Let’s Talk Genetics (Polish and German)

source: Big Think: Genetic map of Europe

Continuing with our discussion of German/Polish history/languages/genetics, let’s look at what some actual geneticists have to say.

(If you’re joining us for the first time, the previous two posts summarize to: due to being next door to each other and having been invaded/settled over the millennia by groups which didn’t really care about modern political borders, Polish and German DNA are quite similar. More recent events, however, like Germany invading Poland and trying to kill all of the Poles and ethnic Germans subsequently fleeing/being expelled from Poland at the end of the war have created conditions necessary for genetic differentiation in the two populations.)

So I’ve been looking up whatever papers I can find on the subject.

In Contemporary paternal genetic landscape of Polish and German populations: from early medieval Slavic expansion to post-World War II resettlements, Rebala et al write:

The male genetic landscape of the European continent has been shown to be clinal and influenced primarily by geography rather than by language.1 One of the most outstanding phenomena in the Y-chromosomal diversity in Europe concerns the population of Poland, which reveals geographic homogeneity of Y-chromosomal lineages in spite of a relatively large geographic area seized by the Polish state.2 Moreover, a sharp genetic border has been identified between paternal lineages of neighbouring Poland and Germany, which strictly follows a political border between the two countries.3 Massive human resettlements during and shortly after the World War II (WWII), involving millions of Poles and Germans, have been proposed as an explanation for the observed phenomena.2, 3 Thus, it was possible that the local Polish populations formed after the early Slavic migrations displayed genetic heterogeneity before the war owing to genetic drift and/or gene flow with neighbouring populations. It has been also suggested that the revealed homogeneity of Polish paternal lineages existed already before the war owing to a common genetic substrate inherited from the ancestral Slavic population after the Slavs’ early medieval expansion in Europe.2 …

We used high-resolution typing of Y-chromosomal binary and microsatellite markers first to test for male genetic structure in the Polish population before massive human resettlements in the mid-20th century, and second to verify if the observed present-day genetic differentiation between the Polish and German paternal lineages is a direct consequence of the WWII or it has rather resulted from a genetic barrier between peoples with distinct linguistic backgrounds. The study further focuses on providing an answer to the origin of the expansion of the Slavic language in early medieval Europe. For the purpose of our investigation, we have sampled three pre-WWII Polish regional populations, three modern German populations (including the Slavic-speaking Sorbs) and a modern population of Slovakia. …

AMOVA in the studied populations revealed statistically significant support for two linguistically defined groups of populations in both haplogroup and haplotype distributions (Table 2). It also detected statistically significant genetic differentiation for both haplogroups and haplotypes in three Polish pre-WWII regional populations (Table 2). The AMOVA revealed small but statistically significant genetic differentiation between the Polish pre-war and modern populations (Table 2). When both groups of populations were tested for genetic structure separately, only the modern Polish regional samples showed genetic homogeneity (Table 2). Regional differentiation of 10-STR haplotypes in the pre-WWII populations was retained even if the most linguistically distinct Kashubian speakers were excluded from the analysis (RST=0.00899, P=0.01505; data not shown). Comparison of Y chromosomes associated with etymologically Slavic and German surnames (with frequencies provided in Table 1) did not reveal genetic differentiation within any of the three Polish regional populations for all three (FST, ΦST and RST) genetic distances. Moreover, the German surname-related Y chromosomes were comparably distant from Bavaria and Mecklenburg as the ones associated with the Slavic surnames (Supplementary Figure S2). MDS of pairwise genetic distances showed a clear-cut differentiation between German and Slavic samples (Figure 2). In addition, the MDS analysis revealed the pre-WWII populations from northern, central and southern Poland to be moderately scattered in the plot, on the contrary to modern Polish regional samples, which formed a very tight, homogeneous cluster (Figure 3).

Nicolaus Copernicus, Polish astronomer famous for developing heliocentric model of the solar system

This all seems very reasonable. Modern Poland is probably more homogenous than pre-war Poland in part because modern Poles have cars and trains and can marry people from other parts of Poland much more easily than pre-war Poles could, and possibly because the war itself reduced Polish genetic diversity and displaced much of the population.

Genetic discontinuity along the Polish-German border also makes sense, as national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries all make intermarriage more difficult.

The Discussion portion of this paper is very interesting; I shall quote briefly:

Kayser et al3 revealed significant genetic differentiation between paternal lineages of neighbouring Poland and Germany, which follows a present-day political border and was attributed to massive population movements during and shortly after the WWII. … it remained unknown whether Y-chromosomal diversity in ethnically/linguistically defined Slavic and German populations, which used to be exposed to intensive interethnic contacts and cohabit ethnically mixed territories, was clinal or discontinuous already before the war. In contrast to the regions of Kaszuby and Kociewie, which were politically subordinated to German states for more than three centuries and before the massive human resettlements in the mid-20th century occupied a narrow strip of land between German-speaking territories, the Kurpie region practically never experienced longer periods of German political influence and direct neighbourhood with the German populations. Lusatia was conquered by Germans in the 10th century and since then was a part of German states for most of its history; the modern Lusatians (Sorbs) inhabit a Slavic-speaking island in southeastern Germany. In spite of the fact that these four regions differed significantly in exposure to gene flow with the German population, our results revealed their similar genetic differentiation from Bavaria and Mecklenburg. Moreover, admixture estimates showed hardly detectable German paternal ancestry in Slavs neighbouring German populations for centuries, that is, the Sorbs and Kashubes. However, it should be noted that our regional population samples comprised only individuals of Polish and Sorbian ethnicity and did not involve a pre-WWII German minority of Kaszuby and Kociewie, which owing to forced resettlements in the mid-20th century ceased to exist, and also did not involve Germans constituting since the 19th century a majority ethnic group of Lusatia. Thus, our results concern ethnically/linguistically rather than geographically defined populations and clearly contrast the broad-scale pattern of Y-chromosomal diversity in Europe, which was shown to be strongly driven by geographic proximity rather than by language.1 …

Two main factors are believed to be responsible for the Slavic language extinction in vast territories to the east of the Elbe and Saale rivers: colonisation of the region by the German-speaking settlers, known in historical sources as Ostsiedlung, and assimilation of the local Slavic populations, but contribution of both factors to the formation of a modern eastern German population used to remain highly speculative.8 Previous studies on Y-chromosomal diversity in Germany by Roewer et al17 and Kayser et al3 revealed east–west regional differentiation within the country with eastern German populations clustering between western German and Slavic populations but clearly separated from the latter, which suggested only minor Slavic paternal contribution to the modern eastern Germans. Our ancestry estimates for the Mecklenburg region (Supplementary Table S3) and for the pooled eastern German populations, assessed as being well below 50%, definitely confirm the German colonisation with replacement of autochthonous populations as the main reason for extinction of local Slavic vernaculars. The presented results suggest that early medieval Slavic westward migrations and late medieval and subsequent German eastward migrations, which outnumbered and largely replaced previous populations, as well as very limited male genetic admixture to the neighbouring Slavs (Supplementary Table S4), were likely responsible for the pre-WWII genetic differentiation between Slavic- and German-speaking populations. Woźniak et al18 compared several Slavic populations and did not detect such a sharp genetic boundary in case of Czech and Slovak males with genetically intermediate position between other Slavic and German populations, which was explained by early medieval interactions between Slavic and Germanic tribes on the southern side of the Carpathians. Anyway, paternal lineages from our Slovak population sample were genetically much closer to their Slavic than German counterparts. …

Note that they are discussing paternal ancestry. This does not rule out the possibility of significant Slavic maternal ancestry. Finally:

Our coalescence-based divergence time estimates for the two isolated western Slavic populations almost perfectly match historical and archaeological data on the Slavs’ expansion in Europe in the 5th–6th centuries.4 Several hundred years of demographic expansion before the divergence, as detected by the BATWING, support hypothesis that the early medieval Slavic expansion in Europe was a demographic event rather than solely a linguistic spread of the Slavic language.

