The Attempt to Convert the Indians to Memetic Puritanism (part 3/3 ruminations on Indians and Puritans)

(Part 1: Oppression is in the Eye of the Beholder; part 2: Species of Exit: Memes, Genes, and Puritans.)

Before I got distracted by pre-Civil War election data, we were discussing the Puritans.

Where, exactly, ideas and behaviors come from is always a matter of debate in conversations like these; were the Puritans Puritans because of their conversion to a particularly strict version of Calvinism, or was it just something genetic? (Or could it be both?)

Interestingly, the Puritans decided to do an experiment on the subject, in their attempt to convert the local Indians to memetic Puritanism.

Once the Massachusetts colonies got off the ground (that is, once they stopped losing half their population to starvation and disease every winter and had enough food to start thinking about the future,) they began taking seriously the Biblical injunction to preach the Gospel to all four corners of the Earth. In 1651, the Puritans established Natic as the first “Praying Town” for Indian converts. Soon many more popped up across Massachusetts and nearby Connecticut.

The Jesuit missionaries up in Canada had attempted to convert the Indians without significantly changing their lifestyles–to create Christian Indians, if you will. By contrast, the denizens of the new Praying Towns were expected to become Puritans.

A Puritan, I suspect, could see it no other way. Divine election was manifest in one’s behavior, after all, and Puritans took behavior seriously. And being Puritans, they outlined the Rules of Conduct for the “Praying Indians” of the Praying Towns:

I. If any man shall be idle a week, or at most a fortnight, he shall be fined five shillings.
II. If any unmarried man shall lie with a young woman unmarried, he shall be fined five shillings.
III. If any man shall beat his wife, his hands shall be tied behind him, and he shall be carried to the place of justice to be punished severely.
IV. Every young man, if not another’s servant, and if unmarried, shall be compelled to set up a wigwam, and plant for himself, and not shift up and down in other wigwams.
V. If any woman shall not have her hair tied up, but hang lose, or be cut as a man’s hair, she shall pay five shillings.
VI. If any woman shall go with naked breasts, she shall pay two shillings.
VII. All men that shall wear long locks, shall pay five shillings.
VIII. If any shall crack lice between their teeth, they shall pay five shillings.

Aside from the lice cracking, which seems more of a petty hygiene concern (crack lice with nails, not teeth,) the list likely preserves for us the behaviors Puritans valued most, and those at most at variance between the Puritans and Indians.

Idleness tops our list, coming in both at number 1 and again at number 4. The Puritans definitely believed in hard work; that is how they managed to build a civilization in the wilderness.

The low-key hunter-gatherer / horticulturalist lifestyle of the Indians, (without draft animals, they had little ability to plow or pull wagons,) did not require the kind of constant effort and energy inputs as the more intensive Puritan agricultural and technological systems, so this may have been a matter of contention between the groups.

Rules 2 and 3 protected women, 2 from the predations of unmarried men and 3 from domestic violence. (Of course, prominent historians like Howard Zinn would have you believe that such rules show how much the Puritans oppressed women.)

And 5-7 details Puritan clothing norms–they still thought it morally imperative to dress like they were in blustery England, even during the wretched Massachusetts summers.

The existence of the Praying Towns is credited largely to Reverend John Elliot, who devoted his life to converting the Indians and printed America’s first Bible, Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God, translated into the Massachusett-Natick language. Elliot received funding from “A Corporation for the Promoting and Propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England,” created by the British Parliament, which raised about £12,000 pounds sterling. (How exactly this corporation was supposed to make money, I’m not sure.)

How successful were the Praying Towns?

