures, although not strictly commensurable, present a striking contrast to the 12 per cent fawn mortality recorded by Skunke (1969) during the first six months under pastoral conditions in Swedish Lapland. It is clear that the surveillance of fawns, to the extent that it confers protection from the principal agents of mortality, represents a critical factor in pastoral herd growth. …

Very young fawns may be taken not only by wolves but also by smaller predators such as fox and wolverine, as well as by birds of prey. They may also succumb to wind chill and other adverse weather conditions encountered whilst on the fawning grounds.”

EvX: Until recently, there was little in animal husbandry which quite compares to agriculture’s direct human involvement in plant reproduction, but both agriculture and pastoralism involve human effort to deter our food’s other natural predators. In agriculture, we protect plants from bunnies, worms, insects, and stampeding herds to increase yields. In pastoralism, we protect animals from death by exposure, starvation, or predation by wolves to increase herds.

(I am reminded here of my grandfather’s dog, a German Shepherd, who killed all of the male coyotes in the area and then mated with the females, resulting in litters of hybrid coydogs.)

Interestingly, Ingold notes that:
“At this stage, losses of male and female fawns are about equal… However, sex ratios in adult herds always favour females by a large margin. The figures tabulated by Kelsall (1968:154) for barren-ground caribou of breeding age show a variation of between thirty-four and sixty-four males per hundred females, despite a roughly equal ratio at birth. …”

EvX: But enough about wolves; what about human hunters? Ingold argues that it would be nigh impossible for even the most nomadic humans to actually keep up, as wolves do, with a herd of reindeer:

caribou_feed_on_lichens_and_moss-_the_bird_is_an_alaskan_raven_-_nara_-_550384“Rather, the strategy is to intercept cohorts of the moving herds at a series of points on their migration orbits. The route connecting these points may cover the same distance as that travelled by the herds, or only a small part of it, but in no case is it identical to the itinerary of any one group of reindeer. Thus, hunters will frequent one location as long as game are present or passing through, building up a store of food if the kill is more than can be immediately consumed, and moving on to another location once supplies are exhausted. The strategy requires that hunters are able to anticipate rather than follow the movements of their prey and that, once located, enough animals can be killed to tide them over until the next encounter. …

“The wolf preying on reindeer has no difficulty in locating its resource, the problem is to isolate vulnerable targets. On the other hand, for human hunters, who are not in continuous
contact with the herd, the problem lies entirely in being in the right place at the right time. Once located, reindeer are remarkably easy to kill, even with primitive equipment … Moreover, the uncertainty of location encourages hunters to kill when they can;…

“In summer and autumn, deer can be hunted with dogs: the dog scents and chases the deer, holding it at bay until the hunter arrives within shooting range. This is perhaps among the most widespread of all human hunting practices, combining the superior strength of dogs as coursers with the ability of men to kill from a distance.”

EvX: The domestication of the dog and its long cooperation with man is a fascinating subject in and of itself. According to Wikipedia:

The closest living relative of the dog is the gray wolf and there is no evidence of any other canine contributing to its genetic lineage.[4][5][33][7] The dog and the extant gray wolf form two sister clades,[7][8][9] with modern wolves not closely related to the wolves that were first domesticated.[8][9] The archaeological record shows the first undisputed dog remains buried beside humans 14,700 years ago,[34] with disputed remains occurring 36,000 years ago.[35] These dates imply that the earliest dogs arose in the time of human hunter-gatherers and not agriculturists.[5][8] The dog was the first domesticated species.[9][10]

Where the genetic divergence of dog and wolf took place remains controversial, with the most plausible proposals spanning Western Europe,[36][5] Central Asia,[36][37] and East Asia.[36][38]


The Newgrange and ancient European dog mDNA sequences could be largely assigned to mDNA haplogroups C and D but modern European dog sequences could be largely assigned to mDNA haplogroups A and B, indicating a turnover of dogs in the past from a place other than Europe. As this split dates older than the Newgrange dog this suggests that the replacement was only partial. The analysis showed that most modern European dogs had undergone a population bottleneck which can be an indicator of travel. The archaeological record shows dog remains dating over 15,000 YBP in Western Eurasia, over 12,500 YBP in Eastern Eurasia, but none older than 8,000 YBP in Central Asia. The study proposed that dogs may have been domesticated separately in both Eastern and Western Eurasia from two genetically distinct and now extinct wolf populations. East Eurasian dogs then made their way with migrating people to Western Europe between 14,000-6,400 YBP where they partially replaced the dogs of Europe.[16]

Indicating that: 1. Humans + their dogs likely wiped out all of the wolves in their area, the same wolves their dogs were descended from, and 2. Modern European dogs are likely descended from dogs who accompanied the original Indo-Europeans, the Yamnaya, when they conquered Europe (also Iran, India, etc.) Continuing:

Ancient DNA supports the hypothesis that dog domestication preceded the emergence of agriculture[2][5] and was initiated close to the Last Glacial Maximum 27,000 YBP when hunter-gatherers preyed on megafauna, and when proto-dogs might have taken advantage of carcasses left on site by early hunters, assisted in the capture of prey, or provided defense from large competing predators at kill-sites.[2] … The earliest sign of domestication in dogs was the neotonization of skull morphology[78][79][80] and the shortening of snout length that results in tooth crowding, reduction in tooth size, and a reduction in the number of teeth,[55][78] which has been attributed to the strong selection for reduced aggression.[78][79]

As the Taimyr wolf had contributed to the genetic makeup of the Arctic breeds, a later study suggested that descendants of the Taimyr wolf survived until dogs were domesticated in Europe and arrived at high latitudes where they mixed with local wolves, and these both contributed to the modern Arctic breeds. Based on the most widely accepted oldest zooarchaeological dog remains, domestic dogs most likely arrived at high latitudes within the last 15,000 years. …

In 2015, a study found that when dogs and their owners interact, extended eye contact (mutual gaze) increases oxytocin levels in both the dog and its owner. As oxytocin is known for its role in maternal bonding, it is considered likely that this effect has supported the coevolution of human-dog bonding.[120]

I recall asking some time ago whether the domestication of animals had influenced the evolution of human empathy. In order to profitably live and work with dogs, did we develop new, inter-species depths to our ability to understand and be moved by the needs of others?

In 2003, a study compared the behavior and ethics of chimpanzees, wolves and humans. Cooperation among humans’ closest genetic relative is limited to occasional hunting episodes or the persecution of a competitor for personal advantage, which had to be tempered if humans were to become domesticated.[75][129] The closest approximation to human morality that can be found in nature is that of the gray wolf, Canis lupus. Wolves are among the most gregarious and cooperative of animals on the planet,[75][76] and their ability to cooperate in well-coordinated drives to hunt prey, carry items too heavy for an individual, provisioning not only their own young but also the other pack members, babysitting etc. are rivaled only by that of human societies.

But what does this tell us about cat people?

Hunting dogs make major contributions to forager societies and the ethnographic record shows them being given proper names, treated as family members, and considered separate to other types of dogs.[135][136] This special treatment includes separate burials with markers and grave-goods,[135][137][138] with those that were exceptional hunters or that were killed on the hunt often venerated.[135][139] A dog’s value as a hunting partner gives them status as a living weapon and the most skilled elevated to taking on a “personhood”, with their social position in life and in death similar to that of the skilled hunters.[135][140]

Intentional dog burials together with ungulate hunting is also found in other early Holocene deciduous forest forager societies in Europe[141] and North America,[142][143] indicating that across the Holarctic temperate zone hunting dogs were a widespread adaptation to forest ungulate hunting.[135]

While browsing Wikipedia pages about dogs, I happened across this strange gem of human behavior:

In ecology, the term pariah dog refers to free-ranging dogs that occupy an ecological niche based on waste from human settlements. … All authentic strains of pariah dogs are at risk of losing their genetic uniqueness by interbreeding with purebred and mixed-breed strays. To prevent this from happening, some strains of pariah dogs are becoming formally recognized, registered, and pedigreed as breeds in order to preserve the pure type.

Eskimo (Inuit) girl with her dog --
Eskimo (Inuit) girl with her dog

Sure, they’re feral dogs who eat trash, but their bloodlines mustn’t be sullied by mixing with common strays!

Throughout the world, wherever there are men there are dogs: the Arctic-dwelling Eskimo have dogs; Native Americans have dogs; Aborigines have dogs (even though the dogs arrived in Australia after the Aborigines;) the Basenji hails from the Congo rainforest; etc. The only major group I know of that isn’t keen on dogs is Muslims. (Though Muslims probably have mixed attitudes on the matter. After all, Verse 5:4 of the Quran says “Lawful for you are all good things, and [the prey] that trained [hunting] dogs and falcons catch for you.”)

But enough about dogs. Let’s get back to Ingold:

“Upper Palaeolithic men, exploiting herds of gregarious big game principally by battue methods, had little use for hunting dogs, whilst packs of wild dogs could scavenge the waste discarded on the sites of human kills without having to enter occupied camps. … In Europe, on the other hand, the advantages for both species of close partnership gave rise to a process of unconscious selection on the part of man in favour of those qualities enhancing the efficiency of dogs as hunting aids. This contrast could account for the fact that in the tundra and taiga regions of the Old World, hunting dogs are found only in Europe and Siberia west of the Yenisey—Khatanga divide. However, as Meggitt (1965) has shown in the case of the relation between Australian aborigines and dingoes, co-hunting does not necessarily give rise to domestication in the sense of either taming or breeding. Human hunters may equally well follow behind wild packs on their predatory forays; and dogs, as habitual scavengers, derive a concomitant return through their interaction with man.”

EvX: As a bit of an aside, Ingold notes the effects of modern technology on ancient ways:

“The introduction of the gun throughout the circumboreal region has greatly modified the balance of traditional hunting practices by encouraging solitary stalking and coursing techniques at the expense of trapping and collective ambush drives. Possession of a rifle so increases the penetrating power of the individual hunter as to enable him to obtain all the meat he needs without recourse to co-operation beyond the dyadic partnership. Moreover, the consequent dependence on external traders for firearms and ammunition tends to disrupt traditional sharing relations, so that hunting on one’s own is made not only possible but desirable.”

EvX: But back to the Deer. Ingold enumerates the variety of uses circumpolar people have fo reindeer and the difficulties with obtain sufficient fat (humans can’t eat more than about 40 or 50% of their diets as protein without going into starvation mode, and dead deer can only be preserved effectively in the winter months, so lean deer killed in the summer are not consumed very efficiently.) He then compares the nature of hunting in different climes:

“In a number of respects, hunters of the arctic and subarctic are in a very different position from their counterparts in warmer climatic zones. It is now recognized that most so-called hunting peoples derive the bulk of their subsistence from gathering, horticulture or fishing, whereas game provides only a protein supplement to the diet (Lee 1968). Consequently, hunting activity tends to be sporadic, undertaken in response more to whim than to pressing need. Once a hunter has decided to embark in search of game, he may take the first animal of whatever favoured species that comes his way (e.g. Woodburn 1968:53). No attempt is made to kill more animals than can immediately be shared and consumed in camp; meat is wasted only if the victim is too large to be consumed at once. …

“Starvation appears to be all but unknown to such people, whilst the birth-spacing requirement imposed on women by the burdens of gathering and the necessarily long period of lactation renders the growth of population almost imperceptible … Taking into account the great diversity of prey species available to human hunters in tropical biotic communities, as well as the variety of non-human predators competing for the same resources, it follows that the impact of human predation on any one species of prey must be extremely small, and that it could not possibly operate in a density-dependent way. …

1024px-archangel_reindeer3“Consider now the reindeer hunter. He is primarily dependent on a single game species: hunting is for survival. It provides not a supplement but a mainstay to his diet, as well as materials for his clothing and shelter. For this reason, as we have seen, he must slaughter more animals than he can possibly consume in their entirety. Storage over the winter months is not only possible but vitally necessary. Food may be there in nature, but certainly not spread all around. On the contrary, it is both concentrated and highly mobile; whilst abundant in one locale, it may be completely absent from another. …

“The Nganasan, for example, obtain virtually a whole year’s supplies from only four months of hunting…

“If the herds change their accustomed routes, as they frequently do, and if the hunters
fail to locate them, people may starve. …

“It follows that even if we assume a constant human population, the size of the kill will fluctuate in relation to prey abundance. …

“On the basis of repeated reports of starvation among Eskimo and Naskapi reindeer hunters in the Ungava region of Labrador, Elton inferred that the human and reindeer populations must have been subject to linked oscillations of the Lotka—Volterra type: For hundreds of years the Indian population must have starved at intervals, giving the deer opportunities to increase, then killing deer heavily until another failure to cross their erratic tracks caused more Indians to starve . . . We see here the Indian population suffering a slow cycle, lasting over a generation, in much the same fashion as the shorter cycles of the wolf, lynx, fox and marten. It is to be supposed that such cycles among the caribou hunters had from the earliest times helped the elasticity of the hard-pressed herds.”

reindeer being milked
reindeer being milked

EvX: The differences in tropical vs. arctic hunting may help explain why megafauna such as elephants and giraffes have survived in Africa and virtually nowhere else.

Ingold then goes into detail about different reindeer hunting methods, such as setting up “fences” made of flapping cloth that “funnel” the reindeer into a pen and then killing them. It seems to me only a short step from here to deciding, “wait a minute, we can’t freeze these carcases today because it’s too warm out, but if we just kill a couple of deer now and keep the rest in the pen for a few weeks, it’ll get cold and then we can kill them,” and thence to, “Hey, what if we just keep them in the pen all the time and only kill one when we need to?”


