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:
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. …
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.
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.
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. … 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.
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. 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. 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. …
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.
Apropos Friday’s conversation about the transition from hunting to pastoralism and the different strategies hunters employ in different environments, I got to thinking about how these different food-production systems could influence the development of different “intelligences,” or at least mental processes that underlie intelligence.
Ingold explains that in warm climes, hunter-gatherers have many food resources they can exploit, and if one resource starts running low, they can fairly easily switch to another. If there aren’t enough yams around, you can eat melons; if not enough melons, squirrels; if no squirrels, eggs. I recall a study of Australian Aborigines who agreed to go back to hunter-gatherering for a while after living in town for several decades. Among other things (like increased health,) scientists noted that the Aborigines increased the number of different kinds of foods they consumed from, IIRC, about 40 per week to 100.
By contrast, hunters in the arctic are highly dependent on exploiting only a few resources–fish, seals, reindeer, and perhaps a few polar bears and foxes. Ingold claims that there are (were) tribes that depended largely on only a few major hunts of migrating animals (netting hundreds of kills) to supply themselves for the whole year.
If those migrating change their course by even a few miles, it’s easy to see how the hunters could miss the herds entirely and, with no other major species around to exploit, starve over the winter.
Let’s consider temperate agriculture as well: the agriculturalist can store food better than the arctic hunter (seal meat does not do good things in the summer,) but lacks the tropical hunter-gatherer’s flexibility; he must stick to his fields and keep working, day in and day out, for a good nine months in a row. Agricultural work is more flexible than assembly line work, where your every minute is dictated by the needs of the factory, but a farmer can’t just wander away from his crops to go hunt for a months just because he feels like it, nor can he hope to make up for a bad wheat harvest by wandering into his neighbor’s fields and picking their potatoes.
Which got me thinking: clearly different people are going to do better at different systems.
But first, what is intelligence? Obviously we could define it in a variety of ways, but let’s stick to reasonable definitions, eg, the ability to use your brain to achieve success, or the ability to get good grades on your report card.
A variety of mental traits contribute to “intelligence,” such as:
The ability to learn lots of information. Information is really useful, both in life and on tests, and smarter brains tend to be better at storing lots and lots of data.
Flexible thinking. This is the ability to draw connections between different things you’ve learned, to be creative, to think up new ideas, etc.
Some form of Drive, Self Will, or long-term planning–that is, the ability to plan for your future and then push yourself to accomplish your goals. (These might more properly be two different traits, but we’ll keep them together for now.)
Your stereotypical autistic, capable of memorizing large quantities of data but not doing much with them, has trait #1 but not 2 or 3.
Artists and musicians tend to have a lot of trait #2, but not necessarily 1 or 3 (though successful artists obviously have a ton of #3)
And an average kid who’s not that bright but works really hard, puts in extra hours of effort on their homework, does extra credit assignments, etc., has a surfeit of #3 but not much 2 or 1.
Anyway, it seems to me like the tropical hunting/gathering environment, with many different species to exploit, would select for flexible thinking–if one food isn’t working out, look for a different one. This may also apply to people from tropical farming/horticulturalist societies.
By contrast, temperate farming seems more likely to select for planning–you can’t just wander off or try to grow something new in time for winter if your first crop doesn’t work out.
Many people have noted that America’s traditionally tropical population (African Americans) seems to be particularly good at flexible thinking, leading to much innovation in arts and music. They are not as talented, though, at Drive, leading to particularly high highschool dropout rates.
America’s traditionally rice-farming population (Asians,) by contrast, has been noted for over a century for its particularly high drive and ability to plan for the future, but not so much for contributions to the arts. East Asian people are noted for their particularly high IQ/SAT/PISA scores, despite the fact that China lags behind the West in GDP and quality of life terms. (Japan, of course, is a fully developed country.) One potential explanation for this is that the Chinese, while very good at working extremely hard, aren’t as good at flexible thinking that would help spur innovation. (I note that the Japanese seem to do just fine at flexible thinking, but you know, the Japanese aren’t Chinese and Japan isn’t China.)
(I know I’m not really stating anything novel.) But the real question is:
What kind of mental traits might pastoralism, arctic pastoralism, or arctic hunting select for?
With regards to birds, brain size and ecology, there is a problem. Birds living in the high latitudes must either adapt a migrating behavioral pattern or learn how to survive in the winter. Most birds take the first route, but some don’t. However, to fly long distances, it helps to be lean, so there is strong selection against extra weight such as a larger brain. For this reason, bivariate latitude x brain size comparisons might show the opposite pattern than expected. One must account for the solution to the, well, cold winter problem. Some amphibians have an analogous tactic: hibernation. Many insects have yet another analogous solution: they only live in the summer (single year life spans). As far as I understand, fish do not have issues with the water temperature in the winter, so they don’t face the problem. Except for possibly hibernation (which sometimes does require planning ability e.g. in squirrels), these strategies would not seem to select so strongly for intelligence, and so one would not expect the higher latitude species to smarter, less aggressive and so on.
In general, therefore, it seems best to focus on animals that tackle the cold winter problem head-on instead of avoiding it somehow (migrate, hibernate, or single-year lifespans). Among birds, the smartest birds are of the Corvidae family — in particular crows, ravens and magpies — and they generally don’t migrate in the winter. Of the non-Corvidae, I think the smartest birds are some of the parrot species. These also often don’t migrate. (See also bird intelligence.) …
Due to our intensive subsistence and habitat-modification strategies—including broad-spectrum harvesting and predation, widespread landscape burning, settlement construction, and translocation of other species—humans have major roles as ecological actors who influence fundamental trophic interactions. … Clear examples of anthropogenic effects on non-human morphological evolution have been documented in modern studies of substantial changes to body size or other major traits in terrestrial and aquatic vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants in response to selective human harvesting, urbanized habitats, and human-mediated translocation. Meanwhile, archaeological records of harvested marine invertebrates and terrestrial vertebrates suggest that similar processes extend considerably into prehistory, perhaps to 50,000 yr BP or earlier. These results are consistent with palaeoenvironmental and other records that demonstrate long-term human habitat modification and intensive harvesting practices. …
For a personal narrative of what happens when a very refined and compassionate culture encounters such starvation that mothers eat their own children, you can look at our Book of Lamentations.
It makes for very hard, heartbreaking reading, but necessary.
… G-d certainly has compassion. The way we understand the degradation described in the Book of Lamentations is that it is a just punishment and reflection for spiritual degradation we imposed upon ourselves through idolatry (more on this below).
> In Carthage “[child] sacrifice in the ancient world reached its infamous zenith.”
Perfect example of why r/k is not a good model for people. Also see Stove’s Evolutionary Fairytales (available online in pdf for free.) People are not cod fish or elephants.
Allow me to make a counter-proposal.
