Anthropology Friday: Our Moslem Sisters pt 4/4

Samuel Zwemer

I desired to read a good ethnography of Middle Eastern life in the 1800s, but not happening upon one, I settled for Our Moslem Sisters: A Cry of Need from Lands of Darkness Interpreted by Those Who Heard It, edited by Annie Van Sommer and Samuel M. Zwemer. (Published in 1907.)

Sommer, Zwemer, and the book’s other contributing authors were Christian missionaries who lived in a variety of Islamic countries or areas around the turn of the 19th century. Often these missionaries brought much-needed medical supplies (and sometimes food) into poor areas.

Zwemer’s legacy lives on via the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies.

Turkey:

“We know the paucity of literature of all kinds in Turkey, where government press regulations prohibit any general output of publications; this, combined with the very general poverty of the people, makes many a home bookless, and the great majority of lives barren. …

“I have travelled on the railroad in Turkey with Moslem women, in the special compartment, where in the freedom of the day’s travel, they have thrown back their veils and silken wraps, showing their pretty French costumes and the diamonds upon their fingers, as they offered their Frank fellow-traveller cake, or possibly chocolates, and have more than once felt the embarrassment of a missionary purse too slender to allow of such luxuries, with which to return the compliment. Once a Moslem woman took from her travelling hand-basket paper and pencil, and proceeded to write, as I was doing! Page after page she wrote, though in just the reverse manner from our writing, and we soon established a feeling of comradeship.

“I have been also a deeply sympathetic witness of moving scenes in which the proverbial love of the Turkish father for his children could not be concealed. As the train awaited the signal for departure from a station, one day, the evident distress of a pretty girl opposite me, broke into crying. She had climbed into the corner by the window, and the guard had not yet closed the door. Involuntarily my eyes followed the child’s grieved gaze, until they rested upon a tall, gray-bearded Turkish officer standing by the station, who was evidently striving to control his emotion answering to the grief of the child. Finally he yielded to the heart-broken crying of the little one, and came to the car door to speak soothingly to her.”

Baluchistan:

“Throughout the Province, but especially among the Afghans and Brahuis, the position of woman is one of extreme degradation; she is not only a mere household drudge, but she is the slave of man in all his needs, and her life is one of continual and abject toil. No sooner is a girl fit for work than her parents send her to tend cattle and she is compelled to take her part in all the ordinary household duties. Owing to the system of walwar in vogue among the Afghans, a girl, as soon as she reaches nubile age, is, for all practical purposes, put up for auction sale to the highest bidder. The father discourses on her merits, as a beauty or as a housekeeper, in the public meeting places, and invites offers from those who are in want of a wife. Even the more wealthy and more respectable Afghans are not above this system of thus lauding the human wares which they have for sale. The betrothal of girls who are not yet born is frequent, and a promise of a girl thus made is considered particularly binding.

“It is also usual for an award of compensation for blood to be ordered to be paid in this shape of girls, some of whom are living, while others are not yet born. …

Modern Hazara girls wearing red traditional hijabs, with Tajik and Pashtun girls in Ghazni, Afghanistan.

“A wife in Baluchistan must not only carry water, prepare food, and attend to all ordinary household duties, but she must take the flocks out to graze, groom her husband’s horse, and assist in the cultivation. … Hence it happens that among Afghans, polygamy is only limited by the purchasing power of a man; and a wife is looked on as a better investment than cattle, for in a country where drought and scarcity are continually present, the risk of loss of animals is great, whilst the offspring of a woman, if a girl, will assuredly fetch a high price.”  …

“Regarding polygamy, the average man is unable to afford more than one wife, but the higher classes often possess from thirty to sixty women, many of them from the Hazare tribes of Afghanistan, whose women and children, during the rebellion in the late Amir’s reign, were sold over into Baluchistan and Afghanistan. In nearly every village of any size one sees the Hazare women, and the chief will talk of buying them as a farmer at home will speak of purchasing cattle.”

Noble visiting the Zenana, or women’s quarters

India:

“Let me give you a few of my experiences with regard to Mussulman women, especially during my stay in Hyderabad. One zenana we used to visit belonged to an old man who professed to be a great reformer, but whose women were still in strict purdah. He several times told us that he would be delighted if we could persuade his wife and daughters to go out with us, but of course they would not hear of such a thing. To their minds it is only the very poor and degraded who wander about unveiled or even drive in an open carriage, and would not all the ladies of their acquaintance be horrified at the bare idea of their leaving their old habits. …

“With this lady and her daughters we one day went to a fair for women only. We had to submit to having our carriage covered with a very large sheet so that no eye could see through the closed venetians, and when, after great difficulty, the lady had been placed in the carriage we drove to the enclosure where the fair was to be held. Right into the enclosure drove the carriage, and then the ladies, carefully shrouded in sheets, were conducted through a narrow gateway into a second enclosure, and there were thousands of women and children. Not a man was to be seen anywhere. It was so strange to see them wandering about freely in their bright-colored garments and to remember the streets of the great city they had come from, where hardly a woman is ever seen. These women never crossed the threshold of their houses before perhaps, so it was like fairyland to them. …

“Still progress is being made, we feel quite sure, and one thing seems to prove this. Though the Mohammedans in South India are backward and full of things to be deplored, yet they are innocent of many things which are evidently carried on in other Mohammedan countries. We, in South India, who have for years worked amongst Moslems never heard of the customs which seem to prevail in Egypt. Divorce is rarely heard of. Possibly it is too expensive, as the husband must return the dower. A woman being married to half a dozen husbands in succession is unheard of.”

Turkestan:

“Some fifty years ago there lived in Kashgar a man called Chodsha Burhaneddin. … He married a woman of noble descent, and for some time contented himself with his one wife. But according to Islam it is a merit to take if possible four wives, in order to increase the number of the adherents of Islam. For this reason Chodsha brought home another wife whenever he travelled on business to the Russian town of Andishan on that side of the Tienshan, until the number of four was full. The consequence was that he not only neglected his first wife, but even had her do all the housework alone, thus making her the servant of his three other wives.

“She had to serve them from early morning till late at night. Without grumbling and with great diligence the poor woman took all the work upon herself; secretly, however, she bewailed her hard lot and employed her few free hours for the education of her little daughter. However, she did not succeed in satisfying her husband. He always found fault, beat her, and bade her not show her face before him. His wife submitted patiently and silently…Four years passed.

“Meanwhile several political revolutions had taken place in Kashgar. In China the numerous Chinese Mohammedans had revolted, and the revolt had spread over the western countries. In eastern Turkestan the Chinese officials as well as the soldiers and the merchants had been killed by the Mohammedans; only a few escaped death by accepting Islam.

“This state of matters was put an end to by Jakob Beg. He had come from Chanab Chokand, north of the Tienshan, under the pretext of helping the descendant of the old Kashgarian dynasty of the Chodshas to the throne. In due time he put the Prince aside and founded a kingdom of his own, which included the whole of eastern Turkestan. After taking hold of the government he tried to weaken the Chodshas in every way possible, some of them were assassinated, others put in prison in order to be executed. One of the latter was Chodsha Burhaneddin.

“As soon as his wife heard that her husband had been made a prisoner, she hurried to her father, who was well esteemed at Jakob Beg’s court, and besought him to make the most of his influence in order to save her husband. Then she prepared a meal, took it to her imprisoned husband, and encouraged him. At his request she roused her father still more so as to betake himself at once to Jakob Beg, and to prevail on him to set the prisoner at liberty that same night.

“Chodsha Burhaneddin returned to his house and entered the room of his wife whom he had so long neglected, in order to thank her for his delivery. Afterwards she had one more child, a boy.”

Cathay (China):

“The social condition of Mohammedan women in Kansu Province in Northwest China is not so hard as those of their sisters in the more western countries. The Mohammedans, having been in China now about a thousand years, have, save in the matter of idolatry, practically adopted the Chinese customs, even to the binding of the feet of their little girls.”

EvX: I would like to note that footbinding sounds pretty hard to me.

“Among the wealthier Mohammedans, as with the wealthier Chinese, polygamy is common, many having two or three wives, and among the middle class, when there has been no issue by the first wife, many take unto themselves a second wife. Divorces are of rare occurrence.

“There are no harems. The better-class women are not seen much on the streets, but in the country places, the farmer’s wife, daughters, and daughters-in-law go out into the fields, weed and reap the corn, carry water, gather in fuel, and wear no veil. The daughters and daughters-in-law of the better class, from the age of fifteen to thirty, often wear a black veil when going on a visit to their friends, as also do the Chinese. …

“Speaking of the Mohammedan male population in our prefecture of Si-ning, the vast majority are ignorant of the tenets of the Koran, know little of anything, save that Masheng-ren is their prophet, and that there is a Supreme Being somewhere …

“After the rebellion of 1895, when retribution fell heavily on the Mohammedans, thousands of them were reduced to the verge of starvation; women, who had been accustomed to the comforts of a good home, were deprived of their warm winter clothing and left only with thin summer tattered garments, right in the depth of winter with a thermometer registering below zero (Fahrenheit). By the help of many kind friends in different parts of China, we were enabled to open a soup-kitchen and provide hot food every day for six weeks, during the bitterest part of the winter, to an average of three hundred persons each day, and also to give away several warm garments to those in direst need.”

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Anthropology Friday: Oriental Prisons pt 2: Andaman Islands

Monument to the victims of the Black Hole of Calcutta, 1905. It was later moved due to nationalist Indian sentiments.

Welcome back to Anthropology-ish Friday: The History and Romance of Crime: Oriental Prisons, by Arthur Griffiths, a British prison administrator and inspector of the late 1800s. I am not sure when the book was published, but I believe it was sometime in the early 1900s, for Griffiths mentions events that occurred up to 1899 and died in 1908.

On Chinese prisons, an interesting mention:

“For capital and other offences of a serious nature there are six classes of punishment. The first, called ling che, has already been mentioned. It is inflicted upon traitors, parricides, matricides, fratricides and murderers of husbands, uncles and tutors. The criminal is cut into either one hundred and twenty, seventy-two, thirty-six or twenty-four pieces. Should there be extenuating circumstances, his body, as a mark of imperial clemency, is divided into eight portions only. … A great many political offenders underwent executions of the first class at Canton during the vice-royalty of His Excellency, Yeh. On the fourteenth day of December, 1864, the famous Hakka rebel leader, Tai Chee-kwei by name, was put to death at Canton in the same manner.”

Back to India:

“I cannot bring this account of crime in India to a close without mention of an atrocity which is unequalled in the annals of human oppression.

“What imprisonment may mean in the East, when inflicted in defiance of the most elementary conditions of health in a tropical climate, has been recorded in letters of blood in the awful story of the Black Hole of Calcutta. The miscreant responsible for the crime was the Nabob of Bengal, Surajah Dowlah, who had gained a fleeting triumph over the early English settlers, and having captured Fort William at the mouth of Hugli, and made all the occupants prisoners, he turned them over to his savage followers. For security they were incarcerated in one small room or chamber some eighteen feet square. The season was the height of summer; the room was closed to the eastward and southward by dead walls and to the northward by a wall and door, so that no fresh air could enter save by two small windows, strongly barred with iron.