“At first glance, the wolf and the pastoralist might be seen to have much in common (Zeuner 1963:47, 124). Both follow particular bands of reindeer, more or less continuously. Both slaughter for immediate needs, keeping their stores of meat ‘on the hoof. Both are selective in their exploitation of the herds. …

“A herd-following adaptation may be a necessary condition of pastoralism, but it is certainly not a sufficient one. There are three critical differences between the exploitation of herds by wolves and by human pastoralists. Firstly, pastoralists protect their herds against wolves, whereas wolves never offer protection against man. Secondly, pastoralists select intentionally, whereas selection by wolves is unintentional. Thirdly, the impact of pastoral selection on different age and sex classes in the herds is quite different from that of wolf predation. …

“The selection strategy of wolves … tends to maximize the sustained yield of meat from the herd. This is achieved primarily through the slaughter of a large proportion of the annual crop of fawns … Pastoralists, on the other hand, are reluctant to slaughter fawns, though some may have to be killed for their skins. Otherwise, the rule is to castrate males surplus to reproductive requirements, allowing them to survive well into maturity; and not to slaughter females at all unless or until they have become barren. This is a strategy for maximizing not the productivity but the numerical size of a herd, or the ‘standing crop’ of reindeer. It cannot be accounted for on the basis of human demographic pressure, since the yield is no greater than that which would be obtained by a random pattern of exploitation.”

EvX: So here is Ingold’s Marxism bleeding through. He wants to prove that pastoralism supports no more people than hunting, because reindeer function like currency for pastoralists, and so they become obsessive reindeer hoarders, preferring to grow their herds rather than produce more children.

He doesn’t cite any anthroplogical/ethnographic evidence on this count, though, and I am, frankly, skeptical. I recall, for example, a study of a spontaneous economy that sprang up in a POW camp in which inmates used cigarettes as currency which they used to trade for food, and the authors noted in passing that the camp’s smokers were thinner than everyone else because they were trading away their food to get currency just to smoke. Just because something is valuable doesn’t mean you won’t consume it. Ingold wants to prove that the preference for hunting or pastoralism stems from cultural factors–do people want to be pastoralists?–and not from one or the other offering biological, Darwinian advantages in the form of producing more children, as this would support the idea of Social Darwinism, which of course is evil Nazi heresy.

But this theory is dependent on the idea that, in fact, pastoralists and hunters have the exact same number of children–which I am not convinced of.

But let’s let Ingold have the last word (for today):

“To sum up: comparing the ecological relations of hunting and pastoralism, we find the latter to be chronically unstable, and unable to support a human population any higher than the former. Indeed, human population density under pastoralism may be lower than that which could be sustained by a hunting economy. It is for this reason that the pastoral association between men and herds is unique, having no parallels amongst other vertebrates. There is no selective mechanism on the Darwinian model that could account for a predator’s stimulating the increase of its prey at the expense of its own numbers. …

“From this contrast, I deduce the ecological preconditions of pastoralism: the herds must be followed, protected against predators and exploited selectively. Comparing the pastoralist and the wolf as exploiters of reindeer, I conclude that pastoralism cannot be regarded as an ‘intensification’ of hunting, and that the transformation from hunting to pastoralism marks a step towards overall ecological instability whose rationale must be sought on the level of social relations of production.”

Anthropology Friday Preview: Reindeer Herders

david-gives-praise-to-god-after-killing-a-lion-to-save-a-lambThe Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters. …
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

About a month ago, one of you requested information on pastoralist/herding societies: What’s their deal? How do they fit into the broader picture of human economic strategies?

Map of old-world pastoralists
Map of old-world pastoralists

To be honest, I’ve never read much about pastoralist societies (outside the Bible.) The one thing I know off-hand is that the vegetarian claim that we would all have more food to eat if we stopped raising animals (roughly speaking, it takes about 10 pounds of plants to produce one pound of meat, give or take a few pounds depending on species,) is flawed due to the fact that livestock often eats plant matter that humans can’t digest (eg, cornstalks) or is pastured on marginal land that can’t be efficiently farmed. (Too dry, rocky, or cold.)

According to Wikipedia:

Pastoralists produce food in the world’s harshest environments, and pastoral production supports the livelihoods of rural populations on almost half of the world’s land. Several hundred million people are pastoralists, mostly in Africa and Asia. Pastoralists manage rangelands covering about a third of the Earth’s terrestrial surface and are able to produce food where crop production is not possible.

Most farms that I am familiar with have at least some animals. If raising animals were a net-calorie loss for humans, I’d expect farmers who don’t raise animals to be more successful than those who do, making the existence of cows and chickens difficult to explain.

Young goatherd, Burkina Faso
Young goatherd, Burkina Faso

Pastoralists raise a variety of animals, commonly llamas, goats, sheep, cattle, yaks, reindeer, and camels. Humanity’s oldest domesticated animal is probably the dog, whose ancestors joined us on the hunt about 15,000 years ago (more on this in a bit.) Our second oldest is the goat, which we realized about 12,000 years ago was easier to keep nearby than to hunt one down every time we wanted a meal.

2,000 years after we mastered the art of taming goats, we decided to tackle a much larger beast: the wild auroch, ancestor of the modern cow. And around 7,000 to 5,500 years ago, someone said to themselves, “Hey, what if we sat on these things?” and we got the donkey, camel, and horse. The reindeer joined us around 5,000 years ago, and the llama joined us abound 4,500 years ago. (All of this according to Wikipedia.)

A special BSF Camel contingent, Republic Day Parade in India.
A special BSF Camel contingent, Republic Day Parade in India.

(Humans have domesticated other animals, like pigs and chickens, but these species’ behavior doesn’t lend them to pastoralism.)

Just as agriculture has developed independently in different human societies, pastoralism probably has, too–the reindeer herders of Siberia probably didn’t pick up the idea from Middle Eastern goatherds, after all. From what I’ve read so far, it looks like we can divide pastoralists into four main groups:


Quechua girl with ther llama, Cuzco, Peru
Quechua girl with her llama, Cuzco, Peru

Desert fringe nomads like the Tuareg and Masai, who raise drought-tolerant animals in dry scrublands;

Open steppe nomads like the Mongols or American cowboys, who follow their herds across vast inland oceans of grass;

Arctic circle nomads like the Sami or the Nenets, who depend almost entirely on reindeer for their livelihoods; and

Mountain pastoralists like the Swiss and Quechua of Peru, who raise fluffy, shearable sheep and llamas.

Going back to Wikipedia:

Pastoralists are among the most flexible populations. … The products of the herd animals are the most important resources, although the use of other resources, including domesticated and wild plants, hunted animals, and goods accessible in a market economy are not excluded. …

Longhorn cattle drive, San Antonio, Texas
Longhorn cattle drive, San Antonio, Texas

In East Africa, different animals are taken to specific regions throughout the year that correspond to the seasonal patterns of precipitation.[12] Transhumance is the seasonal migration of livestock and pastoralists between higher and lower pastures.

Some pastoralists are constantly moving, which may put them at odds with sedentary people of towns and cities. The resulting conflicts can result in war for disputed lands. These disputes are recorded in ancient times in the Middle East. Other pastoralists are able to remain in the same location which results in longer-standing housing. …

Somali pastoralists keep their animals in one of the harshest environments but they have evolved of the centuries. Somalis have well developed pastoral culture where complete system of life and governance has been refined. …

reindeer being milked
reindeer being milked

On the assumption that pastoralist societies could work differently depending on the environment and/or animals involved, I have been trying to track down good works on a variety of different groups. (This is tricky, since I don’t already know much about nomadic societies nor what the best anthropology works on the subject are.) So for our first book, I’ll be reviewing Tim Ingold’s Hunters Pastoralists and Ranchers [PDF]: Reindeer Economies and their transformations, published in 1980.

From the blurb:

Throughout the northern circumpolar tundras and forests, and over many millennia, human populations have based their livelihood wholly or in part upon the exploitation of a single animal species–the reindeer. Yet some are hunters, others pastoralists, while today traditional pastoral economies are being replaced by a commercially oriented ranch industry. In this book, drawing on ethnographic material from North America and Eurasia, Tim Ingold explains the causes and mechanisms of transformations between hunting, pastoralism and ranching, each based on the same animal in the same environment, and each viewed in terms of a particular conjunction of social and ecological relations of production. In developing a workable synthesis between ecological and economic approaches in anthropology, Ingold introduces theoretically rigorous concepts for the analysis of specialized animal-based economies, which cast the problem of ‘domestication’ in an entirely new light.

On the subject of domesticated reindeer, Wikipedia notes:

DNA analysis indicates that reindeer were independently domesticated in Fennoscandia and Western Russia (and possibly Eastern Russia).[109] … They are raised for their meat, hides, and antlers and, to a lesser extent, for milk and transportation. Reindeer are not considered fully domesticated, as they generally roam free on pasture grounds. In traditional nomadic herding, reindeer herders migrate with their herds between coast and inland areas according to an annual migration route and herds are keenly tended.

The use of reindeer for transportation is common among the nomadic peoples of northern Russia (but not in Scandinavia). Although a sled drawn by 20 reindeer will cover no more than 20–25 km a day (compared to 7–10 km on foot, 70–80 km by a dog sled loaded with cargo, and 150–180 km by a dog sled without cargo), it has the advantage that the reindeer will discover their own food, while a pack of 5–7 sled dogs requires 10–14 kg of fresh fish a day.[110]

06092f51e84e082856bb25c299918ee2The Dukha people of northern Mongolia/southern Siberia also raise reindeer:

“They’re certainly a dying culture,” says Harvard-trained anthropologist Hamid Sardar-Afkhami.
Sardar, who spent years living with the Dukha and documenting their way of life, believes there were once around 200 families living in this remote part of Mongolia.
Nowadays, he thinks there are probably only 40 families left with about 1,000 reindeer.
“The number of families has fallen because a lot of them have been synthesized with the mainstream community,” he says. “Many of them have moved to the towns and even to the capital cities.”
The biggest threat in Sardar-Afkhami’s view is the defection from the younger Dukha generation, who don’t want to live in the harsh conditions in the taiga (or “snow forest”).
“They want to go down and stay in warm cabins in the winter, maybe buy a car and drive,” he says.

We’ll start with Reindeer Economies this Friday!

Anthropology Friday: Slavery Narratives (pt 4/4)

Alexandre Dumas, son of former slave Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, general in the French army
Alexandre Dumas, son of former slave Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, general in the French army

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’re finishing Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States. (available on Amazon.) These stories were gathered in the 1930s as part of a Federally-funded program to get people working and preserve first-hand accounts of the history of the United States before everyone involved passed away.

When I start an anthropology text, I don’t know if I’m really going to enjoy it. Some texts are informative but dull, and many are both dull and uninformative. These personal narratives might not count as “anthropology” in the formal, polished sense–most of the interviewers probably had little to no formal “anthropology” training, and did very little to analyze or comment on the material they gathered.

Despite the obvious shortcomings of their methodology (interviewees sometimes seem to be inventing or exaggerating stories for the sake of the white interviewer,) and many short interviews with people who had little to say, the interviews still constitute nearly 10,000 pages of genuine first-hand accounts of slavery, the Civil War, and the late 1800s in the US South.

As someone who grew up in the South, much of this dovetails with my own cultural knowledge/memories. The tradition of eating black eyed peas for luck on New Years’ was at least mentioned, if not exactly observed (my grandmother probably still eats them.) For that matter, when my grandparents (who are still alive, if quite elderly) were young, back in the 30s, they heard first-hand accounts about the Civil War from their elderly relatives (long story short: Union troops burned down the farm.)

While every story is unique, they have certain commonalities, and many–especially the ones about the Yankees–are similar to the ones passed down in my own family.

Anyway, let’s begin.

“Aunt” Millie Bates: The Ghosts of War

“Was not long after dat fore de spooks wuz a gwine round ebber whar. When you would go out atter dark, somethin’ would start to a haintin’ ye. You would git so scairt dat you would mighty ni run every time you went out atter dark; even iffin you didn’t see nothin’. Chile, don’t axe me what I seed. Atter all dat killin’ and a burnin’ you know you wuz bliged to see things wid all dem spirits in distress a gwine all over de land. You see, it is like dis, when a man gits killed befo he is done what de good Lawd intended fer him to do, he comes back here and tries to find who done him wrong. I mean he don’ come back hisself, but de spirit, it is what comes and wanders around. Course, it can’t do nothin’, so it jus scares folks and haints dem.”

Maggie Black, 79 years old: Children’s Nurse, Games, and School

“Gawd been good to me, honey. I been heah uh long ole time en I can’ see mucha dese days, but I gettin’ ‘long sorta so-so. I wuz train up to be uh nu’se ‘oman en I betcha I got chillun more den any 60 year ole ’bout heah now dat I nu’se when dey wuz fust come heah. No, honey, ain’ got no chillun uv me own. Aw my chillun white lak yuh.”

EvX: As far as I know, the tradition of hiring black women to care for white children has disappeared from the South, (modern children are sent to daycares where they are raised by Hispanic women,) but memories of the system linger. Considering the South’s rather strict racial hierarchy, this was a kind of curious inversion. In practice, I wonder how it affected social relations. But continuing on:

“No, no’mam, dey wear long ole frock den en uh girl comin’ on dere when dey ge’ to be any kind uv uh girl, dey put dat frock down. Oh, my child, dey can’ ge’ em short ‘nough dese days. Ain’ hab nuthin but uh string on dese day en time. Dey use’er wear dem big ole hoop skirt dat sit out broad lak from de ankle en den dey wear little panty dat show down twixt dey skirt en dey ankle. Jes tie em ’round dey knees wid some sorta string en le’ em show dat way ’bout dey ankle. I ‘member we black chillun’ud go in de woods en ge’ wild grape vine en bend em round en put em under us skirt en make it stand out big lak. Hadder hab uh big ole ring fa de bottom uv de skirt en den one uh little bit smaller eve’y time dey ge’ closer to de waist. Ne’er hab none tall in de waist cause dat wuz s’ppose to be little bitty t’ing.” …

Cabin School
Cabin School with African American students

“A’ter freedom ‘clare, uh lady from de north come dere en Miss Leggett send we chillun to school to dat lady up on de hill dere in de woods. No, honey, yah ain’ ne’er see no bresh tent ’bout heah dis day en time. Dis jes de way it waz make. Dey dig four big holes en put postes in aw four corner ’bout lak uh room. Den dey lay log ‘cross de top uv dat en kiver it aw o’er wid bresh (brush) dat dey break outer de woods. Ne’er hab none uv de side shet up. En dey haul log dere en roll em under dat bresh tent fa we chillun to set on. Oh, de teacher’ud hab uh big box fa her stand jes lak uh preacher. Eve’ybody dat go to school dere hab one uv dem t’ing call slate dat yah ne’er hadder do nuthin but jes wash it offen. En dey hab dese ole l’arnin’ book wha’ yuh call Websters.” …

“Oh, gourds waz de t’ing in dem days. Dey waz wha’ de peoples hab to drink outer en wash dey hominy en rice in aw de time. Dey was de bestest kind uv bowl fa we chillun to eat corn bread en clabber outer. Peoples dis day en time don’ hab no sech crockery lak de people use’er hab. Honey, day hab de prettiest little clay bowls den.”

