Book Club: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, pt 3/3

 

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Chinua Achebe, Author and Nobel Prize winner

Welcome back to our discussion of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Today I wanted to take a closer look at some of the aspects of traditional Igbo society mentioned in the book.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know by now that just as early modern humans (Homo sapiens) mated with Neanderthals and Denisovans somewhere over in Eurasia, some sapiens mated with archaic humans in Africa.

Unfortunately, the state of knowledge about African genomes and especially archaic African genomes is very primitive. Not only does ancient DNA not preserve terribly well in many parts of Africa, but the continent is also rather poor and so people there don’t send their spit to 23 and Me very often to get DNA tested. Thus, sadly, I do not have archaic DNA percents for the Igbo.

WAfricaAdmixture
“Approximate Bayesian computation estimates for the introgressing population across four African populations (Yoruba from Ibadan (YRI), Esan in Nigeria [ESN], Gambian in Western Divisions in the Gambia [GWD], and Mende in Sierra Leone [MSL]),” from Recovering Signals of Ghost Archaic Introgression in African Populations
However, we do have data for their neighbors, the Yoruba, Esan, Mende, and Gambians.

Keep in mind that so far, Eurasians measure about 1-4% Neanderthal and Melanesians about 6% Denisovan, so 10% Ghost in west Africans is a pretty big deal (if you’re into archaic DNA.) The authors of the study estimate that the admixture occurred about 50,000 years ago, which is coincidentally about the same time as the admixture in non-Africans–suggesting that whatever triggered the Out of Africa migration may have also simultaneously triggered an Into Africa migration. 

If you’re not familiar with some of these groups (I only know a little about the Yoruba,) the Esan, Mende, Gambians, and Yoruba are all speakers of languages from the Niger-Congo family (of which the Bantu languages are a sub-set.) The Niger-Congo family is one of the world’s largest, with 1,540 languages and 700 million speakers. It spread within the past 3,000 years from a homeland somewhere in west Africa (possibly Nigeria) to dominate sub-Saharan Africa. As far as I can tell, the Igbo are quite similar genetically to the Yoruba, and the admixture event happened tens of thousands of years before these groups spread and split, so there’s a good chance that the Igbo have similarly high levels of ghost-pop admixture.

Interestingly, a population related to the Bushmen and Pygmies used to dominate central and southern Africa, before the Bantu expansion. While the Bantu expansion and the admixture event are separated by a good 40 or 50 thousand years, this still suggests the possibility of human hybrid vigor.

Edit: A new paper just came out! Whole-genome sequence analysis of a Pan African set of samples reveals archaic gene flow from an extinct basal population of modern humans into sub-Saharan populations:

Here, we examine 15 African populations covering all major continental linguistic groups, ecosystems, and lifestyles within Africa through analysis of whole-genome sequence data of 21 individuals sequenced at deep coverage. We observe a remarkable correlation among genetic diversity and geographic distance, with the hunter-gatherer groups being more genetically differentiated and having larger effective population sizes throughout most modern-human history. Admixture signals are found between neighbor populations from both hunter-gatherer and agriculturalists groups, whereas North African individuals are closely related to Eurasian populations. Regarding archaic gene flow, we test six complex demographic models that consider recent admixture as well as archaic introgression. We identify the fingerprint of an archaic introgression event in the sub-Saharan populations included in the models (~ 4.0% in Khoisan, ~ 4.3% in Mbuti Pygmies, and ~ 5.8% in Mandenka) from an early divergent and currently extinct ghost modern human lineage.

So the ghost population that shows up in the Pygmies the same ghost population as shows up in the Mende? Looks like it.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in this paper, but I’d just like to highlight this one graph:

Populationsize

I don’t really understand how they compute these things, much less if this is accurate (though their present estimate for the size of the Han looks pretty good,) but assuming it is, we can say a few things: One, before 100,000 years ago, all of the groups–except the Laal of Chad–tracked closely together in size because they were one group. Most of the groups then got smaller simply because they split up. But there seems to have been some kind of really big population bottleneck a bit over a million years ago.

The other really interesting thing is the absolute Pygmy dominance of the mid-10,000-100,000 year range. The authors note:

It is noteworthy that we observed by PSMC a sudden Ne increase in Baka Pygmy around 30 kya. A similar increase was observed in another study that analyzed several Baka and Biaka samples [25]. In addition, this individual presents the highest average genome-wide heterozygosity compared to the rest of samples (Fig. 1b). Nevertheless, such abrupt Ne increase can be attributed to either a population expansion or episodes of separation and admixture [60]. Further analyses at population level are needed to distinguish between these two scenarios.

Until we get more information on the possible Pygmy-cide, let’s get back to Things Fall Apart, for the Igbo of 1890 aren’t their ancestors of 50,000 BC nor the conquerors of central Africa. Here’s an interesting page with information about some of the rituals Achebe wrote about, like the Feast of the New Yams and the Egwugwu ceremony:

 The egwugwu ceremony takes place in order to dispute the guilty side of a crime taken place, similar to our court trials… Nine egwugwu represented a village of the clan, their leader known as Evil Forest; exit the huts with their masks on.

Short page; fast read.

The egwugwu ceremony I found particularly interesting. Of course everyone knows the guys in masks are just guys in masks (well, I assume everyone knows that. It seems obvious,) yet in taking on the masks, they adopt a kind of veil of anonymity. In real life, they are people, with all of the biases of ordinary people; under the mask, they take on the identity of a spirit, free from the biases of ordinary people. It is similar to the official garb worn by judges in other countries, which often look quite silly (wigs on English barristers, for example,) but effectively demarcate a line between normal life and official pronouncements. By putting on the costume of the office, the judge becomes more than an individual.