“Into this limited space human beings were crammed, already in a state of exhaustion by a long day spent in fatiguing conflict, and several of them seriously wounded. Piteous entreaties were made to the guards on duty to diminish the numbers imprisoned by removal elsewhere; large sums were offered as the price of this boon, but with no effect. No step could be taken without the permission of the Nabob, who was asleep, and none dared wake him. After vain attempts to break open the doors and fruitless appeals to the mercy of the sleeping Nabob, “the prisoners went mad with despair.” The rest of the story can best be told in the words of one of the masters of the English language, Lord Macaulay.

““They trampled each other down, fought for the places at the windows, fought for the pittance of water with which the cruel mercy of the murderers mocked their agonies, raved, prayed, blasphemed, implored the guards to fire among them. The gaolers in the meantime held lights to the bars, and shouted with laughter at the frantic struggles of their victims. At length the tumult died away in low gaspings and moanings. The day broke. The Nabob had slept off his debauch, and permitted the door to be opened. But it was some time before the soldiers could make a lane for the survivors, by piling up on each side the heaps of corpses on which the burning climate had already begun to do its loathsome work. When at length a passage was made, twenty-three ghastly figures, such as their own mothers would not have known, staggered one by one out of the charnel house. A pit was instantly dug. The dead bodies, a hundred and twenty-three in number, were flung into it promiscuously and covered up.

“But these things which, after the lapse of more than eighty years, cannot be told or read without horror, awakened neither remorse nor pity in the bosom of the savage Nabob. He inflicted no punishment on the murderers. He showed no tenderness to the survivors. Some of them, indeed, from whom nothing was to be got, were suffered to depart; but those from whom it was thought that anything could be extorted were treated with execrable cruelty. Holwell, unable to walk, was carried before the tyrant, who reproached him, threatened him, and sent him up the country in irons, together with some other gentlemen who were suspected of knowing more than they chose to tell about the treasures of the Company. These persons, still bowed down by the sufferings of that great agony, were lodged in miserable sheds, and fed only with grain and water, till at length the intercessions of the female relations of the Nabob procured their release.

“One Englishwoman had survived that night. She was placed in the harem of the prince at Moorshedabad.”

“It is told in history how the merciless Nabob was eventually called to strict account. The English at Madras vowed vengeance, and an expedition was forthwith fitted out for the Hugli, small in numbers, but full of undaunted spirit, and led by one of the most famous of British soldiers, Lord Clive. The victory of Plassy, which consolidated the British power in India, overthrew Surajah Dowlah, who expiated the crime of the Black Hole when captured and put to death by his successor Meer Jaffier.”

Port Blair Penal Colony, Andaman Islands, 1872 (today, a memorial rather than a prison.)

A tribal feud comes to the Andaman Prison:

“An atrocious murder which echoed through the whole world was that of the viceroy of India, Lord Mayo, who was killed by an Andaman convict in1872. The viceroy had visited Mount Harriet, a finely wooded slope rising above Port Blair and looking out over Viper Island with a glorious view eastward, in order to judge of its suitability as a sanatorium. He had just finished the descent. “The ship’s bells had just rung seven; the launch with steam up was whizzing at the jetty stairs; a group of her seamen were chatting on the pier-end. It was now quite dark, and the black line of the jungle seemed to touch the water’s edge. The viceroy’s party passed some large loose stones to the left of the head of the pier, and advanced along the jetty; two torchbearers in front.”

“The viceroy, preceding the rest, stepped quickly forward to descend the stairs to the launch. The next moment the people in the rear heard a noise, as of “the rush of some animal” from behind the loose stones; one or two saw a hand raised and a knife blade suddenly glisten in the torchlight. The viceroy’s private secretary heard a thud, and instantly turning round, found a man “fastened like a tiger” on the back of Lord Mayo.

“In a second twelve men were on the assassin; an English officer was pulling them off, and with his sword-hilt keeping back the native guards, who would have killed the assailant on the spot. The torches had gone out; but the viceroy, who had staggered over the pier-side, was dimly seen rising up in the knee-deep water, and clearing the hair off his brow with his hand as if recovering himself. His private secretary was instantly at his side in the surf, helping him up the bank. ‘Burne,’ he said quietly, ‘they’ve hit me.’ Then, in a louder voice, which was heard on the pier, ‘It’s all right, I don’t think I’m much hurt,’ or words to that effect.

“In another minute he was sitting under the smoky glare of the re-lit torches, on a rude native cart at the side of the jetty, his legs hanging loosely down. Then they lifted him bodily on to the cart, and saw a great dark patch on the back of his light coat. The blood came streaming out, and men tried to staunch it with their handkerchiefs. For a moment or two he sat up on the cart, then he fell heavily backwards. ‘Lift up my head,’ he said faintly, and said no more.”

Alfridi members of the Khyber Rifles, 1895

“The assassin, Sher Ali, was a very brave man belonging to one of the Afridi tribes, who had done excellent service to more than one commissioner at Peshawar and distinguished himself as a soldier. He was completely trusted by Colonel Reynolds Taylor, one of the best of our Indian officers, when at Peshawar, and was often in attendance on his family; in fact, he was the confidential servant of the house. This man, however, belonged to a society in which tribal feuds were a hereditary custom. Some such feud existed in his family and he was called upon to take his part in exacting a bloody vengeance for a quarrel. Had he committed the murder on his own side of the frontier, no notice could have been taken of it; and it would have been esteemed a legitimate deed sanctioned by the religious feelings and customs of the tribe; but his offence was committed within British territory and must be tried by British laws. He was convicted and sentenced to transportation to the Andamans instead of death, which he would greatly have preferred. Continually brooding under a sense of wrong, he took the first opportunity that offered for murderous retaliation and found the death he desired, on the gallows.”

Some observations on the Andamanese

Two Andamanese men

“Attempts to escape from the islands were at times frequent, encouraged by the easy access to the sea and the facility with which boats could be seized. But recaptures were also constantly made, and there were other chances against the fugitives, especially that of being run down by the aboriginal Andamanese. The natives of these islands are savages of a Nigrito race allied to the Papuans, but who, from having had no connection with the outer world for several centuries, have kept their blood absolutely pure. They are of small stature, the males a little under five feet in height, but finely made and well proportioned. In colour they are a jet black, and are among the darkest hued specimens of mankind. They are inveterate smokers, men, women and children, and are bright and intelligent, somewhat childish, petulant and quick tempered, but merry and light-hearted. They constitute a good unofficial guard, and as they constantly prowl round the convict settlements are a great deterrent to escape. 160 Being well used to jungle life, they are very successful trackers, who frequently bring back fugitives dead or alive. If by chance the evading convicts fall into the hands of the Jarawa tribe, their fate is sealed. These Jarawas are and always have been utterly irreclaimable; neither kindness nor force has had any appreciable effect in overcoming their unconquerable dislike to strangers, even of their own blood belonging to other tribes. Armed with bows and arrows, they show fight whenever encountered, and when pressed and punishment is attempted, they retire into the impenetrable jungle.”

EvX: I have posted about the inhabitants of the Andaman Islands before, including the world’s most isolated people, the Sentinelese.

An Amusing Approach to Jail-Keeping:

“At one time the Ratnagiri gaol contained about three hundred and sixty convicts; “at least two-thirds were Chinamen and Malays from the Straits, great ruffians, each with a record of piracy or murder, or both combined. Many of them were heavily fettered and carefully guarded by armed police when at their ordinary work in the ‘laterite’ quarries, for they were mostly powerful men;” the tools they used were formidable weapons and as there were known to be deadly feuds always present among them, serious disturbances and outbreaks were constantly dreaded. Nevertheless, misconduct was exceedingly rare; breaches of gaol discipline were much fewer among these desperadoes than among the milder Hindus in the work-sheds within the gaol. The fact having in due course created much surprise, inquiries were instituted as to why pirates and murderers, usually so insubordinate in other places, were so well-conducted and quiet at Ratnagiri.

“The riddle was presently solved. “For some  years one Sheik Kassam had been gaoler. Belonging to the fisherman class and possessed of very little education, he had, nevertheless, worked his way upward through the police by dint of honesty, hard work and a certain shrewdness which had more than once brought him to the front. At last, toward the end of his service, the gaolership falling vacant, he was, with everyone’s cordial approval, nominated to the post.”

“With comparative rest and improved pay, the old gentleman waxed fatter and jollier and was esteemed one of the most genial companions the country could produce. The cares of state, and the responsibility of three hundred murderous convicts, weighed lightly on Sheik Kassam. He developed a remarkable talent or predilection for gardening, almost from the first. “He laid out the quarry beds, brought water down to irrigate them, produced all the gaol required in the way of green stuff, and made tapioca and arrowroot by the ton. …

“Presently this favourite slice of garden was safely boxed in from the public view by an enclosure some eight feet high, extending from the gaol itself round to the gaoler’s house, the only entrance to it being a little wicket-gate by the side of the sheik’s back-yard.

“At last the head-superintendent of the Bombay prison heard that Sheik Kassam’s disciplinary system consisted in his bringing the most dangerous of the Chinamen and Malays quietly into his back-yard from the adjoining garden, and there regaling them with plenty of sweetmeats, sugar, drink in moderate quantity, and adding even the joys of female society of a peculiar sort. If any one became unruly or saucy, he was liable to get a dozen lashes, but if they behaved decently they all had their little festivals with regularity. After this discovery, poor old Sheik Kassam’s character as a model gaoler was gone; he was dismissed, but with a full pension which he did not live long to enjoy.”

EvX: Sounds like the fellow had a pretty good system.

That’s all for now. See you next Friday!

Anthropology Friday: Oriental Prisons pt 1: Thuggee

Group of Thugs, India, 1894

Welcome to Anthropology Friday. This month’s pick is more history than anthropology, but hopefully still interesting: The History and Romance of Crime: Oriental Prisons, by Arthur Griffiths, 1838-1908. I am not sure when the book was published, but I believe it was sometime in the early 1900s, for Griffiths mentions events that occurred up to 1899 and died in 1908.

Griffiths was a British prison administrator and inspector who wrote over 60 books, many of them mysteries or military histories–and many of them about prisons. According to Wikipedia:

Griffiths was born on 9 Dec. 1838, at Poona, India, the second son of Lieut.-colonel John Griffiths of the 6th Royal Warwickshire regiment. After graduating from King William’s College on the Isle of Man, Arthur Griffiths joined the British Army as an ensign in the 63rd Regiment of Foot on 13 Feb. 1855.