Samuel Boulware, 82 years old: Food, Slavery, and Poor Whites

“Us had plenty to eat in slavery time. It wasn’t de best but it filled us up and give us strength ‘nough to work. Marster would buy a years rations on de first of every year and when he git it, he would have some cooked and would set down and eat a meal of it. He would tell us it didn’t hurt him, so it won’t hurt us. Dats de kind of food us slaves had to eat all de year. Of course, us got a heap of vegetables and fruits in de summer season, but sich as dat didn’t do to work on, in de long summer days.”

EvX: Oh God, a year’s worth of rations purchased all at once. That sounds pretty unappetizing.

It appears that one of the questions on the questionnaire the interviewers used was about food, so there are a lot of responses on the subject. The vast majority of responses state that food in slavery times was simple but abundant. By contrast, post-slavery, many people experienced a great deal of hunger (especially since the war disrupted agriculture and the Yankees burned down a lot of food.) But continuing on:

“Marster had over twenty grown slaves all de time. He bought and sold them whenever he wanted to. It was sad times to see mother and chillun separated. I’s seen de slave speculator cut de little nigger chillun with keen leather whips, ’cause they’d cry and run after de wagon dat was takin’ their mammies away after they was sold.

“De overseer was poor white folks, if dats what you is askin’ ’bout, and dat is one thing dat made him so hard on de slaves of de plantation. All de overseers I knowed ’bout was poor white folks; they was white folks in de neighborhood dat wasn’t able to own slaves. All dis class of people was called by us niggers, poor white folks. …

“Most them there patrollers was poor white folks, I believes. Rich folks stay in their house at night, ‘less they has some sort of big frolic amongst theirselves. Poor white folks had to hustle ’round to make a living, so, they hired out theirselves to slave owners and rode de roads at night and whipped niggers if they ketched any off their plantation widout a pass.

EvX: Several interviewees mentioned that overseers/patrollers/KKK members were drawn largely from the class of “poor whites”–an ethnically distinct group of whites drawn from a combination of the English lower classes, “Scotch-Irish,” and probably some regular Irish.

Andy Brice, 81 years old: Fiddlin’ Fiddler and the Election of 1878:

“Howdy Cap’n! I come to Winnsboro dis mornin’ from way ‘cross Wateree, where I live now ‘mongst de bull-frogs and skeeters. Seem lak they just sing de whole night thru: ‘De bull-frog on de bank, and de skeeter in de pool.’ Then de skeeter sail ’round my face wid de tra la, la la la, la la la part of dat old song you is heard, maybe many times. …

“One day I see Marse Thomas a twistin’ de ears on a fiddle and rosinin’ de bow. Then he pull dat bow ‘cross de belly of dat fiddle. Sumpin’ bust loose in me and sing all thru my head and tingle in my fingers. I make up my mind, right then and dere, to save and buy me a fiddle. I got one dat Christmas, bless God! I learn and been playin’ de fiddle ever since. I pat one foot while I playin’. I kept on playin’ and pattin’ dat foot for thirty years. I lose dat foot in a smash up wid a highway accident but I play de old tunes on dat fiddle at night, dat foot seem to be dere at de end of dat leg (indicating) and pats just de same. Sometime I ketch myself lookin’ down to see if it have come back and jined itself up to dat leg, from de very charm of de music I makin’ wid de fiddle and de bow. …

“They say behind my back, in ’76, dat I’s a white folks nigger. I wear a red shirt then, drink red liquor, play de fiddle at de ‘lection box, and vote de white folks ticket. …

“I ‘members very little ’bout de war, tho’ I was a good size boy when de Yankees come. By instint, a nigger can make up his mind pretty quick ’bout de creed of white folks, whether they am buckra or whether they am not. Every Yankee I see had de stamp of poor white trash on them. They strutted ’round, big Ike fashion, a bustin’ in rooms widout knockin’, talkin’ free to de white ladies, and familiar to de slave gals, ransackin’ drawers, and runnin’ deir bayonets into feather beds, and into de flower beds in de yards. …

“Ellen and me have one child, Sallie Ann. Ellen ‘joy herself; have a good time nussin’ white folks chillun. Nussed you; she tell me ’bout it many time. ‘Spect she mind you of it very often. I knows you couldn’t git ’round dat woman; nobody could. …

“You wants me to tell ’bout dat ‘lection day at Woodward, in 1878? You wants to know de beginnin’ and de end of it? Yes? Well, you couldn’t wet dis old man’s whistle wid a swallow of red liquor now? Couldn’t you or could you? Dis was de way of it: It was set for Tuesday. Monday I drive de four-hoss wagon down to dis very town. Marse John McCrory and Marse Ed Woodward come wid me. They was in a buggy. When us got here, us got twenty, sixteen shooters and put them under de hay us have in de wagon. Bar rooms was here. I had fetched my fiddle ‘long and played in Marse Fred Habernick’s bar ’til dinner time. Us leave town ’bout four o’clock. Roads was bad but us got home ’bout dark. Us put de guns in Marse Andy Mobley’s store. Marse Ed and me leave Marse John to sleep in de store and to take care of de guns.

“De nex’ mornin’, polls open in de little school house by de brick church. I was dere on time, help to fix de table by de window and set de ballot boxes on it. Voters could come to de window, put deir arms thru and tuck de vote in a slit in de boxes. Dere was two supervisors, Marse Thomas for de Democrats and Uncle Jordan for de Radicals. Marse Thomas had a book and a pencil, Uncle Jordan had de same.

“Joe Foster, big buckra nigger, want to vote a stranger. Marse Thomas challenge dis vote. In them times colored preachers so ‘furiate de women, dat they would put on breeches and vote de ‘Publican radical ticket. De stranger look lak a woman. Joe Foster ‘spute Marse Thomas’ word and Marse Thomas knock him down wid de naked fist. Marse Irish Billy Brice, when him see four or five hindred blacks crowdin’ ’round Marse Thomas, he jump thru de window from de inside. When he lit on de ground, pistol went off pow! One nigger drop in his tracks. Sixteen men come from nowhere and sixteen, sixteen shooters. Marse Thomas hold up his hand to them and say: ‘Wait!’ Him point to de niggers and say: ‘Git.’ They start to runnin’ ‘cross de railroad, over de hillside and never quit runnin’ ’til they git half a mile away. De only niggers left on dat ground was me, old Uncle Kantz, (you know de old mulatto, club-foot nigger) well, me and him and Albert Gladney, de hurt nigger dat was shot thru de neck was de only niggers left. Dr. Tom Douglas took de ball out Albert’s neck and de white folks put him in a wagon and sent him home. I drive de wagon.

When I got back, de white boys was in de graveyard gittin’ names off de tombstones to fill out de talley sheets, dere was so many votes in de box for de Hampton ticket, they had to vote de dead. I ‘spect dat was one resurrection day all over South Carolina.”

EvX: I believe this was the 1878 Gubernatorial election. Wikipedia says:

The 1878 South Carolina gubernatorial election was held on November 5, 1878 to select the governor of the state of South Carolina. Wade Hampton III was renominated by the Democrats and ran against no organized opposition in the general election to win reelection for a second two-year term. …

Upon becoming Governor after a prolonged struggle against Daniel Henry Chamberlain in the gubernatorial election of 1876, Wade Hampton adopted moderate racial policies and favored many Republican proposals. For instance, the state modified the agriculture lien law and passed a law giving counties the ability to mandate the fencing of livestock. Hampton also appointed many blacks to government positions and provided for more funds to be spent educating black children than white children. …

Throughout Hampton’s first term in office, he appealed for political harmony between the races. Hampton carried out his pledge to ensure equal rights between the races and he appointed more black men to office than Chamberlain had during his term as governor.[5] The more militant faction of the Democratic Party, led by Martin Gary, was entirely against any cooperation with blacks and instead sought to remove blacks completely from political life. The Edgefield County Democrats would not acknowledge any black Democratic clubs and they prevented blacks from participating in the primary elections. Hampton publicly refuted this policy and no other county followed suit.[4] Nevertheless, new laws were enacted by the General Assembly in 1877 to make it harder for blacks to participate and vote in the electoral process.

Hampton took every county in South Carolina, winning by an absurd 119,550 to 213 votes, or 99.8%.

Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee
Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee

George Briggs, 88: The Healing Preacher

“I is gwine over to Tosch to see Maria. Everybody know Maria. She go by Rice–Maria Rice. She sont fer me to cure her misery. First, I went from my home in lower Cross Keys, across de Enoree, to see Maria. When I reached dar whar she stay, dey tell me dat her daughter over to Tosch. Done come and got her.

“A kind friend dat de Lawd put in my path fetched me back across de Enoree and over to Tosch to Maria’s gal’s house. I is gwine straight over dar and lay my hand on Maria and rid her of dat misery dat she sont word was ailing her all dis spring. Don’t make no diff’uns whar you hurts–woman, man or suckling babe–if you believes in de holler of my hand, it’ll ease you, allus do it. De Bible say so, dat’s why it be true. Ain’t gwine to tell you nothing but de truth and de whole truth, so help me Jesus. Gone 65 years, I is been born agin dat long; right over in Padgett’s Creek church, de white folks’ church, dat’s what de Lawd tuck my sins away and washed me clean agin wid His blood. Dat’s why I allus sticks to de truth, I does. …

“Sho I can remember when dey had de mustering grounds at de Keys. Dar day mustered and den dey turn’t in and practiced drilling dem soldiers till dey larn’t how to march and to shoot de Yankees. Drilling, dat’s de proper word, not practice, I knows, if I ain’t ed’icated. Dey signed me to go to de 16th regiment, but I never reached de North. When us got to Charleston, us turn’t around and de bosses fetched us right back to Union through Columbia. Us heard dat Sherman was coming, fetching fire along ‘hind him. …

“I can histronize de poor white folks’ wives and chilluns enduring de time of de Civil War fer you. When dese poor white men went to de war, dey left deir little chillun and deir wives in de hands of de darkies dat was kind and de rich wives of our marsters to care fer. Us took de best care of dem poor white dat us could under de circumstances dat prevailed.

“We was sont to Sullivan’s Island, but befo’ we reached it, de Yankees done got it and we won’t ‘lowed to cross in ’64. But jes’ de same, we was in service till dey give Capt. Franklin Bailey ‘mission to fetch us home. Dar we had to git ‘mission fer everything, jes’ as us niggers had to git ‘mission to leave our marster’s place at home in Union County. Capt. Bailey come on back to Cross Keys wid us under his protection, and we was under it fer de longest time atter we done got home. …

“I see a man in de courthouse dis morning, and he was like Nicodemus. Why dat man want to be resto’d back like he was when he was jest 21 years old. I seed him setting down dar in Mr. Perrin’s office, and I knowed his troubles when he ‘low dat he done been to every doctor in town. De trouble was, he never had no faith in de doctors and nobody else. How could he have faith in Jesus when he never had none in nothing else? Brother, you has to have faith in your fellowman befo’ you has faith in de Lawd. I don’t know how come, but dat’s de way it is. My plan is working by faith. Jesus say, ‘Work widout faith ain’t nothing; but work wid faith’ll move mountains’…

“Dey looks at de back of my head, and de hair on it ain’t rubbed against no college and fer dat reason dese young negroes don’t want me to preach. Dey wants to hear dat man preach dat can read. Man dat can read can’t understand less’n some divine man guide him. I speak as my Teacher gives it to me, dat’s de Lawd. In so doing, I testify de word dat no man can condemn. Dat is my plan of Salvation: to work by faith widout price or purse, as de Lawd, my Teacher has taught me.”

aa_9993John Brown, 86 years old: Mixing

“My father was a ginger-bread colored man, not a full-blooded nigger. Dat’s how I is altogether yallow. See dat lady over dere in dat chair? Dat’s my wife. Her brighter skinned than I is. How come dat? Her daddy was a full-blooded Irishman. He come over here from Ireland and was overseer for Marse Bob Clowney. He took a fancy for Adeline’s mammy, a bright ‘latto gal slave on de place. White women in them days looked down on overseers as poor white trash. Him couldn’t git a white wife but made de best of it by puttin’ in his spare time a honeyin’ ’round Adeline’s mammy. Marse Bob stuck to him, and never ‘jected to it.



Sylvia Cannon, 85: A different Perspective

“Times was sho better long time ago den dey be now. I know it. Yes, mam, I here frettin myself to death after dem dat gone. Colored people never had no debt to pay in slavery time. Never hear tell bout no colored people been put in jail fore freedom. Had more to eat en more to wear den en had good clothes all de time cause white folks furnish everything, everything. Dat is, had plenty to eat such as we had. Had plenty peas en rice en hog meat en rabbit en’ fish en such as dat. Colored people sho fare better in slavery time be dat de white folks had to look out for dem. Had dey extra crop what dey had time off to work every Saturday. White folks tell dem what dey made, dey could have. Peoples would have found we colored people rich wid de money we made on de extra crop, if de slaves hadn’ never been set free. Us had big rolls of money en den when de Yankees come en change de money, dat what made us poor. It let de white people down en let us down too. Left us all to bout starve to death. Been force to go to de fish pond en de huckleberry patch. Land went down to $1.00 a acre. White people let us clear up new land en make us own money dat way. We bury it in de ground en dat how-come I had money. I dig mine up one day en had over $1500.00 dat I been save. Heap of peoples money down dere yet en dey don’ know whe’ to find it.”