I have long been fascinated by masks, masquerades, and the power of anonymity. Many famous writers, from Benjamin Franklin to Samuel Clemens, published under pseudonyms. The mask implies falseness–on Halloween, we dress up as things that we are not–but it also allows honesty by freeing us from the threat of retribution.

It is interesting that a small, tightly-knit society where everyone knows everyone and social relations are of paramount importance, like the Igbo, developed a norm of anonymizing judges in order to remove judicial decisions from normal social relations and obligations (as much as possible, anyway). Since most Igbo villages did not have kings or other aristocrats to dictate laws, rule was conducted by notable community members who had effectively purchased or earned noble titles. These nobles got to wear the masks and costumes of the egwgwu.

Ok, so it’s getting late and I need to wrap this up. This moment comes in every post.

I know I haven’t said much about the book itself. The plot, narrative, pacing, structure, writing style, etc. To be honest, that’s because I didn’t enjoy it very much. It was interesting for its content, along with a sense of “I’ve been trying to tell people this and I could have saved myself a lot of time by just pointing them to the book. And if this is a book taught in schools (we didn’t read it in my highschool, but I have heard that many people did,) then why aren’t people more aware of the contents?

What was tribal life like before the Europeans got there? Well, women got beaten a lot. Children were murdered to avenge tribal conflicts. Infant mortality was high. In other words, many things were pretty unpleasant.

And yet, interestingly, much of what we think was unpleasant about them was, in its own way, keeping the peace. As Will (Evolving Moloch) quotes from The Social Structure of Right and Wrong on Twitter:

“Much of the conduct described by anthropologists as conflict management, social control, or even law in tribal and other traditional societies is regarded as crime in modern [nation state] societies.” This is especially clear in the case of violent modes of redress such as assassination, feuding, fighting, maiming, and beating, but it also applies to the confiscation and destruction of property and to other forms of deprivation and humiliation. Such actions typically express a grievance by one person or group against another.

See, for example, when the village burned down Okonkwo’s house for accidentally killing a villager, when they burned down the church for “killing” a deity, or when they took a little girl and killed a little boy in revenge for someone in another village killing one of their women. To the villagers, these were all legal punishments, and the logic of burning down a person’s house if they have killed someone is rather similar to the logic of charging someone a fine for committing manslaughter. Even though Okonkwo didn’t mean to kill anyone, he should have been more careful with his gun, which he knew was dangerous and could kill someone.

Unlike penalties imposed by the state, however, private executions of this kind often result in revenge or even a feud—Moreover, the person killed in retaliation may not be himself or herself a killer, for in these societies violent conflicts between nonkin are virtually always handled in a framework of collective responsibility–or more precisely, collective liability–whereby all members of a social category (such as a family or lineage) are held accountable for the conduct of their fellows.

And, of course, penalties so meted out can be incredibly violent, arbitrary, and selfish, but ignoring that, there’s clearly a conflict when traditional, tribal ways of dealing with problems clash with state-based ways of dealing with problems. Even if everyone eventually agrees that the state-based system is more effective (and I don’t expect everyone to agree) the transition is liable to be difficult for some people, especially if, as in the book, they are punished by the state for enforcing punishments prescribed by their own traditional laws. The state is effectively punishing them for punishing law-breakers, creating what must seem to them a state of anarcho-tyranny.

As for polygamy, Achebe seems to gloss over some of its downsides. From Christakis’s Blueprint: The Origins of a Good Society (h/t Rob Henderson), we have:

Co-wife conflict is ubiquitous in polygynous households… Because the Turkana often choose wives from different families in order to broaden their safety net, they typically do not practice sororal [sister-wives] polygyny… When co-wives are relatives, they can more easily share a household and cooperate… But while sororal polygyny is especially common in cultures in the Americas, general polygyny tends to be the usual pattern in Africa. An examination of ethnographic data from 69 nonsororal polygynous cultures fails to turn up a single society where co-wife relations could be described as harmonious. Detailed ethnographic studies highlight the stresses and fears present in polygynous families, including, for example, wives’ concern that other wives might try to poison their children so that their own children might inherit land or property.

Anyway, let’s wrap this up with a little article on human pacification:

There is a well-entrenched schism on the frequency (how often), intensity (deaths per 100,000/year), and evolutionary significance of warfare among hunter-gatherers compared with large-scale societies. To simplify, Rousseauians argue that warfare among prehistoric and contemporary hunter-gatherers was nearly absent and, if present, was a late cultural invention. In contrast, so-called Hobbesians argue that violence was relatively common but variable among hunter-gatherers. … Furthermore, Hobbesians with empirical data have already established that the frequency and intensity of hunter-gatherer warfare is greater compared with large-scale societies even though horticultural societies engage in warfare more intensively than hunter-gatherers. In the end I argue that although war is a primitive trait we may share with chimpanzees and/or our last common ancestor, the ability of hunter-gatherer bands to live peaceably with their neighbors, even though war may occur, is a derived trait that fundamentally distinguishes us socially and politically from chimpanzee societies. It is a point often lost in these debates.

I think we should read Legal Systems Very Different from Ours for our next book. Any other ideas?