Serving in the Crimean War, Griffiths participated in the siege of Sevastopol. He also fought during the capture of Kinbum, receiving the British Crimea medal.

Today’s excerpts pertain to crime in India, chiefly that of thuggee, the semi-ritualized murder of travelers by a group known as the Thugs.

In General:

“Crime in India does not differ essentially from that prevalent elsewhere, although some forms are indigenous to the country, engendered by special physical and social conditions. As a rule, the people of India are law abiding, orderly and sober in character, but there is an inherent deceitfulness in them that tends to interfere with the course of justice.”

On the smuggling of money into the Montgomery jail in Punjab, one of the largest in India:

“The prisoners become very clever and use all sorts of devices to smuggle in coins, tobacco, opium and other drugs and dice. They are allowed to wear their own shoes, but these are examined very carefully, for the soles are frequently found to be made of tobacco, four-anna pieces and other things than leather.

““A common dodge,” says Captain Buck, “among the prisoners for concealing coins and other small things is to make a receptacle in the throat by means of a leaden weight about the diameter of a florin and half an inch thick; this is attached to a string some six inches long, a knot in the end being slipped between two teeth to prevent it sliding down the throat. By holding the head in a particular position for some time every day, ‘waggling’ the weight about, and from time to time altering the length of the string, a pouch can be formed in the throat suitable for holding as many as fifteen rupees. The possessor of this strange ‘safe’ is able to put in and take out his treasure with facility, but it is exceedingly difficult to make a man disgorge the contents against his will, or even to find out whether he possesses the pouch at all without the use of the Röntgen rays.” [X-rays]

Thuggee:

“When England’s work in India is reviewed in the time to come, full credit must be given to the humane administration which sternly suppressed the atrocious malpractices that so long afflicted the land, such as “Suttee,” or the burning of widows on the funeral pyre; the human sacrifices to the bloodthirsty idol of Jagannath; “Thuggee,” that vile organisation for secret murder which devastated the entire continent and killed so many unsuspecting victims. … It was fostered by the prevailing conditions in a vast extent of territory, divided among many princes and powers, each ruling independently and irresponsibly, with many kinds of governments, and with their hands one against the other, having no common interests, no desire for combination, no united police, no uniform action in the repression of determined wrong-doing. Everything conspired to favour the growth of these daring and unscrupulous land pirates.

“There were no roads in those early days, no public conveyances, no means of protection for travellers. The longest journeys from one end of the continent to the other were undertaken of necessity on foot or on horseback; parties hitherto complete strangers banded together for common security, and mixed unreservedly with one another. … it was possible to wander into by-paths and get lost among the forests, jungles, mountains and uncultivated tracts where but few sparsely inhabited villages were scattered. Direct encouragement was thus afforded to freebooters and highwaymen to make all travellers their prey, and many classes of robbers existed and flourished. Of these the most numerous, the most united, the most secret in their horrible operations, the most dangerous and destructive were the Thugs.

“The origin of Thuggee, as it was commonly called, is lost in fable and obscurity. Mr. James Hutton, in his popular account of the Thugs, thinks that they are of very ancient date and says they are “reputed to have sprung from the Sagartii who contributed eight thousand horse to the army of Xerxes and are mentioned by Herodotus in his history. These people led a pastoral life, were originally of Persian descent and use the Persian language; their dress is something betwixt a Persian and a Pactyan; they have no offensive weapons, either of iron or brass, except their daggers; their principal dependence in action is on cords made of twisted leather which they use in this manner. When they engage an enemy they throw out this cord having a noose at the extremity; if they entangle in this either horse or man, they without difficulty put them to death.” …

“In the latter part of the seventeenth century Thevenot speaks of a strange denomination of robbers who infest the road between Delhi and Agra and who use “a certain rope with a running noose which they could cast with so much sleight about a man’s neck when they are within reach of 50 him, that they never fail; so that they strangle him in a trice.” These robbers were divided into seven principal classes or families from which the innumerable smaller bands sprang.”

EvX: According to Wikipedia, Thugs have been known as organized bands of criminals in India for at least 600 years. The earliest known reference to their activities dates from 1356, in Ziyā-ud-Dīn Baranī‘s History of Fīrūz Shāh:

In the reign of that sultan [about 1290], some Thugs were taken in Delhi, and a man belonging to that fraternity was the means of about a thousand being captured. But not one of these did the sultan have killed. He gave orders for them to be put into boats and to be conveyed into the lower country, to the neighbourhood of Lakhnauti, where they were to be set free. The Thugs would thus have to dwell about Lakhnauti and would not trouble the neighbourhood of Delhi any more.

The strangest part about the story of the Thugs is that it is basically, as far as I know, true. There really was a secret cult, probably descended from Muslims who’d started worshipping Kali (somehow) and went around murdering people as part of their “religion” and more-or-less way of life. Wikipedia recounts:

Membership was sometimes passed from father to son, as part of a criminal underclass. The leadership of established Thug groups tended to be hereditary, as the group evolved into a criminal tribe. Other men would become acquainted with a Thug band and hope to be recruited, as Thugs were respected by the criminal community and had a camaraderie of numbers and shared experience. Robbery became less a question of solving problems associated with poverty and more a profession.

Back to Griffiths:

“At all times many hundreds of predatory castes existed in India, chiefly among the marauding hill and forest people, and some of them are still recorded by name in the census papers. These people lived openly by plunder, and were organised for crime, and for determined gang-robbery and murder. There was no established police in those days equal to coping with these gangs, and the government of the East India Company had recourse to the savage criminal code of the Mohammedan law.

“When Warren Hastings was governor-general, he decreed that every convicted gang-robber should be publicly executed in full view of his village, and that all of the villagers should be fined. The miscreants retaliated by incendiarism on a large scale. One conflagration in Calcutta in 1780 burned fifteen thousand houses, and some two thousand souls perished in the flames. A special civil department was created to deal with this wholesale crime, the character of which is described in a state paper dated 1772. “The gang-robbers of Bengal,” it says, “are not like the robbers in England, individuals driven to such desperate courses by want or greed. They are robbers by profession and even by birth. They are formed into regular communities, and their families subsist on the supplies they bring home to them. These spoils come from great distances, and peaceful villages three hundred miles up the Ganges are supported by housebreaking in Calcutta.”

EvX: Here is a version of the origin myth of the Thugs:

Once on a time the world was infested with a monstrous demon… who devoured mankind as fast as they were created… Kali cut the demon with her sword… but from every drop of blood that fell to the ground there sprang a new demon. She paused for a while, and from the sweat, brushed off one of her arms, she created two men, to whom she gave a rumal, or handkerchief, and commanded them to strangle the demons. When they had slain them all, they offered to return the rumal, but the goddess bade them keep it and transmit it to their posterity, with the injunction to destroy all men who were not of their kindred.

She condescended to present them with one of her teeth for a pickaxe, a rib for a knife, and the hem of her skirt for a noose, and ordered them, fo the futuer, to cut and bury the dbodies of whom they destoryed.

“In the early part of the nineteenth century the audacity and murderous activity of the Thugs increased to such a fearful extent that the British government was roused to serious consideration. … Mr. Brown, when engaged in his inquiry at a village named Sujuna, on the road to Hatta, heard a horrible story of a gang-robbery in the neighbourhood. A party of two hundred Thugs had encamped in a grove in the early morning of the cold season of 1814, when seven men, well-armed with swords and matchlocks, passed, conveying treasure from a bank in Jubbulpore to its correspondent in Banda. The treasure was ascertained to be of the value of 4,500 rupees, and a number of Thugs, well-mounted, gave chase. Coming up with their prey at a distance of seven miles, in a water course half a mile from Sujuna, they attacked the treasure-bearers with their swords, contrary to their common practice of strangling their victims, the latter plan being possible only when the objects of their desire were taken unawares. Moreover, the robbers left the bodies where they lay, unburied and exposed, which was also an unusual proceeding. A passing traveller, who had seen the murderers at work, was also put to death to prevent his giving the alarm. As much rain fell that day, none of the villagers approached the spot till the following morning, when the bodies were discovered and a large crowd came to gaze at them.

“Great difficulty was experienced in bringing home the crime to its perpetrators. This often happened in such cases from the strong reluctance of people to give evidence and appear in court for the purpose; even the banker who had lost his cash hesitated to come forward and prove his loss, and this was no isolated case. …

“Sir William Sleeman has left a personal record of his own achievements. “While I was in the civil charge of the district of Nursingpoor, in the valley of the Nurbudda, in the years 1822, 1823 and 1824,” he tells us, “no ordinary robbery or theft could be committed without my becoming acquainted with it; nor was there a robber or a thief of the ordinary kind in the district, with whose character I had not become acquainted in the discharge of my duty as magistrate; and if any man had then told me that a gang of assassins by profession resided in the village of Kundelee, not four hundred yards from my court, and that the extensive groves of the village of Mundesur, only one stage from me, on the road to Saugor and Bhopaul, were one of the greatest beles, or places of murder, in all India; and that large gangs from Hindustan and the Dukhun used to rendezvous in these groves, remain in them for days together every year, and carry on their dreadful trade along all the lines of road that pass by and branch off from them, with the knowledge and connivance of the two landholders by whose ancestors these groves had been planted, I should have thought him a fool or a madman; and yet nothing could have been more true. The bodies of a hundred travellers lie buried in and around the groves of Mundesur; and a gang of assassins lived in and about the village of Kundelee while I was magistrate of the district, and extended their depredations to the cities of Poona and Hyderabad.”

“…in the cantonment of Hingolee, the leader of the Thugs of that district, Hurree Singh, was a respectable merchant of the place, with whom Captain Sleeman, in common with many other English officers, had constant dealings. On one occasion this man applied to the officer in civil charge of the district, Captain Reynolds, for a pass to bring some cloths from Bombay, which he knew were on their way accompanied by their owner, a merchant of a town not far from Hingolee. He murdered this person, his attendants and cattle-drivers, brought the merchandise up to Hingolee under the pass he had obtained and sold it openly in the cantonment; nor would this ever have been discovered had he not confessed it after his apprehension, and gloried in it as a good joke.”

EvX: This is why market-dominant minorities evolved. You’re going to have a hard time shipping goods from place to place if your business contacts keep murdering you for not being part of their ethnic group.

“Many persons were murdered in the very bazaar of the cantonment, within one hundred yards from the main guard, by Hurree Singh and his gang, and were buried hardly five hundred yards from the line of sentries. Captain Sleeman was himself present at the opening of several of these unblessed graves (each containing several bodies), which were pointed out by the “approvers,” one by one, in the coolest possible manner, to those who were assembled, until the spectators were sickened and gave up further search in disgust. The place was the dry channel of a small water course, communicating with the river, no broader or deeper than a ditch; it was near the road to a neighbouring village, and one of the main outlets from the cantonment to the country….