Unfortunately, the websites I’ve found on the subject, (Wikipedia etc.,) don’t give many details about life in the Praying Towns or what the Puritans–and other Indians–thought of them. There are indications that things were not going as well as Elliot would have liked–the Wikipedia claims, broadly:

“While the idea of praying towns was somewhat a success, they did not reach the level John Eliot had hoped for. While the Puritans were pleased with the conversions, Praying Indians were still seen as second rate citizens and never gained the degree of trust or respect that they had hoped the conversion would grant them. It has also been argued that the Natives had a difficult time adjusting to the impersonal English society, since theirs had been built upon relationships and reciprocity, while the English were more structured and institutionalized. According to this view, this difference made it hard for Natives to see the institutionalized structures as a whole, and John Eliot had failed to see the need for adaptations appropriate for smoother transitions.[4]

In other words, the Indians were more tribal than the Puritans. They probably didn’t have the same ideas about compulsive working, too. If you want compulsive workers, hire Germans or Japanese. They have been selected for the past 1,000 years or so for their ability to work hard in feudal agricultural systems. If you want someone who’ll ignore the hungry cattle lowing to be let into the pastures, hire a hunter-gatherer. Horticulturalists lie between these two extremes; if you want to convert horticulturalists to intensive farmers, then it’ll take at least a few generations.

Chances are good that few people on Earth could ever quite live up to the Puritans’ standards of behavior, including the Puritans themselves.

The experiment came to an abrupt and terminal end as war broke out in 1675 between the colonists and some of the local Indians. The Puritan population had grown from 0 to 50,000-80,000 people in 55 years, bringing them into competition with the Indians for land and other resources. Estimates of the Indian population vary; a colonial census in 1680 came up with 1,000 Indians; others estimate 20,000. Given the tech levels and disease (epidemics caused by exposure to European germs had wiped out potentially 90% of the local population before the Pilgrims arrived,) I suspect the number was about 5,000 to 10,000 Indians.

Conflicts intensified until the Indians decided to kick out the colonists, attacking and massacring a bunch of towns. The colonists fought back and, obviously, won–the time to go slaughtering the colonists was back when a few smallpox-ridden fishermen showed up on the beach, not once the Indians were massively outnumbered in their own land. Like most wars, it was brutal and nasty; thousands of people died, most of them Indians.

The colonists weren’t sure what to do with the Praying Indians, who weren’t quite Puritans, but also weren’t the guys massacring Puritans.

So the Puritans moved the Praying Indians to an island off the coast, where winter + no food promptly killed most of them.

As I’ve said before, once you are a demographic minority, there is absolutely nothing to stop the majority from herding you into concentration camps and murdering you and your children, except for how much they pity you.

John Elliot seems to have been truly concerned about the fate of his Indian friends, but his attempts to help him were thwarted by other, more militaristic colonists. In this the colonists sinned; they showed themselves bad allies to their brothers in faith. If they felt they could not be certain about the Indians’ loyalty, then they should not have been moving them into little towns in the first place.

It’s not clear what happened to the few Praying Indians after the war, or how long some of the towns lasted, but the Indians are still around and still Christian, unlike the Puritans.

(Part 1 in this series: Oppression is in the Eye of the Beholder; part 2: Species of Exit: Memes, Genes, and Puritans.)

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South Africa, democracy, and the dangers of demographics (part 1)

(Remember, creatives are psychotic.)
People have been bugging me to write a post on South Africa ever since I started this blog, more or less, so here you go.

South-Africa-Physical-Map

I regard South Africa (SA) as one of the most misunderstood countries in the world, so I’m going to start with the history and try to clear up some potential misconceptions.

Disclaimer: I am not a South Africa scholar. This is what I’ve cobbled together by reading first and second hand accounts on the internet, Wikipedia, talking to friends who’ve lived in SA, etc. Since I’ve never been there myself, there’s always a chance that I’ve trusted the wrong people or come to some incorrect conclusions, but as always, I’ve tried to present an accurate picture.

The most common misconception I run across is that whites arrived recently in SA, conquered and oppressed the natives via apartheid and after years of righteous struggle, the native people of South Africa have finally gotten the right to vote and run their own country.

1389280741492

History, as usual, tells a slightly different story.

The dominant group in South Africa today is the Bantus. Nelson Mandela, for example, was a Bantu.