Marian Rejewski, Polish mathematician and cryptologist who reconstructed the Nazi German military Enigma cipher machine sight-unseen in 1932

I left out a lot of interesting material, so I recommend reading the complete discussion if you want to know more about Polish/German genetics.

But what about the maternal contribution? Luckily for us, Malyarchuk et al have written Mitochondrial DNA analysis in Poles and Russians:

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence variation was examined in Poles (from the Pomerania-Kujawy region; n = 436) and Russians (from three different regions of the European part of Russia; n = 201)… The classification of mitochondrial haplotypes revealed the presence of all major European haplogroups, which were characterized by similar patterns of distribution in Poles and Russians. An analysis of the distribution of the control region haplotypes did not reveal any specific combinations of unique mtDNA haplotypes and their subclusters that clearly distinguish both Poles and Russians from the neighbouring European populations. The only exception is a novel subcluster U4a within subhaplogroup U4, defined by a diagnostic mutation at nucleotide position 310 in HVS II. This subcluster was found in common predominantly between Poles and Russians (at a frequency of 2.3% and 2.0%, respectively) and may therefore have a central-eastern European origin. …

The analysis of mtDNA haplotype distribution has shown that both Slavonic populations share them mainly with Germans and Finns. The following numbers of the rare shared haplotypes and subclusters were found between populations analyzed: 10% between Poles and Germans, 7.4% between Poles and Russians, and 4.5% between Russians and Germans. A novel subcluster U4-310, defined by mutation at nucleotide position 310 in HVS II, was found predominantly in common between Poles and Russians (at frequency of 2%). Given the relatively high frequency and diversity of this marker among Poles and its low frequency in the neighbouring German and Finnish populations, we suggest a central European origin of U4-310, following by subsequent dispersal of this mtDNA subgroup in eastern European populations during the Slavonic migrations in early Middle Ages.

In other words, for the most part, Poles, Russians, Germans, and even Finns(!) (who do not speak an Indo-European language and are usually genetic outliers in Europe,) all share their maternal DNA.

Migrants, immigrants, and invaders tend disproportionately to be male (just look at any army) while women tend to stay behind. Invading armies might wipe each other out, but the women of a region are typically spared, seen as booty similar to cattle to be distributed among the invaders rather than killed. Female populations therefore tend to be sticky, in a genetic sense, persisting long after all of the men in an area were killed and replaced. The dominant Y-chromosome haplogroup in the area (R1a) hails from the Indo-European invasion (except in Finland, obviously,) but the mtDNA likely predates that expansion.

These data allow us to suggest that Europeans, despite their linguistic differences, originated in the common genetic substratum which predates the formation of the most modern European populations. It seems that considerable genetic similarity between European populations, which has been revealed by mtDNA variation studies, was further accelerated by a process of gene redistribution between populations due to the multiple migrations occurring in Europe during the past milenia…

It is interesting, though, that recent German invasions of Poland left very little in the way of a genetic contribution. I’d wager that WWII was quite a genetic disaster for everyone involved.

If you want more information, Khazaria has a nice list of studies plus short summaries on Polish DNA.

Let’s Look at Poland

Let’s Look at Poland

The original

So far in this investigation of Polish/German genetics, we’ve focused almost entirely on the German side of the picture, so today I’d like to pause and learn a bit about Poland.

I have a certain fondness for Poland, born of Polish-American friends and Polandball comics.

Humans have been living in [the area that is now-called] Poland for longer than H. sapiens has been around. (H. erectus and neanderthalis lived there, first.)

We’re not sure exactly what language(s) were spoken by the various tribes in [what is now] Poland, [henceforth refererd to as “Poland” for simplicity’s sake,] during the Bronze Age and before, simply because they left no written records and had very little contact with the literate peoples of Greece and Rome, who could have written about them.

Recreation of the Biskupin fort, Lusatian Culture, Poland

As we’ve discussed before, the idea that everyone outside of Classical Greece and Rome lived in rude barbarism is probably a bit wrong; pre-literate, bronze-age Europe had long-distance trade, pleasant villages, art, and luxury goods.

One of the more prominent goods produced local area was amber, gathered on the shores of the Baltic and traded to places like Greece, Rome, and Spain in exchange for copper and tin (necessary for making bronze.)

We’re still not sure exactly when and how the Indo-European languages spread to Europe, but the Corded Ware Culture, culturally and genetically Indo-European, appeared in Poland (and elsewhere) around 3,000 BC. It was later replaced by various other cultures like the Lusatians, who probably also spoke Indo-European languages.

The Slavic languages appear to have started differentiating around 2,800 BC in modern Ukraine and proceeded to spread out from there. The modern Slavic languages are divided into East (Russian, Belarussian, Ukrainina,) West (Polish, Czech, Slovak,) and South (Slovene, Croatian, Serbian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Bosnian, Bulgarian, etc.)

According to Wikipedia:

Western historians refer to the period of migrations that separated Antiquity from the Middle Ages in Europe as the Great Migrations or as the Migrations Period. …

The first phase, from 300 to 500, saw the movement of Germanic, Sarmatian and Hunnic tribes and ended with the settlement of these peoples in the areas of the former Western Roman Empire. …

The second phase, between 500 and 900, saw Slavic, Turkic and other tribes on the move, re-settling in Eastern Europe and gradually making it predominantly Slavic.

Back row: A. Piccard, E. Henriot, P. Ehrenfest, E. Herzen, Th. de Donder, E. Schrödinger, J.E. Verschaffelt, W. Pauli, W. Heisenberg, R.H. Fowler, L. Brillouin;
Middle Row: P. Debye, M. Knudsen, W.L. Bragg, H.A. Kramers, P.A.M. Dirac, A.H. Compton, L. de Broglie, M. Born, N. Bohr;
Front Row: I. Langmuir, M. Planck, M. Skłodowska-Curie, H.A. Lorentz, A. Einstein, P. Langevin, Ch.-E. Guye, C.T.R. Wilson, O.W. Richardson

In other words–and I wager this is probably a pretty controversial claim–archaeologists think there may have been Germanic-speaking tribes in Poland prior to the fall of the Roman Empire, and Slavic-speaking tribes moved into the area.

Poland itself is named for the Polans, a Slavic tribe that inhabited the area in the 700s.

In 1867, double-Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie was born in Warsaw. (The Curie family has collectively won 5 Nobels, though one of these was a Peace Prize, meaning the Curie family alone has won more Nobel prizes than the majority of countries in the world.)