“Accounts of such affairs, as found in contemporary records, might be multiplied indefinitely. Colonel Sleeman’s report of the Thug depredations for a year or two when they were most virulent—1836-37—fills one large volume. On a map which he made of a portion of the kingdom of Oude, showing a territory one hundred miles wide from north to south, and one hundred and seventy miles from east to west, are marked an endless number of spots between Lucknow, Cawnpore, Manickpur, Pertabgurh and Fyzabad, all of them indicating beles or scenes of murders perpetrated.”

EvX: The photo is fuzzy, but I believe the map in this slideshow, or one very like it, is the one Griffiths is referencing. The rest of the slide show is interesting and relevant.

Since Thugs tended to be related to each other, Sleeman also constructed genealogical trees of thuggee families, like the one above.

Back to the book:

Behram, Thug leader responsible for the murder of 931 people, 125 of them personally.

“These places were pointed out by captured Thugs and “approvers” who had been actively present and taken part in the murders. There were some 274 beles in all, or one for about every five miles; the fact was proved by the continual disinterment of skulls and skeletons of the often nameless victims. Each recorded great atrocities and many wholesale murders. The number of deaths for which each Thug miscreant was personally responsible seems incredible. One man, Buhran by name, killed 931 victims in forty years of active Thuggee, and another, Futteh Khan, killed 508 persons in twenty years, making an average of two monthly for each assassin. …

“When and how Thuggee began may not be definitely known, but it is certain that its votaries always attributed a divine origin to the practice. They esteemed the wholesale taking of life to which they were vowed a pious act, performed under the immediate orders and protection of the Hindu goddess, indifferently called Devee or Durga, Kali or Bhowanee. Murder was in fact a religious rite, the victim being a sacrifice to the deity. The strangler was troubled with no remorse; on the contrary, he gloried in his deed as the pious act of a devout worshipper. He prepared his murders without misgiving, perpetrated them without emotions of pity, and looked back upon them with satisfaction, not regret.

“The Thugs gave free vent to some of the worst passions of perverse humanity; they were treacherous, underhanded, pitiless to those they deemed their legitimate prey. But yet they were seldom guilty of wanton cruelty; the pain they inflicted was only that caused by depriving a human being of life. It was a rule with them never to murder women, and they generally spared infant children whom they adopted, bringing them up in their traditions. Even if a woman was doomed to suffer she was most scrupulously preserved from insult beforehand, either by act or word. In private life they were patterns of domestic virtue, affectionate to their own families, fond of their homes; well conducted, law abiding subjects of the state that gave them shelter.”

EvX: To be fair, so are Mafia dons.

The HBD Question:

“General Hervey quotes a curious instance of the heredity of the criminal instinct which showed itself in the descendants of the old Thugs settled at Jubbulpore, in the days of the active pursuit of these murderers by Sir William Sleeman. A generation of young Thugs had grown up around the School of Industry, a kind of reformatory for the offspring of the captured criminals, and the careers of some of these have been followed. Many of the youths found employment with European gentlemen as private servants, and in one particular instance the inherited propensity was curiously illustrated.

“A railway engineer, Mr. Upham, employed in the construction of the Indian Peninsula Railway, was stationed at Sleemanabad near Jubbulpore. Returning home one evening, much fatigued after a long tour of inspection, he lay down to rest on his bed and from his tent, the curtain of which was raised for ventilation, he saw two of his table servants—both of them lads from the reformatory—engaged in cooking his dinner. He presently noticed that they squeezed into the pot on the fire certain green pods they had plucked from a neighbouring bush, and presuming they were herbs of some sort added for flavour, he said nothing, but he was curious and having little appetite he dined very lightly, chiefly on rice and milk. He picked some of the pods, however, and put them in his pocket, where they remained till next day, when he became ill and rode over to see the doctor. He fainted when he reached the doctor’s office. Restoratives being promptly applied, he so far recovered as to be able to produce the pods which the doctor at once pronounced to be of datura. Suspicion thus aroused, the two servants were arrested and brought to trial, when the head cook was convicted and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. This boy was of the old Thug stock, and obviously the desire to destroy human life was in his blood, brought out by greed; for the object was, of course, to rob Mr. Upham while he was unconscious.

“They were apparently irreclaimable, these Thug children. One boy was detained in prison until grown up in the hope that he would prove well-conducted. All his relations had been Thugs; his father (who had been executed), his uncles, brothers and forebears for several generations, and numbers of them had suffered the extreme penalty. He was cognisant of their misdeeds and the retribution that overtook them, but his own inclinations lay the same way, and no sooner was he at large than he embraced the evil trade and was soon known as a jemadar with an increasing reputation as a daring leader of Dacoits. Eventually he was won over to the side of justice and did good service as an “approver.” ”

EvX: “Dacoit” is Indian for bandit; I do not know if it has any other connotations. Among the list of “famous dacoits” on wikipedia is Phoolan Devi, the “bandit queen” and later a member of the Indian Parliament:

Born into a low caste family in rural Uttar Pradesh, Phoolan endured poverty as a child and had an unsuccessful marriage before taking to a life of crime. … She was the only woman in that gang, and her relationship with one gang member, coupled with other minor factors, caused a gunfight between gang members. Phoolan’s lover was killed in that gunfight. The victorious rival faction, who were upper-caste Rajputs, took Phoolan to their village of Behmai, confined her in a room, and took turns to rape her repeatedly over several days. After escaping (or being let off), Phoolan rejoined the remnants of her dead lover’s faction, took another lover from among those men, and continued with banditry. A few months later, her new gang descended upon the village of Behmai to exact revenge for what she had suffered.[2][3] As many as twenty-two Rajput men belonging to that village were lined up in a row and shot dead by Phoolan’s gang.

Since Phoolan was a low-caste woman, and her victims were high-caste men, the press portrayed the Behmai massacre as an act of righteous lower-caste rebellion. The respectful sobriquet ‘Devi’ was conferred upon her by the media and public at this point.[4]

Phoolan evaded capture for two years after the Behmai massacre before she and her few surviving gang-members surrendered to the police in 1983. She was charged with forty-eight major crimes, including multiple murders, plunder, arson and kidnapping for ransom.[5] Phoolan spent the next eleven years in jail… In 1994, the state government headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party summarily withdrew all charges against her, and Phoolan was released.[5] She then stood for election to parliament as a candidate of the Samajwadi Party and was twice elected to the Lok Sabha as the member for Mirzapur. In 2001, she was shot dead at the gates of her official bungalow (allotted to her as MP) in New Delhi by former rival bandits whose kinsmen had been slaughtered at Behmai by her gang.

That’s enough for today. Remember, Hobbes was right. See you next Friday for the next installment.

Totemism and Exogamy, pt. 3/3: Mundas, Khonds, and Herero

Welcome to our final installment of James Frazer’s Totemism and Exogamy, published in 1910. Here are some hopefully interesting excerpts (as usual, quotes are in “” instead of blocks):

Mundas:

Birsa Munda, 1875–1900, “Indian tribal freedom fighter, religious leader, and folk hero who belonged to the Munda tribe.”

“Another large Dravidian tribe of Chota Nagpur who retain totemism and exogamy are the Mundas. Physically they are among the finest of the aboriginal tribes of the plateau. The men are about five feet six in height, their bodies lithe and muscular, their skin of the darkest brown or almost black, their features coarse, with broad flat noses, low foreheads, and thick lips. Thus from the physical point of view the Mundas are pure Dravidians. Yet curiously  enough they speak a language which differs radically from the true Dravidian. … This interesting family of language is now known to be akin to the Mon-Khmer languages of Further India as well as to the Nicobarese and the dialects of certain wild tribes of Malacca. It is perhaps the language which has been longest spoken in India, and may well have been universally diffused over the whole of that country as well as Malacca before the tide of invasion swept it away from vast areas and left it outstanding only in a few places like islands or solitary towers rising from an ocean of alien tongues. …

“Another well-known Dravidian tribe of Bengal among whom totemism combined with exogamy has been discovered are the Khonds, Kondhs, or Kandhs, who inhabit a hilly tract called Kandhmals in Boad, one of the tributary states of Orissa in the extreme south of Bengal. …Their country is wild and mountainous, consisting of a labyrinth of ranges covered with dense forests of sal trees. They are a shy and timid folk, who love their wild mountain gorges and the stillness of jungle life, but eschew contact with the low-landers and flee to the most inaccessible recesses of their rugged highlands at the least alarm. They subsist by hunting and a primitive sort of agriculture, clearing patches of land for cultivation in the forest during the cold weather and firing it in the heat of summer. The seed is sown among the ashes of the burnt forest when the first rains have damped it. After the second year these rude tillers of the soil abandon the land and make a fresh clearing in the woods.

“The cruel human sacrifices which they used to offer to the Earth Goddess in order to ensure the fertility of their fields have earned for the Khonds an unenviable notoriety among the hill tribes of India. These sacrifices were at last put down by the efforts of British officers.”

The text says no more on the subject, but Wikipedia recounts:

Traditionally the Kondh religious beliefs were syncretic combining totemism, animism, Ancestor worship, shamanism and nature worship.The Kondhs gave highest importance to the Earth goddess, who is held to be the creator and sustainer of the world. Earlier Human Sacrifices called “Meriah” were offered by the Kondh to propitiate the Earth Goddess. In the Kondh society, a breach of accepted religious conduct by any member of their society invited the wrath of spirits in the form of lack of rain fall, soaking of streams, destruction of forest produce, and other natural calamities. Hence, the customary laws, norms, taboos, and values were greatly adhered to and enforced with high to heavy punishments, depending upon the seriousness of the crimes committed. The practise of traditional religion has almost become extinct today.

Meriah sacrifice post

Castes and Tribes of Southern India, (1909) assembled by K. Rangachari, recounts:

In another report, Colonel Campbell describes how the miserable victim is dragged along the fields, surrounded by a crowd of half intoxicated Khonds, who, shouting and screaming, rush upon him, and with their knives cut the flesh piecemeal from the bones, avoiding the head and bowels, till the living skeleton, dying from loss of blood, is relieved from torture, when its remains are burnt, and the ashes mixed with the new grain to preserve it from insects. Yet again, he describes a sacrifice which was peculiar to the Khonds of Jeypore. It is, he writes, always succeeded by the sacrifice of three human beings, two to the sun to the east and west of the village, and one in the centre, with the usual barbarities of the Meriah. A stout wooden post about six feet long is firmly fixed in the ground, at the foot of it a narrow grave is dug, and to the top of the post the victim is firmly fastened by the long hair of his head. Four assistants hold his out-stretched arms and legs, the body being suspended horizontally over the grave, with the face towards the earth. The officiating Junna or priest, standing on the right side, repeats the following invocation, at intervals hacking with his sacrificial knife the back part of the shrieking victims neck. O ! mighty Manicksoro, this is your festal day. To the Khonds the offering is Meriah, to kings Junna. On account of this sacrifice, you have given to kings kingdoms, guns and swords. The sacrifice we now offer you must eat, and we pray that our battle-axes may be converted into swords, our bows and arrows into gunpowder and balls ; and, if we have any quarrels with other tribes, give us the victory.