When the first Europeans arrived at the Cape of Good Hope (later site of Cape Town and most of the economic development of the state of South Africa,) most of the people there were Bushmen, (aka San aka KhoiSan,) who were hunter-gatherers. Not Bantus.

Southern African Rock Art

Distribution of ancient paintings and engravings attributed to the San

Modern distribution of major African language groups
Modern distribution of African languages–Bantus in orange. Note the isolated pocket of KhoiSan speakers up in Tanzania

If you believe that ancestrality determines a person’s right to a country, then the KhoiSan have a right to the Cape, and the Johnny-Come-Latey Bantus do not.

If you haven’t been reading along, you might think that the Bushmen and the Bantus are probably closely related, and that I am merely splitting hairs.

No. The Bantus are more closely related to Koreans, Australian Aborigines, and even Europeans than they are to the Bushmen.

As we’ve discussed before, the Bushmen are one of the world’s most isolated peoples, having split off from the rest of the human population, (or perhaps the rest of the humans split off from them,) 100,000 years or more ago. The Out-of-Africa event only happened 70,000 years ago, so only 70,000 years separates the Bantus from all non-Africans, but 100,000 years separate the Bantus from the San.

So. The original inhabitants of the area, who’d been there for about 100,000 years, were the San. Most of them were hunter-gatherers, which means their population density was really low; much of the area appears to have been uninhabited, given regions with names like “Nomansland”. Some of the Khoi peoples, though, had adopted animal herding.

The Bantus came originally from somewhere up near Nigeria, but by the relevant time period, occupied the north east part of South Africa, which they’d conquered from the San. (The Cape of Good Hope, where the Europeans settled, is in the south west corner. Hardly anyone has ever lived in the north west corner, because it’s desert.)

The first European in the area was Portuguese sailor Bartolomeu Dias, (and, obviously, his crew,) way back in 1488. In 1647, the Dutch built a small fort in the area, and in 1652, the Dutch East India Company (which I wrote about recently,) set up a supply station and fortifications on the Cape. By 1659, the Dutch were producing corn, wine, and babies.

Most of the KhoiSan people were probably killed, either outright by warfare or by diseases they had no resistance to, but I have no numbers and am just speculating. There are still KhoiSan people in SA and neighboring places, so they are not all dead.

By 1800, some of the mixed-race children/descendants of the Dutch and the locals, KhoiSan, former slaves*, and the like decided they’d had enough of the Dutch and migrated northward, establishing Griqualand in an apparently uninhabited area. They migrated around a bit, and eventually Griqualand got moved to the region formerly known as Nomansland.

*The slaves were imported from elsewhere in Africa, since the Dutch considered it a bad idea to enslave the locals.

The British took possession of the Cape during the Napoleonic Wars. They promptly set about outlawing slavery and the Dutch language, so a lot of the Dutch decided to leave, too. By the 1830s, they were leaving by the hundreds, a migration known as the “Great Trek.” (There is some debate about whether outlawing slavery was actually a big deal to the Trekkers, as they tended to be the poorer folks who would have been less likely to own slaves in the first place, but I don’t know anywhere near enough history here to weigh in on the debate.)

Paths of the Great Trek
Paths of the Great Trek–note the locations of the Cape Colony in the south east, and the Zulu kingdom in the north west.

The Dutch population by this point also included a lot of Germans, French, etc., and so would be more accurately called Afrikaners.  These Trekkers, or Voortrekkers, or Boers, or Trekboers, or Afrikaners, whatever we want to call them.

These Afrikaners are an interesting people, who endured considerable hardship to go live in the middle of nowhere with nothing but what they could carry in small wagons, their family, faith, and a few guns. They trekked toward the north east, until they ran smack into the southern end of the Great Bantu Migration. The Bantus (Zulus) massacred about 500 Boers–men, women, and children–in the middle of the night. Shortly after, approximately 30,000 Zulu soldiers attacked 460 Boers, at the Battle of Blood River. This time the Boers were awake, and since they had guns and the Zulus had pointy sticks, 3,000 Zulus died and 3 Boers were injured. (December, 1836.)