EvX: Many slaves had cruel masters whom they disliked and left as quickly as possible. But many slaves also suffered–and died–of hunger, sickness, and exposure after the war. “We would have been rich if not for the war” sounds like wishful thinking, but Mrs. Cannon may have actually lost the money she’d been carefully saving up before the war.

Charlie Davis, 79 years old: Patrollers and Marriage

“De patrollers was nothin’ but poor white trash, mammy say, and if they didn’t whip some slaves, every now and then, they would lose deir jobs. My mammy and daddy got married after freedom, ’cause they didn’t git de time for a weddin’ befo’. They called deirselves man and wife a long time befo’ they was really married, and dat is de reason dat I’s as old as I is now. I reckon they was right, in de fust place, ’cause they never did want nobody else ‘cept each other, nohow. Here I is, I has been married one time and at no time has I ever seen another woman I wanted. My wife has been dead a long time and I is still livin’ alone.”

EvX: I haven’t been keeping track of how many people married vs. never married, but my general impression is that most people interviewed did marry and never parted from their spouse except in death. This is quite different from our modern situation, in which a rather large percentage of the black community never marries and instead carries on relationships with a number of other people. One theory holds that the modern Welfare State has disincentivised marriage by giving more money to unmarried women with children than to married women with children; another holds that high density–and ghettos and housing projects are definitely dense–interferes with our ability to form lasting pair bonds.

Well, that’s the end. I hope you enjoyed these as much as I did.

Anthropology Friday: The Slave Narrative Collection (pt 3/4)

Slaves (and others) on J. J. Smith's cotton plantation near Beaufort, South Carolina, photographed by Timothy O'Sullivan standing before their quarters in 1862
Slaves (and others) on J. J. Smith’s cotton plantation near Beaufort, South Carolina, photographed by Timothy O’Sullivan standing before their quarters in 1862

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we are continuing with Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States. (available on Amazon.) These stories were gathered in the 1930s as part of a Federally-funded program to get people working and preserve first-hand accounts of the history of the United States before everyone involved passed away.

William Ballard, 88, lived on a very extensive plantation:

“We was allowed three pounds o’ meat, one quart o’ molasses, grits and other things each week–plenty for us to eat.

“When freedom come, he told us we was free, and if we wanted to stay on with him, he would do the best he could for us. Most of us stayed, and after a few months, he paid wages. After eight months, some went to other places to work. …

“The master always had a very big garden with plenty of vegetables. He had fifty hogs, and I helped mind the hogs. He didn’t raise much cotton, but raised lots of wheat and corn. He made his own meal and flour from the mill on the creek; made home-made clothes with cards and spinning wheels. …

“The master had his own tanyard and tanned his leather and made shoes for his hands. … We had old brick ovens, lots of ’em. Some was used to make molasses from our own sugar cane we raised.

“The master had a ‘sick-house’ where he took sick slaves for treatment, and kept a drug store there. They didn’t use old-time cures much, like herbs and barks, except sassafras root tea for the blood. …

“My father run the blacksmith shop for the master on the place. I worked around the place. The patrollers were there and we had to have a pass to get out any. The nigger children sometimes played out in the road and were chased by patrollers. The children would run into the master’s place and the patrollers couldn’t get them ’cause the master wouldn’t let them. We had no churches for slaves, but went to the white church and set in the gallery. After freedom, niggers built ‘brush harbors’ on the place. …

Slaves on a South Carolina plantation (The Old Plantation, c. 1790)
Slaves on a South Carolina plantation (The Old Plantation, c. 1790)

“Some games children played was, hiding switches, marbles, and maybe others. Later on, some of de nigger boys started playing cards and got to gambling; some went to de woods to gamble.

“The old cotton gins on de farms were made of wooden screws, and it took all day to gin four bales o’ cotton.

“I was one of the first trustees that helped build the first colored folks’ church in the town of Greenwood.”

EvX: One thing that stands out to me, after reading a few dozen of these accounts, is these folks showed far more composure–sangfroid, if you will–about their lives than we tend to imagine we would.

It is very easy to imagine that you would act differently in a situation than others did–better, smarter, kinder, braver, whatever. Chances are, of course, that you’d be exactly like everyone else. So would I. And in most cases, people who grew up in slavery didn’t really have a very good idea of any alternative system, or how they would function (survive) in it.

This is part of why slave rebellions were so (relatively) rare in the US. You might think, “Slavery is awful and unjust, and in parts of the South there were more blacks than whites, so of course if I were a slave, I’d have helped start a successful rebellion.” But in reality, if you were a slave, there’s very little chance you’d be able to coordinate with other slaves, especially those on other plantations, much less convince them all to throw away the system that does feed them for the promise of an unknown system that might not feed them.

Even after slavery ended, plenty of slaves stayed where they were, not because they “liked” slavery, but because they didn’t have any immediate option of a better employer. Most of these folks left later when better opportunities arose.

Returning for a second to a popular (but under-discussed IMO) NRx topic, the whole point and importance of Exit is to allow citizens, like customers in a free market, to chose between countries, thus encouraging countries to treat their citizens well.

Large plantations were, like Medieval Manors, impressively self-contained, producing their own food, clothes, leather, timber, etc. A few people ran the place, keeping everything organized and making sure the finances worked out, and a thousand people did the actual labor.

Peter or Gordon, a whipped slave, photo taken at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1863;
Peter or Gordon, a whipped slave, photo taken at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1863;

The downside to such a system is that there isn’t a whole lot to prevent the people running it from mistreating their slaves. In fact, the whole system is run on two different groups with two different sets of interests. The owners want to extract as much labor as possible from the slaves, and are perfectly willing to whip them to do so. They don’t want to kill their slaves, as slaves cost money, but they don’t care particularly much if their slaves are in pain and miserable.

The slaves, of course, want to do enough work to feed themselves and no more.

Freedom and Exit are essentially the same concept. Free slaves generally end up doing the same work they were doing before slavery, but now they can leave an cruel master and offer their labor to the best employers around. Obviously the terms an employee can demand have a lot to do with their individual skills and the local supply of labor, but at least employers are much less likely to whip them.

Anyway, continuing on…

Charley Barber, 81: The End of the World

“I stay on [at the plantation] ’til ’76. Then I come to Winnsboro and git a job as section hand laborer on de railroad. Out of de fust money … I buys me a red shirt and dat November I votes and de fust vote I put in de box was for Governor Wade Hampton.”

EvX: Another red shirt voting for Wade Hampton. I express my doubts. But back to Mr. Barber:

“Bless your soul Marse Wood, you know what old Mudder Shifton say? She ‘low dat: ‘In de year 1881, de world to an end will surely come’. I was twenty-five years old when all de niggers and most of de white folks was believin’ dat old lady and lookin’ for de world to come to an end in 1881. Dat was de year dat I jined de church, ’cause I wanted to make sure dat if de end did come, I’d be caught up in dat rapture.”

EvX: According to Wikipedia’s list of predicted apocalyptic events:

[Mother Shipton, a] 15th-century prophet was quoted as saying “The world to an end shall come, In eighteen hundred and eighty one” in a book published in 1862. In 1873 it was revealed to be a forgery; however, this did not stop some people from expecting the end.

And about Mum Shipton herself:

Ursula Southeil (c. 1488–1561) … better known as Mother Shipton, is said to have been an English soothsayer and prophetess. The first publication of her prophecies, which did not appear until 1641, eighty years after her reported death, contained a number of mainly regional predictions, but only two prophetic verses – neither of which foretold the End of the World, despite widespread assumptions to that effect.[4] …

The most famous claimed edition of Mother Shipton’s prophecies foretells many modern events and phenomena. Widely quoted today as if it were the original, it contains over a hundred prophetic rhymed couplets in notably non-16th-century language and includes the now-famous lines:

The world to an end shall come
In eighteen hundred and eighty one.[6]

However, this version did not appear in print until 1862, and its true author, one Charles Hindley, subsequently admitted in print that he had invented it.[7] This invented prophecy has appeared over the years with different dates and in (or about) several countries (for example in the late 1970s many news articles about Mother Shipton appeared setting the date at 1981[citation needed]). The 1920s (subsequently much reprinted) booklet The Life and Prophecies of Ursula Sontheil better known as Mother Shipton[8] stated the date as 1991.[9][10]

“I b’longs to de St. John Methodist Church in Middlesix, part of Winnsboro. They was havin’ a rival (revival) meetin’ de night of de earthquake, last day of August, in 1886. Folks had hardly got over de scare of 1881, ’bout de world comin’ to an end. It was on Tuesday night, if I don’t disremember, ’bout 9 o’clock. De preacher was prayin’, just after de fust sermon, but him never got to de amen part of dat prayer. Dere come a noise or rumblin’, lak far off thunder, seem lak it come from de northwest, then de church begin to rock lak a baby’s cradle. Dere was great excitement. Old Aunt Melvina holler: ‘De world comin’ to de end’. De preacher say: ‘Oh, Lordy’, and run out of de pulpit. Everbody run out de church in de moonlight.

When de second quake come, ’bout a minute after de fust, somebody started up de cry: ‘De devil under de church! De devil under de church! De devil gwine to take de church on his back and run away wid de church!’ People never stop runnin’ ’til they got to de court house in town. Dere they ‘clare de devil done take St. John’s Church on his back and fly away to hell wid it. Marse Henry Galliard make a speech and tell them what it was and beg them to go home. Dat Mr. Skinner, de telegraph man at de depot, say de main part of it was way down ’bout Charleston, too far away for anybody to git hurt here, ‘less a brick from a chimney fall on somebody’s head. De niggers mostly believes what a fine man, lak Marse Henry, tell them. De crowd git quiet. Some of them go home but many of them, down in de low part of town, set on de railroad track in de moonlight, all night. I was mighty sleepy de nex’ mornin’ but I work on de railroad track just de same. Dat night folks come back to St. John’s Church, find it still dere, and such a outpourin’ of de spirit was had as never was had befo’ or since.”

EvX: I think people just plain believed in things more than they do now. I still blame electricity for the change.

Ed Barber, 77: Another Red Shirt!

“It’s been a long time since I see you. Maybe you has forgot but I ain’t forgot de fust time I put dese lookers on you, in ’76. Does you ‘members dat day? It was in a piece of pines beyond de Presbyterian Church, in Winnsboro, S. C. Us both had red shirts. You was a ridin’ a gray pony and I was a ridin’ a red mule, sorrel like. You say dat wasn’t ’76? Well, how come it wasn’t? Ouillah Harrison, another nigger, was dere, though he was a man. Both of us got to arguin’. He ‘low he could vote for Hampton and I couldn’t, ’cause I wasn’t 21. You say it was ’78 ‘stead of ’76, dat day in de pines when you was dere? Well! Well! I sho’ been thinkin’ all dis time it was ’76. …

“Who I see dere? Well, dere was a string of red shirts a mile long, dat come into Winnsboro from White Oak. And another from Flint Hill, over de Pea Ferry road, a mile long. De bar-rooms of de town did a big business dat day. Seem lak it was de fashion to git drunk all ‘long them days.

“Them red shirts was de monkey wrench in de cotton-gin of de carpet bag party. I’s here to tell you. If a nigger git hungry, all he have to do is go to de white folk’s house, beg for a red shirt, and explain hisself a democrat. He might not git de shirt right then but he git his belly full of everything de white folks got, and de privilege of comin’ to dat trough sometime agin. …

“My mother name Ann. Her b’long to my marster, James Barber. Dat’s not a fair question when you ask me who my daddy was. Well, just say he was a white man and dat my mother never did marry nobody, while he lived. I was de onliest child my mother ever had. …

“My marster, James Barber, went through de Civil War and died. I begs you, in de name of de good white folks of ’76 and Wade Hampton, not to forget me in dis old age pension business.

“What I think of Abe Lincoln? I think he was a poor buckra white man, to de likes of me. Although, I ‘spects Mr. Lincoln meant well but I can’t help but wish him had continued splittin’ them fence rails, which they say he knowed all ’bout, and never took a hand in runnin’ de government of which he knowed nothin’ ’bout. Marse Jeff Davis was all right, but him oughta got out and fought some, lak General Lee, General Jackson and ‘Poleon Bonaparte.”

EvX: I suspect the Civil War might have gone a bit differently had Napoleon shown up on the battlefield, too.

“Does I know any good colored men? I sho’ does! Dere’s Professor Benjamin Russell at Blackstock. You knows him. Then dere was Ouillah Harrison, dat own a four-hoss team and a saddle hoss, in red shirt days. One time de brass band at Winnsboro, S. C. wanted to go to Camden, S. C. to play at de speakin’ of Hampton. He took de whole band from Winnsboro to Camden, dat day, free of charge. Ah! De way dat band did play all de way to Ridgeway, down de road to Longtown, cross de Camden Ferry, and right into de town. Dere was horns a blowin’, drums a beatin’, and people a shoutin’: ‘Hurrah for Hampton!’ Some was a singin’: ‘Hang Dan Chamberlain on a Sour Apple Tree’. Ouillah come home and found his wife had done had a boy baby. What you reckon? He name dat boy baby, Wade Hampton. When he come home to die, he lay his hand on dat boy’s head and say: ‘Wade, ‘member who you name for and always vote a straight out democrat ticket’. Which dat boy did!”

