Pirate Friday: Malays

Matteo Ricci’s map of the Far East

Welcome back to not-quite-Anthrpology Friday. Today we’re finishing The Pirate’s Own Book with a look at Malay pirates (as usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability):

“A glance at the map of the East India Islands will convince us that this region of the globe must, from its natural configuration and locality, be peculiarly liable to become the seat of piracy. … A large proportion of the population is at the same time confined to the coasts or the estuaries of rivers; they are fishermen and mariners; they are barbarous and poor, therefore rapacious, faithless and sanguinary. … It is not surprising, then, that the Malays should have been notorious for their depredations from our first acquaintance with them.

“Among the tribes of the Indian Islands, the most noted for their piracies are, of course, the most idle, and the least industrious, and particularly such as are unaccustomed to follow agriculture or trade as regular pursuits. The agricultural tribes of Java, and many of Sumatra, never commit piracy at all; and the most civilized inhabitants of Celebes are very little addicted to this vice.


“Among the most confirmed pirates are the true Malays, inhabiting the small islands about the eastern extremity of the straits of Malacca, and those lying between Sumatra and Borneo, down to Billitin and Cavimattir. Still more noted than these, are the inhabitants of certain islands situated between Borneo and the Phillipines, of whom the most desperate and enterprising are the Soolos and Illanoons, the former inhabiting a well known group of islands of the same name, and the latter being one of the most numerous nations of the great island of Magindando.”

EvX: I’ve yet to figure out who the Soolos and Illanoons are.

“The Soolo pirates chiefly confine their depredations to the Phillipine Islands, which they have continued to infest, with little interruption, for near three centuries, in open defiance of the Spanish authorities, and the numerous establishments maintained to check them. The piracies of the Illanoons, on the contrary, are widely extended, being carried on all the way from their native country to the Spice Islands, on one side, and to the Straits of Malacca on the other. … Besides those who are avowed pirates, it ought to be particularly noticed that a great number of the Malayan princes must be considered as accessories to their crimes, for they afford them protection, contribute to their outfit, and often share in their booty; so that a piratical proa is too commonly more welcome in their harbours than a fair trader. …

A Piratical Proa in Full Chase

“In Nov. 1827, a principal chief of pirates, named Sindana, made a descent upon Mamoodgoo with forty-five proas, burnt three-fourths of the campong, driving the rajah with his family among the mountains. Some scores of men were killed, and 300 made prisoners, besides women and children to half that amount. In December following, when I was there, the people were slowly returning from the hills, but had not yet attempted to rebuild the campong, which lay in ashes. During my stay here (ten weeks) the place was visited by two other piratical chiefs, one of which was from Kylie, the other from Mandhaar Point under Bem Bowan, who appeared to have charge of the whole; between them they had 134 proas of all sizes. …

“An European vessel was faintly descried about three o’clock one foggy morning; the rain fell in torrents; the time and weather were favorable circumstances for a surprise, and the commander determined to distinguish himself in the absence of the Rajah Raga, gave directions to close, fire the guns and board. He was the more confident of success, as the European vessel was observed to keep away out of the proper course on approaching her. On getting within about an hundred fathoms of the Elk they fired their broadside, gave a loud shout, and with their long oars pulled towards their prey.

“The sound of a drum beating to quarters no sooner struck the ear of the astonished Malays than they endeavored to get away: it was too late; the ports were opened, and a broadside, accompanied with three British cheers, gave sure indications of their fate. The captain hailed the Elk, and would fain persuade him it was a mistake. It was indeed a mistake, and one not to be rectified by the Malayan explanation.

“The proa was sunk by repeated broadsides, and the commanding officer refused to pick up any of the people, who, with the exception of five were drowned; these, after floating four days on some spars, were picked up by a Pergottan proa, and told the story to Raga, who swore anew destruction to every European he should henceforth take.

“This desperado has for upwards of seventeen years been the terror of the Straits of Macassar, during which period he has committed the most extensive and dreadful excesses sparing no one. … it is well known that he has cut off and murdered the crews of more than forty European vessels, which have either been wrecked on the coasts, or entrusted themselves in native ports. … The western coast of Celebes, for about 250 miles, is absolutely lined with proas belonging principally to three considerable rajahs, who act in conjunction with Raga and other pirates. Their proas may be seen in clusters of from 50, 80, and 100 (at Sediano I counted 147 laying on the sand at high water mark in parallel rows,) and kept in a horizontal position by poles, completely ready for the sea. Immediately behind them are the campongs, in which are the crews; here likewise are kept the sails, gunpowder, etc. necessary for their equipment. On the very summits of the mountains, which in many parts rise abruptly from the sea, may be distinguished innumerable huts; here reside people who are constantly on the lookout.