Long story short, the Boers established several small, independent republics up in north east South Africa, the details of which are too complicated for our current discussion, but you may want to remember the names Orange Free State, Transvaal, and Natal.

The British-controlled Cape Colony is in blue; Boer Transvaal in Green; Boer Free Orange State in orange; Zulu state, Natal (aka Natalia,) is in red.
The British-controlled Cape Colony is in blue; Boer Transvaal in Green; Boer Free Orange State in orange; Zulu state, Natal (aka Natalia,) is in red.

In 1866, diamonds were discovered on the banks of the Orange River. The diamond-rich territory was eventually awarded to Griqualand, which was subsequently annexed by Britain in 1874. In 1886, gold was found in Transvaal. The British had tried to conquer Transvaal in 1877, but did not succeed until the Second Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902, which ended with the annexation of both Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

Boers forced to watch their home burned to the ground
Boers forced to watch their home burned to the ground

Lots of people were killed, but eventually the British got the upper hand and, having decided they were sick of the Boers, herded them into concentration camps and tried to kill them all:

“This was not the first appearance of internment camps. … But the Boer War concentration camp system was the first time that a whole nation had been systematically targeted, and the first in which some whole regions had been depopulated.

“Eventually, there were a total of 45 tented camps built for Boer internees and 64 for black Africans. Of the 28,000 Boer men captured as prisoners of war, 25,630 were sent overseas. The vast majority of Boers remaining in the local camps were women and children. Over 26,000 women and children were to perish in these concentration camps.

“… 93,940 Boers and 24,457 black Africans were reported to be in “camps of refuge” and the crisis was becoming a catastrophe as the death rates appeared very high, especially among the children.

“A report after the war concluded that 27,927 Boers (of whom 24,074 [50 percent of the Boer child population] were children under 16) had died of starvation, disease and exposure in the concentration camps. In all, about one in four (25 percent) of the Boer inmates, mostly children, died.

“Improvements [however] were much slower in coming to the black camps.”[51] It is thought that about 12 percent of black African inmates died (about 14,154) but the precise number of deaths of black Africans in concentration camps is unknown as little attempt was made to keep any records of the 107,000 black Africans who were interned.” —Wikipedia

Her name was Lizzie Van Zyl.
Her name was Lizzie Van Zyl. She was 7 years old.

“[Hobhouse] describes Lizzie as “a frail, weak little child in desperate need of good care”, who was placed on the lowest rations and, after a month, was moved to the new hospital about 50 kilometres (31 miles) away from the concentration camp, suffering from starvation.

According to Hobhouse, she was treated harshly in the hospital. Unable to speak English, she was labelled an “idiot” by an English-speaking doctor and her nurses, who were unable to understand her. One day she started calling for her mother; a lady went over to comfort her, but “was brusquely interrupted by one of the nurses who told her not to interfere with the child as she was a nuisance.” Lizzie died in 1901 at 7 years of age.”

As a mother, I look at Lizzie and feel like someone has torn my heart out and stomped on it.

To add insult to murder,

“The photo [of Lizzie] was used as propaganda, author Hélène Opperman Lewis states, to convince the British public that Boer children were neglected by their parents. The image was released with the detail that it was taken when van Zyl and her mother entered the camp. Chamberlain was quoted in The Times on 5 March 1902, saying that Lizzy’s mother was prosecuted for mistreatment.[4]

Hobhouse investigated the case and was unable to find any evidence of the case or prosecution of Lizzie’s mother. She located the photographer, a man named Mr. de Klerk, who confirmed that the photograph was taken two months after Lizzie arrived at the camp.[4]”

And people accuse the Afrikaners of being racist.

I count about 62,000 people dead in this war. Certainly it was no WWII, but then, South Africa didn’t have that many people to start with, so percentage wise, it’s pretty significant.