Anderson Bates, 87: Courtship, DuPont, and the Ku Kluxes

“Dat’s funny, you wants to set down dere ’bout my courtship and weddin’? Well, sir, I stay on de old plantation, work for my old marster, de doctor, and fell head over heels in love wid Carrie. Dere was seven more niggers a flyin’ ’round dat sugar lump of a gal in de night time when I breezes in and takes charge of de fireside cheer. I knocks one down one night, kick another out de nex’ night, and choke de stuffin’ out of one de nex’ night. I landed de three-leg stool on de head of de fourth one, de last time. Then de others carry deir ‘fections to some other place than Carrie’s house. Us have some hard words ’bout my bad manners, but I told her dat I couldn’t ‘trol my feelin’s wid them fools a settin’ ’round dere gigglin’ wid her. I go clean crazy! …

Slaves processing tobacco in 17th-century Virginia
Slaves processing tobacco in 17th-century Virginia

“Then I go back to de quarry, drill and git out stone. They pay me $3.50 a day ’til de Parr Shoals Power come in wid ‘lectric power drills and I was cut down to eighty cents a day. Then I say: ‘Old grey hoss! Damn ‘lectric toolin’, I’s gwine to leave.’ I went to Hopewell, Virginia, and work wid de DuPonts for five years. War come on and they ask me to work on de acid area. De atmosphere dere tear all de skin off my face and arms, but I stuck it out to de end of de big war, for $7.20 a day. …

“Does I ‘member anything ’bout de Klu Kluxes? Jesus, yes! My old marster, de doctor, in goin’ ’round, say out loud to people dat Klu Kluxes was doin’ some things they ought not to do, by ‘stortin’ money out of niggers just ’cause they could.

“When he was gone to Union one day, a low-down pair of white men come, wid false faces, to de house and ask where Dick Bell was. Miss Nancy say her don’t know. They go hunt for him. Dick made a bee-line for de house. They pull out hoss pistols, fust time, ‘pow’. Dick run on, secon’ time, ‘pow’. Dick run on, third time, ‘pow’ and as Dick reach de front yard de ball from de third shot keel him over lak a hit rabbit. Old miss run out but they git him. Her say: ‘I give you five dollars to let him ‘lone.’ They say: ‘Not ‘nough.’ Her say: ‘I give you ten dollars.’ They say: ‘Not ‘nough.’ Her say: ‘I give you fifteen dollars.’ They say: ‘Not ‘nough.’ Her say: ‘I give you twenty-five dollars.’ They take de money and say: ‘Us’ll be back tomorrow for de other Dick.’ They mean Dick James.”

EvX: I never did figure out who Dick James and Dick Bell were.

“Nex’ day, us see them a comin’ again. Dick James done load up de shotgun wid buckshot. When they was comin’ up de front steps, Uncle Dick say to us all in de big house: ‘Git out de way!’ De names of de men us find out afterwards was Bishop and Fitzgerald. They come up de steps, wid Bishop in de front. Uncle Dick open de door, slap dat gun to his shoulder, and pull de trigger. Dat man Bishop hollers: ‘Oh Lordy.’ He drop dead and lay dere ’til de coroner come. Fitzgerald leap ‘way. They bring Dick to jail, try him right in dat court house over yonder. What did they do wid him? Well, when Marse Bill Stanton, Marse Elisha Ragsdale and Miss Nancy tell ’bout it all from de beginnin’ to de end, de judge tell de jury men dat Dick had a right to protect his home, and hisself, and to kill dat white man and to turn him loose. Dat was de end of de Klu Kluxes in Fairfield.”

That’s all for today; we’ll be wrapping up next week.

Anthropology Friday: The Slave Narrative Collection (pt 2/4)

Eastman Johnson's painting, The Young Sweep
Eastman Johnson’s painting, The Young Sweep

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we are continuing with Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States. (available on Amazon.)

I’ve been selecting excerpts that I personally find interesting. I’m not trying to paint the big picture of slavery nor highlighting awful things like whippings (there are many other places you can find those accounts.) Just because they’re not here doesn’t mean I’m pretending they aren’t in the accounts–I just assume you already know about them.

Frances Andrews, 83: The Skeleton

“It is said that the old brick house where the Wallaces lived was built by a Eichleberger, but Dr. John Simpson lived there and sold it to Mr. Wallace. In the attic was an old skeleton which the children thought bewitched the house. None of them would go upstairs by themselves. I suppose old Dr. Simpson left it there. Sometimes later, it was taken out
and buried.”

EvX: ??? Who keeps a (presumably real) skeleton in their attic? Did someone die up there and no one bothered to remove the body until it had completely decayed? Or was it a medical skeleton? That is seriously creepy.

Josephine Bacchus, about 75-80 years old: Earthquake and Folk Medicine

“Yes, mam, dey was glad to have a heap of colored people bout dem cause white folks couldn’ work den no more den dey can work dese days like de colored people can. Reckon dey love to have dey niggers back yonder just like dey loves to have dem dese days to do what dey ain’ been cut out to do.” …

“Lord, I sho remembers dat earth shake good as anything. When it come on me, I was settin down wid my foots in a tub of water. Yes, my Lord, I been had a age on me in de shake. I remember, dere been such a shakin dat evenin, it made all de people feel mighty queer like. It just come in a tremble en first thing I know, I felt de difference in de crack of de house. I run to my sister Jessie cause she had been live in New York en she was well acquainted wid dat kind of gwine on. She say, ‘Josie, dis ain’ nothin but dem shake I been tellin you bout, but dis de first time it come here en you better be a prayin.’ En, honey, everything white en colored was emptied out of doors dat night. Lord, dey was scared. Great Jeruseleum! De people was scared everywhe’. Didn’ nobody know what to make of it. I tellin you, I betcha I was 30 years old in de shake.”

Charleston, South Carolina, post-earthquake
Charleston, South Carolina, post-earthquake

EvX: Given that this narrative was collected in South Carolina, and… *adds up the years* I assume this was the 1886 Charleston Earthquake:

The 1886 Charleston earthquake occurred about 9:50 p.m. August 31 with an estimated moment magnitude of 7.0 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of X (Extreme). The intraplate earthquake caused 60 deaths and between $5 million and $6 million in damage to 2,000 buildings in the Southeastern United States. It is one of the most powerful and damaging earthquakes to hit the East Coast of the United States. …

It was felt as far away as Boston, Massachusetts, to the north, Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to the northwest, as far as New Orleans, Louisiana, to the west, as far as Cuba to the south, and as far as Bermuda to the east.[4] It was so severe that outside the immediate area, there was speculation that the Florida peninsula had broken away from North America.[3]

Continuing on:

“Oh, de people never didn’ put much faith to de doctors in dem days. Mostly, dey would use de herbs in de fields for dey medicine. Dere two herbs, I hear talk of. Dey was black snake root en Sampson snake root. Say, if a person never had a good appetite, dey would boil some of dat stuff en mix it wid a little whiskey en rock candy en dat would sho give dem a sharp appetite. See, it natural cause if you take a tablespoon of dat bitter medicine three times a day like a person tell you, it bound to swell your appetite. Yes, mam, I know dat a mighty good mixture.”

EvX: It turns out that Black Snakeroot is a real plant, more commonly known as black cohosh. According to Wikipedia:

Native Americans used black cohosh to treat gynecological and other disorders, including sore throats, kidney problems, and depression.[3] Following the arrival of European settlers in the U.S. who continued the medicinal usage of black cohosh, the plant appeared in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia in 1830 under the name “black snakeroot”. In 1844 A. racemosa gained popularity when John King, an eclectic physician, used it to treat rheumatism and nervous disorders. Other eclectic physicians of the mid-nineteenth century used black cohosh for a variety of maladies, including endometritis, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, menorrhagia, sterility, severe after-birth pains, and for increased breast milk production.[6] …

Black cohosh is used today mainly as a dietary supplement marketed to women as remedies for the symptoms of premenstrual tension, menopause and other gynecological problems.[3] Recent meta-analysis of contemporary evidence supports these claims,[1] although the Cochrane Collaboration has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support its use for menopausal symptoms.[7] Study design and dosage of black cohosh preparations play a role in clinical outcome,[8] and recent investigations with pure compounds found in black cohosh have identified some beneficial effects of these compounds on physiological pathways underlying age-related disorders like osteoporosis.[9]

However, you should note:

No studies exist on long-term safety of black cohosh use in humans.[13] In a transgenic mouse model of cancer, black cohosh did not increase incidence of primary breast cancer, but increased metastasis of pre-existing breast cancer to the lungs.[14]

Eastman Johnson's A Ride for Liberty: the Fugitive Slaves
Eastman Johnson’s A Ride for Liberty: the Fugitive Slaves

Please don’t just go eating plants from a random field or ordered off some website without being absolutely sure they’re actually safe.

Sampson snake root is also a real plant, otherwise known as Orbexilum pedunculatum. According to the internet, which I am sure would never lie to me:

Sampson snakeroot will help to…

  • Relieve from snakebites.

  • Retrieve of attract gay lovers among men.

(By the way, the internet lies all the time.) Continuing on:

“Oh, my Lord, child, de people was sho wiser in olden times den what dey be now. Dey been have all kind of signs to forecast de times wid en dey been mighty true to de word, too. Say, when you hear a cow low en cry so mournful like, it ain’ gwine be long fore you hear tell of a death.”

“Den dere one bout de rain. Say, sometimes de old rain crow stays in de air en hollers en if you don’ look right sharp, it gwine rain soon. Call him de rain crow. He hollers mostly like dis, ‘Goo-oop, goo-oop.’ Like dat.”

“De people used to have a bird for cold weather, too. Folks say, ‘Don’ you hear dat cold bird? Look out, it gwine be cold tomorrow.’ De cold bird, he a brown bird. If you can see him, he a fine lookin bird, too. Yes’um, right large en strong lookin, but don’ nobody hardly ever see
him dese days.”

“En I reckon you hear talk bout dis one. Say, not to wash on de first day of de New Year cause if you do, you will wash some of your family out de pot. Say, somebody will sho die. Dat right, too. Den if possible, must boil some old peas on de first day of de New Year en must cook some hog jowl in de pot wid dem. Must eat some of it, but don’ be obliged to eat it all.”

Black-eyed peas, for the New Year
Black-eyed peas, for the New Year

EvX: Eating black-eyed peas was a New Year’s Day tradition when I was a kid, too (it probably still is.) But why? According to Why we Eat Black Eyed Peas on New Years Day:

Most Southerners will tell you that it dates back to the Civil War. Black-eyed peas were considered animal food (like purple hull peas).

The peas were not worthy of General Sherman’s Union troops. When Union soldiers raided the Confederates food supplies, legend says they took everything except the peas and salted pork. The Confederates considered themselves lucky to be left with those meager supplies, and survived the winter. Peas became symbolic of luck. …

(“Most” here is probably an exaggeration.)

One explanation of the superstition says that black-eyed peas were all the southern slaves had to celebrate with on the first day of January, 1863. What were they celebrating? That was the day when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. …

The oldest explanation for this tradition I found is on Wikipedia. According to Wikipedia, the tradition dates as far ancient Egypt. During the time of the Pharaohs, it was believed that eating a meager food like black-eyed peas showed humility before the gods, and you would be blessed. According to Wikipedia, the Babylonian Talmud, which dates to 339 CE, instructs the faithful Jews to eat black-eyed peas at Rosh Hashana.

Well, since it is still January, if you haven’t had your black-eyed peas yet, perhaps there’s still time to cook up a pot and enjoy what might be a very old tradition.


Anthropology Friday: The Slave Narrative Collection (pt 1/4)

Wes Brady, interviewee from the Slave Narrative Collection, Marshall, Texas, 1937
Wes Brady, interviewee from the Slave Narrative Collection, Marshall, Texas, 1937

Back in 1936, the US government decided to put people to work by sending them out to collect narratives of slavery and the Civil War from the nation’s few remaining ex-slaves.

They found more than 2,000 survivors and ended up with over 10,000 typed pages of interviews, which they titled Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States.

I have been intending to read these narratives for several years, ever since I spotted them on Amazon (though I don’t suspect I’ll get through all 10,000 pages of them.) Many of the accounts are set down in dialect, which I gather was more common in writing in the 30s than it is today, we moderns having decided that dialect is “insulting” or something, though the truth is I think some people just find it difficult to read. I have always loved dialect, ever since I was very young, so you are getting these dialect and all. After all, every single person on earth speaks with an accent to someone else’s ears.

With so many pages of material, debated with myself about what I should excerpt, and eventually decided to just go with whatever I found interesting, especially the parts I found compelling enough to read out loud to others.

As usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability.

M. E. Abrams: Secret BBQs, Spirits, and the Conjurin’ Doctor

“Marse Glenn had 64 slaves. On Sat’day night, de darkies would have a little fun on de side. A way off from de big house, down in de pastur’ dar wuz about de bigges’ gully what I is ebber seed. Dat wuz de place whar us collected mos’ ev’ry Sa’day night fer our lil’ mite o’ fun frum de white folks hearin’. Sometime it wuz so dark dat you could not see de fingers on yo’ han’ when you would raise it fo’ your face. … De pastur’ wuz big and de trees made dark spots in it on de brightest nights. … When us started together, look like us would git parted ‘fo we reach de gully all together. One of us see som’tin and take to runnin’. Maybe de other darkies in de drove, de wouldn’t see nothin’ jes den. Dats zactly how it is wid de spirits. De mout (might) sho de’self to you and not to me. De acts raal queer all de way round. Dey can take a notion to scare de daylights outtin you when you is wid a gang; or dey kin scare de whole gang; den, on de other hand, dey kin sho de’self off to jes two or three. …

“On light nights, I is seed dem look, furs dark like a tree shad’er; den dey gits raal scairy white. T’aint no use fer white folks to low dat it ain’t no haints, an’ grievements dat follows ye all around, kaise I is done had to many ‘spriences wid dem. … Raaly de white folks doesn’t have eyes fer sech as we darkies does; but dey bees dare jes de same.