Book Club: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, pt 2

 

Chinua_Achebe_-_Buffalo_25Sep2008_crop
Chinua Achebe, Author and Nobel Prize winner

Welcome back to our discussion of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Today I thought it would be interesting to look at the history of the Igbo (aka Ibo) people, past and present.

The modern Igbo are one of the world’s larger ethnic groups, numbering around 34 million people, most of whom live in south east/central Nigeria. About 2 million Igbo live abroad, most of them in Britain (which, Chinua recounts, colonized Nigeria.) The Igbo diaspora is well-known for its intelligence, with Igbo students outscoring even Chinese students in the UK:

Although the Chinese and Indians are still very conspicuously above even the best African nationalities, their superiority disappears when the Nigerian and other groups are broken down even further according to their different tribal ethnicities. Groups like the famous Igbo tribe, which has contributed much genetically to the African American blacks, are well known to be high academic achievers within Nigeria. In fact, their performance seems to be at least as high as the “model minority” Chinese and Indians in the UK, as seen when some recent African immigrants are divided into languages spoken at home (which also indicates that these are not multigenerational descendants but children of recent immigrants).

Africans speaking Luganda and Krio did better than the Chinese students in 2011. The igbo were even more impressive given their much bigger numbers (and their consistently high performance over the years, gaining a 100 percent pass rate in 2009!). The superior Igbo achievement on GCSEs is not new and has been noted in studies that came before the recent media discovery of African performance. A 2007 report on “case study” model schools in Lambeth also included a rare disclosure of specified Igbo performance (recorded as Ibo in the table below) and it confirms that Igbos have been performing exceptionally well for a long time (5 + A*-C GCSEs); in fact, it is difficult to find a time when they ever performed below British whites.

Of course, Igbo immigrants to the UK are probably smarter than folks who didn’t figure out how to immigrate to the UK, but Peter Frost argues that even the ones who stayed at home are also pretty smart, via a collection of quotes:

All over Nigeria, Ibos filled urban jobs at every level far out of proportion to their numbers, as laborers and domestic servants, as bureaucrats, corporate managers, and technicians. Two-thirds of the senior jobs in the Nigerian Railway Corporation were held by Ibos. Three-quarters of Nigeria’s diplomats came from the Eastern Region. So did almost half of the 4,500 students graduating from Nigerian universities in 1966. The Ibos became known as the “Jews of Africa,” despised—and envied—for their achievements and acquisitiveness. (Baker, 1980)

The Ibos are the wandering Jews of West Africa — gifted, aggressive, Westernized; at best envied and resented, but mostly despised by the mass of their neighbors in the Federation.(Kissinger, 1969)

So what makes the Igbo so smart? Frost attributes their high IQ to the selective effects of an economy based on trade in which the Igbo were middlemen to the other peoples (mostly Yoruba and Fulani) around them, along with an excellent metalworking tradition:

Archaeological sites in the Niger Delta show that advanced economic development began much earlier there than elsewhere in West Africa. This is seen in early use of metallurgy. At one metallurgical complex, dated to 765 BC, iron ore was smelted in furnaces measuring a meter wide. The molten slag was drained through conduits to pits, where it formed blocks weighing up to 43-47 kg. …

This production seems to have been in excess of local needs and therefore driven by trade with other peoples …

This metallurgy is unusual not only in its early date for West Africa but also in its subsequent development, which reached a high level of sophistication despite a lack of borrowing from metallurgical traditions in the Middle East and Europe.

Here is a fun little video on Igbo bronzes (I recommend watching on double speed and pausing occasionally to appreciate the work quality):

So between the bronze, the river, and long-distance trade, the Igbo became the local market dominant minorities–and like most MDMs, with the arrival of democracy came genocide.

Nigeria achieved independence in 1960 and became a Republic in 1963. Periodic military coups and conflict kept disturbing the peace:

From June through October 1966, pogroms in the North killed an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Igbo, half of them children, and caused more than a million to two million to flee to the Eastern Region.[76] 29 September 1966, was considered the worst day; because of massacres, it was called ‘Black Thursday’.[77][78]

Ethnomusicologist Charles Keil, who was visiting Nigeria in 1966, recounted:

The pogroms I witnessed in Makurdi, Nigeria (late Sept. 1966) were foreshadowed by months of intensive anti-Ibo and anti-Eastern conversations among Tiv, Idoma, Hausa and other Northerners resident in Makurdi, and, fitting a pattern replicated in city after city, the massacres were led by the Nigerian army. Before, during and after the slaughter, Col. Gowon could be heard over the radio issuing ‘guarantees of safety’ to all Easterners, all citizens of Nigeria, but the intent of the soldiers, the only power that counts in Nigeria now or then, was painfully clear. After counting the disemboweled bodies along the Makurdi road I was escorted back to the city by soldiers who apologised for the stench and explained politely that they were doing me and the world a great favor by eliminating Igbos.

… until the Igbos decided they’d had enough and declared themselves an independent country, Biafra, triggering a civil war. The Nigerian and British governments blockaded Biafra, resulting in mass starvation that left nearly 2 million dead.

Why the British government thought it was important to use money to starve children, I don’t know.

(Hint: the answer is oil.)

During the war, Britain covertly supplied Nigeria with weapons and military intelligence and may have also helped it to hire mercenaries.[102] After the decision was made to back Nigeria, the BBC oriented its reporting to favour this side.[103] Supplies provided to the Federal Military Government included two vessels and 60 vehicles.[104]

Go BBC!