The Carthaginians, Aztecs etc. were not welfare troglodytes. They were not Russian peasants, who had had their grain requisitioned. And they were not the besieged and starving population of Jerusalem. They were a highly refined society with an aristocracy, literacy, and a high investment in their upper classes. They were also cruel and vile people. They did not sacrifice their children out of physical need, but rather out of idolatry, which is to say, the projection of one’s own egotistic desires and fears upon an external object which represents an imaginary deity, which is supposed to serve you. …
J: There is a more explicitly anthropological argument to be made here, as well. All of the institutions, cultural artifacts, and policies that could be conserved grew up over centuries of agriculture. We haven’t really developed solid cultural tools to deal with industrialization, and we’re already done with it. The left plays the “it’s not relevant anymore” game, and discards important tools, but we don’t have anything to replace them with. …
FoL: So i think Scott simplified Baumol’s Cost Disease, and it gets simplified further here. The point isn’t that “the cost of things goes up” but “when the productivity of some things goes up, the cost of things with similar inputs goes up, even if their quality does not.”
Sorry I finished this late, but I hope you guys are having a great week!
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.
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.
This 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.
Furthermore, 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.
“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.
“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, while Laila Williamson estimated a lower rate ranging from 15% to 20%.:66… Comparative anthropologists have calculated that 50% of female newborn babies were killed by their parents during the Paleolithic era. Decapitated skeletons of hominid children have been found with evidence of cannibalism. …
“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.”:324 …
“According to Shelby Brown, Carthaginians, descendants of the Phoenicians, sacrificed infants to their gods. Charred bones of hundreds of infants have been found in Carthaginian archaeological sites. One such area harbored as many as 20,000 burial urns. …
“… 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.” …
“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, 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.” 
“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. The Twelve Tables of Roman law obliged him to put to death a child that was visibly deformed. …
“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.” …
“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.
“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.”
“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.: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. …
“In the Eastern Shoshone there was a scarcity of Indian women as a result of female infanticide. For the MaiduNative Americans twins were so dangerous that they not only killed them, but the mother as well. 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.”
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. …
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.
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.
5 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.”
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.
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?
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. …
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). 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”.
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.
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 biologistJoseph 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.
All living things are basically just homeostatic entropy reduction machines. The most basic cell, floating in the ocean, uses energy from sunlight to order its individual molecules, creating, repairing, and building copies of itself, which continue the cycle. As Jeremy England of MIT demonstrates:
From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England … has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. …
This class of systems includes all living things. England then determined how such systems tend to evolve over time as they increase their irreversibility. “We can show very simply from the formula that the more likely evolutionary outcomes are going to be the ones that absorbed and dissipated more energy from the environment’s external drives on the way to getting there,” he said. …
“This means clumps of atoms surrounded by a bath at some temperature, like the atmosphere or the ocean, should tend over time to arrange themselves to resonate better and better with the sources of mechanical, electromagnetic or chemical work in their environments,” England explained.
Self-replication (or reproduction, in biological terms), the process that drives the evolution of life on Earth, is one such mechanism by which a system might dissipate an increasing amount of energy over time. As England put it, “A great way of dissipating more is to make more copies of yourself.” In a September paper in the Journal of Chemical Physics, he reported the theoretical minimum amount of dissipation that can occur during the self-replication of RNA molecules and bacterial cells, and showed that it is very close to the actual amounts these systems dissipate when replicating.
Energy isn’t just important to plants, animals, and mitochondria. Everything from molecules to sand dunes, cities and even countries absorb and dissipate energy. And like living things, cities and countries use energy to grow, construct buildings, roads, water systems, and even sewers to dispose of waste. Just as finding food and not being eaten are an animal’s first priority, so are energy policy and not being conquered are vital to a nation’s well-being.
Hunter-gatherer societies are, in most environments, the most energy-efficient–hunter gatherers expend relatively little energy to obtain food and build almost no infrastructure, resulting in a fair amount of time left over for leisure activities like singing, dancing, and visiting with friends.
But as the number of people in a group increases, hunter-gathering cannot scale. Putting in more hours hunting or gathering can only increase the food supply so much before you simply run out.
Horticulture and animal herding require more energy inputs–hoeing the soil, planting, harvesting, building fences, managing large animals–but create enough food output to support more people per square mile than hunter-gathering.
Agriculture requires still more energy, and modern industrial agriculture more energy still, but support billions of people. Agricultural societies produced history’s first cities–civilizations–and (as far as I know) its first major collapses. Where the land is over-fished, over-farmed, or otherwise over-extracted, it stops producing and complex systems dependent on that production collapse.
I’ve made a graph to illustrate the relationship between energy input (work put into food production) and energy output (food, which of course translates into more people.) Note how changes in energy sources have driven our major “revolutions”–the first, not in the graph, was the taming and use of fire to cook our food, releasing more nutrients than mere chewing ever could. Switching from jaw power to fire power unlocked the calories necessary to fund the jump in brain size that differentiates humans from our primate cousins, chimps and gorillas.
That said, hunter gatherers (and horticulturalists) still rely primarily on their own power–foot power–to obtain their food.
The Agricultural Revolution harnessed the power of animals–mainly horses and oxen–to drag plows and grind grain. The Industrial Revolution created engines and machines that released the power of falling water, wind, steam, coal, and oil, replacing draft animals with grist mills, tractors, combines, and trains.
Modern industrial societies have achieved their amazing energy outputs–allowing us to put a man on the moon and light up highways at night–via a massive infusion of energy, principally fossil fuels, vital to the production of synthetic fertilizers:
Nitrogen fertilizers are made from ammonia (NH3), which is sometimes injected into the ground directly. The ammonia is produced by the Haber-Bosch process. In this energy-intensive process, natural gas (CH4) supplies the hydrogen, and the nitrogen (N2) is derived from the air. …
In 2014, average yield in the United States was 171 bushels per acre. (And the world record is an astonishing 503 bushels, set by a farmer in Valdosta, Ga.) Each bushel weighs 56 pounds and each pound of corn yields about 1,566 calories. That means corn averages roughly 15 million calories per acre. (Again, I’m talking about field corn, a.k.a. dent corn, which is dried before processing. Sweet corn and popcorn are different varieties, grown for much more limited uses, and have lower yields.)
As anyone who has grown corn will tell you, corn is a nutrient hog; all of those calories aren’t free. Corn must be heavily fertilized or the soil will run out and your farm will be worthless.
We currently have enough energy sources that the specific source–fossil fuels, hydroelectric, wind, solar, even animal–is not particularly important, at least for this discussion. Much more important is how society uses and distributes its resources. For, like all living things, a society that misuses its resources will collapse.
I have been looking for this graph for some time, failed, and finally re-created it from memory. So warning: this was re-created from memory. A really old memory.
Anyway, this graph shows the relationship between energy inputs (work) and energy output (typically food, but also shelter, children, luxury goods, etc.) for a given variety of human technology/economic organizational structure.
(Note that the graph is not to scale and only a conceptual representation of the idea.)
So for example, in a hunter gathering society, inputing more energy by hunting more often will reward people with more food, but only up to a point. As game becomes scarcer, hunters bring home less food, and eventually you eat all of the animals in the area and are actually getting less out of hunting than you’re putting into it.
Even at its maximum efficiency, a hunter-gatherer society simply can’t (in most environments) obtain much food and can’t support many people.
Growing food takes much more energy, but the results support far more people.
Modern industrial societies take a ton of energy to run, but also support billions of people, cities, etc.