Let’s return to Frazer:

“While totemism combined with exogamy is widely spread among the aboriginal tribes of India, it is remarkable that no single indubitable case of it has been recorded, so far as I know, in all the rest of the vast continent of Asia. In the preceding chapters we have traced this curious system of society and superstition from Australia through the islands of Torres Straits, New Guinea, Melanesia, Polynesia, Indonesia, and India. On the eastern frontier of India totemism stops abruptly, and in our totemic survey of the world we shall not meet with any clear evidence of it again till we pass to Africa or America. If we leave India out of account, Asia, like Europe, is practically a blank in a totemic map of the world.”

EvX: Too bad there’s no MAP. A map would have been useful.

Herero woman

Africa:

“When we pass from Asia to Africa the evidence for the existence of totemism and exogamy again becomes comparatively copious ; for the system is found in vogue among Bantu tribes both of Southern and of Central Africa as well as among some of the pure negroes of the West Coast. We begin with the Herero, Ovaherero, or Damaras as they used to be called, who inhabit German South-West Africa.

“The Herero are a tall finely-built race of nomadic herdsmen belonging to the Bantu stock, who seem to have migrated into their present country from the north and east some hundred and fifty or two hundred years ago. The desert character of the country and its seclusion from the world long combined to preserve the primitive manners of the inhabitants. A scanty and precarious rainfall compels them to shift their dwellings from place to place in order to find pasture for their cattle ; and an arid, absolutely rainless coast of dreary sandhills affords no allurement to the passing mariner to land on the inhospitable shore. … But when the first rains, accompanied by thunderstorms of tremendous violence, have fallen, the whole scene changes as by magic. The wastes are converted into meadows of living green, gay with a profusion of beautiful flowers and fragrant with a wealth of aromatic grasses and herbs … Now is the time when the cattle roam at large on the limitless prairies, and beasts of all kinds descend from their summer haunts in the mountains, bringing life and animation where the silence and solitude of death had reigned before. …

“In their native state the Herero are a purely pastoral people, though round about the mission stations some of them have learned to till the ground. They possess, or used to possess, immense herds of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats. These are the pride and joy of their hearts, almost their idols. Their riches are measured by their cattle ; he who has none is of no account in the tribe. Men of the highest standing count it an honour to tend the kine ; the sons of the most powerful chiefs are obliged to lead for a time the life of simple herdsmen. They subsist chiefly on the milk of their herds, which they commonly drink sour. From a motive of superstition they never wash the milk vessels, believing firmly that if they did so the cows would yield no
more milk. Of the flesh they make but little use, for they seldom kill any of their cattle, and never a cow, a calf, or a lamb. Even oxen and wethers are only slaughtered on solemn and festal occasions, such as visits, burials, and the like. Such slaughter is a great event in a village, and young and old flock from far and near to partake of the meat.

“Their huts are of a round beehive shape, about ten feet in diameter. …

“A special interest attaches to the Herero because they are the first people we have met with in our survey who undoubtedly combine totemism with a purely pastoral life ; hitherto the totemic tribes whom we have encountered have been for the most part either hunters or husbandmen…”

EvX: The text claims that the Herero do not wash the vessels they use for holding and storing milk, but if I recall correctly, they actually use urine to this effect, due to their area being quite dry. (Frazer may not have considered urine a cleaning agent, or may have simply been ignorant on this matter.)

The Progressive Mind Virus Spreads to… India?

As ANI (Asian News International) reports on Twitter (h/t Rohit):

For those of you reading this in the future, after the 15 minutes of manufactured furor have subsided, #MarcyForOurLives is an anti-guns/pro-gun control movement in the US. Gun laws in India are notably much stricter than gun laws in the US, and yet–

The thing that looks like a mushroom is the internal part of a uterus; you can see the rest of the drawing faintly around it. As noted, this is completely backwards from the reality in India, where it is nearly impossible to buy a gun but abortions are extremely common and completely legal. So where did the marchers in Mumbai get this sign?

Well, it’s a meme, found on Twitter, instagram, t-shirts, and of course signs at pussyhat rallies in the US. It’s not even true in the US, but at least it kind of makes sense given our frequent debates over both guns and abortions. Certainly there are some people in the US who think abortions should be completely illegal. India, by contrast, is a nation where slowing the growth rate to prevent famine is a high priority and abortions are quite legal.

I am reminded of that time Michelle Obama tweeted #BringBackOurGirls in support of Nigerians kidnapped by Boko Haram:

This is the signature of a mind-virus: it makes you repeat things that make no sense in context. It makes you spread the virus even though it does not make logical sense for you, personally, to spread it. Michelle Obama is married to a man who controlled, at the time, the world’s largest military, including an enormous stockpile of nuclear weapons, and yet she was tweeting ineffective hashtags to be part of the #movement.

Likewise, the state of gun (and abortion) laws in India is nothing like their state in the US, yet Indians are getting sucked into spreading our viral memes.

Horizontal meme transfer–like social media–promotes the spread of memetic viruses.

Totemism and Exogamy pt 2/3: Plagues, Polyandry, and Infanticide

Welcome back to James Frazer’s Totemism and Exogamy, published in 1910. Here are some hopefully interesting excerpts (as usual, quotes are in “” instead of blocks):

“When an ox or a buffalo dies, the Madigas gather round it like vultures, strip off the skin and tan it, and batten on the loathsome carrion. Their habits are squalid in the extreme and the stench of their hamlets is revolting. They practice various forms of fervent but misguided piety, lying on beds of thorns, distending the mouth with a mass of mud as large as a cricket-ball, bunging up their eyes with the same stuff, and so forth, thereby rendering themselves perhaps well-pleasing to their gods but highly disgusting to all sensible and cleanly men.

“An unmarried, but not necessarily chaste, woman of the caste personifies the favourite goddess Matangi, whose name she bears and of whom she is supposed to be an incarnation. Drunk with toddy and enthusiasm, decked with leaves of the margosa tree {Melia Azadirachtd), her face reddened with turmeric, this female incarnation of the deity dances frantically, abuses her adorers in foul language, and bespatters them with her spittle, which is believed to purge them from all uncleanness of body and soul. Even high-class Reddis, purse-proud Komatis, and pious Brahmans receive the filthy eructations of this tipsy maniac with joy and gratitude as outpourings of the divine spirit.

“When an epidemic is raging, the Madigas behead a buffalo before the image of their village goddess Uramma and a man carries the blood-reeking head in procession on his own head round the village, his neck swathed in a new cloth which has been soaked in the buffalo’s blood. This is supposed to draw a cordon round the dwellings and to prevent the irruption of evil spirits. The villagers subscribe to defray the expense of the procession. If any man refuses to pay, the bloody head is not carried round his house, and the freethinker or niggard is left to the tender mercies of the devils.

“The office of bearer of the head is an ill-omened and dangerous one ; for huge demons perch on the tops of tall trees ready to swoop down on him and carry him and his bleeding burden away. To guard against this catastrophe ropes are tied to his body and arms, and men hang on like grim death to the ends of them.
… ”

15 So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men. …

18 And Gad came that day to David, and said unto him, Go up, rear an altar unto the Lord in the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. …

So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.

25 And David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord was intreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel. –2 Samuel, 24

EvX: There’s not a whole lot of information on Wikipedia about the Madigas aside from the fact that they are one of India’s scheduled castes and were “historically marginalized and oppressed.” Since the tanning of leather is (or at least was) really rank, leather tanning communities have historically faced a fair amount of discrimination.

The use of sacrifice to end plagues is a fascinating part of older religions (and most unfortunate for the sacrificed.) I’ve long thought that Beowulf was really a story about a plague (personified as Grendel/Grendel’s mother) appeased by sacrificing a warrior by throwing his body into a lake or bog. Of course, the warrior isn’t supposed to “die” but travel to the spirit realm to slay the evil spirit causing the plague:

There came unhidden
tidings true to the tribes of men,
in sorrowful songs, how ceaselessly Grendel
harassed Hrothgar, what hate he bore him,
what murder and massacre, many a year,
feud unfading, — refused consent
to deal with any of Daneland’s earls,
make pact of peace, or compound for gold: …
But the evil one ambushed old and young
death-shadow dark, and dogged them still,
lured, or lurked in the livelong night
of misty moorlands: men may say not
where the haunts of these Hell-Runes   be. …
Many nobles
sat assembled, and searched out counsel
how it were best for bold-hearted men
against harassing terror to try their hand.
Whiles they vowed in their heathen fanes
altar-offerings, asked with words
that the slayer-of-souls would succor give them
for the pain of their people. …
Beowulf spoke: … with Hrunting [sword] I
seek doom of glory, or Death shall take me.”
After these words the Weder-Geat lord
boldly hastened, biding never
answer at all: the ocean floods
closed o’er the hero. Long while of the day
fled ere he felt the floor of the sea.
Soon found the fiend who the flood-domain
sword-hungry held these hundred winters,
greedy and grim, that some guest from above,
some man, was raiding her monster-realm.

In Plague and the End of Antiquity: The Pandemic of 541-750, Stoclet quotes Sturluson’s Ynglinga saga:

Domald took the heritage after his father Visbur, and ruled over the land As in his time there was great famine and distress, the swedes made great offerings of sacrifice at Upsal. The first autumn they sacrificed oxen, but the succeeding season was not improved thereby. The following autumn they sacrificed men, but the succeeding year was rather worse. The third autumn, when the offer of sacrifice should begin, a great multitude of Swedes came to Upsal; and now the chiefs held consultations with each other, and all agreed that the time of scarcity were on account of their king Domald, and they resoled to offer him for good seasons, and to assault and kill him, and sprinkle the stalls of the god with this blood. And they did so.

Stoclet continues:

Anyone familiar with Arthur Maurice Hocart’s anthropologocial wiritings on kingship will know that the ancient Swedes of Snorri Sturluson’s Ynglinga saga were anything but unique in believing that a strong connection existed between king and cosmos. This connection underlies a recurring explanation for plague, namely, that i was a direct consequence of the king’s sexual misconduct, specifically in its most extreme form of incest.

In King David’s case, though, the plague was caused by his taking a census.

(Actually, since King David’s census required the movement of the army throughout his kingdom in order to force compliance with the census-takers, maybe the census actually did cause a plague–there’s no doubt the movement of troops during WWI contributed to the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, after all.)

 

Toda Village, 1837, by Richard Barron

Todas:

“The Todas are a small tribe, now less than a thousand in number, who inhabit the lofty and isolated tableland of the Neilgherry Hills. They are a purely pastoral people tribe devoting themselves to the care of their herds of buffaloes and despising agriculture and nearly all manual labour as beneath their dignity. Their origin and affinities are unknown; little more than vague conjecture has been advanced to connect them with any other race of Southern India.