(Richard Nixon, always the voice of morality, was against the blockade.)

Chinua Achebe published Things Fall Apart in 1959, the year before independence–so he was awfully prescient.

As news got out about the genocide, people began demanding that food be airlifted into Biafra, but there were some problems getting the food off the ground:

800px-Starved_girl
Just “enemy propaganda” of little girls starving to death

Secretary General of the United Nations, U Thant, refused to support the airlift.[5] The position of the Organization of African Unity was to not intervene in conflicts its members’ deemed internal and to support the nation-state boundaries instituted during the colonial era.[6] The ruling Labour Party of the United Kingdom, which together with the USSR was supplying arms to the Nigerian military,[7]dismissed reports of famine as “enemy propaganda”.[8] Mark Curtis writes that the UK also reportedly provided military assistance on the ‘neutralisation of the rebel airstrips’, with the understanding that their destruction would put them out of use for daylight humanitarian relief flights.[9]

Soon Joint Church Aid, a combination of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and other NG organizations, chartered airplanes and began running the Nigerian blockade (three relief workers were killed when their plane was shot down.) The Biafra Airlift is second in scope only to the Berlin Airlift in non-combat airlifts.

Since the end of the war, the state of the Igbo people has steadily improved (the presence of oil in the area is finally benefiting them.)

Modern Nigeria has about 200 million people with a fertility rate around 5.5 children per woman (I don’t have data specifically about the Igbo) and a per capita GDP around $2,000, which is high for the area.

It’s getting late, so I’d like to end with some modern Igbo music, a reminder that the people we read about in anthropology books (or literature) never stay in anthropology books:

Because it is Ours: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

Yes, caring about your own stuff or your own culture’s stuff over another people’s stuff shows in-group bias. That was inherent back there in the words “your own.” It’s yours. Of course you care about it.

Only deities achieve perfect love. Even Jesus does not call on people to love strangers; he commands his followers to love each other and love their neighbors.

What does tamed mean?” [asked the Little Prince] …

“It means to create ties,”… the fox said. “For me, you’re only a little boy, like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you, and you have no need of me, either. For you I’m only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me we’ll need each other. You’ll be the only boy in the world for me. I’ll be the only fox in the world for you.” …

And [the Prince] felt very unhappy. His flower had told him she was the only one of her kind in the whole universe. And here were five thousand of them, all alike, in just one garden! ….

And then he said to himself, I thought I was rich because I had one flower, and all I own is an ordinary rose… and he lay down and wept. …

Then [the fox] added, “Go look at the roses again. You’ll understand that yours is the only rose in all the world.”

The Little Prince went to look at the roses again. “You’re not at all like my rose. You’re nothing at all, yet,” he told them. “No one has tamed you and you haven’t tamed anyone. You’re the way my fox was. … But I’ve made him my friend, and now he’s the only fox in all the world.” …

“Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I watered. … Since she’s my rose.”

— Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

3The inverse of loving what is yours is that you do not love what is not yours.

Part of the bittersweetness of the Little Prince is how closely it parallels the author’s own life, for not only did Saint-Exupery crash land in the Sahara, and not only was the rose based on his own wife, but he also fell from the sky and died when his plane was shot down over the Mediterranean during WWII.

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart follows the life of Okonkwo, a (fictional) Nigerian Igbo man who lived in a small village in the 1890s. The story follows Okonkwo’s determination to rise from nothing, slough off the shame of his father’s laziness, cowardice, and debt, and make a name for himself. Through Okonkwo’s eyes, we see the culture of the Onitsha Igbo, a real people, prior to the arrival of the British.

Then Okonkwo murders his foster son because the village authorities decided he should be killed (to avenge the death of a woman from Okonkwo’s tribe) and, as the title says, things fall apart.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
— W. B. Yeats, The Second Coming

It’s an interesting work from a cultural, historical perspective.

We cannot justify Okonkwo’s culture, nor Okonkwo himself. I do not think Achebe means to. It was a culture that murdered innocent people, forced some to be permanent “outcasts,” and sanctioned the beating of women and children. Okonkwo beat his wives and children (and as mentioned, murdered his foster son to avoid looking “weak” or “cowardly” in front of the other villagers.)

And yet, we hear Achebe’s voice saying, it was theirs.

My mother is not perfect, yet she is mine. My people are not perfect, yet they are mine. My culture is not perfect, yet it is mine. Okonkwo was a beloved husband, friend, leader, and father. And people love what is theirs.

Of course, taking another perspective, we could also read the novel as “Sure, the British put a stop to many terrible things, but they were SMUG about it!”

I can’t put much stock in the position that otherwise moral people committed evil acts simply because of their culture, since culture itself comes from the people in it. “I was only following orders” stopped being an excuse during the Nuremberg Trials. We moderns are expected to question and resist our culture at every turn, and I am not inclined to extend to Oknkwo generosity that would not be extended to me.