Of course, even modern industrial societies still need to be careful about that right-hand side of the curve.
Buckley (in case you missed parts 1 and 2 of our adventure,) was an English convict sent to Australia in the early 1800s. He escaped from the prison ship, hoping to make it to Sydney, which turned out to be about 1000 miles away. He had nearly died of thirst before some friendly Aborigines found him, saved his life, and, believing him to be a recently deceases relative returned from the grave, adopted him into their tribe.
Unfortunately, life in the “state of nature” was horribly violent, with tribes frequently attacking each other. Buckley blames most of the violence on fights over women, but occasionally notes the ways local animist beliefs also contribute to unending cycles of murder and revenge, in this case after a man who’d joined their community died of a snake bite:
“The cause of this sudden unprovoked cruelty was not, as usual, about the women, but because the man who had been killed by the bite of the snake belonged to the hostile tribe, and they believed my supposed brother-in-law carried about with him something that had occasioned his death. They have all sorts of fancies of this kind, and it is frequently the case, that they take a man’s kidneys out after death, tie them up in something, and carry them round the neck, as a sort of protection and valuable charm, for either good or evil.”
EvX: Note that Buckley’s adoptive family, his sister and brother-in-law, who’ve been helping him since the tribe saved his life years ago, was killed in this incident.
I recently read an account of Florence Young’s missionary work in the Solomon Islands (which are near Australia.) I haven’t been using these Christian Heroes books for Anthropology Friday sources because they aren’t first hand sources and I have no capacity to judge their accuracy, but they are still pretty interesting if you’re a middle schooler hankering to read about Christian missionaries. Anyway, the book recounts an identical justification for the cycle of violence on the Solomon Islands (which was quite threatening to Florence herself.) Every time someone died of any natural cause, their family went to the local witch doctor, who then used magic to determine who had used malicious magic to kill the dead guy, and then the family would go and kill whomever the witch doctor indicated.
The advent of Christianity therefore caused a power struggle between the missionaries and the witch doctors, who were used to being able to extort everyone and trick their followers into killing anyone who pissed them off. (See also Isaac Bacirongo’s account of the witch doctor who extorted his pre-pubescent sister as payment for a spell intended to kill Isaac’s wife–note: Isaac was not the one buying this spell; he likes his wife.)
Returning to Buckley, after the death of his friends:
“I should have been most brutally unfeeling, had I not suffered the deepest mental anguish from the loss of these poor people, who had all along been so kind and good to me. I am not ashamed to say, that for several hours my tears flowed in torrents, and, that for a long time I wept unceasingly. To them, as I have said before, I was as a living dead brother, whose presence and safety was their sole anxiety. Nothing could exceed the kindness these poor natives had shown me, and now they were dead, murdered by the band of savages I saw around me, apparently thirsting for more blood. Of all my sufferings in the wilderness, there was nothing equal to the agony I now endured.” …
“I returned to the scene of the brutal massacre; and finding the ashes and bones of my late friends, I scraped them up together, and covered them over with turf, burying them in the best manner I could, that being the only return I could make for their many kindnesses. I did so in great grief at the recollection of what they had done for me through so many years, and in all my dangers and troubles. ”
After this, Buckley cares for his deceased relatives’ children, a blind boy and a little girl. This goes about as depressingly as expected:
“Our small community remained in perfect harmony for many months, until, unfortunately, a young man about twenty years of age, belonging to another tribe, arrived. This youth was taken seriously ill a few days after joining us, and although we did all we could for him he died. This event created great distress, and by way of changing the scene, our small party broke up, and left the Karaaf on a short hunting excursion. After a time we fell in with the deceased young man’s family, who, on being informed of his death, expressed great astonishment and rage, fancying it had been brought about by some unfair means on our part. This excitement arose to such a height, as to approach what it would be mercy to describe insanity. After a time, they forced the poor blind boy away from me, and killed him on the spot, because he had happened to be in the same hut in which the young man died, believing he had been in some way the means of his death.
“After this, they roasted the body in the usual manner; but whilst this was going on I left, with the little girl, moving on, and on, until meeting the tribe to which the man belonged to whom in her infancy she had been promised; I explained all the particulars of the sacrifice of her poor blind brother. They immediately vowed vengeance, and two or three of them set out for the purpose of murder, returning in a few days with the intelligence that they had killed two
of the children of their enemies. …
“Having transferred her to the care of these people, I set off alone, determined to live by myself in order to avoid a repetition of the scenes I had witnessed, and all further intercourse with the natives.”
EvX: Buckley didn’t live entirely alone–he got married twice in this period–but he did try to avoid large tribal gatherings for a long while, and lived mostly alone for some time, out of both grief and a practical desire to avoid danger. During that time he built himself a couple of huts and a fishing weir that served him well. After several years it appears he resumed interacting more with others, as he reflects later:
“I had seen a race of children grow up into women and men, and many of the old people die away, and by my harmless and peaceable manner amongst them, had acquired great influence in settling their disputes. Numbers of murderous fights I had prevented by my interference, which was received by them as well meant; so much so, that they would often allow me to go
amongst them previous to a battle, and take away their spears, and waddies, and boomerangs. My visits were always welcomed, and they kindly and often supplied me with a portion of the provisions they had, assuring me, in their language, of the interest they took in my welfare.”
EvX: Despite his friends and remaining family, at the first news of English ships in the area, Buckley rushed to the spot. He attempted to make contact, but couldn’t swim out to the ship and couldn’t convince the ship to send a boat to him (Buckley had, at this point, forgotten how to speak English.) Buckley was again heartbroken until another ship showed up, and he found the English colonists and tried to approach them:
“Presently some of the natives saw me, and turning round, pointed me out to one of the white people; and seeing they had done so, I walked away from the well, up to their place, and seated myself there, having my spears and other war and hunting implements between my legs. The white men could not make me out–my half-cast colour, and extraordinary height and figure [Buckley was around 6’5” or taller,]–dressed, or rather undressed, as I was–completely confounding them as to my real character. At length one of them came up and asked me some questions, which I could not understand; but when he offered me bread–calling it by its name–a cloud appeared to pass from over my brain, and I soon repeated that, and other English words after him. …
“Word by word I began to comprehend what they said, and soon understood, as if by instinct, that they intended to remain in the country; that they had seen several of the native chiefs, with whom–as they said–they had exchanged all sorts of things for land; but that I knew could not have been, because, unlike other savage communities, or people, they have no chiefs claiming or possessing any superior right over the soil: theirs only being as the heads of families. I also knew that if any transactions had taken place, it must have been because the natives knew nothing of the value of the country, except as hunting grounds, supplying them with the means of present existence. I therefore looked upon the land dealing spoken of, as another hoax of the white man, to possess the inheritance of the uncivilized natives of the forest, whose tread on the vast Australian Continent will very soon be no more heard, and whose crimes and sorrows are fast fading away amongst other recollections of the past.”
EvX: Interestingly, the Wikipedia page on the Wathaurong people, with whom Buckley lived, claims that they did have chiefs:
Prior to European settlement, 25 separate clans existed, each with an arweet, or clan headman. Arweet held the same tribal standing as a ngurungaeta of the Wurundjeri people.