Modern Poland is a lovely country stocked with the survivors of some of the 20th century’s worst atrocities:

Under the two occupations, Polish citizens suffered enormous human and material losses. It is estimated that about 5.7 million Polish citizens died as a result of the German occupation and about 150,000 Polish citizens died as a result of the Soviet occupation. Ethnic Poles were subjected to both the Nazi and Soviet persecution. The Jews were singled out by the Germans for a quick and total annihilation and about 90% of Polish Jews.(close to three million people) were murdered. …

About 16 of Polish citizens lost their lives in the war,[44][45] most of the civilians targeted by various deliberate actions. The German plan involved not only the annexation of Polish territory, but also a total destruction of Polish culture and the Polish nation (Generalplan Ost).

The long-term Nazi plan, as I understand it, was to kill all the Slavs.

After WWII, about 12 million ethnic Germans fled or were kicked out of eastern Europe (no real surprise). As for Poland:

A 2005 study by the Polish Academy of Sciences estimated that during the final months of the war, 4 to 5 million German civilians fled with the retreating German forces, and in mid-1945, 4.5 to 4.6 million Germans remained in the territories under Polish control. By 1950, 3,155,000 had been transported to Germany, 1,043,550 were naturalized as Polish citizens and 170,000 Germans still remained in Poland.[123]:455–60,466

This is depressing material, but obviously relevant to our original question of Polish-German genetic similarity, as such flight/expulsions are likely to drive the existing populations apart. But we’ll look closer at the genetics in the next post.

On Germanic and Polish DNA

Distribution of Y-chromosomal haplogroup I1a in Europe.

Commentator Unknown123 asks what we can tell about the differences between German and Polish DNA. Obviously German is here referring to one of the Germanic peoples who occupy the modern nation of Germany and speak a Germanic language. But as noted before, just because people speak a common language doesn’t necessarily mean they have a common genetic origin. Germans and English both speak Germanic languages , but Germans could easily share more DNA with their Slavic-language speaking neighbors in Poland than with the English.

According to Wikipedia, the modern Germanic peoples include Afrikaners, Austrians, Danes, Dutch, English, Flemish, Frisians, Germans, Icelanders, Lowland Scots, Norwegians, and Swedes.[225][226]

And here is a map that is very suggestive of Viking raiders:

(It’s also not a bad map of the distribution of Germanic peoples in 750 BC.)

Wikipedia states:

It is suggested by geneticists that the movements of Germanic peoples has had a strong influence upon the modern distribution of the male lineage represented by the Y-DNA haplogroup I1, which is believed to have originated with one man, who lived approximately 4,000 to 6,000 years somewhere in Northern Europe, possibly modern Denmark … There is evidence of this man’s descendants settling in all of the areas that Germanic tribes are recorded as having subsequently invaded or migrated to.[220][v] However, it is quite possible that Haplogroup I1 is pre-Germanic, that is I1 may have originated with individuals who adopted the proto-Germanic culture, at an early stage of its development or were co-founders of that culture. Should that earliest Proto-Germanic speaking ancestor be found, his Y-DNA would most likely be an admixture of the aforementioned I1, but would also contain R1a1a, R1b-P312 and R1b-U106, a genetic combination of the haplogroups found among current Germanic speaking peoples.[221] …

Haplogroup I1 accounts for approximately 40% of Icelandic males, 40%–50% of Swedish males, 40% of Norwegian males, and 40% of Danish Human Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups. Haplogroup I1 peaks in certain areas of Northern Germany and Eastern England at more than 30%. Haplogroup R1b and haplogroup R1a collectively account for more than 40% of males in Sweden; over 50% in Norway, 60% in Iceland, 60–70% in Germany, and between 50%–70% of the males in England and the Netherlands depending on region.[222]

Note, though, that this map has some amusing results; clearly it’s a more Nordic distribution than specifically German, with “Celtic” Ireland just as Nordic as much of England and Germany.

Wikipedia also states:

According to a study published in 2010, I-M253 originated between 3,170 and 5,000 years ago, in Chalcolithic Europe.[1] A new study in 2015 estimated the origin as between 3,470 and 5,070 years ago or between 3,180 and 3,760 years ago, using two different techniques.[2] It is suggested that it initially dispersed from the area that is now Denmark.[8]

A 2014 study in Hungary uncovered remains of nine individuals from the Linear Pottery culture, one of whom was found to have carried the M253 SNP which defines Haplogroup I1. This culture is thought to have been present between 6,500 and 7,500 years ago.[12]


In 2002 a paper was published by Michael E. Weale and colleagues showing genetic evidence for population differences between the English and Welsh populations, including a markedly higher level of Y-DNA haplogroup I in England than in Wales. They saw this as convincing evidence of Anglo-Saxon mass invasion of eastern Great Britain from northern Germany and Denmark during the Migration Period.[13] The authors assumed that populations with large proportions of haplogroup I originated from northern Germany or southern Scandinavia, particularly Denmark, and that their ancestors had migrated across the North Sea with Anglo-Saxon migrations and DanishVikings. The main claim by the researchers was:

“That an Anglo-Saxon immigration event affecting 50–100% of the Central English male gene pool at that time is required. We note, however, that our data do not allow us to distinguish an event that simply added to the indigenous Central English male gene pool from one where indigenous males were displaced elsewhere or one where indigenous males were reduced in number … This study shows that the Welsh border was more of a genetic barrier to Anglo-Saxon Y chromosome gene flow than the North Sea … These results indicate that a political boundary can be more important than a geophysical one in population genetic structuring.”

In 2003 a paper was published by Christian Capelli and colleagues which supported, but modified, the conclusions of Weale and colleagues.[14] This paper, which sampled Great Britain and Ireland on a grid, found a smaller difference between Welsh and English samples, with a gradual decrease in Haplogroup I frequency moving westwards in southern Great Britain. The results suggested to the authors that Norwegian Vikings invaders had heavily influenced the northern area of the British Isles, but that both English and mainland Scottish samples all have German/Danish influence.

But the original question was about Germany and Poland, not England and Wales, so we are wandering a bit off-track.

source: Big Think: Genetic map of EuropeLuckily for me, Wikipedia helpfully has a table of European Population Genetic Substructure based on SNPs[48][59]. We’ll be extracting the most useful parts.

A score of “1” on this graph means that the two populations in question are identical–fully inter-mixing. The closer to 1 two groups score, the more similar they are. The further from one they score, (the bigger the number,) the more different they are.

Why isn't it in English? Oh, well. We'll manage.
Here is a potentially relevant map of the neolithic cultures of Europe

For example, the most closely related peoples on the graph are Austrians and their neighbors in southern Germany and Hungary (despite Hungarians speaking a non-Indo-European language brought in by recent steppe invaders.) Both groups scored 1.04 relative to Austrians, and a 1.08 relative to each other.

Northern and southern Germans also received a 1.08–so southern Germans are about as closely related to northern Germans as they are to Hungarians, and are more closely related to Austrians than to northern Germans.

This might reflect the pre-Roman empire population in which (as we discussed in the previous post) the Celtic cultures of Hallstatt and La Tene dominated a stretch of central Europe between Austria and Switzerland, with significant expansion both east and west, whilst the proto-Germanic peoples occupied northern Germany and later spread southward.