Now, I want to pause and look at some demographic issues that contributed to the Anglo-Boer War. Note that the Boers had been pretty much going along, minding their own business, running their own country, for several decades before this war started. They’d gone through quite a bit of effort to get away from the British, successfully defeated the Zulus (and other tribes,) and weren’t even the worst people in the area.

“But wait,” I hear you saying, “Didn’t the Boers have slaves? Or at least Apartheid?”

I actually don’t remember if they had slaves; if they did, they are still better than the Congolese, who are not only enslaving the Pygmies right now, but also literally eat other humans. As for apartheid, do you think the Zulus were letting their conquered subjects vote? (Or live?)

For the most part, the Boers just wanted to be left the fuck alone–they didn’t conquer the Griquas, they abandoned their colony after the British took it over rather than fight for it, and I don’t think they were even messing with Natal. They just had the bad luck to have gold and diamonds, and the British decided they wanted gold and diamonds.

“In 1866 Erasmus Jacobs discovered diamonds at Kimberley, prompting a diamond rush and a massive influx of foreigners to the borders of the Orange Free State. Then in 1886, an Australian discovered gold in the Witwatersrand area of the South African Republic. Gold made the Transvaal the richest and potentially the most powerful nation in southern Africa; however, the country had neither the manpower nor the industrial base to develop the resource on its own. As a result, the Transvaal reluctantly acquiesced to the immigration of uitlanders (foreigners), mainly from Britain, who came to the Boer region in search of fortune and employment. This resulted in the number of uitlanders in the Transvaal potentially exceeding the number of Boers, and precipitated confrontations between the earlier-arrived Boer settlers and the newer, non-Boer arrivals.” —Wikipedia [Bold mine]

The British then demanded voting rights for their citizens in Transvaal, the Boers realized that they were outnumbered and that letting the Brits vote would result in their country becoming part of the British Empire and so refused, and so the war began.

Once you are a demographic minority, there is absolutely nothing to stop the majority from herding you into concentration camps and murdering you and your children, except for how much they pity you.

And nobody pities you, my friend.

At any rate, South Africa was thus forged from the Cape Colony, Natal, the Orange Free State, and Transvaal. (I still don’t know why Lesotho is independent. Perhaps no diamonds, or maybe just the fact that it’s on top of some mountains.) The British instituted the system of apartheid, perhaps because they felt like it, perhaps because they felt like making some concessions to the conquered Afrikaners.

SA became an independent country again in 1960. In 1966, UN resolution 2202 A (XXI) declared apartheid “A Crime Against Humanity.” (Of course, the UN also criticized the Vietnamese for kicking the Khmer Rouge out of Cambodia and decided to let the deposed Khmer Rouge gov’t continue holding its seat in the UN despite being one of the most genocidal regimes the earth has ever seen, so who gives a shit what the UN thinks?)

Deaths under apartheid:

“By mid-1987 the Human Rights Commission knew of at least 140 political assassinations in the country, while about 200 people died at the hands of South African agents in neighbouring states. The exact numbers of all the victims may never be known. …

“Between 1960 and 1994, according to statistics from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Inkatha Freedom Party was responsible for 4,500 deaths, South African Police 2,700, and the ANC about 1,300.[135]” —Wikipedia

3,100+ murders attributed to the SA government, and 5,800 murders attributed to the anti-apartheid fighters.

The ANC (African National Congress,) Nelson Mandela’s party, is a communist organization that received direct funding and training by the Soviet Union. (I strongly suspect that the vast majority of anti-colonialist movements were funded by the Soviets, as colonialism has strong capitalist ties, eg, the Dutch East India Company, and so Communism morphed into an anti-colonialist ideology by the 50s or 60s.)