“Never mindin’ all o’ dat, we n’used to steal our hog ever’ sa’day night and take off to de gully whar us’d git him dressed and barbecued. Niggers has de mos’es fun at a barbecue dat dare is to be had. As none o’ our gang didn’t have no ‘ligion, us never felt no scruples bout not gettin de ‘cue’ ready fo’ Sunday. Us’d git back to de big house along in de evenin’ o’ Sunday. Den Marse, he come out in de yard an’ low whar wuz you niggers dis mornin’. How come de chilluns had to do de work round here. Us would tell some lie bout gwine to a church ‘siety meetin’. But we got raal scairt and mose ‘cided dat de best plan wuz to do away wid de barbecue in de holler. Conjin ‘Doc.’ say dat he done put a spell on ole Marse so dat he wuz ‘blevin ev’y think dat us tole him bout Sa’day night and Sunday morning. Dat give our minds ‘lief; but it turned out dat in a few weeks de Marse come out from under de spell. Doc never even knowed nothin’ bout it. Marse had done got to countin’ his hogs ever’ week. When he cotch us, us wuz all punished wid a hard long task. Dat cured me o’ believing in any conjuring an’ charmin’ but I still kno’s dat dare is haints; kaise ever time you goes to dat gully at night, up to dis very day, you ken hear hogs still gruntin’ in it, but you can’t see nothing.

Eastman Johnson's 1863 painting "The Lord is My Shepherd"
Eastman Johnson‘s 1863 painting “The Lord is My Shepherd”

EvX: So then the Master died and some other people came to live in the plantation house and then it got a reputation for being haunted…

“Den Marse Glenn’s boys put Mammy in de house to keep it fer ’em. But Lawd God! Mammy said dat de furs night she stayed dare de haints nebber let her git not narr’y mite o’ sleep. … Mammy low dat it de Marse a lookin’ fer his money what he done tuck and burried and de boys couldn’t find no sign o’ it. Atter dat, de sons tuck an’ tacked a sign on de front gate, offering $200.00 to de man, white or black, dat would stay dar and fin’ out whar dat money wuz burried. Our preacher, the Rev. Wallace, lowed dat he would stay dar and find out whar dat money wuz from de spirits. …

“He went to bed. A dog began running down dem steps; and a black cat run across de room dat turned to white befo’ it run into de wall. Den a pair of white horses come down de stairway a rattling chains fer harness. Next a woman dressed in white come in dat room. Brother Wallace up and lit out dat house and he never went back no mo’.

“Another preacher tried stayin’ dar. He said he gwine to keep his head kivered plum up. Some’tin unkivered it and he seed a white goat a grinnin’ at him. But as he wuz a brave man and trus’ de Lawd, he lowed, ‘What you want wid me nohow?’ The goat said, ‘what is you doin’ here. Raise, I knows dat you ain’t sleep.’ De preacher say, ‘I wants you to tell me what ole Marse don tuck and hid dat money?’ De goat grin and low, ‘How come you don’ look under your pillar, sometime?’ Den he run away. De preacher hopped up and looked under de pillar, and dar wuz de money sho nuf.”

Ezra Adams, 82 years old, reminds us that many former slaves died of hunger, disease, or exposure in the aftermath of the Civil War:

Negro Life at the South, oil on canvas, 1859,
Negro Life at the South, oil on canvas, 1859, (actually set in Washington, DC)

“De slaves, where I lived, knowed after de war dat they had abundance of dat somethin’ called freedom, what they could not wat, wear, and sleep in. Yes, sir, they soon found out dat freedom ain’t nothin’, ‘less you is got somethin’ to live on and a place to call home. … It sho’ don’t hold good when you has to work, or when you gits hongry. You knows dat poor white folks and niggers has got to work to live, regardless of liberty, love, and all them things. I believes a person loves more better, when they feels good. I knows from experience dat poor folks feels better when they has food in deir frame and a few dimes to jingle in deir pockets. …

“If a poor man wants to enjoy a little freedom, let him go on de farm and work for hisself. It is sho’ worth somethin’ to be boss, and, on de farm you can be boss all you want to, ‘less de man ‘low his wife to hold dat ‘portant post. A man wid a good wife, one dat pulls wid him, can see and feel some pleasure and experience some independence. But, bless your soul, if he gits a woman what wants to be both husband and wife, fare-you-well and good-bye, too, to all love, pleasure, and independence; ’cause you sho’ is gwine to ketch hell here and no mild climate whenever you goes ‘way.

James Hopkinson's Plantation. Planting sweet potatoes. ca. 1862/63
James Hopkinson’s Plantation. Planting sweet potatoes. ca. 1862/63

Victoria Adams, 90 years old: Medicine and the Yankees

“Us had medicine made from herbs, leaves and roots; some of them was cat-nip, garlic root, tansy, and roots of burdock. De roots of burdock soaked in whiskey was mighty good medicine. We dipped asafetida in turpentine and hung it ’round our necks to keep off disease.

“Befo’ de Yankees come thru, our peoples had let loose a lot of our hosses and de hosses strayed over to de Yankee side, and de Yankee men rode de hosses back over to our plantation. De Yankees asked us if we want to be free. I never say I did; I tell them I want to stay wid my missus and they went on and let me alone. They ‘stroyed most everything we had ‘cept a little vittles; took all de stock and take them wid them. They burned all de buildings ‘cept de one de massa and missus was livin’ in.

“It wasn’t long after de Yankees went thru dat our missus told us dat we don’t b’long to her and de massa no more. None of us left dat season. I got married de next year and left her. I like being free more better.”

Uncle Marian, a slave of great notoriety, of North Carolina. Daguerreotype, circa 1850.
Uncle Marian, a slave of great notoriety, of North Carolina. Daguerreotype, circa 1850.

EvX: Many slaves opted to stay where they were immediately after freedom, trusting the plantations they knew to the threat of hunger and homelessness in a war-ravaged land, but moved on later as opportunities arose.

Whether slaves stayed or left had a lot to do with how cruel their masters were–the crueler the master, the more likely their slaves were to leave as fast as possible. Unfortunately, given the misery and starvation induced by the war, these same people were probably less likely to survive long enough to give the folklorists their accounts. Obviously this may create a numerical bias in the accounts.

Frank Adamson, 82 years old: The Rattler and the Red Shirts

“I ‘members when you was barefoot at de bottom; now I see you a settin’ dere, gittin’ bare at de top, as bare as de palm of my hand.”

[EvX: In case it isn’t clear, “you” here is the person conducting the interview.]

“I’s been ‘possum huntin’ wid your pappy, when he lived on de Wateree, just after de war. One night us got into tribulation, I tells you! ‘Twas ’bout midnight when de dogs make a tree. Your pappy climb up de tree, git ’bout halfway up, heard sumpin’ dat once you hears it you never forgits, and dats de rattlin’ of de rattles on a rattle snake’s tail. Us both ‘stinctly hear dat sound! What us do? Me on de ground, him up de tree, but where de snake? Dat was de misery, us didn’t know. Dat snake give us fair warnin’ though! Marster Sam (dats your pa) ‘low: ‘Frank, ease down on de ground; I’ll just stay up here for a while.’ I lay on them leaves, skeered to make a russle. Your pa up de tree skeered to go up or down! Broad daylight didn’t move us. Sun come up, he look all ’round from his vantage up de tree, then come down, not ’til then, do I gits on my foots.

“Then I laugh and laugh and laugh, and ask Marster Sam how he felt. Marster Sam kinda frown and say: ‘Damn I feels like hell! Git up dat tree! Don’t you see dat ‘possum up dere?’ I say: ‘But where de snake, Marster?’ He say: ‘Dat rattler done gone home, where me and you and dat ‘possum gonna be pretty soon!’ …

“I’s as close to white folks then as peas in a pod. Wore de red shirt and drunk a heap of brandy in Columbia, dat time us went down to General Hampton into power. I ‘clare I hollered so loud goin’ ‘long in de procession, dat a nice white lady run out one of de houses down dere in Columbia, give me two biscuits and a drum stick of chicken, patted me on de shoulder, and say: ‘Thank God for all de big black men dat can holler for Governor Hampton as loud as dis one does.’ Then I hollers some more for to please dat lady, though I had to take de half chawed chicken out dis old mouth, and she laugh ’bout dat ’til she cried. She did!

“Well, I’ll be rockin’ ‘long balance of dese days, a hollerin’ for Mr. Roosevelt, just as loud as I holler then for Hampton.

Four generations of a slave family, Smith's Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862
Four generations of a slave family, Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862

EvX: These interviews were conducted in the 30s, so that’s the second Roosevelt.

As Wikipedia points out, the fact that the interviewers were white may also have affected the particular anecdotes informants chose to share or how they framed them. In this case, I wonder if the account is even true. Wikipedia claims:

The Red Shirts or Redshirts of the Southern United States were white supremacist[1][2] paramilitary groups that were active in the late 19th century in the last years and after the end of the Reconstruction era of the United States. Red Shirt groups originated in Mississippi in 1875, when Democratic Party private terror units adopted red shirts to make themselves more visible and threatening to Southern Republicans, both white and freedmen. Similar groups in the Carolinas also adopted red shirts.

Among the most prominent Red Shirts were the supporters of Democratic Party candidate Wade Hampton during the campaigns for the South Carolina gubernatorial elections of 1876 and 1878.[3] The Red Shirts were one of several paramilitary organizations, such as the White League in Louisiana, arising from the continuing efforts of white Democrats to regain political power in the South in the 1870s. These groups acted as “the military arm of the Democratic Party.”[4]

While sometimes engaging in violence, the Red Shirts, the White League, rifle clubs, and similar groups in the late nineteenth century worked openly and were better organized than the secret vigilante groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Their goals were to use violence and terrorism to restore the Democrats to power and repress the exercise of civil and voting rights by the freedmen.[5] During the 1876, 1898 and 1900 campaigns in North Carolina, the Red Shirts played prominent roles in intimidating non-Democratic Party voters. …

According to E. Merton Coulter in The South During Reconstruction (1947), the red shirt was adopted in Mississippi in 1875 by “southern brigadiers” of the Democratic Party who were opposed to black Republicans. The Red Shirts disrupted Republican rallies, intimidated or assassinated black leaders, and discouraged and suppressed black voting at the polls. …

State Democrats organized parades and rallies in every county of South Carolina. Many of the participants were armed and mounted; all wore red. Mounted men gave an impression of greater numbers. When Wade Hampton and other Democrats spoke, the Red Shirts would respond enthusiastically, shouting the campaign slogan, “Hurrah for Hampton.” …

In the Piedmont counties of Aiken, Edgefield, and Barnwell, freedmen who voted were driven from their homes and whipped, while some of their leaders were murdered. During the 1876 presidential election, Democrats in Edgefield and Laurens counties voted “early and often”, while freedmen were barred from the polls.[7] …

Few freedmen voted for Hampton, and most remained loyal to the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln. The 1876 campaign was the “most tumultuous in South Carolina’s history.”[8] “An anti-Reconstruction historian later estimated that 150 Negroes were murdered in South Carolina during the campaign.”[9]

After the election on November 7, a protracted dispute between Chamberlain and Hampton ensued as both claimed victory. Because of the massive election fraud, Edmund William McGregor Mackey, a Republican member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, called upon the “Hunkidori Club” from Charleston to eject Democratic members from Edgefield and Laurens counties from the House. Word spread through the state. By December 3, approximately 5,000 Red Shirts assembled at the State House to defend the Democrats. Hampton appealed for calm and the Red Shirts dispersed.

As a result of a national political compromise, President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered the removal of the Union Army from the state on April 3, 1877. The white Democrats completed their political takeover of South Carolina.

Graph of the enslaved population of the United States as a percentage of the population of each state, 1790–1860
Graph of the enslaved population of the United States as a percentage of the population of each state, 1790–1860

They were active in other states, too, but you get the idea.

Red is a common color, and soon appears again in Democrat lore, as Huber recounts in “Red Necks and Red Bandanas: Appalachian Coal Miners and the Coloring of Union Identity, 1912-1936″ (published 2006):

“They shot one of those Bolsheviks up in Knox County this morning. Harry Sims his name was…. That deputy knew his business. He didn’t give the redneck a chance to talk, he just plugged him in the stomach…” So Malcolm Cowley, writing in The New Republic in 1932, recounted a local coal operator’s response to the murder of a nineteen-year-old Young Communist League union organizer in eastern Kentucky… The contempt and ruthlessness in this comment will scarcely surprise readers familiar with the history of the violent, bloody suppression of the American labor movement, but seeing the pejorative terms Bolshevik and redneck used interchangeably may. For more than a century, the epithet redneck has chiefly denigrated rural, poor white southerners…. During the 1920s and 1930s, however, another one of its definitions in the northern and central Appalachian coalfields was “a Communist.”

Coal miners displaying a bomb that was dropped during the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921
Coal miners displaying a bomb that was dropped during the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921

During the Appalachian coal mine wars–which was a real thing that actually happened, though obviously it wasn’t actually on the scale of a real war–strikers often wore red bandanas around their necks.

Wikipedia notes:

The term characterized farmers having a red neck caused by sunburn from hours working in the fields. …

By 1900, “rednecks” was in common use to designate the political factions inside the Democratic Party comprising poor white farmers in the South.[14] … A newspaper notice in Mississippi in August 1891 called on rednecks to rally at the polls at the upcoming primary election:[15]


Primary on the 25th.
And the “rednecks” will be there.
And the “Yaller-heels” will be there, also.
And the “hayseeds” and “gray dillers,” they’ll be there, too.
And the “subordinates” and “subalterns” will be there to rebuke their slanderers and traducers.
And the men who pay ten, twenty, thirty, etc. etc. per cent on borrowed money will be on hand, and they’ll remember it, too.

By 1910, the political supporters of the Mississippi Democratic Party politician James K. Vardaman—chiefly poor white farmers—began to describe themselves proudly as “rednecks,” even to the point of wearing red neckerchiefs to political rallies and picnics.[16] …

The term “redneck” in the early 20th century was occasionally used in reference to American coal miner union members who wore red bandannas for solidarity. The sense of “a union man” dates at least to the 1910s and was especially popular during the 1920s and 1930s in the coal-producing regions of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.[18]

The strikers, IIRC, were multi-ethnic, not just whites.