The least closely related peoples on the graph are (unsurprisingly) the Sami (Lapp) town of Kuusamo in northeastern Finland and Spain, at 4.21. (Finns are always kind of outliers in Europe, and Spaniards are kind of outliers in their own, different way, being the part of mainland Europe furthest from the Indo-European expansion starting point and so having received fewer invaders.

So what does the table say about Germans and their neighbors?

source: Big Think: Genetic map of Europe

Northern Germany:
South Germany 1.08
Austria 1.10
Hungary 1.11
Sweden 1.12
Czech Repub 1.15
Poland 1.18
France 1.25
Bulgaria 1.32
Switzerland 1.36

Southern Germany:
Austria 1.04
North Germany 1.08
Hungary 1.08
France 1.12
Czech Repub 1.16
Switzerland 1.17
Bulgaria 1.19
Latvia 1.20
Sweden 1.21
Poland 1.23


Czech Repub 1.09
Hungary: 1.14
Estonia 1.17
North Germany 1.18
Russia 1.18
Austria 1.19
Lithuania 1.20
South Germany 1.23
Latvia: 1.26
Bulgaria 1.29
Sweden 1.30
Switzerland 1.46

Obviously I didn’t include all of the data in the original table; all of the other sampled European groups, such as Italians, Spaniards, and Finns are genetically further away from north and south Germany and Poland than the listed groups.

So northern Germany and Poland are quite closely related–even closer than northern Germans are to the French (whose country is named after a Germanic tribe, the Franks, who conquered it during the Barbarian Migrations at the Fall of the Roman Empire,) or the Swiss, many of whom speak German. By contrast, southern Germany is more closely related to France and Switzerland than to Poland, but still more closely related to the Poles than Italians or Spaniards.

To be continued…

Some thoughts on the Early History of the Germans

Disclaimer: I’m not German nor an expert in German history.

The word “German” can obviously be defined three different ways:

  1. A citizen of the country of Germany
  2. Someone who speaks the German language
  3. A member of the German people

No one is really interested in #1, because this is a legal definition rather than a truly meaningful one. A wealthy enough person can easily gain citizenship in almost any country they want to, but this does not make them an actual member of that society.

About 95 million people speak German as their first language, plus about 15 million who’ve learned it as a second or third language. The wider Germanic language family has about a billion speakers, mostly because a lot of people in India have learned English.

Pre-Roman Iron Age in Northern Europe showing culture(s) associated with Proto-Germanic, c. 500 BC. The red shows the area of the preceding Nordic Bronze Age in Scandinavia; the magenta-colored area towards the south represents the later Jastorf culture of the North German Plain.

The oddest thing about the Germanic languages is their origin–according to Wikipedia, proto-Germanic spread southward from southern Scandinavia/Denmark (modern name for the region, obviously not the 500-BC name) into central Europe. Have a map:

Red: Settlements before 750 BC
Orange: New settlements 750–500 BC
Yellow: NS 500–250 BC
Green: NS 250 BC – AD 1
Some sources give a date of 750 BC for the earliest expansion out of southern Scandinavia along the North Sea coast towards the mouth of the Rhine. (from Wikipedia)

And another map.

Okay, fine, but note that Scandinavia is a peninsula, and the area just north of the Nordic part is inhabited by people (the Sami/Lapps) who don’t even speak an Indo-European language. Neither do the nearby Finns. Assuming those folks were already there when the proto-German speakers arrived, how did they get from the Indo-European urheimat, just north of the Caucasus mountains, to southern Norway and Sweden, without significantly occupying either northern/eastern Finnoscandia nor central/eastern Europe?

Further, once they arrived in southern Scandinavia, what prompted them to head southward again?

During the initial years of Germanic expansion, the heart of central and western Europe was occupied by Celtic peoples, notably the Hallstatt and La Tene cultures (yes I have another map!)

Yellow: Hallstatt territory, 6th cen BC
Teal: Celtic expansion by 275 BC
Light Grey: Lusitanian area of Iberia where Celtic presence is uncertain
Green: Areas where Celtic languages remain widely spoken today

While the modern Celtic languages are nearly forgotten outside of Ireland and Wales, the pre-Roman Celtic range was quite impressive. Around 390 BC, the Celts sacked Rome; around 280 BC, they defeated the Greeks at the Battle of Thermopylae, attacked Delphi, and eventually made their way to Turkey (well, Anatolia), where they established the Kingdom of Galatia. The Galatians earned themselves enduring fame by receiving a letter from St. Paul, which is now the ninth book of the New Testament.

So around 500 BC, the Celts were clearly a force to be reckoned with throughout much of Europe. Then came the Germanics from the north (perhaps they felt pressure from the Sami?) and the Italics from the south.The Germanics spread principally to the east, through modern Poland (which I hear is very flat and thus easy to move through,) and into the core Hallstatt areas of Austria and Switzerland, while the Romans conquered the Celtic areas of France, Spain, and England. (Modern names, obviously.)

As the Roman empire crumbled, the Germans invaded (YES ANOTHER MAP!) and basically conquered everything in their path.

Simplified map of the German migrations of the 2nd through 5th centuries

And then, of course, the Norse went and invaded a whole bunch of places, too, so that England effectively got invaded twice by different Germanic tribes–first the Angles/Saxons/Jutes, and second the Normans.

I’m going to skip the map of the Viking expansion, but you’re probably already well aware of their most far-flung settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland (North America.) They looted north Africa, settled in southern Italy, and apparently created the first Russian kingdoms, the Kievan Rus and the Volga Bulgars.

Obviously not all of the places the Germanics conquered ended up speaking Germanic languages–I haven’t heard of much Norwegian being spoken in Sicily lately. Nor did all of the places which today speak Germanic languages end up with many Germanic people in them–a small band of conquerors can impose their language on a much larger subject population, and then a small band of warriors from that population can turn around and go conquer someone else and impose the language on them in turn, resulting in a language being spoken by people with very no genetic relationship at all to the original speakers.

For example, even though everyone in England speaks English, very little (only 30%) of the modern English DNA comes from the Angles (or any Germanic tribe)–most of it hails from the pre-Germanic, presumably Celtic population. The English, in turn, conquered large swathes of the globe, and today English is spoken (often as a second language) by folks with zero Germanic ancestry in far-flung places like India, South Africa, and Japan (conquered by the US.)

So our next post, we’ll turn our attention to the Germanic peoples. Where are they now, and how distinct are they from their neighbors?

South Carolina: The Land Democracy Forgot

While researching my post on migration and the Civil War, I came across a curious twist in American history: out of all the states in the union prior to 1860, one, South Carolina, never let its citizens vote for president. The popular vote did not come to South Carolina until after the Civil War, when democracy was imposed.

In America’s first election, (George Washington, 1789,) the country hadn’t really worked out how this whole “elections” thing worked. Three states didn’t even participate in the election; six states had no popular vote but let the legislature choose electors instead; three states held a popular vote for electors; and one state–Delaware–totally meant to let people vote, but forgot to get ballots.

Everything worked out, though, and Washington received 100% of the electoral votes.

By the election of 1800, 6 states had something resembling popular votes, and 10 did not.