The ANC engaged in a brutal execution method called necklacing:

Necklacing Victim
Necklacing Victim, burned alive

“In 1986 Winnie Mandela, then-wife of the imprisoned Nelson Mandela, stated “With our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country. …

The first victim of necklacing, according to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was a young girl, Maki Skosana, on 20 July 1985.[10]

Moloko said her sister was burned to death with a tire around her neck while attending the funeral of one of the youths. Her body had been scorched by fire and some broken pieces of glass had been inserted into her vagina, Moloko told the committee. Moloko added that a big rock had been thrown on her face after she had been killed.[11]” —wikipedia

As you know, nothing makes your country productive like electing communists who make their points by shoving broken glass into little girls’ vaginas.

Inkatha seems a little more into tribal pride and less communist; they’ve recently lost a bunch of parliamentary seats to the explicitly communist Economic Freedom Fighters. The EFF’s leader, Julius Malema, is a lovely person who admires Mugabe, advocates Mugabe-style seizure of mines and other economic resources in SA, and likes to lead the SA parliament in rousing choruses of “Shoot the Boer,” an old anti-apartheid war song.

You mean you can just make more of these things? Mugabe is brilliant!
You mean you can just print more of these things? Mugabe is brilliant!

SA president Jacob Zuma, a guy who gets 1.2 million pounds per year to support his four wives, is also fond “Shoot the Boer”:

“We are going to shoot them with machine guns, they are going to run… The cabinet will shoot them, with the machine gun… Shoot the Boer, we are going to hit them, they are going to run.”

Don’t worry; South Africans are very good at killing Boers, and getting better. Here’s what Genocide Watch has to say:

“Cape Town – Social media buzzed on Monday over a picture of a banner allegedly shown at the Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) launch in Marikana.

A picture showing a red banner with the words “A revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate” was quickly shared on various social networks on Monday.

Another picture shows a banner saying “Honeymoon is over for white people in South Africa”.

“I also saw ‘we need to kill them like they killed us’ banners yesterday,” User Qaanitah Hunter said in a Tweet.”

Gulags are a feature of communism, not bugs
Gulags are a feature of communism, not bugs

From the second PDF:

“Over 3,000 white farmers have been murdered since the end of apartheid, according to Genocide Watch. Twenty years ago, there were 60,000 farmers. Today there are 30,000.

On August 8, two men were convicted of killing a 77-year-old man and his wife on their farm in Somerset. The husband was hacked to pieces. The wife was tied up, thrown in a freezer, and buried in frozen meat. She suffocated to death.

According to the police, the motivation was robbery.

On August 11, four men broke into 57-year-old Vivien Ponté’s home. She was tied to her bed, raped and lit on fire. Her house was ransacked, but it is unclear if anything was stolen.

Just another robbery gone bad.

On August 15, an 83-year-old Volksrust woman was assaulted, raped and left for dead, lying naked on the floor.

The list of “robberies” goes on. …

Beginning in 2003, the government began disbanding the rural commando units used to protect the remote farming communities that did not have police protection. The government said the commandos were unconstitutional and promised special police units to replace them. In 2008, the last commando unit was disbanded.

To this day, the special police forces still haven’t arrived.

Then in 2010, the government passed gun-control laws mandating that all guns be re-registered. In the process of registration, more than half the applicants were turned down and their weapons were seized.”

Various sources estimate the murder rate of SA farmers at about 100 per 100,000.

But you know, the Afrikaners are the racists.

Oh, let me include a bit from the Wikipedia page on Malema:

“Malema visited Zimbabwe in October 2012… “He said the youths in South Africa were calling for whites to surrender land and minerals resources they hold because when they came from Europe they did not carry any land into South Africa.”

“‘What we are asking is for them to surrender our minerals because they did not come with any minerals. We want that land and those minerals for free because they never paid for those minerals.’