Ngurungaeta is a Woi-Wurrung word meaning ‘head man’ or ‘tribal leader’. Used by Clans of the Woi-Wurrung tribes and Taung Wurrung Ngurai-illum Wurrung ref First Peoples, GaryPresland. Ngurungaeta held the same tribal standing as an Arweet of the Bunurong and Wathaurong people. The current Ngurungaeta is Murrundindi.
Bebejan – one of the seven ngurungaeta who signed the 1835 treaty with John Batman
John Batman is the leader of the colonists Buckley is here discussing. By all accounts, Batman was not a nice guy–he massacred villages, kidnapped children, and negotiated treaties with people who had no hope of understanding what he really meant.
According to Buckley, the Aborigines had intended to murder Batman and take all of his trade goods–something was definitely opposed to. Despite his friendships with the natives, Buckley longed to be rescued and return to English society. He therefore worked hard to convince the Aborigines not to kill Batman, and likewise, tried to stop the settlers from killing the Aborigines (including acting as an interpreter in a capital murder trial, successfully preventing an Aborigine man from being executed for a crime he didn’t commit.) In the end, of course, there was nothing Buckley could do about white treatment of the Aborigines, a subject matter far too vast for me to deal with it here.
I find it interesting that throughout these sorts of accounts–and I include here Napoleon Chagnon’s account of the Yanomamo, famed for their violence–people still tend to believe in the essential goodness of their companions. Buckley does not say, “Oh, these Aborigines, they’re evil people who kill people and eat them!” No, he repeatedly states his gratitude to them for saving his life, taking them in, and treating him kindly. His feelings of grief upon the loss of his Aborigine family appear quite genuine. He does not think they should murder and eat each other, but he does not seem to attirbute these behaviors to character flaws. Likewise, though Buckley criticizes the English for their mistreatment of the Aborigines, he does not declare them evil, either.
Nor does Napoleon Chagnon dislike the Yanomamo tribesmen he’s lived with, despite the fact that he knows full well that a great many of them are murderers!
To be fair, Buckley was not an anthropologist. He was just a soldier-convict-guy who happened to get lost in Australia and was adopted into an Aborigine tribe. Years later he found colonists, re-joined white society, and dictated his life’s story, resulting in this book.
Buckley doesn’t relate many of the standard “cultural” tropes that I tend to associate with Aborigines–he makes no mention of the Dreamtime, says very little about myths, and is silent on coming of age rituals or magic rites.
Perhaps these weren’t prominent among the Aborigines he happened to live with, or he never learned about them, or he just thought them less interesting or important to his future readers than his accounts of violence. Certainly they were much less important to his life than the constant threat of death.
But he does include some cultural details, many of which I’ve excerpted below. (BTW, I’m including some images of Aborigine art, but none of them are–as far as I know–related to the folks Buckley lived with. They’re just here to look nice.)
“We remained in peace and quietness, until a messenger came from another tribe, saying we were to meet them some miles off. Their method of describing time is by signs on the fingers, one man of each party marking the days by chalkings on the arm, and then rubbing one off as each day passes. ”
“In this lake, as well as in most of the others inland, and in the deep water rivers, is a very extraordinary amphibious animal, which the natives call Bunyip, of which I could never see any part, except the back, which appeared to be covered with feathers of a dusky grey colour. It seemed to be about the size of a full grown calf, and sometimes larger; the creatures only appear when the weather is very calm, And the water smooth. I could never learn from any of the natives that they had seen either the head or tail, so that I could not form a correct idea
of their size, or what they were like. ”
EvX: Some people claim that the inclusions of details like the bunyip imply that Buckley’s account is untrustworthy. Obviously any account probably has some inaccuracies, but I don’t think the bunyip should be counted against Buckley anymore than Herodotus’s giant ants against his Histories. Buckley lived in a land of unfamiliar plants and animals, and his friends told him, “That thing in the tree is a koala; that hoppy thing is a kangaroo; that thing that just went swish plop out of sight in the swamp is a bunyip,” and he took them at their word.
Later in the account Buckley expresses some doubts on the matter, noting that the aborigines were afraid of the bunyip and thought it bad luck to try to hunt it, but he wanted to find and kill one when they weren’t around to figure out what sort of creature it was.
On marriage (paging HBDChick):
“The only ceremonies they use preparatory to marriage are, in the first place, to get the parents’ consent, the suitor’s best claim is being a good fighter, and an expert hunter, so as to be able to protect and provide for a family. They are not at all particular as to the number of wives such men have; consequently some have five or six wives, and others none at all. If a man wishes to have a man’s grown up sister for a wife, he must give his own, if he has one, in exchange; but they are very averse to marrying one of their own relations, even of a distant degree.
“If a woman is supposed to have a child who is not her husband’s, they consider it a great disgrace; and to the infant, death is almost certain. If again, a family increases too rapidly,
for instance, if a woman has a child within twelve months of .a previous one, they hold a consultation amongst the tribe she belongs to, as to whether it shall live or not; but if the father insists upon the life of the child being spared, they do not persist in its destruction, and especially if it is a female.”
EvX: Female privilege.
I have read that the % of fetuses aborted in the US today and the % of infants infanticided in premodern cultures is about the same.
“I may as well here also mention a curious custom they have relative to their domestic affairs … In many instances, a girl, almost as soon as she is born, is given to a man. After this promise, the mother of the child never again voluntarily speaks to the intended husband before he takes her to himself nor to any of his brothers, if he has any; on the contrary she shuns them in the most careful manner.”
EvX: I don’t know if we should take him literally that infants were engaged to grown men, but at any rate, since the stated cause of much violence was that a girl who had been promised at birth to one man was desired at marrying age by another man, it seems like a great deal of violence could have been eliminated by discontinuing this custom.
“The next morning, those who remained went to the tribe to which the murdered man belonged, and found him rolled up in his rug, ready to be tied up in a tree, a mode of disposing of the dead, who were not enemies, unknown to me before. They selected a strong, if not a lofty tree, and in the branches, about twelve feet up, they placed some logs and branches across, and sheets of bark; on these they laid the body with the face upwards, inclining toward the setting sun, and over it was placed some more bark and boughs, and then logs as heavy as the branches would bear; all this being done to protect the body from the birds of prey.”
“They have no notion of a Supreme Being, although they have of an after life, as in my case; and they do not ofler up any’ kind of prayer, even to the son or moon, as is customary with most other uncivilized people. They have a notion, that the world is supported by props, which are in the charge of a man who lives at the farthest end of the earth. They were dreadfully alarmed on one occasion when I was with them, by news passed from tribe to tribe, that unless
they could send him a supply of tomahawks for cutting some more props with, and some more rope to tie them with, the earth would go by the run, and all hands would be smothered. Fearful of this, they began to think, and enquire, and calculate where the highest mountains were, and how to get to them …so as to have some chance of escape from the threatened
“The next day we moved on to another fresh water lake of considerable extent, where we encamped, not very much at our ease, as we saw another tribe on the opposite shore. In the middle of the night we heard a dreadful uproar in that direction, and in the morning learned that those we had seen before dark had been fallen upon by some others whilst they were sleeping; so on hearing this we went to their assistance. On our arrival a horrid scene presented itself, many women and children laying about in all directions, wounded and sadly mutilated. Several of the poor creatures had rushed into the lake and were drowned. The few who had escaped were hiding themselves in the reeds; but on our proffering assistance and protection, they joined us, and went to our huts. The dead were left, it not being safe to lose time in burying them, as our number was not sufficient to make us safe from a similar attack.”