In 1812, the country was evenly divided: 9 by popular vote, 9 by legislature.

In 1824, 18 states had popular votes and only 6 still used the legislature.

In 1828, only two states–South Carolina and Delaware–still had no popular vote, and by 1832, South Carolina was the only one left.

The citizens of South Carolina were not allowed to vote for president until the election of 1868, after the Civil War and the passage of various legislation related to reconstruction, black citizenship, and popular voting.

Strom Thurmond’s incredible 48 straight years as Senator from South Carolina makes me wonder, though, if democracy ever truly took hold in this final hold-out.

By Request: The Modern Ainu pt 1

Old photograph of an Ainu man

Most of the information easily available on the internet speaks of the Ainu in the past tense: The Ainu were hunter-gatherers; the Ainu worshiped; the Ainu were conquered. The photographic situation is similar: an image search for “Ainu” brings up a few dozen century-old photos and not much else.

But the modern Ainu, of course, do not live in the past–they live in today, primarily in the very modern city of Sapporo. The modern Ainu are not hunter-gatherers (although the entire nation of Japan remains highly dependent on fishing for its nutrition;) they are doctors and shop-keepers, office workers and artists. They go to school, keep up with modern fashions, play video games, and ride the shinkansen just like everyone else in Japan.

Wikipedia (and everyone else) estimates that about 25,000 Ainu live today in Japan, with the caveat that since the Ainu don’t always bother to mention their ancestry, there could be a couple hundred thousand who just haven’t been counted.

Due to years of inter-marrying, the vast majority of today’s Ainu are at least part Japanese. One reference I recall estimated that about 300 pure-blooded Ainu remained in 1950; another estimated that 200 remain today.

There are also some Ainu living in Russia; according to Wikipedia, about 100 Russians tried to identify as Ainu in the 2010 census, and nearly a thousand people with some degree of Ainu ancestry live in the area.

Alas for my purposes as a writer, these few remaining folks appear to be living their lives out in anthropological anonymity, rather than posting selfies tagged #RealAinu all over the internet.

The one thing everyone likes to argue about in threads about the Ainu is whether or not they look like white people.

It’s kind of dumb to fight about, since obviously Ainu look like Ainu.

Okay, okay. Don’t start a flame war. According to Wikipedia:

Cavalli-Sforza places the Ainu in his “Northeast and East Asian” genetic cluster.[42] …

Turner found remains of Jōmon people of Japan to belong to Sundadont pattern similar with the Southern Mongoloid living populations of Taiwanese aborigines, Filipinos, Indonesians, Thais, Borneans, Laotians, and Malaysians. …

Genetic testing has shown them to belong mainly to Y-haplogroup D-M55.[49] Y-DNA haplogroup D2 is found frequently throughout the Japanese Archipelago including Okinawa. The only places outside Japan in which Y-haplogroup D is common are Tibet in China and the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean.[50]

Your Y-haplogroup traces your paternal ancestry, because men (and only men) inherit their Y-chromosomes from their fathers. Your M or Mt-DNA, (short for mitochondrial DNA,) hails exclusively from your mother (and both men and women have Mt-DNA, because we all have mitochondria.)

Often when one group of people conquers another group of people, their descendants end up with Y-DNA from the conquerors and MtDNA from the conquered, but there are other ways people come together, like folks intermarrying with their neighbors.

(Presumably this study was done with relatively pure-blooded Ainu.)

The distribution of Haplogroup D-M174 is quite suggestive: Ainu, Tibetans, and Andaman Islanders. These are three (historically) highly isolated groups–one of the world’s few remaining basically uncontacted peoples, the Sentinelese, (they’ll put a spear in you if you land on their island) live in the Andaman Islands. The Tibetans, as I’ve mentioned, have inherited DNA from the Denisovans–cousins of the Neanderthals who interbred with their ancestors–that lets them breathe more easily at high altitudes than anyone else on Earth, making it rather hard for non-Tibetans move there, much less conquer and occupy it [Note: I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nepalese or other folks who also live up in the Himalayas also have the adaptation; this isn’t meant to be a discussion of modern political borders.] And the Ainu basically live on the far edge of Asian at the southern edge of Siberia–northern Japan is the snowiest populated place in the world.

“Sinodont” and “sundadont” actually refer to two different tooth shapes.

East Asian genetic tree, showing Ainu, Japanese, Koreans, etc

Tibetans and Andaman Islanders are definitely Asians–they clade with other Asians in the Greater Asian Clade–but they don’t look much alike. You wouldn’t mistake them for Caucasians, though.

Haplogroup D-M174 is believed to have evolved about 50-60-thousand years ago, presumably in Asia. This was shortly after the Out-of-Africa event, which occurred about 70,000 (or possibly 100,000 years ago [there might have been more than one OOA.]) D-M174 is so old that its “parent” haplogroup is DE, which is found in Africa and Asia.

By contrast, the mutation to the EDAR-gene which gives Han Chinese (the Asian ethnic group Americans are most familiar with) and Japanese their characteristic hair, skin, tooth shape, build, etc., (EDAR is pretty incredible in that way) only occurred 30,000 years ago–that is, the Ainu split off from other Asians 20-30 thousand years before what we think of as “the Asian look” had even evolved.

For that matter, Caucasian themselves only appear to have split off from Asians around 40,000 years ago–10,000 years before EDAR mutated, but 10-20,000 years after D-M174 arose.

Or to put it another way:

About 70,000 years ago, an intrepid band of explorers left Africa. Presumably, these people looked African, but I don’t know exactly which Africans these ancient people looked like–perhaps they didn’t really look like any modern group; perhaps they looked a lot like most Sub-Saharan Africans; perhaps they looked like the Bushmen, noted for their tawny skin tones and more “Asian” look than other Sub-Saharans. I don’t know yet.

About 60,000 years ago, the band split, and one group spread far across Asia. Their modern descendants are the Ainu, Tibetans, and Andaman Islanders.

The other group presumably hung out in central Eurasia, until about 40,000 years ago, when it definitively split. One group went west and became the Caucasians; the other became the Han.

Around 30,000 years, the distinctive EDAR mutation that gives east-Asians their “typical” appearance evolved.

Around 10,000 years ago, more or less, Europeans began getting lighter, and “whiteness” as we know it evolved.

Oki Kano, Ainu Musician

So… could the Ainu retain some traits or have never obtained some traits–like epicanthic folds at the corners of their eyes–which make them look more like their ancestral group, to which the ancestors of both Asians and Caucasians belonged? Sure. Could they have just evolved traits to deal with the extremely cold, near-Siberian environment they lived in that happened to resemble traits that evolved in European populations dealing with a similarly cold environment? Sure.

But are they Caucasians? Not even remotely.

And in my opinion, they don’t look Caucasian, at least not when their faces aren’t covered with big, bushy beards. (The modern Ainu tend to shave.) Take, for example, Oki Kano, an Ainu musician. Nothing about his appearance says, “Mysterious tribe of lost Caucasians.”