“Malema told the youth he was in Zimbabwe to gain inspiration and wisdom, so that when he returned home he could “double the spirit of fighting against imperialist forces”.[77] He called on black South Africans to have as many children as possible so as to increase dominance of ‘our ideas’ in the world at large and help catalyze world revolution.[78][79]

“‘We want to see many kids, why? Because we must reproduce ourselves. For our ideas to be sustainable, we have to reproduce ourselves. In the whole of Africa, we are not more than one billion and the world has seven billion people. In Africa we have not more than one billion people… facing more than six billion. We have to be half of that so that our ideas can dominate. I know that in some instances size does not matter… but when it comes to a revolution, size matters.[79]‘” (bold mine)

Malema is descended from Bantus, so he is no more entitled to the mines than anyone else is, and certainly no one was mining those minerals before the Boers and English got there. If they were precious to Malema’s people, they would have been mining them, but they weren’t.

This is getting long, so I am going to continue with Part 2 tomorrow.

Pygmies: Among the world’s most isolated peoples, or archaic hominin admixture?

Pygmies are interesting because:

1. They’re the world’s shortest peoples

2. They’re rainforest hunter-gatherers

3. They appear to have split off from the rest of humanity and have been relatively isolated for longer than almost anyone else on Earth.

4. They’re getting wiped out by their neighbors, so we’d better learn about them now.

First, Who are the Pygmies?

“Pygmy” does not refer (as far as we know) to one specific ethnic group, but to the members of any ethnic group in which adult men are, on average, 4’11” or shorter. In practice, people tend to only use the word Pygmy to refer to certain African groups; there are short-statured groups found outside of Africa, but we’ll discuss them in another post.

The principle African Pygmies are the Aka, Baka, Mbuti, and Twa. (Some countries and groups use different name; I am not an expert on Pygmies, so I’m sure there is much I’ve missed.) The Mbuti are probably the shortest, with an average height under 4’6″. There are about 250,000 to 600,000 Pygmies, scattered about the Congo rainforest:

Locations of some Pygmy groups
Locations of some Pygmy groups

We’ve known for a while that the Pygmies–especially the Mbuti Pygmies–and their more southerly neighbors, the San, appear to be the most genetically divergent people on Earth:

Average age of SNPs in different populations, from West Hunter
Average age of SNPs in different populations, from West Hunter

You might have to squint, but the Pygmies and San are on the far right.

In normal English, what does this mean? Here is my understanding:

There are parts of your (our) genome where random mutations won’t generally kill you. Random mutations tend, therefore, to accumulate there. Since have some pretty decent estimates for how often random mutations occur, comparing the mutations in two different populations lets us estimate how long ago they split. For example, let’s suppose you get one random mutation per hundred years, and we’re comparing two populations that split 300 years ago and haven’t seen each other since. Population A should have gotten 3 mutations during that 300 years, and Population B should have gotten 3 mutations. So if we look at a third population, C, and find that they have 5 mutations that they don’t share with A or B, then we conclude that C split off from some ancestral population 500 years ago. We can reconstruct this as: 600 years ago, there was a group called ABC, but 500 years ago, it split into Group AB and Group C. 300 years ago, Group AB split into Group A and Group B.

Anatomically Modern Humans (that is, Homo Sapiens Sapiens,) according to our best estimates, emerged around 200,000 years ago in central Africa. We’re used to talking about the Out of Africa event, when humans started wandering around the rest of the globe, but it looks like the first major migration event might have been toward the south:

Map of early diversification of modern humans according to mitochondrial population genetics
Map of early diversification of modern humans according to mitochondrial population genetics, from Wikipedia

Those guys who went south (Pygmies, Bushmen aka San,) look like they’ve been isolated down there for an awfully long time–much longer than, say, the Australian Aborigines, who got to Australia about 50,000 years ago.

A recent paper by PingHsun Hsieh et al, “Whole genome sequence analyses of Western Central African Pygmy hunter-gatherers reveal a complex demographic history and identify candidate genes under positive natural selection,” describes the results of sequencing 4 Biaka Pygmy genomes and comparing them to 3 Baka Pygmy and 9 Yoruba genomes. (The Yoruba are farmers.)