Of course, the Igbo are not the only people to have done terrible things. We all have sinned. Yes, the French committed crimes in the course of colonialism. So did the British:

The British had difficulty conquering Igboland, which lacked central political organisation. In the name of liberating the Igbos from the Aro Confederacy, the British launched the Anglo-Aro War of 1901–1902. Despite conquering villages by burning houses and crops, continual political control over the Igbo remained elusive.[41][42] The British forces began annual pacification missions to convince the locals of British supremacy.[43] … 

After establishing political control of the country, the British implemented a system of taxation in order to force the indigenous Africans to shift from subsistence farming to wage labour. Sometimes forced labour was used directly for public works projects. These policies met with ongoing resistance[71][72]

Of course, the British also did their best to put an end to the international slave trade and stopped the Igbo practice of human sacrifice:

However, animals were used to remove evil from the land. At times during pestilence, palm fronds, an animal or a human being will be tied at the entrance of the town with hope that the disease will enter into these objects and spare the inhabitants. To be attacked by such animal is regarded as ill luck and these living sacrifices are not eaten by anyone. In the past, two living beings were buried along side chiefs as servants to serve him in the spirit world. Slaves were usually used for this.

You can appreciate the good in a culture–and people–without accepting their evil.

Have you finished the book, yet? What do you think of it?

If you haven’t started yet, don’t worry–we’ll continue this conversation in a week.

 

Scandal that should have never been: Satanic Daycares

Hey, readers in their 30s or above, remember the 80s? And the Satanic Daycare Scare?

It all started with a bunch of bad therapy, The Exorcist, and rumors of West African secret societies. (And probably drugs.) It ended with thousands of people being accused of ritually abusing, murdering, and eating children–50,000 a year–as part of a million-member multi-generational secret Satanic cult. Many of the accused went to prison; some are still in prison.

I think most of us would like to pretend that never happened, but it did.

The worst of it is not that gullible housewives of the out-party gobbled up this blather from Geraldo Rivera, Oprah, or evangelical preachers. Ignorant people have always believed ignorant things. The worst of it is that Janet Reno–and many other supposedly intelligent people in positions of actual authority–believed this bullshit, and yet is still allowed to have a job making decisions that affect the lives of other people.

(And we expect people not to fall for bullshit that sounds halfway decent?)

Background

People believed a lot of dubious things in the 70s and 80s. They believed in “pyramid power,” UFOs, and telekinesis. Enough LSD, and you can probably believe all sorts of things.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have the internet or Wikipedia or even Snopes, so it was a lot harder to figure out when someone was putting one over you. If you’re living in Oklahoma in 1980, chances are you’re not exactly sure what’s going on over in California, but you’re pretty sure it has something to do with godless heathens and demons, because for goodness’s sakes, it’s California, they had that Manson guy. And when someone starts repeating rumors about ritually sacrificed chickens in Toronto or human sacrifice cults in Uganda, or actual Satanists* practicing openly in California (again with the California!) then it’s time to freak out because the agents of Satan are clearly on the march.

*While there exists an actual “Church of Satan” founded by Anton LaVey in 1966, none of the members of the CoS were ever charged with ritual Satanic abuse or murder, and according to Wikipedia, they don’t even worship Satan, they just call themselves that to stick up a middle finger to society. But the mere fact that these people existed was enough to send a good number of respectable housewives into pearl-clutching tizzies.

If we want to be especially thorough, the widespread conviction that witches and devils were conspiring together long predates the 1980s; James R. Lewis’s “The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements” has an excellent chapter (#10) that traces the development of the Christian witchcraft myth through the occultism of the late 1800s, feminist propaganda, the emergence of the Neopagan movement, H. P. Lovecraft, etc. But for the sake of time, we’re starting with the recovered memory movement.

Back in the 70s, when feminists weren’t busy proclaiming that the Christian Patriarchy had murdered millions of Medieval witches in order to stamp out a once-universal Matriarchal religion and therefore all women should abandon Christianity and become Neopagans, (not only is this factually untrue, but I was actually assigned readings on the subject in my totally respectable university course on Feminism 101,) they were promoting the idea that America was a seething hotbed of violence–rape and abuse–directed primarily at women and children.

Of course, unlike Medieval witches, rape and abuse are real, but often difficult to prove sufficiently in a court of law to get a conviction–once two people are behind closed doors, what happened next often becomes a matter of he-said-she-said, and you are not actually supposed to convict based on “story sounded convincing” in the absence of any actual evidence a crime took place.

And for good reason–otherwise, anyone could put their personal enemies or rivals in prison for life simply by make up a story.

The feminists’ response to this was a push for all claims of rape and abuse to be accepted without question. To question even the most outrageous story was treated as an act of violence against already victimized women.

At about the same time, psychiatrists discovered that you can get people to say all manner of crazy things while under hypnosis, and promptly used their new-found powers to convince mentally ill women in their care that they had been victims of ritual Satanic abuse.

You can use hypnosis to convince people that the number “3” does not exist, then watch them attempt to count their fingers–“One, two, four, five, six.” You can convince them that they are warm enough to shed their jackets while sitting in an ice hotel. You can get them to act like a chicken.

The fact that people will do and think absurd things while under hypnosis is why people find it entertaining. (And a little frightening.) That’s also why it’s commonly part of magic shows–but normally, people don’t believe that there are actually a bunch of rabbits in that hat.

That memories are unreliable has been extensively documented by police (and psychiatry) departments, which have to deal with conflicting and changing witness testimony all the time. Yu’ve probably also experienced this if you’ve ever gotten into a fight with your parents or spouse over something you supposedly did several years before.

It is quite easy to change people’s memories under normal conditions. EG:

Studies by Elizabeth Loftus and others have concluded that it is possible to produce false memories of childhood incidents.[24] The experiments involved manipulating subjects into believing that they had some fictitious experience in childhood, such as being lost in a shopping mall at age 6. This involved using a suggestive technique called “familial informant false narrative procedure,” in which the experimenter claims the validity of the false event is supported by a family member of the subject. (source)

So just saying to someone, “Oh yeah, I was talking to your Aunt Susie yesterday, and we were laughing about that time you got lost at the mall when you were six and we found you hiding under a table in the furniture department,” can make them “remember” this.