“Having come to another halt, the better way perhaps will be, for me here to state, that the tribes are divided into families; or rather, I should say, composed of them, each tribe comprising from twenty to sixty of them. They acknowledge no particular Chief as being
superior to the rest; but, he who is most skilful and useful to the general community, is looked upon with the greatest esteem, and is considered to be entitled to more wives than any of the others. They contrive to keep a tolerable account, by recollection, of their pedigree, and will not, as I observed before, knowingly marry a relation, except where two brothers happened
to be married, and one dies; in that case the survivor claims the widow; in fact, as many wives or widows as he has left behind him. Should the women object, there is little chance of their lives being spared, as this law of custom is absolute.”
EvX: Not female privilege.
“They are in general, very kind to their children, excepting the child is from any cause, believed to be illegitimate ; and again, when a woman has been promised to one man, and is afterwards given to another; in such case, her first-born is almost invariably killed at its birth. The tribes would be much more numerous were it not for these barbarous and inhuman sacrifices.
“As soon as the children are able to toddle about, they begin, as if by instinct, to search for food, and at four or five years of age, are able to dig roots and live without the aid of their parents, to whom, as may be supposed, their drapery, and washing and combing, etc., is no sort of trouble. They are all stark naked, and tumble about in the lagoons and rivers, like so many jolly young porpoises playing in the sun.”
EvX: I suspect he is overestimating the foraging capabilities of 5 yr olds.
Cannibalism and mental illness:
“They have a brutal aversion to children who happen to be deformed at their birth. I saw the brains of one dashed out at a blow, and a boy belonging to the same woman made to eat the mangled remains. The act of cannibalism was accounted for in this way. The woman at particular seasons of the moon, was out of her senses; the moon, as they thought, having affected the child also, and, certainly, it had a very singular appearance. This caused her husband to deny his being the father, and the reason given for making the boy eat the child
was, that some evil would befall him if he had not done so.”
“However, the man himself having escaped, he, with others, went in the night to the hut of the savage who had killed his brother, and speared him dead; having done which, they cut the most of the flesh off his body, carrying it away on their spears to mark their triumph. The next day and night there was a continued uproar of dancing and singing, to notify their joy at these horrible events, during which, the mangled remains of the man were roasted between heated stones, and they eat part of them, and no mistake; for I saw them join in the horrible repast, and was requested to do so likewise, which of course I refused to do, evincing the greatest disgust at their proceedings.”
EvX: Buckley appears to feel some guilt upon relating this incident, because it will reflect badly upon his friends in the minds of his readers:
“Having been rescued from death by starvation, it is only natural that I should, from a feeling of gratitude, desire to save the natives from so great a reproach; but the truth must prevail, and that many of the natives inhabiting this part of the continent of New Holland are cannibals, under particular circumstances, cannot be doubted.” …
“Strange as all these cannibal ceremonies may appear, it is proper to explain, that many are performed out of what they consider respect for the deceased, the cap bones of whose knees, in this instance, after being carefully cleaned, were tied up in a sort of net of hair and twisted bark. Under such circumstances, these relics are carried by the mothers, tied round their necks
by day, and placed under their heads by night, as affectionate remembrancers of the dead. ”
“All those I met with, excepting in times of war, or lamentation, I found to be particularly fond of what they consider music, although they have no kind of instrument except the skin rug, which, stretched from knee to knee, they beat upon, others keeping time with sticks. So passionately attached are they even to this noise, that they often commence in the night, one family setting them on, until at last they one and all become a very jolly set, keeping it up in one continual strain until daylight. I have often wished them and their enchanting enlivening strains on the other side of the Continent, with the queer old conjuror who manages the props already mentioned…”
Life and Death:
“Considering how they are exposed to the weather, it is wonderful how little they suffer from idleness; for, excepting a sort of erysipelas, or scurvy, with which they are sometimes afflicted, they are In general very healthy. I never observed any European contagious disease prevalent, in the least degree; and this I thought strange. There was at one time however, I now recollect, a complaint which spread through the country, occasioning the loss of many lives, attacking generally the healthiest and strongest, whom it appeared to fix upon in preference to the more weakly. It was a dreadful swelling of the feet, so that they were unable to move about, being
also afflicted with ulcers of a very painful kind. ” …
“The natives live to about the same age, generally, as civilized people, some of them, to be very grey-headed. They have an odd idea of death, for they do not suppose that any one dies from natural causes, but from human agencies: such as those to which I have alluded in previous pages of this narrative. The women seldom have more than six children, and not often so many. So soon as they have as many as they can conveniently carry about and provide for, they kill the rest immediately after birth : not to eat them, as may be supposed, but with the idea that, for the sake of both parties, and under such circumstances, death is practical mercy.”
Technology and trade:
“… I must say something about their tomahawks … The heads of these instruments are made from a hard black stone, split into a convenient thickness, without much regard to shape. This they rub with a very rough granite stone, until it is brought to a fine thin edge, and so hard and sharp as to enable them to fell a very large tree with it. There is only one place that I ever heard of in that country, where this hard and splitting stone is to be had. The natives call it karkeen; and say that it is at a distance of three hundred miles from the coast, inland. The journey to fetch them is, therefore, one of great danger and difficulty; the tribes who inhabit the immediate localities being very savage, and hostile to all others. I was told, that it required an armed party of resolute fighting men, to obtain supplies of this very necessary article; so that the tomahawk is considered valuable for all purposes.”
EvX: Constant war makes trade impossible.
In a second incident that, like the Bunyip, appears to be based more in myth than reality, Buckley relates having met the Pallidurgbarrans:
“I had almost forgotten to say, that in my wanderings about, I met with the Pallidurgbarrans, a tribe notorious for their cannibal practices; not only eating human flesh greedily after a fight, but on all occasions when it was possible. They appeared to be the nearest approach to the brute creation of any I had ever seen or heard of; and, in consequence, they were very much dreaded. Their colour was light copper, their bodies having tremendously large and protrubing bellies. Huts, or artificial places for shelter, were unknown to them, it being their custom to lay about in the scrub, anyhow and anywhere. The women appeared to be most unnaturally ferocious, children being their most valued sacrifice. Their brutality at length became so harrassing, and their assaults so frequent, that it was resolved to set fire to the bush where they had sheltered themselves, and so annihilate them, one and all, by suffocation. This, in part, succeeded, for I saw no more of them in my time. The belief is, that the last of the race was turned into a stone, or rock, at a place where a figure was found resembling a man, and exceedingly well executed; probably the figure-head of some unfortunate ship. ”
The Pallidurgbarrans are apparently mythical, (I’ve been able to find rather little about them at all,) and Buckley’s account is given with no particular context connecting it to the rest of the narrative, indicating that it might, indeed, have been made up.