“A vessel within ten miles of the shore will not probably perceive a single proa, yet in less than two hours, if the tide be high, she may be surrounded by some hundreds. Should the water be low they will push off during the night. Signals are made from mountain to mountain along the coast with the utmost rapidity; during the day time by flags attached to long bamboos; at night, by fires. Each chief sends forth his proas, the crews of which, in hazardous cases, are infuriated with opium, when they will most assuredly take the vessel if she be not better provided than most merchantmen.

“Mr. Dalton, who went to the Pergottan river in 1830 says:

“… [The pirates] were anchored off the point of a small promontory, on which the rajah has an establishment and bazaar. The largest of these proas belonged to Raga, who received by the fleet of proas, in which I came, his regular supplies of arms and ammunition from Singapore. Here nestle the principal pirates, and Raga holds his head quarters; his grand depot was a few miles farther up.

“Rajah Agi Bota himself generally resides some distance up a small river which runs eastward of the point; near his habitation stands the principal bazaar, which would be a great curiosity for an European to visit if he could only manage to return, which very few have.

“The Raga gave me a pressing invitation to spend a couple of days at his country house, but all the Bugis’ nacodahs strongly dissuaded me from such an attempt. I soon discovered the cause of their apprehension; they were jealous of Agi Bota, well knowing he would plunder me, and considered every article taken by him was so much lost to the Sultan of Coti, who naturally would expect the people to reserve me for his own particular plucking.

“When the fact was known of an European having arrived in the Pergottan river, this amiable prince and friend of Europeans, impatient to seize his prey, came immediately to the point from his country house, and sending for the nacodah of the proa, ordered him to land me and all my goods instantly. An invitation now came for me to go on shore and amuse myself with shooting, and look at some rare birds of beautiful plumage which the rajah would give me if I would accept of them; but knowing what were his intentions, and being well aware that I should be supported by all the Bugis’ proas from Coti, I feigned sickness, and requested that the birds might be sent on board.

“Upon this Agi Bota, who could no longer restrain himself, sent off two boats of armed men, who robbed me of many articles, and would certainly have forced me on shore, or murdered me in the proa had not a signal been made to the Bugis’ nacodahs, who immediately came with their people, and with spears and krisses, drove the rajah’s people overboard. The nacodahs, nine in number, now went on shore, when a scene of contention took place showing clearly the character of this chief.

“The Bugis from Coti explained, that with regard to me it was necessary to be particularly circumspect, as I was not only well known at Singapore, but the authorities in that settlement knew that I was on board the Sultan’s proa, and they themselves were responsible for my safety. To this circumstance alone I owe my life on several occasions, as in the event of any thing happening to me, every nacodah was apprehensive of his proa being seized on his return to Singapore; I was therefore more peculiarly cared for by this class of men, and they are powerful.

“The rajah answered the nacodahs by saying, I might be disposed of as many others had been, and no further notice taken of the circumstance; he himself would write to Singapore that I had been taken by an alligator, or bitten by a snake whilst out shooting; and as for what property I might have in the proa he would divide it with the Sultan of Coti.

“The Bugis, however, refused to listen to any terms, knowing the Sultan of Coti would call him to an account for the property, and the authorities of Singapore for my life. Our proa, with others, therefore dropped about four miles down the river, where we took in fresh water. Here we remained six days, every argument being in vain to entice me on shore. At length the Bugis’ nacodahs came to the determination to sail without passes, which brought the rajah to terms. The proas returned to the point, and I was given to understand I might go on shore in safety.

“I did so, and was introduced to the rajah whom I found under a shed, with about 150 of his people; they were busy gambling, and had the appearance of what they really are, a ferocious set of banditti. Agi Bota is a good looking man, about forty years of age, of no education whatever; he divides his time between gaming, opium and cockfighting; that is in the interval of his more serious and profitable employment, piracy and rapine. He asked me to produce what money I had about me; on seeing only ten rupees, he remarked that it was not worth while to win so small a sum, but that if I would fight cocks with him he would lend me as much money as I wanted, and added it was beneath his dignity to fight under fifty reals a battle. On my saying it was contrary to an Englishman’s religion to bet wagers, he dismissed me; immediately after the two rajahs produced their cocks and commenced fighting for one rupee a side.

“I was now obliged to give the old Baudarre five rupees to take some care of me, as whilst walking about, the people not only thrust their hands into my pockets, but pulled the buttons from my clothes.

“Whilst sauntering behind the rajah’s campong I caught sight of an European woman, who on perceiving herself observed, instantly ran into one of the houses, no doubt dreading the consequences of being recognized. There are now in the house of Agi Bota two European women; up the country there are others, besides several men. The Bugis, inimical to the rajah, made no secret of the fact; I had heard of it on board the proa, and some person in the bazaar confirmed the statement.