They are a tall, well-built, athletic people, with a rich brown complexion, a profusion of jet black hair, a large, full, speaking eye, a Roman nose, and fine teeth. The men are strong and very agile, with hairy bodies and thick beards. Their countenances are open and expressive ; their bearing bold and free ; their manners grave and dignified ; their disposition very cheerful and friendly. In intelligence they are said to be not inferior to any average body of educated Europeans. In temperament they are most pacific, never engaging in warfare and not even possessing weapons, except bows and arrows and clubs, which they use only for purposes of ceremony. Yet they are a proud race and hold their heads high above all their neighbours.

“The country which they inhabit has by its isolation sheltered them from the inroads of more turbulent and warlike peoples and has allowed them to lead their quiet dream-like lives in all the silence and rural simplicity of an Indian Arcadia. For the land which is their home stands six or seven thousand feet above the sea and falls away abruptly or even precipitously on every side to the hot plains beneath. …

A Toda temple in Muthunadu Mund near Ooty, India.

“Generally a village nestles in a beautiful wooded hollow near a running stream. It is composed of a few huts surrounded by a wall with two or three narrow openings in it wide enough to admit a man but not a buffalo. The huts are of a peculiar construction. Imagine a great barrel split lengthwise and half of it set lengthwise with the cut edges resting on the ground, and you will get a fair idea of a Toda hut. … Near the village is commonly a dairy with a pen for the buffaloes at night and a smaller pen for the calves.

“The daily life of the Toda men is spent chiefly in the tending the buffaloes and in doing the work of the dairy. … Women are entirely excluded from the work of the dairy ; they may neither milk the cows nor churn the butter. Besides the common buffaloes there are sacred buffaloes with their own sacred dairies, where the sacred milk is churned by sacred dairymen. These hallowed dairies are the temples and the holy dairymen are the priests, almost the gods, of the simple pastoral folk.

“The dairyman leads a dedicated life… If he is married he must leave his wife and not go near her or visit his home during the term of his incumbency, however many years it may last. No person may so much as touch him without reducing his holiness to the level of a common man. He may not cross a river by a bridge but must wade through the water at the ford, and only certain fords may be used by him. If a death occurs in the clan he may not attend the funeral unless he resigns his sacred office.

“However, there are different degrees of sanctity among the sacred dairymen. …

“The Todas have the institution of exogamy without the institution of totemism. The whole tribe is divided into two endogamous groups, the Tartharol and the Teivaliol.  Regular marriage is not allowed between these groups, though irregular unions are permitted… Each of these primary divisions is subdivided into a number of exogamous clans ; no man or woman may marry a woman of his or her own clan, but must marry into another clan. But while marriage is prohibited between members of the same clan, it would seem that sexual intercourse is not prohibited and indeed commonly takes place between them. …

Toda woman and two men (though the Wikipedia doesn’t claim that these are her husbands.)

“The Todas have a completely organised and definite system of polyandry, and in the vast majority of polyandrous marriages the husbands are own brothers. Indeed, when a woman marries, it is understood that she becomes the wife of his brothers at the same time. …

“When the joint husbands are not own brothers, they may either live with the wife in one family, or they may dwell in different villages. In the latter case the usual custom is for the wife to reside with each husband in turn for a month … When the joint husbands are own brothers they live together in amity ; in such a family quarrels are said to be unknown. The Todas scout as ridiculous the idea that there should ever be disputes or jealousies between the brother-husbands. When a child is born in a family of this sort, all the brothers are equally regarded as its fathers ; though if a man be asked the name of his father, he will generally mention one man of the group, probably the most prominent or important of them. …

“When the joint husbands are not brothers, they arrange among themselves who is to be the putative father of each child as it is born, and the chosen one accepts the responsibility by performing a certain ceremony …

“The ceremony takes place about the seventh month of the woman’s pregnancy and begins on the evening before the day of the new moon. Husband and wife repair to a wood, where he cuts a niche in a tree and places a lighted lamp in the niche. The two then search the wood till they find the wood called puv {Sophora glauca) and the grass called nark {Andropogon schoenanthus). A bow is made from the wood by stripping off the bark and stretching it across the bent stick so as to form the bowstring. The grass is fitted to the little bow to stand for an arrow. Husband and wife then return to the tree. … The wife then sits down under the tree in front of the lamp, which glimmers in the gloaming or the dark from its niche, on a level with her eyes as she is seated on the ground. The husband next gives her the bow and arrow, and she asks him what they are called. He mentions the name of the bow and arrow, which differs for each clan. …

If this were a Freudian blog, I’d tell you the arrow is a penis.

“On receiving the bow and arrow the woman raises them to her forehead, and then holding them in her right hand she gazes steadily at the burning lamp for an hour or until the light flickers and goes out. The man afterwards lights a fire under the tree and cooks jaggery and rice in a new pot. When the food is ready, husband and wife partake of it together. … Afterwards the relatives return from the village and all pass the night in the wood, the relatives keeping a little way off from the married pair. …

“This remarkable ceremony is always performed in or about the seventh month of a woman’s first pregnancy, whether her husbands are brothers or not. … When the joint husbands are brothers, it is the eldest brother who gives the little bow and arrow. The fatherhood of the child, or rather the social recognition of it, depends entirely on the performance of this ceremony, so much so that he who gives the bow and arrow is counted the father of the child even if he be known to have had no former connection with the woman ; and on the other hand if no living man has performed the ceremony, the child will be fathered on a dead man. An indelible disgrace attaches to a child for whom the ceremony has not been performed.”

EvX: Frazer goes on to describe a number of similar customs, including ones including beans (such as the throwing of beans and grains on a bride,) but seems to have missed Cupid’s use of the bow and arrow to induce love.

Lest you think that polyandry among the Todas and their lack of sexual jealousy means they live in some kind of free-love, feminist paradise:

“The custom of polyandry among the Todas is facilitated, if not caused, by a considerable excess of men over women, and that excess has been in turn to a great extent brought about by the practice of killing the female children at birth. It seems clear that female infanticide has always been and still is practised by the Todas, although in recent years under English influence it has become much less frequent.”

 

Anthropology Friday: Totemism and Exogamy, part 1/3

Today’s post is on James Frazer’s Totemism and Exogamy, published in 1910. This book came highly recommended, but I found it disappointing–too similar to a variety of works we’ve already reviewed, including some of the works that kicked off Anthroplogy Friday in the first place. Nevertheless, I’ve been hoping to do something on India, which the book covers, so here are some hopefully interesting excerpts (as usual, quotes are in “” instead of blocks).

The Pagai Islands are part of the Mentawai chain, Indonesia

Marriage Customs of the Poggi [Pagai?] Islanders, Indonesia:

“The contracting of marriages, in the sense of the Malays, Javanese, and other indigenous peoples, is amongst the Poggians a thing unknown. They live in that respect entirely as they please among each other. The whole of the women are, as it were, the property of the men, and the men on the other hand are the property of the women.

“When a girl has conceived, the child is her whole and undivided property. The father, who indeed is generally unknown, has never any right over it. However, it happens  that when men are tattooed all over and are therefore between forty and fifty years old, they take to themselves a separate wife : that occurs as follows. When the parties have agreed to enter into marriage, they give notice of it to all the inhabitants of the village ; then they step into a canoe decked with leaves and flowers and put off to the fishing. Returning after three, four, or sometimes eight days they are deemed to be married, and the men have then respect for the woman even as the women have for the man. The children whom the woman in most cases brings with her into the marriage then become the property of the man, and so if these children (the girls) get children in turn. It generally happens that girls who have one or more children are thus taken in marriage.

“Sometimes also it occurs that younger men, when they imagine themselves the father of such and such a child, take the mother to be their separate and only wife ; but in such cases the man is careful to be completely tattooed as soon as possible, for so long as that is not done he may not marry, or rather his wife would not be respected. The women, who are marriageable very early, are in their youth, from the age of twelve to twenty, very pretty, some of them even charming ; but they age soon and are generally, while still in the heyday of life, quite withered.”

EvX: I’ve been trying to find more information about the Poggi, which has been hampered by “Poggi” being an Italian last name and not, as far as I can tell, the relevant ethnic group’s actual name. I think they’re the Pagai, named after a couple of islands in the Mentawai chain. Here’s a more recent ethnography on the Mentawai people I just found but haven’t read, yet.

Similar Cases:

” Another people,” says the late Professor G. A. Wilken, “among whom marriage is quite unknown are the Loeboes. They practice absolutely free love and unite indifferently with any one in according to the whim of the moment.

“Communal marriage also exists among the Orang Sakai of Malacca. A girl remains with every man of the tribe in turn till she has gone the round of all the men and has come back to the first one. The process then begins afresh.

“In Borneo, too, there are some tribes, such as the Olo Ot (those of Koetei), which contract no marriage. Lastly, we find the same thing reported of Peling or Poeloe Tinggi, one of the islands of the Banggaai Archipelago.”

Totemism in Central India:

“In those regions of India where high mountains and tablelands present natural barriers to the irruption of conquering races, there linger many indigenous tribes, who, in contrast to the more cultured peoples of the lowlands, have remained in a state of primitive savagery or barbarism down to modern times. Not a few of these aboriginal hill-tribes, especially of the Dravidian stock, retain a social system based on totemism and exogamy ; for they are divided into numerous exogamous clans or septs, each of which bears the name of an animal, tree, plant, or other material object, whether natural or artificial, which the members of the clan are forbidden to eat, cultivate, cut, burn, carry, or use in any other way.

“Amongst such tribes are the Bhils or Bheels, a people of the Dravidian stock in Central Indian, who inhabit the rough forests and jungles of the rocky Vindhya and Satpura mountains. Into these fastnesses it is believed that they, like many other aborigines of India, were driven by the tide of Hindoo invasion. They are a race of dark complexion and diminutive stature, but active and inured to fatigue.

“The Bhils of the Satpura mountains have been little affected by civilisation and lead an existence which has been described as most primitive. A mere report that a white man is coming often suffices to put these savages to flight. They have no fixed villages. The collection of huts which takes the place of a village is abandoned at the least alarm, and even in such a hamlet every man builds his hovel as far away as he can from his neighbours, whose treachery and lust he dreads. …

“The majority of the totems are trees or plants. All the Bhils revere and refrain from injuring or using their totems, and they make a formal obeisance to them in passing, while the women veil their faces. When women desire to have children they present an offering called mannat to their totem.

“One of the clans is named Gaolia-Chothania after its totem gaola, which is a creeper. Members of the clan worship the plant ; they never touch it with their feet if they can help it, and if they touch it accidentally they salaam to it by way of apology.

“The Maoli clan worships a goddess at a shrine which women may not approach. The shape of the shrine is like that of the grain-basket called kilya ; hence members of the clan may neither make nor use such baskets, and none of them may tattoo a pattern resembling the basket on his body.