Of course this does not rule out the possibility of the account having some basis in fact–perhaps they are a tribe known more popularly under another name–though it seems unlikely that Buckley himself ever actually encountered them.
The story is actually a very common mythic trope–the woods (or swamps) are filled with sub-humans who engage in various acts seen as evil by their neighbors, such as cannibalism, incest, rape (carrying off women from nearby tribes,) etc. For example, the aboriginal people of Taiwan have a festival that commemorates a tribe of “dark-skinned pygmies” which they claim to have wiped out 400+ years ago for being too friendly with their women. Folks on the isle of Flores, Indonesia, speak of the Ebu Gogo–literally, “grandmother who will eat anything.” Wikipedia recounts:
The Nage people believe that the Ebu Gogo were alive at the time of the arrival of Portuguese trading ships in the 17th century, and some hold that they survived as recently as the 20th century, but are now no longer seen. The Ebu Gogo are believed to have been hunted to extinction by the human inhabitants of Flores. They believe that the extermination, which culminated around seven generations ago, was undertaken because the Ebu Gogo stole food from human dwellings, and kidnapped children.
An article in New Scientist (Vol. 186, No. 2504) gives the following account of folklore on Flores surrounding the Ebu Gogo: The Nage people of central Flores tell how, in the 18th century, villagers disposed of the Ebu Gogo by tricking them into accepting gifts of palm fiber to make clothes. When the Ebu Gogo took the fiber into their cave, the villagers threw in a firebrand to set it alight. The story goes that all the occupants were killed except perhaps for one pair, who fled into the deepest forest, and whose descendants may be living there still.
Europeans, of course, have their child-snatching fairies and man-eating trolls, and we Americans have our “the woods are full of creepy serial killers” horror-movie trope.
Defining exactly who is white is contentious and difficult–so I shan’t. If you want to debate among yourselves whether or not the Irish or Hindus count, that’s your own business.
Here’s Haak et al’s full graph of human genomes from around the world, (see here and here for various discussions.) The genomes on the far left are ancient European skeletons; everything from the “pink” section onward is modern. The “African” genomes all have bright blue at their bottoms; Asian (and American Indian) genomes all have yellow. The European countries tend to have a triple-color profile, reflecting their recent (evolutionarily speaking) mix of European hunter-gatherers (dark blue), Middle Eastern farmers (orange), and a “teal” group that came in with the Indo-European speakers, but whose origins we have yet to uncover:
Unsurprisingly, the Basque have less of this “teal.” Middle Easterners, as you can see, are quite similar genetically, but tend to have “purple” instead of “dark blue”
Physically, of course, whites’ most distinctive feature is pale skin. They are also unique among human clades in their variety of hair and eye colors, ranging from dark to light, and tend to have wavy hair that is “oval” in cross-section. (Africans tend to have curly hair that is flat in cross section, and Asians tend to have straight hair that is cylindrical in cross section. See map for more hair details.)
There are other traits–the Wikipedia page on “Caucasian race” (not exactly synonymous with “whites”) notes:
According to George W. Gill and other modern forensic anthropologists, physical traits of Caucasoid crania are generally distinct from those of the Mongoloid and Negroid races. They assert that they can identify a Caucasoid skull with an accuracy of up to 95% by the following features: 
An orthognathic profile, with minimal protrusion of the lower part of the face (little or no prognathism).
Retreating zygomatic bones (cheekbones), making the face look more “pointed”.
But I am not going to deal with any of these, unless I hear of something like the EDAR gene coding for a bunch of traits.
Old racial classifications made use of language groups as stand-ins for racial groups. This turns out to be not very reliable, as we’ve found that in many cases, a small group of conquerors has managed to impose its language without imposing its genetics, as you’ve discovered in real life if you’ve ever met an African or Indian who speaks English.
(Incidentally, Mungo Man, found in south-east Australia, is also estimated to be about 40,000 years old, suggesting that either:
A. People took a much longer route from Africa to Europe than to Australia
B. Europe was difficult to enter when folks left Africa, possibly because of glaciers or Neanderthals
C. There were multiple Out-of-Africa events, or
D. Our knowledge is incomplete.
D is obviously true, and I favor C regardless of Mungo’s true age.)
These Cro-Magnons appear to have been brown skinned, brown eyed, and black haired–they likely looked more like their close relatives in the Middle East (whatever they looked like,) than their distant descendants in modern Europe. (Despite all of the mixing and conquering of the centuries, I think modern Europeans are partially descended from Cro-Magnons, but I could be wrong.)
The Cro-Magnons carved the famous “Venus of Willendorf” (we don’t really know if the figurine was intended as a “goddess” or a fertility figure or just a portrait of a local lady or what, but it’s a nice name,) among many other similar figurines, some of them quite stylized.
Some people think the figurines look African, with cornrows or peppercorn hair and steatopygia. Others suggest the figurines are wearing hats or braids, and point out that not all of them are fat or have large butts.
So when did Europeans acquire their modern appearances? Here’s what I’ve found so far:
Variations in the KITL gene have been positively associated with about 20% of melanin concentration differences between African and non-African populations. One of the alleles of the gene has an 80% occurrence rate in Eurasian populations. The ASIP gene has a 75–80% variation rate among Eurasian populations compared to 20–25% in African populations. Variations in the SLC24A5 gene account for 20–25% of the variation between dark and light skinned populations of Africa,and appear to have arisen as recently as within the last 10,000 years. The Ala111Thr or rs1426654 polymorphism in the coding region of the SLC24A5 gene reaches fixation in Europe, but is found across the globe, particularly among populations in Northern Africa, the Horn of Africa, West Asia, Central Asia and South Asia.
According to a team of researchers from Copenhagen University, a single mutation which arose as recently as 6-10,000 years ago was responsible for all the blue-eyed people alive on Earth today.
The team, whose research is published in the journal Human Genetics, identified a single mutation in a gene called OCA2, which arose by chance somewhere around the northwest coasts of the Black Sea in one single individual, about 8,000 years ago.
The hair color gene MC1R has at least seven variants in Europe giving the continent a wide range of hair and eye shades. Based on recent genetic research carried out at three Japanese universities, the date of the genetic mutation that resulted in blond hair in Europe has been isolated to about 11,000 years ago during the last ice age. …
Recent archaeological and genetic study published in 2014 found that, seven “Scandinavian hunter-gatherers” found in 7700-year-oldMotala archaeological site in southern Sweden had both light skin gene variants, SLC24A5 and SLC45A2, they also had a third gene, HERC2/OCA2, which causes blue eyes and also contribute to lighter skin and blond hair. …
Genetic research published in 2014, 2015 and 2016 found that Yamnaya Proto-Indo-Europeans, who migrated to Europe in early bronze age were overwhelmingly dark-eyed (brown), dark-haired and had a skin colour that was moderately light, though somewhat darker than that of the average modern European. While light pigmentation traits had already existed in pre-Indo-European Europeans (both farmers and hunter-gatherers) and long-standing philological attempts to correlate them with the arrival of Indo-Europeans from the steppes were misguided. …
Genetic analysis in 2014 also found that Afanasevo culture which flourished in Altai Mountains were genetically identical to Yamnaya Proto-Indo-Europeans and that they did not carry genetic alleles for blonde hair or light eyes.Afanasevo culture was later replaced by second wave of Indo-European invaders from Andronovo culture, who were product of Corded Ware admixture that took place in Europe, and carried genetic alleles that causes blond hair and light eyes.