Back to Wikipedia:

In a study by Tajima et al. (2004), two out of a sample of sixteen (or 12.5%) Ainu men have been found to belong to Haplogroup C-M217, which is the most common Y-chromosome haplogroup among the indigenous populations of Siberia and Mongolia.[49] … Some researchers have speculated that this minority of Haplogroup C-M217 carriers among the Ainu may reflect a certain degree of unidirectional genetic influence from the Nivkhs, a traditionally nomadic people of northern Sakhalin and the adjacent mainland, with whom the Ainu have long-standing cultural interactions.[49]

The Nivkhs live basically next door and have a lot of cultural similarities–for example, both groups traditionally had shamanic rituals involving bears, which they raised and then sacrificed:

Nivkh Shamans also presided over the Bear Festival, a traditional holiday celebrated between January and February depending on the clan. Bears were captured and raised in a corral for several years by local women, treating the bear like a child.[34] The bear was considered a sacred earthly manifestation of Nivkh ancestors and the gods in bear form (see Bear worship). During the Festival, the bear would be dressed in a specially made ceremonial costume. It would be offered a banquet to take back to the realm of gods to show benevolence upon the clans.[29] After the banquet, the bear would be sacrificed and eaten in an elaborate religious ceremony. Often dogs were sacrificed as well. The bear’s spirit returned to the gods of the mountain ‘happy’ and would then reward the Nivkh with bountiful forests.[35]

A very similar ceremony, Iomante, is practiced by the Ainu people of Japan.

While haplogroup D-M174 shows affinity with more southerly Asian groups, like the Tibetans or Andaman Islanders, haplogroup C-M217 is found throughout northern Asia (principally Siberia) and northern North America.

To be continued…

Cannibalism, Abortion, and R/K Selection.

Reindeer herder, from "Quarter of a Million Reindeers to be Butched... after Anthrax Outbreak" : "Serbian officials have demanded a huge cull of a 250,000 reindeers by Christmas over the risk of an anthrax outbreak. Currently 730,000 animals are being kept in the Yamal Peninsula and the rest of the Yamalo-Nenets region."
Reindeer herder, from Quarter of a Million Reindeers to be Butched… after Anthrax Outbreak: “Currently 730,000 animals are being kept in the Yamal Peninsula and the rest of the Yamalo-Nenets region.”

In Hunters, Pastoralists, and Ranchers: Reindeer Economies and their Transformations [PDF,] Ingold describes the social distribution of food among hunter-gatherers. In normal times, when food is neither super-abundant nor scarce, each family basically consumes what it brings in, without feeling any particular compulsion to share with their neighbors. In times of super-abundance, food is distributed throughout the tribe, often quite freely:

Since harvested animals, unlike a plant crop, will not reproduce, the multiplicative accumulation of material wealth is not possible within the framework of hunting relations of production. Indeed, what is most characteristic of hunting societies everywhere is the emphasis not on accumulation but on its obverse: the sharing of the kill, to varying degrees, amongst all those associated with the hunter. …

The fortunate hunter, when he returns to camp with his kill, is expected to play host to the rest of the community, in bouts of extravagant consumption.

The other two ethnographies I have read of hunter-gatherers (The Harmless People, about the Bushmen of the Kalahari, and Kabloona, about the Eskimo aka Inuit) both support this: large kills are communal feasts. Hunter gatherers often have quite strict rules about how exactly a kill is to be divided, but the most important thing is that everyone gets some.

And this is eminently sensible–you try eating an entire giraffe by yourself, in the desert, before it rots.

Even in the arctic, where men can (in part of the year) freeze food for the future, your neighbor’s belly is as good as a freezer, because the neighbor you feed today will feed you tomorrow. Hunting is an activity that can be wildly successful one day and fail completely the next, so if hunters did not share with each other, soon each one would starve.

Whilst the successful hunter is required to distribute his spoils freely amongst his camp fellows, he does so with the assurance that in any future eventuality, when through bad luck he fails to find game, or through illness or old age he can no longer provide for himself and his family, he will receive in his turn. Were each hunter to produce only for his own domestic needs, everyone would eventually perish from hunger (Jochelson 1926:124). Thus, through its contribution to the survival and reproduction of potential producers, sharing ensures the perpetuation of society as a whole. …

Yet he is also concerned to set aside stocks of food to see his household through at least a part of the coming winter. The meat that remains after the obligatory festive redistribution is therefore placed in the household’s cache, on which the housewife can draw specifically for the provision of her own domestic group (Spencer 1959:149). After the herds have passed by, domestic autonomy is re-establisheddraws on its own reserves of stored food.

But what happens at the opposite extreme, not under conditions of abundance, but when everyone‘s stocks run out? Ingold claims that in times of famine, the obligation to share what little food one has with one’s neighbors is also invoked:

We find, therefore, that the incidence of generalized reciprocity tends to peak towards the two extremes of scarcity and abundance… The communal feast that follows a successful hunting drive involves the same heightening of band solidarity, and calls into play the same functions of leadership in the apportionment of food, as does the consumption of famine rations.

I am reminded here of a scene in The Harmless People in which there was not enough food to go around, but the rules of distribution were still followed, each person just cutting their piece smaller. Thomas described one of the small children, hungry, trying to grab the food bowl–not the food itself–to stop their mother from giving away their food to the next person in the chain of obligation.

Here Ingold pauses to discuss a claim by Sahlins that such social order will (or should) break down under conditions of extreme hunger:

Probably every primitive organization has its breaking-point, or at least its turning-point. Every one might see the time when co-operation is overwhelmed by the scale of disaster and chicanery becomes the order of the day. The range of assistance contracts progressively to the family level; perhaps even these bonds dissolve and, washed away, reveal an inhuman, yet most human, self-interest. Moreover, by the same measure that the circle of charity is
compressed that of ‘negative reciprocity* is potentially expanded. People who helped each other in normal times and through the first stages of disaster display now an indifference to each others’ plight, if they do not exacerbate a mutual downfall by guile, haggle and theft.

Ingold responds:

I can find no evidence, either in my reading of circumpolar ethnography, or in the material cited by Sahlins, for the existence of such a ‘turning-point’ in hunting societies. On the contrary, as the crisis deepens, generalized reciprocity proceeds to the point of dissolution of domestic group boundaries. ‘Negative reciprocity’, rather than closing in from beyond the frontiers of the household, will be expelled altogether from the wider social field, only to make its appearance within the heart of the domestic group itself.

Thus the women of the household, who are allowed to eat only after the appetites of their menfolk have been satisfied, may be left in times of want with the merest scraps of food. Among the Chipewyan, ‘when real distress approaches, many of them are permitted to starve, when the males are amply provided for’…

In situations of economic collapse, negative reciprocity afflicts not only the domestic relations between husband and wife, but those between mother and child, and between parent and grandparent. If the suckling of children is the purest expression of generalized reciprocity, in the form of a sustained one-way flow, then infanticide must surely represent the negative extreme. Likewise, old or sick members of the household will be the first to be abandoned when provisions run short. Even in normal times, individuals who are past labour have to scavenge the left-overs of food and skins (Hearne 1911:326). In the most dire circumstances of all, men will consume their starving wives and children before turning upon one another.