“Our two best-fit models both suggest ancient divergence between the ancestors of the farmers and Pygmies, 90,000 or 150,000 years ago. We also find that bi-directional asymmetric gene-flow is statistically better supported than a single pulse of unidirectional gene flow from farmers to Pygmies, as previously suggested.”

That’s a long time ago!

(“Bi-directional asymmetric gene-flow” means that they have occasionally inter-married, but not equal numbers of men and women.)

BUT, and this is where I get speculative and may be saying things that a real scientist would tell me are just dumb, what if the Pygmies (and San) actually split off more recently, and just picked up some archaic hominin DNA on their way south?

It’s not so far-fetched an idea. Everyone outside of Sub-Sharan Africa seems to have some Neanderthal DNA, picked up around the time their ancestors left Africa (Northern Africa has had a lot of mixing with non-African populations over the years, so I assume North Africans have Neanderthal DNA, too.) Melanesians (eg, guys from Papua New Guinea and a bunch of tiny Pacific Islands,) and Australian Aborigines are about 4%-6% Denisovan, but it looks like no one else is. Wikipedia article on archaic admixture.

Less is known about potential hominin admixture in Sub-Saharan populations. This may just be because we’ve sequenced far more European genomes and all sorts of remains tend to rot really quickly in the rainforest, making it hard to uncover any archaic DNA to compare modern humans to. However, I can’t help but think that few scientists wanted to be the guy who announced archaic hominin admixture in Sub-Saharan Africans before it was announced in Europeans. That seems like the kind of finding that could quickly get your department defunded, not to mention a lot of people mad at you and a ton of nonsense on the internet.

But with archaic admixture showing up all over the place, no one need worry about the political implications anymore, and science can get on with its business.

So, anyway, what if, on their way into the rainforest, the Pygmies’ ancestors encountered–and bred with–some other group of archaic hominins? (No, not chimps or gorillas–they have a different number of chromosomes than we do, so you couldn’t get viable offspring with them, similar to how mules are infertile.) They would have been more like Neandearthals, though obviously probably shorter.

It seems to me that a more recent divergence from other human groups + archaic admixture could result in a similar number of different genetic mutations as a much more ancient divergence + no admixture.

It also seems like you could have a third scenario: Pygmies (and San) have experienced recent selective pressure on parts of their genomes that no one else has. Maybe the parts of the genome that for everyone else have been just been accumulating random mutations have been important for the recent evolution of the San and Pygmy peoples, and so they’ve been accumulating changes faster than everyone else.

 

At any rate, the Pygmies are still genetically unique among humans.

Unfortunately, the Pygmies are not doing so well. The Batwa got kicked out of their homes in order to make a gorilla reserve. As hunter gatherers with no title deeds to the land they lived on, the government (Uganda) didn’t bother to give them new land or homes. In other words, the Batwa Pygmies were treated worse than the gorillas. (Today, some NGOs have helped the Batwa get new land and set them up as a living ethno-theme park for tourists, which I guess isn’t the worst fate in the world.)

The Bantus (who, despite living in Africa, are probably more closely related to Koreans than Pygmies,) use the Pygmies as slaves.

The Congolese (Democratic Republic of the Congo) have been literally eating the Pygmies, especially the Mbuti Pygmies, whom they regard as sub-human. Astoundingly, one of the reasons cited for genocidal cannibalism is that they want to open up Pygmy lands for mineral exploitation.

70,000 Pygmies have been killed in the civil wars in the DRC and Rwanda.

While I caution against idolizing the Pygmy villages as non-violent Edens (I have no idea what their violence rates are, but past experience suggests that it’s probably actually pretty high,) at least they aren’t cannibals. The Pygmies are smaller than everyone else and have only stone-age technology, so they tend to get defeated easily.

Pretty soon, there might not be any Pygmies left to talk about.

Some photos:

Pygmy village
Pygmy village

 

Women of the Batwa Pygmies
Women of the Batwa Pygmies

 

Batwa Pygmies
Batwa Pygmies singing and dancing