The path of the Democratic party from “anti Northerners” to “anti rich industrial capitalists” to “anti Southerners” is really interesting–Democrats haven’t won a majority of the white vote in a presidential election since LBJ made them the part of the Civil Rights Act.

It’s like they’re always red, but the meaning of “red” keeps changing.

That’s all I have time for today. See you next week.

Anthropology Friday: Emile Durkheim’s The Origin and Development of Religion:

Emile Durkheim
Emile Durkheim

Emile Durkheim (April 15, 1858 – November 15, 1917), Karl Marx, and Max Weber are the fathers of modern social science and sociology, so I decided to read Durkheim’s essay, The Origin and Development of Religion.
According to Wikipedia,

Much of Durkheim’s work was concerned with how societies could maintain their integrity and coherence in modernity; an era in which traditional social and religious ties are no longer assumed, and in which new social institutions have come into being. His first major sociological work was The Division of Labour in Society (1893). … Durkheim’s seminal monograph, Suicide (1897), a study of suicide rates in Catholic and Protestant populations, pioneered modern social research and served to distinguish social science from psychology and political philosophy. …

Durkheim noted there are several possible pathologies that could lead to a breakdown of social integration and disintegration of the society: the two most important ones are anomie and forced division of labour; lesser ones include the lack of coordination and suicide.[61] By anomie Durkheim means a state when too rapid population growth reduces the amount of interaction between various groups, which in turn leads a breakdown of understanding (norms, values, and so on).[62] By forced division of labour Durkheim means a situation where power holders, driven by their desire for profit (greed), results in people doing the work they are unsuited for.[63] Such people are unhappy, and their desire to change the system can destabilize the society.[63] …

In The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Durkheim’s first purpose was to identify the social origin and function of religion as he felt that religion was a source of camaraderie and solidarity.[44]

Durkheim saw religion as the most fundamental social institution of humankind, and one that gave rise to other social forms.[60][76] It was the religion that gave humanity the strongest sense of collective consciousness.[81]

His work on Suicide is notable enough to have its own Wikipedia page:

Durkheim explores the differing suicide rates among Protestants and Catholics, [in Germany] arguing that stronger social control among Catholics results in lower suicide rates. According to Durkheim, Catholic society has normal levels of integration while Protestant society has low levels. …Durkheim concluded that:

  • Suicide rates are higher in men than women (although married women who remained childless for a number of years ended up with a high suicide rate).
  • Suicide rates are higher for those who are single than those who are in a sexual relationship.
  • Suicide rates are higher for people without children than people with children.
  • Suicide rates are higher among Protestants than Catholics and Jews.
  • Suicide rates are higher among soldiers than civilians.
  • Suicide rates are higher in times of peace than in times of war (the suicide rate in France fell after the coup d’etat of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, for example. War also reduced the suicide rate: after war broke out in 1866 between Austria and Italy, the suicide rate fell by 14% in both countries.)
  • Suicide rates are higher in Scandinavian countries.
  • The higher the education level, the more likely it was that an individual would choose suicide. However, Durkheim established that there is more correlation between an individual’s religion and suicide rate than an individual’s education level.

Well, that is enough introduction. Let’s get on to the essay. (As usual, I will be using “” instead of blockquotes for Durkheim’s work.) I have excerpted what strikes me as the core of Durkheim’s argument:

“The really religious beliefs are always common to a determined group, which make profession of adhering to them and of practicing the rites connected with them. They are not merely received individually by all the members of this groups; they are something belonging to the group, and they make its unity. The individuals which compose it feel themselves united to each other by the simple fact that they have a common faith. A society whose members are united by the fact that they think the same way in regard to the sacred world and its relation with the profane world, and by the fact that they translate these common ideas into common practice, is what is called a “Church.””

EvX: Note that Durkheim is not limiting his use of “Church” to Christian denominations.

“In all history, we do not find a single religion without a Church. Sometimes the Church is strictly national, sometimes it passes frontiers; sometimes it embraces an entire people (Rome, Athens, the Hebrews), sometimes it embrace only part of them (the Christian societies since the advent of Protestantism), sometimes it is directed by a corps of priests, sometimes it is almost completely devoid of any official directing body. But wherever we observe the religious life, we find that it has a definite group as its foundation. …

“It is quite another matter with magic. To be sure, the belief in magic is always more or less general; it is very frequently diffused in large masses of the population, and there are even peoples where it has as many adherents as the real religion. But it does not result in binding together those who adhere to it, nor in uniting them into a group leading a common life. There is no Church of magic. Between the magician and the individuals who consult him, as between these individuals themselves, there are no lasting bods which make them members of the same moral community, comparable to that formed by the believers int he same god or the observers of the same cult. The magician has a clientele and not a Church, and it is very possible that his clients have no relations between each other, or even do not know each other; even the relations which they have with him are generally accidental and transient, they are just like those of a sick man with his physician. …

“Thus we arrive at the following definition: A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden–beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them. … by showing that the idea of religion is inseparable from that of the Church, it make it clear that religion should be an eminently collective thing.”

EvX: I find it interesting that all of the “social sciences”–anthropology, sociology, political economy, psychology, and possibly economics–became prominent at about the same time (compared to, say, History, which got its start with Herodotus in the 5th century BC.) As we’ve been discussing, the late 1800s was a time of great social turmoil due to the economic dislocations and changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution and mass movement of millions of peasants from their traditional homes in the countryside to ghettos and tenements of the cities.

Communism–most notably in its Marxist form–was one reaction to this dislocation.

Durkheim, while a socialist, was not an internationalist, and he seems to disagree pretty strongly with Karl “religion is the opiate of the masses” Marx on the importance of religion to society. To Durkheim, religion (as opposed to magic) was absolutely foundational to a functioning society, and believed that despite the increasing atheism of his age, nothing functionally similar to religion existed.

But–from an anthropological perspective–is Durkheim correct? Do the members of a “Church”–and note here the implication that for people to have this collective identity, there must be some homogenous thing that they all believe, not some hodgepodge of “individual interpretation–see themselves as a collective group, and do the believers in “magic,” inversely, fail to see themselves as similarly collective?

My personal experience with NeoPagans and the like suggests that they do see themselves as a collective thing, similar to other religions. So do, from what I have read, practitioners of Voodoo and perhaps other related animist religions. But these are modern (even “neo”!) beliefs, so perhaps these belief systems have been influenced by their practitioners’ familiarity with other “Churches.”

Wikipedia also notes:

Durkheim’s work on religion was criticized on both empirical and theoretical grounds by specialists in the field. The most important critique came from Durkheim’s contemporary, Arnold van Gennep, an expert on religion and ritual, and also on Australian belief systems. Van Gennep argued that Durkheim’s views of primitive peoples and simple societies were “entirely erroneous”. Van Gennep further argued that Durkheim demonstrated a lack of critical stance towards his sources, collected by traders and priests, naively accepting their veracity, and that Durkheim interpreted freely from dubious data. At the conceptual level, van Gennep pointed out Durkheim’s tendency to press ethnography into a prefabricated theoretical scheme.[84]

But perhaps we should let Durkheim defend his points.

Durkheim then runs through in the essay a couple of the more popular (atheistic) theories of his day on the origins of religion, such as “primitive man was amazed by nature and assumed therefore that natural phenomena must be the work of divine creatures,” and dismisses them on the grounds that they are inadequate to explain the fervency of people’s religious devotion. The fact that rain falls from the sky may be amazing, but even primitive man was not particularly wowed by this fairly regular and ultimately mundane occurrence.

(Personally, while I admire Durkheim’s quest for something deeper than “wow,” I think it might be adequate, at least when I look at the stars on a truly dark night. [Actually, I find being outside in true darkness with no lights and no other people pretty terrifying.])

Durkheim turns to Aboriginal “totemism,” deeming it the most “elementary religion,” from which animism and naturistic religions are derived:

“Finally, that which we propose to study in this work is the most primitive and simple religion which it is possible to find. … Not only is their civilization the most rudimentary–the house and even the hut are still unknown–but also their organization is the most primitive and simple which is actually known; it is that which we have elsewhere called organization on basis of clans. …

“At the basis of nearly all the Australian tribes we find a group which holds a preponderating place in the collective life: this is the clan. … the individuals who compose it consider themselves united by a band of kinship, but one which is of a very special nature. … This relationship does not come from the fact that they have definite blood connections with one another; they are relatives from the mere fact that they have the same name. … When we say that they regard themselves as a single family, we do so because they recognize duties toward each other which are identical with those which have always been incumbent upon kindred: such duties as aid, vengeance, mourning, the obligations not to marry  among themselves, etc.

“The species of things which serves to designate the clan collectively is its totem. The totem of the clan is also that of each of its members.”

So Durkheim goes on about totems for a while. Whether or not he is accurate I must leave to the experts–here is one take:


I note that as we discussed in Anthropology Friday: Aboriginal Folklore, William Ramsay Smith’s book  Aborigine Myths and Legends, published 1930 (that is, after Durkheim,) also discusses totems:

This totemism plays an important part in the social life of the aboriginals. If, for example, a person has committed an offense, or has broken tribal law, he becomes a fugitive. He may travel to some distant part of the country. … He creeps along stealthily, listening intently for any sound, peering through the dense foliage in every bay or cove to see whether his path is clear, noticing every footprint on the way, reading every mark on the tree-trunks and on the surface of rocks, and scanning every mark to see whether there is hope of protection and friendship. To be seen would mean death to him. By and by the keen eye of the fugitive catches sight of the figure of his mother’s totem. Casting aside all fear, he walks boldly along the beaten track that leads to the camp, and presents himself to the chief. He produces a string of kangaroo teeth, made in bead fashion, and a bunch of emu feathers… . This is a sign that he belongs to the Kangaroo totem tribe, and that his mother belongs to the Emu totem tribe. He is received into either of these tribes, and becomes one with them, and participates in all their privileges.

Ramsay recounts a number of folktales in which tribal membership (symbolized by the tribal totem) is important, including a number of tricksters tales in which a character cheats members of another tribe by claiming to be a member of their tribe via some ancient union between their peoples.

Totemism of some form was likely therefore important to at least some of the Aborigines. The totem itself operates, in my opinion a kind of flag (or mascot.) The totem represents the tribe and is carved on things to show that they belong to the tribe or to mark the tribe’s territory, just as a flag represents a country and marks the country’s territory. Likewise, just as tribes award their totem animals a kind of “sacred” status that makes eating (or breaking objects inscribed with their image) them taboo, so do most Americans abstain from eating bald eagles or destroying American flags (indeed, some people think that burning the American flag should be illegal!)

I must caution against overuse of the word “sacred.” For while we might not approve of hunting bald eagles for sport, we wouldn’t typically call bald eagles “sacred” in the religious sense.

Anyway, back to Durkheim:

“Thus the totem is before all a symbol, a material expression of something else. But of what?

“… it is the outward and visible form of what we have called the totemic principle or god. But it is also the symbol of the determined society called the clan. … if it is at once the symbol of the god and of the society, is that not because the god and the society are only one? … The god of the clan, the totemic principle, can therefore be nothing else than the clan itself, personified and presented to the imagination under the visible form of the animal or vegetable which serves as totem. …

“In fact, a god is, first of all, a being whom men think of as superior to themselves, and upon whom they feel that they depend. … the worshiper, in the one case as in the other, believes himself held to certain manners of acting which are imposed upon him by the nature of the sacred principle with which he feels he is in communion. Now society also gives us the sensation of a perpetual dependence. … It requires that, forgetful of our own interests, we make ourselves its servitors, and it submits us to every sort of inconvenience, privation, and sacrifice, without which social life would be impossible. …

“Since religious force is nothing other than the collective and anonymous force of the clan, and since this can be represented in the mind only in the form of the totem, the totemic emblem is like the visible body of the god. …

“We are now able to explain the origin of the ambiguity of religious forces as they appear in history… They are moral powers because they are made up entirely of the impressions this moral being, the group, arouses in those other moral beings, its individual members; they do not translate the manner in which physical thing affect our senses, but the way in which the collective consciousness acts upon individual consciousnesses. Their authority is only one from of the moral ascendancy of society over its members. … It is this double nature which has enabled religion to be like the womb from which come all the leading germs of human civilization.”

Evx: So, to summarize: the collective moral force of the community gives rise to the idea of the sacred, which creates religion, which in turn creates society, civilization, and all of the good things.

Which is circular, but so is gene-culture-co-evolution, so I suppose I can’t fault him on that count. The obvious critique here comes from religion: believers would likely object that their religion hails from an actual, real encounter between men and God(s). This explanation, though, runs into the difficulty of explaining all religions besides one’s own. Durkheim is attempting to create an explanation that applies equally to all religions, without appealing to any actual divine agents.

Leaving aside the reality of divinity, does Durkheim’s theory ring true? I am not convinced that he understands totemism, nor am I wholly convinced on the matter of magic, either. However, I his basic theory about the importance of religion underlying society, and possibly the importance of society underlying religion, seems on the correct track. Some form of common belief in the unity of the people of a society seems important to an actual society.

Let us suppose, for a moment, a society in which there are many ethnic groups, but they all believe in the same religion. This seems like a reasonably workable society where people can see themselves as having enough in common to work together. For example, Israel is a nation composed of many different ethnic groups which, nonetheless, all believe in Judaism and share an identity of themselves as “Jewish.” This works for them.

Let us also suppose a society with one ethnic group, but many religions. Since people prefer to marry within their own religion, creating the conditions for ethnic differentiation, we must suppose that the religions involved are sufficiently similar that people are still willing to inter-marry. This also seems like a reasonably workable society.

According to Pew, Taiwan and Vietnam are among the world’s most religiously diverse countries, but they are (as far as I know) ethnically quite homogenous. I confess that I don’t know much about civic life in Taiwan or Vietnam, but they seem to be holding together.

But suppose a third society, in which people belong to many different ethnic and religious groups: this seems in danger of becoming several different societies living in close proximity to each other.