Drawing on Eskimo material, Hoebel derives the following precepts of cannibal conduct: Not unusually . . . parents kill their own children to be eaten. This act is no different from infanticide. A man may kill and eat his wife; it is his privilege. Killing and eating a relative will produce no legal consequences. It is to be presumed, however, that killing a non-relative for food is murder. (1941:672, cited in Eidlitz 1969:132)

In short, the ‘circle of charity’ is not compressed but inverted: as the threat of starvation becomes a reality, the legitimacy of killing increases towards the centre. The act is ‘inhuman’ since it strips the humanity of the victim to its organic, corporeal substance. If altruism is an index of sociability, then its absolute negation annuls the sodality of the recipient: persons, be they human or animal, become things.

297px-world_population_v3-svgThis is gruesome, but let us assume it is true (I have not read the accounts Ingold cites, so I must trust him, and I do not always trust him but for now we will.)

The cold, hard logic of infanticide is that a mother can produce more children if she loses one, but a child who has lost its mother will likely die as well, along with all of its siblings. One of my great-great grandmothers suffered the loss of half her children in infancy and still managed to raise 5+ to adulthood. Look around: even with abortion and birth control widely available, humanity is not suffering a lack of children. ETA: As BaruchK correctly noted, today’s children are largely coming from people who don’t use birth control or have legal access to abortion; fertility rates are below replacement throughout the West, with the one exception AFAIK of Israel.

c08pnclw8aapot6Furthermore, children starve faster and are easier to kill than parents; women are easier to kill than men; people who live with you are easier to kill than people who don’t.

Before we condemn these people, let us remember that famine is a truly awful, torturous way to die, and that people who are on the brink of starving to death are not right in their minds. As “They’re not human”: How 19th-century Inuit coped with a real-life invasion of the Walking Dead recounts:

“Finally, as the footsteps stopped just outside the igloo, it was the old man who went out to investigate.

“He emerged to see a disoriented figure seemingly unaware of his presence. The being was touching the outside of the igloo with curiosity, and raised no protest when the old man reached his hand out to touch its cheek.

“His skin was cold. …

The figures, of course, were the last survivors of the Franklin Expedition. They had buried their captain. They had seen their ship entombed by ice. They had eaten the dead to survive. …

Inuit nomads had come across streams of men that “didn’t seem to be right.” Maddened by scurvy, botulism or desperation, they were raving in a language the Inuit couldn’t understand. In one case, hunters came across two Franklin Expedition survivors who had been sleeping for days in the hollowed-out corpses of seals. …

The figures were too weak to be dangerous, so Inuit women tried to comfort the strangers by inviting them into their igloo. …

The men spit out pieces of cooked seal offered to them. They rejected offers of soup. They grabbed jealous hold of their belongings when the Inuit offered to trade.

When the Inuit men returned to the camp from their hunt, they constructed an igloo for the strangers, built them a fire and even outfitted the shelter with three whole seals. …

When a small party went back to the camp to retrieve [some items], they found an igloo filled with corpses.

The seals were untouched. Instead, the men had eaten each other. …

In 1854, Rae had just come back from a return trip to the Arctic, where he had been horrified to discover that many of his original Inuit sources had fallen to the same fates they had witnessed in the Franklin Expedition.

An outbreak of influenza had swept the area, likely sparked by the wave of Franklin searchers combing the Arctic. As social mores broke down, food ran short.

Inuit men that Rae had known personally had chosen suicide over watching the slow death of their children. Families had starved for days before eating their dog teams. Some women, who had seen their families die around them, had needed to turn to the “last resource” to survive the winter.

Infanticide, cannibalism, and human sacrifice were far more common prior to 1980 or so than we like to think; God forbid we should ever know such fates.

According to Wikipedia:

“Many Neolithic groups routinely resorted to infanticide … Joseph Birdsell believed that infanticide rates in prehistoric times were between 15% and 50% of the total number of births,[10] while Laila Williamson estimated a lower rate ranging from 15% to 20%.[6]:66 Comparative anthropologists have calculated that 50% of female newborn babies were killed by their parents during the Paleolithic era.[12] Decapitated skeletons of hominid children have been found with evidence of cannibalism.[13]

400px-Magliabchanopage_73r“Three thousand bones of young children, with evidence of sacrificial rituals, have been found in Sardinia. Pelasgians offered a sacrifice of every tenth child during difficult times. Syrians sacrificed children to Jupiter and Juno. Many remains of children have been found in Gezer excavations with signs of sacrifice. Child skeletons with the marks of sacrifice have been found also in Egypt dating 950-720 BCE. In Carthage “[child] sacrifice in the ancient world reached its infamous zenith.”[11]:324  …

“According to Shelby Brown, Carthaginians, descendants of the Phoenicians, sacrificed infants to their gods.[25] Charred bones of hundreds of infants have been found in Carthaginian archaeological sites. One such area harbored as many as 20,000 burial urns.[25]

Picture 4Plutarch (c. 46–120 AD) mentions the practice, as do Tertullian, Orosius, Diodorus Siculus and Philo. The Hebrew Bible also mentions what appears to be child sacrifice practiced at a place called the Tophet (from the Hebrew taph or toph, to burn) by the Canaanites. Writing in the 3rd century BCE, Kleitarchos, one of the historians of Alexander the Great, described that the infants rolled into the flaming pit. Diodorus Siculus wrote that babies were roasted to death inside the burning pit of the god Baal Hamon, a bronze statue.

“… the exposure of newborns was widely practiced in ancient Greece, it was even advocated by Aristotle in the case of congenital deformity — “As to the exposure of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live.”[30]

“The practice was prevalent in ancient Rome, as well. … A letter from a Roman citizen to his sister, or a pregnant wife from her husband,[35] dating from 1 BC, demonstrates the casual nature with which infanticide was often viewed:

“I am still in Alexandria. … I beg and plead with you to take care of our little child, and as soon as we receive wages, I will send them to you. In the meantime, if (good fortune to you!) you give birth, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, expose it.” [36][37]

CgxAZrOUYAEeANF“In some periods of Roman history it was traditional for a newborn to be brought to the pater familias, the family patriarch, who would then decide whether the child was to be kept and raised, or left to die by exposure.[39] The Twelve Tables of Roman law obliged him to put to death a child that was visibly deformed. …

“According to William L. Langer, exposure in the Middle Ages “was practiced on gigantic scale with absolute impunity, noticed by writers with most frigid indifference”.[47]:355–356 At the end of the 12th century, notes Richard Trexler, Roman women threw their newborns into the Tiber river in daylight.[48]” …

400px-Kodeks_tudela_21“Philosopher Han Fei Tzu, a member of the ruling aristocracy of the 3rd century BC, who developed a school of law, wrote: “As to children, a father and mother when they produce a boy congratulate one another, but when they produce a girl they put it to death.”[63]

“Buddhist belief in transmigration allowed poor residents of the country to kill their newborn children if they felt unable to care for them, hoping that they would be reborn in better circumstances. Furthermore, some Chinese did not consider newborn children fully “human”, and saw “life” beginning at some point after the sixth month after birth.[65]

“Contemporary writers from the Song dynasty note that, in Hubei and Fujian provinces, residents would only keep three sons and two daughters (among poor farmers, two sons and one daughter), and kill all babies beyond that number at birth.[66]”

Sex Ratio at birth in the People's Republic of China
Sex Ratio at birth in the People’s Republic of China

“It was not uncommon that parents threw a child to the sharks in the Ganges River as a sacrificial offering. The British colonists were unable to outlaw the custom until the beginnings of the 19th century.[82]:78