An interesting finding [in Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans] is that the Luxembourg hunter-gatherer probably had blue eyes (like a Mesolithic La Brana Iberian, a paper on which seems to be in the works) but darker skin than the LBK farmer who had brown eyes but lighter skin. Raghavan et al. did not find light pigmentation in Mal’ta (but that was a very old sample), so with the exception of light eyes that seem established for Western European hunter-gatherers (and may have been “darker” in European steppe populations, but “lighter” in Bronze Age South Siberians?), the origin of depigmentation of many recent Europeans remains a mystery.
… we estimate that the onset of the sweep shared by Europeans and East Asians at KITLG occurred approximately 30,000 years ago, after the out-of-Africa migration, whereas the selective sweeps for the European-specific alleles at TYRP1, SLC24A5, and SLC45A2 started much later, within the last 11,000–19,000 years, well after the first migrations of modern humans into Europe.
In a 2015 study based on 230 ancient DNA samples, researchers traced the origins of several genetic adaptations found in Europe. The original mesolithic hunter-gatherers were dark skinned and blue eyed. The HERC2 and OCA2 variations for blue eyes are derived from the original mesolithic hunter-gatherers, and the genes were not found in the Yamna people. The HERC2 variation for blue eyes first appears around 13,000 to 14,000 years ago in Italy and the Caucasus.
The migration of the neolithic farmers into Europe brought along several new adaptations.The variation for light skin color was introduced to Europe by the neolithic farmers. After the arrival of the neolithic farmers, a SLC22A4 mutation was selected for, a mutation which probably arose to deal with ergothioneine deficiency but increases the risk of ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, and irritable bowel disease.
Isaac begins the book with some background on his family and their life in the forest. (And in case you were wondering about homicide among pre-agricultural peoples, it looks like they Pygmy-on-Pygmy murder rate is pretty high, which fits pretty well with the reported overall homicide rates in the DRC.)
Isaac is one of 12 children, but half of his siblings died in childhood (one died at 15 of labor complications due to having twins without medical care; Isaac notes that sickle-cell-anemia runs in his family, which probably explains most of the others.) Isaac has 11 children, 9 of whom survived (and one of those died as an adult.) The radical difference may be better medical care, but more likely his wife is just not a sickle-cell carrier.
In case the moral of the story is not clear: Hunter-gatherers in the rainforest with no medical care and 50% infant mortality rates can still raise 6 children, while Americans with college degrees and white collar jobs sincerely believe that they “can’t afford” more than one or two kids.
Today’s Pygmies are not exclusive hunter-gatherers, and probably haven’t been for a while. For starters, there are a lot more people hunting in the DRC these days; farmers are clearing forests for agriculture; the gov’t tries to prevent poaching in national parks; and of course armies occasionally march through the area and shoot a bunch of people. Isaac’s family, when he was young, practiced a mobile lifestyle of working part of the year on local farms and exclusive hunting/gathering during other times. Isaac himself, as an adult, lived permanently in town and had a white-collar job running a pharmacy.
You’re not going to get good numbers on the % of Pygmies in agricultural or white-collar occupations because widespread discrimination against Pygmies guarantees that most of the ones who leave the forest hide their identities and attempt to pass as Bantus. (You might think that the most obvious difference between them would be height, but Isaac says it’s lips–Pygmies have thinner lips, Bantus thicker. Also, Pygmies apparently blink more.)
As I’ve mentioned, the Bantus are relative newcomers to the area, and on the grand scale of human genetics, more closely related to Europeans than to Pygmies, who may be one of the most ancient peoples on Earth. This occurred recently enough that the Pygmies, despite having no written history until perhaps this book, still remember the invasion:
According to our mythology, when the people who are not Pygmies–we call them Bantu–came to Central Africa, they came from the north and found Pymies already there. My own ancestors roamed in the forests from Kahuzi up to Walikale and into the forests of Shabunda. This is where you can find the Kalega Forest. The region is very mountainous and the smaller villages are in deep forest and reachable only on dirt paths.
Bantu from many tribes came into our land centuries ago, but before the seventeenth century nobody could talk about BaTembo people [Isaac’s tribe] for the simple reason that they did not exist. About 400 years ago one of those Bantu men called Katembo came into our land. He was the son of Kifamandu, and probably from the Hunde tribe. Katembo fell in love with a Pygmy woman. (I have never heard her name–BaTembo people only want to remember Katembo, not the name of their Pygmy ancestor, so everyone has forgotten her.)
Isaac describes life in the forest as idyllic, but often motivated by extremely practical concerns:
In 1967 a white mercenary from Belgium, Jean Schramme, and his ‘Leopard Battalion’ advanced along the road near where we were living…
Pygmies know how to live in the forest, so we could always find food and build huts, and we were protected. Normally Pygmies move in and out of the forest, but this time we stayed for a whole year because we were scared of leaving.
Later in the book, Isaac returns to the forest again after narrowly escaping a massacre conducted by an invading army from Rwanda. Wikipedia has information on Jean Schramme:
When the Belgian Congo gained its independence in 1960, the country quickly descended into civil war. Several hundred white people were held hostage, and Belgium sent troops to Congo to free them and to protect its interests. … The rich province of Katanga, soon followed by the eastern part of Kasai were trying to gain independence. … A violent clash between pro-secession and pro-unity movements soon broke out.
In 1965, Colonel Mobutu became president and from then on Belgium started protecting his regime against rebellion. …
On June 30, 1967, president Moise Tshombe of Katanga‘s Jet aircraft was hijacked to Algiers, before he could return to Congo after his exile in Spain. He was imprisoned in Algeria and two years later he died in suspicious circumstances. For Schramme, this was a sign that he was fighting the wrong enemy and on July 3, 1967 he began to lead an uprising in Katanga against Mobutu.
…Jean Schramme’s unit, launched surprise attacks on Stanleyville, Kindu, and Bukavu. … Schramme was able to hold Bukavu for seven weeks and managed to defeat all ANC troops who were sent to retake the town. … Extra forces helped the ANC to finally defeat Schramme on October 29, 1967. The surviving rebel troops fled towards Rwanda.
Down in the south, the province of Katanga, a rich mining territory, declared its own independence. The Congo had no intention of allowing the renegade region to secede, and neither did the CIA, the KGB, or the United Nations.
… It was a fantastically uneven battle. The United Nations fielded soldiers from twenty nations, America paid the bills, and the Soviets intrigued behind the scenes. Yet to everyone’s surprise the new nation’s rag-tag army of local gendarmes, superstitious jungle tribesmen, and, controversially, European mercenaries refused to give in.