The US is an interesting mix of forms. The initial founding stock consisted largely of Christians from northwest Europe and animists from Sub-Saharan Africa who quickly converted to Christianity. Most immigrants to the US have been Caucasian and/or Christian of some variety, eg, Mexicans, Quakers, Italians, Ashkenazim, Irish, Poles, and Puritans.

By contrast, when Malcolm X decided to convert to Islam, this was–at least symbolically–a way of breaking from the religious continuity of American Christianity. As a black separatist, he was no longer linked to white American society.

Personally, I don’t think it’s a big deal for a country to have small groups of disparate peoples within their borders. A few Buddhists or followers of traditional Native American religions aren’t hurting me. But large groups of people who see themselves as having nothing in common with each other seem problematic to the large-scale functioning of civic life in a nation, especially a democracy. (Might be just fine in an empire.)



Anthropology Friday: Gypsies

Vincent Van Gogh, The Caravans
Vincent Van Gogh, The Caravans

It is easy to romanticize the Gypsies–quaint caravans, jaunty music, and the nomadic lifestyle of the open road all lend themselves to pleasant fantasies. The reality of Gypsy life is much sadder. They are plagued by poverty, illiteracy, violence, the diseases of high consanguinity, and the meddling of outsiders, some better intentioned than others.

I’m going to start off with something which, if true, is rather poetic.

The Gypsies refer to themselves as Rom (or Romani.) I prefer “Gypsy” because I am an American who speaks English and “Gypsy” is the most accepted, well-known ethnonym in American English, but I am also familiar with Rom.

Anyway, there are a couple of other nomadic groups which appear to be related to the Rom, called the Lom and Dom (their langauges, respectively, are Romani, Domari, and Lomavren.) Genetically, these three groups may be the results of different waves of migration from India, where they may have originated from the Domba (or Dom) people.

All four groups speak Indo-European languages. According to Wikipedia:

Its presumed root, ḍom, which is connected with drumming, is linked to damara and damaru, Sanskrit terms for “drum” and the Sanskrit verbal root डम् ḍam- ‘to sound (as a drum)’, perhaps a loan from Dravidian, e.g. Kannadaḍamāra ‘a pair of kettle-drums’, and Teluguṭamaṭama ‘a drum, tomtom‘.[2]

The Gypsy flag features, appropriately, a wheel
The Gypsy flag features, appropriately, a wheel

Given the Gypsies’ reputation for musical ability, there is something lovely and poetic about having a name that literally means “Drum.”

Unfortunately, the rest of the picture is not so cheerful.

Isabel Fonseca recounts in Bury me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey:

The new socialist government in postwar Poland aspired to build a nationally and ethnically homogenous state. Although the Gypsies accounted for about .005 percent of the population, “the Gypsy problem” was labeled an “important sate task,” and an Office of Gypsy Affairs was established under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs–that is, the police. It was in operation until 1989.

In 1952 a broad program to enforce the settlement of Gypsies also came into effect: it was known a the Great Halt … The plan belonged to the feverish fashion for “productivization” which, with its well-intentioned welfare provisions, in fact imposed a new culture of dependency on the Gypsies, who had always opposed it. Similar legislation would be adopted in Czechoslovakia (1958), in Bulgaria (1958), and in Romania (1962), as the vogue for forced assimilation gathered momentum. … by the late 1960s settlement was the goal everywhere. In England and Wales … the 1968 Caravan Sites Act aimed to settle Gypsies (partially by a technique of population control known as “designation” in which whole large areas of the country were declared off-limits to Travelers). …

But no one has ever thought to ask the Gypsies themselves. And accordingly all attempts at assimilation have failed. …

In a revised edition of his great book The Gypsies in Poland, published in 1984, Ficowski reviews the results of the Big Halt campaign. “Gypsies no longer lead a nomadic life, and the number of illiterates has considerably fallen.” But even these gains were limited because Gypsy girls marry at the age of twelve or thirteen, and because “in the very few cases where individuals are properly educated, they usually tend to leave the Gypsy community.” The results were disastrous: “Opposition to the traveling of the Gypsy craftsmen, who had taken their tinsmithing or blacksmithing into the uttermost corner of the country, began gradually to bring about the disappearance of … most of the traditional Gypsy skills.” And finally, “after the loss of opportunities to practice traditional professions, [for many Gypsies] the main source of livelihood became preying on the rest of society.” Now there really was something to be nostalgic about. Wisdom comes too late. The owl of Minerva flies at dusk.

That a crude demographic experiment ended in rootlessness and squalor is neither surprising nor disputed… “

Cabrini Green, circa 1960
Cabrini Green, circa 1960

Of course, Gypsy life was not so great before settlement, either. Concentrations of poverty in the middle of cities may be much easier to measure and deplore than half-invisible migrant people on the margins of society, but no one appreciates being rounded up and forced into ghettos.

I am reminded here of all of the similar American attempts, from Pruit Igoe to Cabrini Green. Perhaps people had good intentions upon building these places. New, clean, cheap housing. A community of people like oneself, in the heart of a thriving city.

And yet they’ve all failed pretty miserably.

On the other hand, the Guardian reports on  violence (particularly domestic) in Gypsy communities in Britain:

..a study in Wrexham, cited in a paper by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2007, found that 61% of married English Gypsy women and 81% of Irish Travellers had experienced domestic abuse.

The Irish Travellers are ethnically Irish, not Gypsy, but lead similarly nomadic lives.

“I left him and went back to my mammy but he kept finding me, taking me home and getting me pregnant,” Kathleen says. She now feels safe because she has male family members living on the same site. “With my brother close by, he wouldn’t dare come here.” …

But domestic violence is just one of the issues tackled by O’Roarke during her visits. The welfare needs, particularly those of the women and girls, of this community are vast. The women are three times more likely to miscarry or have a still-born child compared to the rest of the population, mainly, it is thought, as a result of reluctance to undergo routine gynaecological care, and infections linked to poor sanitation and lack of clean water. The rate of suicides among Traveller women is significantly higher than in the general population, and life expectancy is low for women and men, with one third of Travellers dying before the age of 59. And as many Traveller girls are taken out of education prior to secondary school to prevent them mixing with boys from other cultures, illiteracy rates are high. …

Things seem set to get worse for Traveller women. Only 19 days after the general election last year, £50m that had been allocated to building new sites across London was scrapped from the budget. O’Roarke is expecting to be the only Traveller liaison worker in the capital before long – her funding comes from the Irish government.

“Most of the women can’t read or write. Who is supposed to help them if they get rid of the bit of support they have now?” asks O’Roarke. “We will be seeing Traveller women and their children on the streets because of these cuts. If they get a letter saying they are in danger of eviction but they can’t read it, what are they supposed to do?”

August Von Pettenkofen, Gipsy Children
August Von Pettenkofen, Gipsy Children

Welfare state logic is painful. Obviously Britain is a modern, first-world country with a free education system in which any child, male or female, can learn to read (unless they are severely low-IQ.) If Gypsies and Travellers want to preserve their cultures with some modicum of dignity, then they must read, because literacy is necessary in the modern economy. Forced assimilation or not, no one really needs traditional peripatetic tin and blacksmiths anymore. Industrialization has eliminated such jobs.

Kathleen, after spending time in a refuge after finally managing to escape her husband, was initially allocated a house, as opposed to a plot on a [trailer] site. Almost immediately her children became depressed. “It’s like putting a horse in a box. He would buck to get out,” says Kathleen. “We can’t live in houses; we need freedom and fresh air. I was on anti-depressives. The children couldn’t go out because the neighbours would complain about the noise.”

Now this I am more sympathetic to. While I dislike traveling, largely because my kids always get carsick, I understand that plenty of people actually like being nomadic. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if some people were genetically inclined to be outside, to move, to be constantly on the road, while others were genetically inclined to settle down in one place. To try to force either person into a lifestyle contrary to their own nature would be cruel.

Disease, lifestyle, and consanguinity in 58 American Gypsies:

Medical data on 58 Gypsies in the area of Boston, Massachusetts, were analysed together with a pedigree linking 39 of them in a large extended kindred. Hypertension was found in 73%, diabetes in 46%, hypertriglyceridaemia in 80%, hypercholesterolaemia in 67%, occlusive vascular disease in 39%, and chronic renal insufficiency in 20%. 86% smoked cigarettes and 84% were obese. Thirteen of twenty-one marriages were consanguineous, yielding an inbreeding coefficient of 0.017. The analysis suggests that both heredity and environment influence the striking pattern of vascular disease in American Gypsies.

Genetic studies of the Roma (Gypsies) A review:

Although far from systematic, the published information indicates that medical genetics has an important role to play in improving the health of this underprivileged and forgotten people of Europe. Reported carrier rates for some Mendelian disorders are in the range of 5 -15%, sufficient to justify newborn screening and early treatment, or community-based education and carrier testing programs for disorders where no therapy is currently available. …

12881_2001_article_6_fig2_htmlReported gene frequencies are high for both private and “imported” mutations, and often exceed by an order of magnitude those for global populations. For example, galactokinase deficiency whose worldwide frequency is 1:150,000 to 1:1,000,000 [56,57] affects 1 in 5,000 Romani children [44]; autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) has a global prevalence of 1:1000 individuals worldwide [58] and 1:40 among the Roma in some parts of Hungary [17]; primary congenital glaucoma ranges between 1:5,000 and 1:22,000 worldwide [59,60] and about 1:400 among the Roma in Central Slovakia [61,62].

Carrier rates for a number of disorders have been estimated to be in the 5 to 20% range (Table 3). …

Historical demographic data are limited, however tax registries and census data give an approximate idea of population size and rate of demographic growth through the centuries (Table 4). A small size of the original population is suggested by the fact that although most of the migrants arriving in Europe in the 11th-12th century remained within the limits of the Ottoman Empire [1,75], the overall number of Roma in its Balkan provinces in the 15th century was estimated at only 17,000. …

12881_2001_article_6_fig4_htmlDuring its subsequent history in Europe, this founder population split into numerous socially divided and geographically dispersed endogamous groups, with historical records from different parts of the continent consistently describing the travelling Gypsies as “a group of 30 to 100 people led by an elder” [1,2]. These splits, a possible compound product of the ancestral tradition of the jatis of India, and the new social pressures in Europe (e.g. Gypsy slavery in Romania [76] and repressive legislation banning Gypsies from most western European countries [1,2]), can be regarded as secondary bottlenecks, reducing further the number of unrelated founders in each group. The historical formation of the present-day 8 million Romani population of Europe is therefore the product of the complex initial migrations of numerous small groups, superimposed on which are two large waves of recent migrations from the Balkans into Western Europe, in the 19th – early 20th century, after the abolition of slavery in Rumania [1,2,76] and over the last decade, after the political changes in Eastern Europe [7,8]. …

Individual groups can be classified into major metagroups [1,2,75]: the Roma of East European extraction; the Sinti in Germany and Manouches in France and Catalonia; the Kaló in Spain, Ciganos in Portugal and Gitans of southern France; and the Romanichals of Britain [1]. The greatest diversity is found in the Balkans, where numerous groups with well defined social boundaries exist. The 700-800,000 Roma in Bulgaria belong to three metagroups, comprising a large number of smaller groups [75].

Current Developments in Anthropological Genetics reports:

picture-2 picture-3

Of course, if you want the full details on consanguinity in Gypsies, you have to read HBDChick:

the actual cousin marriage rates vary though from (as you’ll see below) ca. 10-30% first cousin only marriages amongst gypsies in slovakia to 29% first+second cousin marriages amongst gypsies in spain [pdf] to 36% first+second cousin marriages amongst gypsies in wales [pdf]. these rates are comparable to those found in places like turkey (esp. eastern turkey) or north africa…or southern india.

I’m not quoting the whole thing for you; you’ll just have to go read the whole thing yourself.

Health Status of Gypsies and Travellers in England:

The 1987 national study of Travellers’ health status in Ireland11 reported a high death rate for all causes and lower life expectancy for Irish Travellers: women 11.9 years and men 9.9 years lower than the non‐Traveller population. Our pilot study of 87 Gypsies and Travellers matched for age and sex with indigenous working class residents in a socially deprived area of Sheffield,12 reported statistically and clinically significant differences between Gypsies and Travellers and their non‐Gypsy comparators in some aspects of health status, and significant associations with smoking and with frequency of travelling. The report of the Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths in the UK, 1997–1999, found that Gypsies and Travellers have “possibly the highest maternal death rate among all ethnic groups”.13

picture-1And as Dr. James Thompson notes, Gypsies do not do well on IQ tests, with many groups scoring in the 60-85 range. (White Americans average 100.)

This is all kind of depressing, but I have a thought: if Gypsies want to preserve their culture and improve their lives, perhaps the disease burden may be lessened and IQs raised by encouraging young Gypsy men and women to find partners in other Gypsy groups from other countries instead of from within their own kin groups.

According to Wikipedia:

Further evidence for the South Asian origin of the Romanies came in the late 1990s. Researchers doing DNA analysis discovered that Romani populations carried large frequencies of particular Y chromosomes (inherited paternally) and mitochondrial DNA (inherited maternally) that otherwise exist only in populations from South Asia.

47.3% of Romani men carry Y chromosomes of haplogroup H-M82 which is rare outside South Asia.[18] Mitochondrial haplogroup M, most common in Indian subjects and rare outside Southern Asia, accounts for nearly 30% of Romani people.[18] A more detailed study of Polish Roma shows this to be of the M5 lineage, which is specific to India.[19] Moreover, a form of the inherited disorder congenital myasthenia is found in Romani subjects. This form of the disorder, caused by the 1267delG mutation, is otherwise known only in subjects of Indian ancestry. This is considered to be the best evidence of the Indian ancestry of the Romanis.[20]

Map of Gypsy migrations into Europe
Map of Gypsy migrations into Europe

I must stop here and note that I have painted a largely depressing picture. It is not the picture I want to paint. I would like to paint a picture of hope and triumph. Certainly there are many talented, hard-working, kind, decent, and wonderful Gypsies. I hope the best for them, and a brighter future for their children.