“According to social activists, female infanticide has remained a problem in India into the 21st century, with both NGOs and the government conducting awareness campaigns to combat it.[83] …

“In the Eastern Shoshone there was a scarcity of Indian women as a result of female infanticide.[100] For the Maidu Native Americans twins were so dangerous that they not only killed them, but the mother as well.[101] In the region known today as southern Texas, the Mariame Indians practiced infanticide of females on a large scale. Wives had to be obtained from neighboring groups.[102]

Meanwhile in the Americas:

In 2005 a mass grave of one- to two-year-old sacrificed children was found in the Maya region of Comalcalco. The sacrifices were apparently performed for consecration purposes when building temples at the Comalcalco acropolis.[2] …

Archaeologists have found the remains of 42 children sacrificed to Tlaloc (and a few to Ehecátl Quetzalcóatl) in the offerings of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan. In every case, the 42 children, mostly males aged around six, were suffering from serious cavities, abscesses or bone infections that would have been painful enough to make them cry continually. Tlaloc required the tears of the young so their tears would wet the earth. As a result, if children did not cry, the priests would sometimes tear off the children’s nails before the ritual sacrifice.[7]

And don’t get me started on cannibalism.

James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti
James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti

It is perhaps more profitable to ask which cultures didn’t practice some form of infanticide/infant sacrifice/cannibalism than which ones did. The major cases Wikipedia notes are Ancient Egypt, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (we may note that Judaism in many ways derived from ancient Egypt, and Christianity and Islam from Judaism.) Ancient Egypt stands out as unique among major the pre-modern, pre-monotheistic societies to show no signs of regular infanticide–and even in the most infamous case where the Egyptian pharaoh went so far as to order the shocking act, we find direct disobedience in his own household:

3 And when she [Jochebed] could not longer hide him [the baby], she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink.4 And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.

pharaohs_daughter-15 And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it.

6 And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”

7 Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?”

8 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” And the maid went and called the child’s mother.

9 And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, “Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.” And the women took the child, and nursed it.

10 And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, “Because I drew him out of the water.”

–Exodus 2:3-10

I don’t know the actual infanticide numbers in modern Muslim countries (le wik notes that poverty in places like Pakistan still drives infanticide) but it is officially forbidden by Islam.

According to Abortions in America: • Black women are five times more likely to abort than white women. • 69% of pregnancies among Blacks are unintended, while that number is 54% among Hispanics and 40% of pregnancies among Whites. • Planned Parenthood, ... has located 80% of its abortion clinics in minority neighborhoods
According to Abortions in America:
• Black women are five times more likely to abort than white women.
• 69% of pregnancies among Blacks are unintended, while that number is 54% among Hispanics and 40% of pregnancies among Whites.
• Planned Parenthood, … has located 80% of its abortion clinics in minority neighborhoods

Today, between the spread of Abrahamic religions, Western Values, and general prosperity, the infanticide rate has been cut and human sacrifice and cannibalism have been all but eliminated. Abortion, though, is legal–if highly controversial–throughout the West and Israel.

According to the CDC, the abortion rate for 2013 was 200 abortions per 1,000 live births, or about 15% of pregnancies. (The CDC also notes that the abortion rate has been falling since at least 2004.) Of these, “91.6% of abortions were performed at ≤13 weeks’ gestation; … In 2013, 22.2% of all abortions were early medical abortions.”

To what can we attribute this anti-infanticide sentiment of modern monotheistic societies? Is it just a cultural accident, a result of inheritance from ancient Egypt, or perhaps the lucky effects of some random early theologian? Or as the religious would suggest, due to God’s divine decree? Or is it an effect of the efforts parents must expend on their few children in societies where children must attend years of school in order to succeed?

According to Wikipedia:

In ecology, r/K selection theory relates to the selection of combinations of traits in an organism that trade off between quantity and quality of offspring. The focus upon either increased quantity of offspring at the expense of individual parental investment of r-strategists, or reduced quantity of offspring with a corresponding increased parental investment of K-strategists, varies widely, seemingly to promote success in particular environments. …

In r/K selection theory, selective pressures are hypothesised to drive evolution in one of two generalized directions: r– or K-selection.[1] These terms, r and K, are drawn from standard ecological algebra as illustrated in the simplified Verhulst model of population dynamics:[7]

d N d t = r N ( 1 − N K ) {\frac {dN}{dt}}=rN\left(1-{\frac {N}{K}}\right)

where r is the maximum growth rate of the population (N), K is the carrying capacity of its local environmental setting, and the notation dN/dt stands for the derivative of N with respect to t (time). Thus, the equation relates the rate of change of the population N to the current population size and expresses the effect of the two parameters. …

As the name implies, r-selected species are those that place an emphasis on a high growth rate, and, typically exploit less-crowded ecological niches, and produce many offspring, each of which has a relatively low probability of surviving to adulthood (i.e., high r, low K).[8] A typical r species is the dandelion Taraxacum genus.

In unstable or unpredictable environments, r-selection predominates due to the ability to reproduce quickly. There is little advantage in adaptations that permit successful competition with other organisms, because the environment is likely to change again. Among the traits that are thought to characterize r-selection are high fecundity, small body size, early maturity onset, short generation time, and the ability to disperse offspring widely. …

By contrast, K-selected species display traits associated with living at densities close to carrying capacity, and typically are strong competitors in such crowded niches that invest more heavily in fewer offspring, each of which has a relatively high probability of surviving to adulthood (i.e., low r, high K). In scientific literature, r-selected species are occasionally referred to as “opportunistic” whereas K-selected species are described as “equilibrium”.[8]

In stable or predictable environments, K-selection predominates as the ability to compete successfully for limited resources is crucial and populations of K-selected organisms typically are very constant in number and close to the maximum that the environment can bear (unlike r-selected populations, where population sizes can change much more rapidly).

Traits that are thought to be characteristic of K-selection include large body size, long life expectancy, and the production of fewer offspring, which often require extensive parental care until they mature.

Of course you are probably already aware of Rushton’s R/K theory of human cultures:

Rushton’s book Race, Evolution, and Behavior (1995) uses r/K selection theory to explain how East Asians consistently average high, blacks low, and whites in the middle on an evolutionary scale of characteristics indicative of nurturing behavior. He first published this theory in 1984. Rushton argues that East Asians and their descendants average a larger brain size, greater intelligence, more sexual restraint, slower rates of maturation, and greater law abidingness and social organization than do Europeans and their descendants, who average higher scores on these dimensions than Africans and their descendants. He theorizes that r/K selection theory explains these differences.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that the article states, “Rushton’s application of r/K selection theory to explain differences among racial groups has been widely criticised. One of his many critics is the evolutionary biologist Joseph L. Graves, who has done extensive testing of the r/K selection theory with species of Drosophila flies. …”

Genetics or culture, in dense human societies, people must devote a great deal of energy to a small number of children they can successfully raise, leading to the notion that parents are morally required to put this effort into their children. But this system is at odds with the fact that without some form of intervention, the average married couple will produce far more than two offspring.

Ultimately, I don’t have answers, only theories.

Source: CDC data, I believe
Source: CDC data, I believe

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.