Isaac recounts that the Pygmies also lived in the forest for more mundane reasons:
The Belgians tried to get Pygmies out of the forest and make us live in Bantu villages, so we would become workers. We did not like that! Because of pressure from the Belgians, in the 1940s and 1950s some families moved out of the forest but left their eldest sons behind in the deep forest where the Belgians could not find them. After Congo became independent in 1960 we all went back. …
Life was very social in the forest. The small camps we lived in had about five or six different huts, with about twenty people in each camp, and everyone in the camp was related. …
It took Mum and Dad about four hours to make a hut. If you were careful and made a strong frame, you could make a hut that lasted a year. … Bigger huts might have a wall that created a sleeping space for parents. … There were no chairs or tables. Everyone sat on a log or on the ground. My parents liked living in this kind of hut. Many years later I bought them twenty sheets of iron to cover their roof instead of leaves, but they exchanged it for meat. They were happy with their traditional hut and having assets like iron sheeting was meaningless to them. …
This is an important point: most people like their own culture.
Isaac claims to believe in god, but rejects most religious beliefs on the grounds that they are illogical superstitions. Nevertheless, he relates some of the traditional ones for us:
Event though Pygmies are marginalized, we have a special role in Bantu culture because of our connection to the spirit world. Traditionally Pygmies believed in a creator god who created the forest and everything in it, and that the forest was full of the spirits of ancestors who had died. … Pygmies still have ceremonies when we do various things to make spirits happy, and we perform these ceremonies for Batu as well. For example, before gong hunting, Pygmies might perform a ceremony to help catch something. …
The most important ceremonial roles Pygmies held in Bantu culture were when a mwami was put on the throne and when he died. The Bantu were afraid that if they did not give Pygmies a role in these ceremonies it would anger the ancestral spirits of the land. Bantu believe that ancestral spirits respond better to Pygmies because Pygmies are the people of the forest … When something like a destructive storm happens, BaTembo would ay it was because the spirits were upset that Pygmies were not given a proper role in a ceremony that happened earlier, sometimes years earlier. …
When we want to remember someone who has died, we hold a chioba ceremony that might go for as long as a week… When somebody dies their spirits go to the spirit world, and during the chioba people will dance to call the spirits of that person. When the dead person’s spirits come they enter the dancers, who start to dance in an unusal way…
But back to the forest:
… everything in the forest is about food and everything you find belongs to you. This is how Mama thought. In providing for us she was a good mother because we were never hungry as kids.
Life in the forest is not stressful because there are no people around and stress is brought to you by other people. Happiness in the forest comes when you kill an antelope or if you catch some fish, because you know you will eat–and in Pygmy culture if you kill even one monkey everyone in the village will have a piece. …
When I was a child I was so happy when I found fruit and could eat a lot. If there was no fruit then we would go mushroom picking. … Pygmies collect these fruits and sell them to poeople who live outside the forest, as well as eat it ourselves.
Isaac goes into a bit of detail about all of the different kinds of food they had growing up and how they hunted, providing themselves with everything from grubs to elephants. He also notes that wearing clothes is inefficient in the forest because they get snagged on branches. Gorillas and chimps, however, were not traditionally on the menu:
Normally Pygmies do not hunt gorillas but this one was bothering them [coming into their camp and destroying their banana trees,] so they decided to kill it. They knew that gorilla were powerful animals. Mama said that if you do not have a brother with you, you should not try to hunt a gorilla because if it grabs you, it will smash you. … If you hunt a gorilla with someone who is not a relative he will run away if it gets hold of you, but if you hunt with a brother he will try to stab the gorilla and carry you home if you are injured.
… the only real enemy of Pygmies in the forest was leopards. If Pygmies met a gorilla we would look at each other then each would go their own way. The same with chimpanzees–we would pass each other in the forest, minding our own business. Chimpanzees and gorillas were not harmful to you because they are not aggressive unless you approach their babies. …
Pygmies were only scared of leopards. Because the walls of our huts are not strong and are only made of leaves, sometimes a leopard would pull sleeping people out and kill them. Mama told me about two or three people who were killed that way.
Back in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (first published in 1939,) Dr. Price, a peripatetic dentist who traveled the world in search of good teeth, noted that Pygmies hunt elephants and leopards hunt Pygmies:
The home life of the pygmies in the jungle is often filled with danger. Just before our arrival two babies had been carried off by a leopard. This stealthy night prowler is one of the most difficult to combat and one of the reasons the pygmies build cabins in the trees.
Fathers of the Aka tribe [Pygmies from the other side of the DRC] spend more time in close contact to their babies than in any other known society. Aka fathers have their infant within arms reach 47% of the time  and make physical contact with them five times as often per day as fathers in some other societies. …
Throughout the day, couples share hunting, food preparation, and social and leisure activities. The more time Aka parents spend together, the more frequent the father’s affectionate interaction with his baby. or the more frequent the father’s affectionate interaction with his baby, the more time the Aka parents spend together.
Dad around => less chance of getting eaten by leopards.
(This is why I think it so weird that [some] Americans think it is a good idea to put an infant into a room by itself and then ignore it while it screams. Infants are not rational, thinking creatures who can understand that they’re safe even though it’s dark. They run entirely on instincts, and their instincts tell them that being alone in the dark means they will get eaten by leopards.)
Anyway, here’s another interesting bit, also showing the weird Pygmy-Bantu religious relationship:
In traditional Bantu culture in my area, when a king dies someone must cut off his head and take it for safekeeping to a sacred place in the forest. Bantus have assigned Pygmies responsibilities in this ceremony and it is a Pygmy man who does this. … The muhombe has a powerful magic. He wears a mask, a leopard skin across his chest, a raffia skirt and a necklace made of wild banana seeds and the teeth of a wild boar. He carries his tools in a raffia bag–a few teeth of dead chiefs, and other things to help him communicate with the dead and tell the future. The special place the muhombe protects is called the buhombe. It is very sacred to Pygmies and Bantu, but the Bantu are not allowed to go there. The entire head is placed on a tabernacle int he forest and the muhombe would watch it carefully to see if there are any movements of the skull. … The muhombe cares for the site for thirty or forty yeas, when the role of guardian or caretaker passes to his son. …
The muhombe in the Mafuo Chiefdom traditionally come from my family, and when I was young my father held this role. Bantus said I would have to do this when my father died as I was part of the lineage. I refused … The Bantu then said that as I refused to do it, my sister, Zania, the next in line in my family, would have to carry the muhombe assignment… ‘Carrying the assignment’ meant carrying the next muhombe in her womb. Zania was not supposed to get married because she had to dedicate herself to this assignment, a bit like a nun, but it was all right for her to give birth to the next muhombe.
Unfortunately, Zania died in childbirth and the muhombe-ship transferred to a cousin. Much later in the book, after Isaac and his family have moved to Australia, he reports that:
A few years ago my brother Buhavu sold the land where the Mafuo chiefs are buried, the buhombe hill… There were even some teeth of an old mwami still there. Mama was very upset about him selling this land. Buhavu did not have personal custody of that land and had no right to sell it. … Mama’s dream is to go back to Cong, return the money to the Bantu people who bought that sacred land, and get it back.
Old ways die quickly when there is money to be made.