(Please only use your new-found powers for good.)

To convince someone they were the victim of ritual Satanic abuse:

  1. Get a patient, preferably suffering some mental illness like schizophrenia or depression, but insomnia or headaches will suffice.
  2. Put them under hypnosis and suggest that their troubles are due to “repressed” memories of childhood trauma.
  3. Helpfully suggest various Satanic rituals they may have endured
  4. Encourage them to imagine a scenario in which they were abused.
  5. Un-hypnotize them and celebrate having “uncovered” their repressed memory of infant cannibalism.

If you’re really lucky, you can even get the patient to believe they have uncovered alternative personalities that they switch to under hypnosis (much like a stage magician getting a hypnotized volunteer to cluck like a chicken.)

Afterwards:

  1. Call the police and accuse their parents of cannibalism, rape, torture, kidnapping, etc.
  2. Get taken seriously by the police!
  3. Make lots of money treating the patient for the trauma incurred by “remembering” being abused and treating their ever-expanding suite of personalities.
  4. Make even more money consulting with police across the country about Ritual Satanic Abuse, now that you’re an “expert” on the subject.

Yes, this is terribly unethical.

In 1980, a Canadian Psychiatrist named Lawrence Pazder published Michelle Remembers, a “biography” purporting to document the childhood Satanic abuse his patient endured in the 50s:

Isn't that a face you can trust?
Isn’t that a face you can trust?

Interestingly, Pazder lived and worked in Nigeria in the 60s, a part of the world that actually does have legit, child-sacrificing cults. As recently as 2001, the ritually-dismembered, headless torso of “Adam,” a Nigerian child about 5 or 6 years old, was found floating in the Thames. An autopsy revealed, via stomach contents and pollen found in his lungs, that he’d only been in Britain for a few days and had drunk a potion used in West African ritual magic. (There are approximately 180,000 Nigerians living in the UK.)

Nigerian Joyce Osiagede, the only person to be arrested in Britain as part of the inquiry, has claimed that the victim’s real name is Ikpomwosa. In an interview with ITV’s London Tonight, Mrs Osiagede said she looked after the boy in Germany for a year before travelling to Britain without him in 2001. She claimed she handed the boy over to a man known as Bawa who later told her that he was dead and threatened to kill her unless she kept silent. ..

Asked who killed him, she said a ‘group of people’. She added: “They used him for a ritual in the water.” Claiming the boy was six years old, she said: ‘He was a lively boy. A very nice boy, he was also intelligent.’ Detailed analysis of a substance in the boy’s stomach was identified as a ‘black magic’ potion. It included tiny clay pellets containing small particles of pure gold, an indication that Adam was the victim of a Muti ritual killing in which it is believed that the body parts of children are sacred. Bodies are often disposed of in flowing water. (source)

These cases more normally happen in Africa, but then we tend to lack official police investigations, autopsies, and BBC articles, but there’s plenty of documentation if you look:

The Leopard Society was a West African secret society active in the early- to mid-20th century that practiced cannibalism.[1] They were centred in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Nigeria.

Members would dress in leopard skins, waylaying travelers with sharp claw-like weapons in the form of leopards’ claws and teeth. The victims’ flesh would be cut from their bodies and distributed to members of the secret society. According to their beliefs, the ritual cannibalism would strengthen both members of the secret society as well as their entire tribe. (source)

The “Refworld” (Refugee World) article on human sacrifice in Nigeria (from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada) claims that,

According to various sources, ritual killings in Nigeria are performed to obtain human body parts for use in rituals, potions, and charms. The Lagos-based newspaper This Day explains that “ritualists, also known as headhunters, … go in search of human parts at the request of herbalists, who require them for sacrifices or for the preparation of various magical potions”. …

According to This Day, ritual murders are “a common practice” in Nigeria. … Similarly, a 2012 Daily Independent article states that “in recent times, the number of … brutal murders, mostly for ritual purposes and other circumstances, involving couples and their partners has been on a steady progression.” …

This Day reported that a confidential memo from the Nigerian police to registered security service providers indicated that ritual killings were particularly prevalent in the states of Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna, Abia, Kwara, Abuja, Rivers, and Kogi. … In 2010, one newspaper reported that dead bodies with missing organs were being discovered on a daily basis on a road close to Lagos State University that was described as a “hot spot for ritual killers.” A second newspaper reported in February 2011 that, in the same area, ten people had been killed in suspected ritual murders in the preceding two months. A 2009 article published by Agence France-Presse reported that, according to a state government official, the kidnapping of children for ritual murder was on the rise in Kano.

(I have removed the in-line citations because they make the article unreadable; check the original if you want their sources.)

Native Nigerian religion is basically Voodoo, aka Vodun, aka Santeria and whatever else you want to call it to confuse your audience. These are not “organized” religions, but a widespread set of common beliefs about magic and the supernatural, including, of course, the idea that ritually sacrificed bits of humans or animals have magic powers.

In other words, if you thought Boko Haram was Nigeria’s worst problem, I’m sorry.

Also, if you used to live in Nigeria, you may be forgiven for believing that ritual sacrifice and child murder are happening all over the place (though the fact that Canada doesn’t have a lot of fetish markets where you can buy animal parts for your ritual magic ought to be a tip-off that it’s a lot less common outside of Africa.)