“The Mori clan has the peacock for its totem. When they wish to worship the bird, they go into the jungle and look for its tracks. On finding the footprints they salaam to them, clean the ground round about, and spreading a piece of red cloth lay an offering of grain on it. They also describe a swastika in the earth beside the offering. If a member of the clan knowingly sets foot on the track of a peacock, he is sure to suffer from some disease afterwards.”…

“The Kapus or Reddis are the largest caste in the Madras Presidency, numbering more than two millions, and are the great caste of cultivators, farmers, and squireens in the Telugu country. …

“However, these fine, powerful, well-dressed men, these gentlemen farmers, these substantial steady-going yeomen, these leaders of society with their neat well-built houses and jewels of fine gold, nevertheless retain the primitive institutions of exogamy and to some extent of totemism. So false is the popular notion that these ancient customs are practised only by vagrant savages with no house over their heads and little or no clothing on their backs. …

“Indeed we are told that Telugu is the most mellifluous of all the Dravidian languages and sounds harmonious even in the lips of the vulgar and illiterate. It has been called the Italian of the East. …

“The Koravas or Yerukalas, as they are also called, are a tribe of vagabonds, thieves, quack doctors, and fortune-tellers, who are scattered throughout the length and breadth and their of India. When railways spread over the country, these gentry travelled on them with enthusiasm, partly for the purpose of robbing passengers in their sleep, partly in order to escape expeditiously from places which they had made too hot to hold them. They speak a gibberish compounded out of Tamil, Telugu, and Canarese. The Koravas are
divided into exogamous clans or septs, …”

Maravars:

“The The Maravars or Maravans are a Dravidian tribe in the extreme south of India. … In the old days they were a fierce and turbulent race, famous for their military prowess. Their subjugation gave the British much trouble at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. Once marauders, they are now to some extent peaceful tillers of the ground, but in the Tinnevelly district they furnish nearly all the village police and likewise the thieves and robbers, often indeed combining the professions of thieving and catching thieves. … the Maravan is a power in the land. He levies blackmail according to a regular system, and in cattle-lifting he has no equal throughout the Presidency of Madras.”

EvX: There is a theme to almost all of the accounts: First, whatever the clan totem, it must not be killed or otherwise molested by clan members–could you imagine a member of the Chicago Bulls mistreating a bull, or a Florida Gator mistreating an alligator? And second, tribe members prefer not to marry members of their own totem-tribe. This can create interesting effects where, say, if you inherit your mother’s totem but not your father’s, your maternal cousins may have the same totem as you do and so be off-limits, but your paternal cousins may have different totems and so be acceptable mates. But the exact details of totemic inheritance vary.

That’s all for today; see you next Friday.

 

Cathedral Round-Up #30: HLS’s Bicentennial Class

Harvard Law Bulletin recently released a special issue commemorating HLS’s 200th anniversary:

Invocation

A Memorial to the Enslaved People Who Enabled the Founding of Harvard Law School

On a clear, windy afternoon in early September at the opening of its bicentennial observance, Harvard Law School unveiled a memorial on campus. The plaque, affixed to a large stone, reads:

In honor of the enslaved whose labor created wealth that made possible the founding of Harvard Law School

May we pursue the highest ideals of law and justice in their memory

Harvard Law School was founded in 1817, with a bequest from Isaac Royall Jr. Royall’s wealth was derived from the labor of enslaved people on a sugar plantation he owned on the island of Antigua and on farms he owned in Massachusetts.

“We have placed this memorial here, in the campus cross-roads, at the center of the school, where everyone travels, where it cannot be missed,” said HLS Dean John Manning ’85. …

Harvard University President Drew Faust… also spoke at the unveiling, which followed a lecture focused on the complicated early history of the school.

“How fitting that you should begin your bicentennial,” said Faust, “with this ceremony reminding us that the path toward justice is neither smooth nor straight.” …

Halley, holder of the Royall Professorship of Law, who has spoken frequently about the Royall legacy, read aloud the names of enslaved men, women, and children of the Royall household from records that have survived, “so that we can all share together the shock of the sheer number, she said, “and a brief shared experience of their loss.”

“These names are the tattered, ruined remains, the accidents of recording and the encrustation of a system that sought to convert human beings into property,’ she said “But they’re our tattered remains.”

This commemorative issue also contains an interview with ImeIme Umana, Harvard Law Review’s 131st president, “How Have Harvard Scholars Shaped the Law?”:

How has legal scholarship changed since the Law Review began publishing more than a century ago?

Scholarship certainly has changed over time, and these pieces, whether or not they acknowledge it to a great extent, are consistent with the changing nature of the legal field in that they bring more voices to the table and more diverse perspectives. If you look back at our older scholarship, you’ll tend to see more traditional, doctrinal, technical pieces. now, they’re more aspirational, more critical, and have more social commentary in them. It’s a distinction between writing on what the law is and writing on what the law should be, and asking why things are the way they are.

BTW, you can purchase the Harvard Law Review on Amazon.

What Kind of scholarship do you find especially meaningful?

I’m really passionate about the sate of the criminal legal system and civil rights. The cherry on top within those topics is scholarship that proposes new ways of thinking or challenges the status quo.

One of my favorite articles is [Assistant] Professor Andrew Crespo’s “Systemic Facts” [published in the June 2016 Harvard Law Review], because it does just that. The thesis is that courts are institutionally positioned to bring about systemic change, and that they can use their position to collect facts that they are institutionally privy to. It calls on them to do that such that we might learn more about how the legal system is structured.

I’ve noticed the increased emphasis on criminal law lately, especially bail reform.

The Law Review was founded 130 years ago, and now you are its president. Do you ever get caught up in thinking about the historical implications of running such a well-known and influential publication?

… Looking at it through a historical lens, the diversity of the student body and Law Review editors and authors is especially meaningful, as it makes legal institutions more inclusive, and therefore the law more inclusive. It’s important to keep pushing in that direction and never become complacent. The history is very important.

You are the first black woman who was elected to serve as president of the Law Review. Why do you think it took so long for that to happen?

Ive thought about it a lot and I just don’t know the answer. My thought is that it just tracks the lack of inclusion of black women in legal institutions, full stop. It’s a function of that. There’ always more we can be doing to be more inclusive. The slowness of milestones like this might have a broader cause than just something specific to the Law Review.

It probably tracks closer to the inclusion of Nigerian women at Harvard than black women. Umana is Nigerian American, and Nigerian Americans score significantly better on the SAT and LSAT than African Americans. (Based on average incomes, Nigerian Americans do better than white Americans, too.) So I’m going to go out on a limb and wager that significant black firsts at HLR are due to the arrival of more Nigerian and Kenyan immigrants, rather than the integration of America’s African American community.

While reading about ImeIme Umana, I noticed that American publications–such as NBC News–describe her as a “native” of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. By contrast, Financial Nigeria proudly claims her as a “Nigerian American”:

Born to Nigerian immigrant parents originally from Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria, Umana is a resident of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, United States. Umana graduated with a BA in Joint Concentration in African American Studies and Government from Harvard University in 2014. She is currently working on a Doctor of Law degree (Class of 2018) at the Harvard Law School.

Who is this man? HLS Class of 1926

The issue is full of fascinating older photographs with minimalist captions, because the graphic design team prefers white space over information.

For example, on page 58 is a photo of a collection of students and older men (is that Judge Learned Hand in the first row?) captioned simply 1926 and “Stepping up: by 1925, lawyers could pursue graduate degrees (LL.M.s and S.J.D.s) at HLS.

<- Seated in the front row is this man. Who is he? Quick perusal of a list of famous Indians reveals only that he isn’t any of them.

There is also an Asian man seated directly behind him whose photo I’ll post below. You might think, in our diversity obsessed age, when we track the first black editor of this and first black female head of that, someone would be curious enough about these men to tell us their stories. Who were they? How did they get to Harvard Law?

After some searching and help from @prius_1995, I think the Indian man is Dr. Kashi Narayan Malaviya, S.J.D. HLS 1926, and the Asian man is Domingo Tiongco Zavalla, LL.M. 1927, from the Philippines. (If you are curious, here are the relevant class lists.)

I haven’t been able to find out much about Dr. Malaviya. Clearly he associated with folks in high places, as indicated by this quote from Hindu Nationalism and the Language of Politic in Late Colonial India:

In Allahabad, during a meeting attended by Uma Nehru, Hriday Nath Kunzru and Dr. Kashi Narayan Malaviya, M. K. Acharya made the link between the politics of the nation and the plight of Hinduism very clear…

Domingo Tiongco Zavalla, LL.M. HLS 1927

(Unfortunately, it appears that he has a more famous relative named Madan Mohan Malaviya, who is coming up in the search results. His great-grandson is single, however, if any of you ladies are looking for a Brahmin husband.)

1926 was during the period when America ruled the Philippines, so it would be sensible for Filipinos to want to learn about the American legal system and become credentialed in it. Domingo Zavalla went on to be a delegate to the Philippines’s Commonwealth Constitutional Convention (This was probably the 1934 Convention: “The Convention drafted the 1935 Constitution, which was the basic law of the Philippines under the American-sponsored Commonwealth of the Philippines and the post-War, sovereign Third Republic.”)

That’s about all I’ve found about Zavalla.

How quickly we fall into obscurity and are forgotten.

Parsis, Travellers, and Human Niches

Irish Travellers, 1954

I.

Why are there many kinds of plants and animals? Why doesn’t the best out-compete, eat, and destroy the others, rising to be the sole dominant species on Earth?

In ecology, a niche is an organism’s specific place within the environment. Some animals eat plants; some eat dung. Some live in the sea; others in trees. Different plants flower and grow in different seasons; some are pollinated by bees and some by flies. Every species has its specific niche.

The Competitive Exclusion Principle (aka Gause’s Law) states that ‘no two species can occupy the same niche’ (or positively, ‘two species coexisting must have different niches.’) For example, if squirrels and chipmunks both want to nest in the treetops and eat nuts, (and there are limited treetops and nuts,) then over time, whichever species is better at finding nuts and controlling the treetops will dominate the niche and the other, less successful species will have to find a new niche.

If squirrels are dominating the treetops and nuts, this leaves plenty of room for rabbits to eat grass and owls to eat squirrels.

II. So I was reading recently about the Parsis and the Travellers. The Parsis, as we discussed on Monday, are Zoroastrians, originally from Persia (modern-day Iran,) who settled in India about a thousand yeas ago. They’re often referred to as the “Jews of India” because they played a similar role in Indian society to that historically played by Jews in Europe.*

*Yes I know there are actual Jews in India.

The Travellers are an Irish group that’s functionally similar to Gypsies, but in fact genetically Irish:

In 2011 an analysis of DNA from 40 Travellers was undertaken at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and the University of Edinburgh. The study provided evidence that Irish Travellers are a distinct Irish ethnic minority, who separated from the settled Irish community at least 1000 years ago; the claim was made that they are as distinct from the settled community as Icelanders are from Norwegians.[36]

It appears that Ireland did not have enough Gypsies of Indian extraction and so had to invent its own.