In 1973, Pazder was back in Canada and treating Michelle, who apparently became depressed following a miscarriage. Pazder decided this must actually be a sign of repressed memories of childhood abuse (an idea that comes straight out of Freud, even though Freud himself later repudiated this train of thought and all Freudianism had been discredited and generally abandoned by the psychiatric community by the 70s, due to being psuedo-scientific nonsense.)

Uninterested in the recommended best practices in his industry, psychiatric developments of the previous 50 years, or general ethics, Pazder spent over 600 hours (over 14 months) encouraging Michelle, under hypnosis, to “remember” being ritually abused by her mother, a member of the world-wide, pre-Christian “Church of Satan” based in Victoria, Canada. According to Wikipedia,

The first alleged ritual attended by [Michelle] Smith took place in 1954 when she was five years old, and the final one documented in the book was an 81-day ritual in 1955 that summoned the devil himself and involved the intervention of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Michael the Archangel, who removed the scars received by Smith throughout the year of abuse and removed memories of the events “until the time was right”. During the rites, Smith was allegedly tortured, locked in cages, sexually assaulted, forced to take part in various rituals, witnessed several murders and was rubbed with the blood and body parts of various murdered babies and adults. …

Former neighbors, teachers and friends were interviewed and yearbooks from Smith’s elementary school were reviewed and found no indication of Smith being absent from school or missing for lengthy periods of time, including the alleged 81-day non-stop ceremony. Ultimately the book’s authors were unable to find anyone who knew Smith in the 1950s who could corroborate any of the details in her allegations.

… Among other things, Cuhulain noted that it seemed unlikely that a sophisticated cult that had secretly existed for generations could be outwitted by a five-year-old; that the cult could hold rituals in the Ross Bay Cemetery unnoticed given that Smith claimed she was screaming and given that the Ross Bay Cemetery is surrounded on three sides by residential neighborhoods; that an 81-day non-stop ceremony involving hundreds of participants and a massive round room could have gone on in Victoria unnoticed; and that none of Smith’s tormentors (other than her mother) have ever been identified, especially given that some of them had cut off one of their middle fingers at the Black Mass. He also notes that during the alleged 81-day ritual, Michelle was confirmed to be attending school, with no remarkable absences and no apparent signs that she was being abused. Like other authors,[6][7][8] Cuhulain also noted that many of Smith’s recovered memories appear to have reflected elements in popular culture at the time (e.g.: the movie The Exorcist)

In 1979, Michelle and Pazder (both supposedly Catholics) divorced their own spouses (Pazder already had 4 children,) to marry each other. Having romantic (or just sexual) relationships with your patients is a major no-no in psychiatry because it is generally considered super-unethical to take advantage of mentally ill people in your care.

Pazder became so concerned that he went to the Vatican to inform the Pope that he’d uncovered a massive, ancient, organized, Satanic cult operating in secret throughout Canada, the US, and Europe, that incredibly, no one had ever noticed before!

The Catholic Church quietly distanced itself from Pazder.

Despite this, “Michelle Remembers” earned Pazder and Michelle $342,000, plus royalties. Pazder became a kind of celebrity expert on Satanic Ritual Abuse, appearing on TV, taking part in police seminars on ritual abuse, and eventually being consulted in over 1,000 cases of alleged Satanic Abuse. (source)

All of this played into another horrible trend in psychiatry at the time (also involving hypnosis!) Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD).

Back in 1973, just as Michelle was beginning treatment, Sybil: The True Story of a Woman Possessed by 18 Personalities was published. Sybill was originally being treated for anxiety and memory loss, but after copious quantities of drugs and hypnosis (it was the 70s, after all,) she went really crazy and began “manifesting” 18 different personalities, including two men and a French girl (despite Sybil herself having been raised in Minnesota.

Long story short, the book was nonsense and Sybil was merely an unfortunate, mentally unwell woman (possibly due to anemia,) taken advantage of by an unscrupulous psychiatrist and writer, whose book sold over 400,000 copies, launched a small industry of Sybil-related merchandise, and was made into two movies. (Michelle Remembers never got made into a movie because everyone involved would have gotten their pants sued off for libel.) He also, of course, got paid for years of psychotherapy.

Effects

Now, you might think that people would be cautious about accepting absurd claims coming from actually diagnosed, mentally-ill people receiving psychiatric treatment, but personal experience suggests that they don’t. Combine this with the feminist claim that you must always believe and support the victim and never question their claims, and you have the ingredients for thousands of destroyed lives.

But that is a story we will have to continue tomorrow.

 

 

Some Notable Nigerians

It’s easy to roll your eyes at people demanding that we teach the history of Africa and other non-Western locales. But I support such a move, so long as the history is honest.

Of course it wouldn’t be honest; we are a society of liars.

Here is Madam Efunroye Tinubu (c. 1810 – 1887) :

From the Wikipedia
From the Wikipedia

Madam Tinubu was a wealthy and powerful chieftess of the Egba clan (Youruba people, Nigeria.) She made her money through the slave trade, and resisted the British Colonial Government because it was interfering with he ability to make money by selling humans into bondage.

Tinubu Square in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, is named in her honor.