And though I originally thought that only in jest, why not? Gypsies occupy a particular niche, and if there are Gypsies around, I doubt anyone else is going to out-compete them for that niche. But if there aren’t any, then surely someone else could.

According to Wikipedia, the Travellers traditionally were tinkers, mended tinware (like pots) and acquiring dead/old horses for slaughter.

The Gypsies appear to have been originally itinerant musicians/entertainers, but have also worked as tinkers, smiths, peddlers, miners, and horse traders (today, car salesmen.)

These are not glorious jobs, but they are jobs, and peripatetic people have done them.

Jews (and Parsis, presumably) also filled a social niche, using their network of family/religious ties to other Jews throughout the diaspora as the basis of a high-trust business/trading network at a time when trade was difficult and routes were dangerous.

On the subject of “Madeburg rights” or law in Eastern Europe, Wikipedia notes:

In medieval Poland, Jews were invited along with German merchants to settle in cities as part of the royal city development policy.

Jews and Germans were sometimes competitors in those cities. Jews lived under privileges that they carefully negotiated with the king or emperor. They were not subject to city jurisdiction. These privileges guaranteed that they could maintain communal autonomy, live according to their laws, and be subjected directly to the royal jurisdiction in matters concerning Jews and Christians. One of the provisions granted to Jews was that a Jew could not be made Gewährsmann, that is, he could not be compelled to tell from whom he acquired any object which had been sold or pledged to him and which was found in his possession. Other provisions frequently mentioned were a permission to sell meat to Christians, or employ Christian servants.

External merchants coming into the city were not allowed to trade on their own, but instead forced to sell the goods they had brought into the city to local traders, if any wished to buy them.

Note that this situation is immensely better if you already know the guy you’re selling to inside the city and he’s not inclined to cheat you because you both come from the same small, tight-knit group.

Further:

Under Bolesław III (1102–1139), the Jews, encouraged by the tolerant regime of this ruler, settled throughout Poland, including over the border in Lithuanian territory as far as Kiev.[32] Bolesław III recognized the utility of Jews in the development of the commercial interests of his country. … Mieszko III employed Jews in his mint as engravers and technical supervisors, and the coins minted during that period even bear Hebraic markings.[30] … Jews enjoyed undisturbed peace and prosperity in the many principalities into which the country was then divided; they formed the middle class in a country where the general population consisted of landlords (developing into szlachta, the unique Polish nobility) and peasants, and they were instrumental in promoting the commercial interests of the land.

If you need merchants and goldsmiths, someone will become merchants and goldsmiths. If it’s useful for those merchants and goldsmiths to all be part of one small, close-knit group, then a small, close-knit group is likely to step into that niche and out-compete anyone else trying to occupy it.

The similarity of the Parsis to the Jews probably has less to do with them both being monotheists (after all, Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs are also monotheists,) and more to do with them both being small but widely-flung diasporic communities united by a common religion that allows them to use their group as a source of trustworthy business partners.

Over hundreds or thousands of years, humans might not just move into social niches, but actually become adapted to them–Jew and Parsis are both reported to be very smart, for example.

III. I can think of several other cases of ethnic groups moving into a particular niche. In the US, the gambling and bootleg alcohol trade were long dominated by ethnic Sicilians, while the crack and heroin trades have been dominated by black and Hispanic gangs.

Note that, while these activities are (often) illegal, they are still things that people want to do and the mafia/gangs are basically providing a goods/services to their customers. As they see it, they’re just businessmen. They’re out to make money, not commit random violence.

That said, these guys do commit lots of violence, including murder, blackmail and extortion. Even violent crime can be its own niche, if it pays well enough.

(Ironically, police crackdown on ethnic Sicilian control in NYC coincided with a massive increase in crime–did the mafia, by controlling a particular territory, keep out competing bands of criminals?)

On a more pleasant note, society is now rich enough that many people can make a living as professional sports stars, marry other professional sports stars, and have children who go on to also be professional sports stars. It’s not quite at the level of “a caste of professional athletes genetically optimized for particular sports,” but if this kept up for a few hundred years, it could be.

Similarly, over in Nepal, “Sherpa” isn’t just a job, it’s an ethnic group. Sherpas, due to their high elevation adaptation, have an advantage over the rest of us when it comes to scaling Mt. Everest, and I hear the global mountain-climbing industry pays them well for their services. A Sherpa who can successfully scale Mt. Everest many times, make lots of money, and raise lots of children in an otherwise impoverished nation is thus a successful Sherpa–and contributing to the group’s further genetic and cultural specialization in the “climbing Mt. Everest” niche.

India, of course, is the ultimate case of ethnic groups specializing into specific jobs–it’d be interesting to see what adaptations different groups have acquired over the years.

I also wonder if the caste system is an effective way to minimize competition between groups in a multi-ethnic society, or if it leads to more resentment and instability in the long run.

Zoroastrian (Parsi) DNA

Farvahar. Persepolis, Iran.

Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest surviving religions and possibly its first monotheistic one. It emerged in now-Iran about 3,000 years ago, but following the Arab (Islamic) conquest of Persia, many Zoroastrians migrated to India, where they became known as the Parsi (from the word for “Persian.”) To be clear, where this post refers to “Parsis” it means the specific Zoroastrian community in India, and where it refers to “Iranian Zoroastrians” it means the Zoroastrians currently living in Iran.

Although Zoroastrianism was once the official state religion of Persia, today only about 190,000 believers remain (according to Wikipedia,) and their numbers are declining.

If you’re thinking that a diasporic community of monotheists sounds familiar, you’re in good company. According to Wikipedia:

Portuguese physician Garcia de Orta observed in 1563 that “there are merchants … in the kingdom of Cambaia … known as Esparcis. We Portuguese call them Jews, but they are not so. They are Gentios.”

Another parallel: Ashkenazi Jews and Parsis are both reported to be very smart. Famous Parsis include Queen Guitarist Freddy Mercury, nuclear physicist Homi J. Bhabha, and our Harvard-employed friend, Homi K. Bhabha.

Lopez et al have recently carried out a very interesting study of Zoroastrian DNA, The Genetic Legacy of Zoroastrianism in Iran and India: Insights into Population Structure, Gene Flow, and Selection:

Historical records indicate that migrants from Persia brought Zoroastrianism to India, but there is debate over the timing of these migrations. Here we present genome-wide autosomal, Y chromosome, and mitochondrial DNA data from Iranian and Indian Zoroastrians and neighboring modern-day Indian and Iranian populations and conduct a comprehensive genome-wide genetic analysis in these groups. … we find that Zoroastrians in Iran and India have increased genetic homogeneity relative to other sampled groups in their respective countries, consistent with their current practices of endogamy. Despite this, we infer that Indian Zoroastrians (Parsis) intermixed with local groups sometime after their arrival in India, dating this mixture to 690–1390 CE and providing strong evidence that Iranian Zoroastrian ancestry was maintained primarily through the male line.

Note that all diasporic–that is, migrant–groups appear to be heavily male. Women tend to stay put while men move and take new wives in their new homelands.

By making use of the rich information in DNA from ancient human remains, we also highlight admixture in the ancestors of Iranian Zoroastrians dated to 570 BCE–746 CE, older than admixture seen in any other sampled Iranian group, consistent with a long-standing isolation of Zoroastrians from outside groups. …

Admixture with whom? (Let’s just read the paper and see if it answers the question):

Furthermore, a recent study using genome-wide autosomal DNA found that haplotype patterns in Iranian Zoroastrians matched more than other modern Iranian groups to a high-coverage early Neolithic farmer genome from Iran

A study of four restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs) suggested a closer genetic affinity of Parsis to Southern Europeans than to non-Parsis from Bombay. Furthermore, NRY haplotype analysis and patterns of variation at the HLA locus in the Parsis of Pakistan support a predominately Iranian origin. …

In (1) and (2), we detected admixture in the Parsis dated to 27 (range: 17–38) and 32 (19–44) generations ago, respectively, in each case between one predominantly Indian-like source and one predominantly Iranian-like source. This large contribution from an Iranian-like source (∼64%–76%) is not seen in any of our other 7 Indian clusters, though we detect admixture in each of these 7 groups from wide-ranging sources related to modern day individuals from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Europe, Pakistan, or of Jewish heritage (Figures 2 and S7, Tables S5–S7). For Iranian Zoroastrians, we detect admixture only under analysis (2), occurring 66 (42–89) generations ago between a source best genetically explained as a mixture of modern-day Croatian and Cypriot samples, and a second source matching to the Neolithic Iranian farmer WC1. … The two Iranian Zoroastrians that had been excluded as outliers exhibited admixture patterns more similar to the Lebanese, Turkish Jews, or Iranian Bandari individuals than to Zoroastrians (Table S8).

Parsi Wedding, 1905

If I assume a generation is about 25 years long, 27 generations was about 675 years ago; 32 was about 800 years ago. (Though given the wide range on these dates, perhaps we should estimate between 425 and 1,100 years ago.) This sounds consistent with Parsis taking local wives after they arrived in India between the 8th and 10th century CE (after the Arab conquest of Perisa.) Also consistently, this admixture isn’t found in Iranian Zoroastrians.

The Iranians’ admixture occurred about 1,050 and 2,225 years ago, which is an awfully broad time range. Could Croatian or Cypriot migrants have arrived due to the Greek/Roma/ Byzantine Empires? Were they incorporated into the Persian Empire as a result of its territorial conquests or the Arab conquest? Or were they just long-distance merchants who happened to wander into the area?

The Fire Temple of Baku

The authors found that Parsi priests had “the lowest gene diversity values of all population samples studied for both Y and mtDNA,” though they didn’t have enough Iranian Zoroastrian priest samples to compare them to Parsi priests. (I bet this is similar to what you’d find if you sampled Orthodox rabbis.)

Finally, in the genetic selection and diseases section, the authors write:

In the case of the Iranian Zoroastrians, … some of the most significant SNPs… are located upstream of gene SLC39A10 … with an important role in humoral immunity61 or in CALB2 … which plays a major role in the cerebellar physiology.62

With regard to the positive selection tests on Parsis versus India Hindu/Gujarati groups, the most significant SNPs were embedded in WWOX … associated with neurological disorders like early epilepsy … and in a region in chromosome 20 … (see Table S11 for a complete list). …

Genetic isolation and endogamous practices can be associated with higher frequencies of disease prevalence. For example, there are reports claiming a high recurrence of diseases such as diabetes among the Iranian Zoroastrians, and Parkinson, colon cancer, or the deficiency of G6PD, an enzyme that triggers the sudden reduction of red blood cells, among the Parsis.

However, the authors warn that these results are weak (these are rare conditions in an already small population) and cannot not be depended upon.