Cosmic Yoruba has some interesting things to say about the next chieftess of the Egba, Efunsetan Aniwura:

“…she was a WSW [note: woman who has sex with women] who never married, never had any children and was referred to as lakiriboto [a woman with no vaginal opening] …

“Efunsetan Aniwura rose to become a very powerful and wealthy trader in the 19th century, she is one of the few Yoruba women that has withstood the test of history. Oral tradition states that she had three large farms, and that no less than 100 slaves worked in each at a time. Apparently she owned over 2,000 slaves in her lifetime.

“Like other Yoruba women traders, Efunsetan travelled across the land trading with all sorts of people. Her speciality was in arms and ammunition, she would lend these to warriors when they were going on military expeditions and it seems she also went to war a few times herself.”

Cosmic Yoruba notes that “oral tradition” is often dodgy, and we can’t believe everything we hear. She rejects various stories about Efunestan going crazy and terrorizing her slaves, on the grounds that they don’t make much sense, and further speculates:

“I wonder if this is a classic example of history erasing a woman’s achievements. I will never get tired of pointing out how our current ideas on how our female ancestors lived are very different from the reality. We believe that they all married, lived “under” their husbands, never divorced, spent their lives in the kitchen while the men went out to work, never enjoyed sex, were all straight and so on. Powerful women like Efunsetan, who may have never married or had children and may have even been queer will have their stories snipped and trimmed, molded to become a warning for other women…so as to discourage them from craving power perhaps.”

Cosmic Yoruba has done a lot more research about traditional Nigerian life than I have, so I am inclined to trust her. Besides, her accounts line up with most other accounts I have read.

Cosmic Yoruba ends with songs praising Efunestan:

“The woman, who instils fear in others,
the fearsome one, who slaughters slaves to celebrate Id-el-Kabir.
Efunsetan is one force, Ibadan is another.
The valiant that challenges the Almighty God,
if the most high does not answer her on time,
Efunsetan leaves the earth to go and meet him in Heaven…”

 

Have you heard the story that Africa was a developed, thriving place full of wealthy economies and fabulous cities, until evil Europeans showed up, enslaved a bunch of people and colonized the rest?

Cities did exist in Sub-Saharan Africa, but they were few and far between. They were in the sorts of places you would expect them to, like the intersections of major trade routes or major ports. There were a few major trade items, like gold, ivory, and human beings. There were empires with wealthy individuals.

But the overall level of economic development throughout the sub-continent was very low. Those who claim that Europeans are responsible for the current levels of African development need to explain why African development was so low before the Europeans got there.

Edited to add: hey, look, we have a new graph! It is far superior to the old one, though it covers a different time range, so well still have to use both:

I really hope I can find a better graph
I really hope I can find a better graph
with special thanks to commentator "With the thoughts you’d be thinkin" and Wikimedia Commons
with special thanks to commentator “With the thoughts you’d be thinkin” and Wikimedia Commons

Back in the year one, most of the world was engaged in hunter-gathering, small-scale agriculture, or herding. The GDP of most of the world reflects this. Africa at least has gold to export, unlike the steppe. Africa is still less developed than Western Europe (and this is including northern Africa, which is quite different from Sub-Saharan Africa.)

By 1300-1400, various estimates put British per cap GDP around $1,000, with the average for Western Europe as a whole a little lower, but still more than the current per capita GDP of many modern Sub-Saharan countries. And it’s more than SSA had in 1400, well before European colonialism began. If anything, Africa’s GDP only took off after colonialsim; there is no sign that colonialism caused economic collapse.

According to Peter Frost, “In sub-Saharan Africa, high polygyny rates are associated with ‘female farming’ societies, and such societies began to spread outward from a point of origin near the Niger’s headwaters some 6,000 to 7,000 years ago (Murdock, 1959, pp. 44, 64-68).”

In The African Outlier, Frost quotes Draper, 1989 (PDF):  “Much of rural African subsistence is based on the work of women in their gardens; men make only modest contributions. Typically, rights in land are held by men by virtue of their membership in kinship or village units. A man who wishes to add another wife is under few constraints (provided his kinship group has the land and bridewealth), since women, in effect, pay their own way. They produce food, and they rear children. In rural areas, when a man marries an additional wife, he is awarded additional fields for this woman and her children (Bryson 1981). The importance of male labor to support such households is reduced. In former times, before colonially imposed peace, the male role in defense was important. But since central governments have been present, men who remain in rural villages spend their time in leisure, in management of household labor, or in local political affairs…”

And in The Beginnings of Black Slavery and The Beginnings of Black Slavery II, Frost argues that, “… It looks like black slaves began to enter the Middle East in growing numbers some time before 0 AD, the result being a slow but steady increase in the region’s black population throughout the early Christian era and into the Islamic era.”

He goes on to argue that polygamy basically drove the slave trade. Do the math; if one man has 5 wives, then four men have no wives. What do you do with your extra men? Attack the next village over, capture their women and sell all of their extra men into slavery.

There are other possible explanations, but I happen to find Frost’s convincing.

The idea that things were going swimmingly until Europeans showed up and started enslaving everyone is pure a-historical baloney. In fact, did you catch this little bit above: “Madam Tinubu … resisted the British Colonial Government because it was interfering with he ability to make money by selling humans into bondage.”

According to the Wikipedia page on Colonial Nigeria, “British influence began with prohibition of slave trade to British subjects in 1807. The resulting collapse of African slave trade led to the decline and eventual collapse of the Edo Empire. ”

So Nigerian heroes were actively resisting British influence in Nigeria because the British were trying to stop them from enslaving people, and the slave trade is supposed to be the fault of the colonizers?

 

Let’s teach history.