“On my arrival, strict orders had been given to the inhabitants to put all European articles out of sight. … In one house were the following articles: four Bibles, one in English, one in Dutch, and two in the Portuguese languages; many articles of wearing apparel, such as jackets and trowsers, with the buttons altered to suit the natives; pieces of shirts tagged to other parts of dress; several broken instruments, such as quadrants, spy glasses (two,) binnacles, with pieces of ship’s sails, bolts and hoops; a considerable variety of gunner’s and carpenter’s tools, stores, etc. In another shop were two pelisses of faded lilac color; these were of modern cut and fashionably made. On enquiring how they became possessed of these articles, I was told they were some wrecks of European vessels on which no people were found, whilst others made no scruple of averring that they were formerly the property of people who had died in the country.

“All the goods in the bazaar belonged to the rajah, and were sold on his account; large quantities were said to be in his house up the river; but on all hands it was admitted Raga and his followers had by far the largest part of what was taken. …

“In consequence of the strict orders given on the subject I could see no more; indeed there were both difficulty and danger attending these inquiries. I particularly wanted to obtain [a] miniature picture, and offered the Mandoor fifty rupees if he could procure it; he laughed at me, and pointing significantly to his kris, drew one hand across my throat, and then across his own, giving me to understand such would be the result to us both on such an application to the rajah.

“It is the universal custom of the pirates, on this coast, to sell the people for slaves immediately on their arrival, the rajah taking for himself a few of the most useful, and receiving a percentage upon the purchase money of the remainder, with a moiety of the vessel and every article on board. European vessels are taken up the river, where they are immediately broken up. The situation of European prisoners is indeed dreadful in a climate like this, where even the labor of natives is intolerable; they are compelled to bear all the drudgery, and allowed a bare sufficiency of rice and salt to eat.””

EvX: After some pirating of the usual sort, the US government decided to do something about the mater:

“The government immediately adopted measures to punish so outrageous an act of piracy by despatching the frigate Potomac, Commodore Downs, Commander.”

EvX: Finally we have some events I can independently confirm. According to Wikipedia:

The First Sumatran expedition, which featured the Battle of Quallah Battoo (Aceh: Kuala Batèë, Malay: Kuala Batu) in 1832, was a punitive expedition by the United States Navy against the village of Kuala Batee (id), presently a subdistrict in Southwest Aceh Regency. The reprisal was in response to the massacre of the crew of the merchantmanFriendship a year earlier. The frigatePotomac and its crew defeated the local uleëbalang (ruler)’s forces and bombed the settlement. The expedition was successful in stopping Sumatran attacks on U.S. shipping for six years until another vessel was plundered under different circumstances, resulting in a second Sumatran expedition in 1838.

On Commodore Downs:

Downes served as acting midshipman from 9 September 1800 and was appointed midshipman 1 June 1802. He rendered distinguished service during the First Barbary War in 1804 in the frigate Congress, and distinguished himself again while a midshipman on the frigate New York in a boat attack upon Tripolitan feluccas.

In March 1807, he was made a lieutenant, and served as executive officer for Captain David Porter in Essex during her cruise in the Pacific in the War of 1812. In the Action off James Island, Downes was in command of the sloop Georgiana during the capture of three British privateers. He also participated in the Action off Charles Island before sailing to Nuku Hiva to assist in building America’s first military base in the Pacific. …

Wikipedia also makes some unsourced accusations:

Downes took command of USS Macedonian in 1818 and set forth on a three-year show of power for America to South America and beyond. On this trip, he decided to use the ship for his own enrichment and became a banking ship, giving protection, passage and banking service to privateers, pirates and others. He took large amounts for his own private use. He took at least 2.6 million in specie during his trip.

As for the Potomac:

On her first overseas cruise, Potomac departed New York 19 August 1831 for the Pacific Squadron via the Cape of Good Hope on the first Sumatran Expedition. On 6 February 1832, Potomac destroyed the town of Kuala Batee in retaliation for the capture there in February of the previous year of the American merchantman Friendship, which had been recaptured and returned to Salem to report the murder of many of her crew.[3] Of Potomacs 282 sailors and Marines who landed, two were killed while 150 natives died, including Mahomet, the chieftain.[4] After circumnavigating the world, Potomac returned to Boston 23 May 1834.

The frigate next made two cruises to the Brazil Station, protecting American interests in Latin America from 20 October 1834 to 5 March 1837, and from 12 May 1840 to 31 July 1842. From 8 December 1844 to 4 December 1845, she patrolled in the West Indies, and again from 14 March 1846 to 20 July 1847 in the Caribbean and the Gulf. During this latter period, she landed troops at Port Isabel, Texas, on 8 May 1846 in support of General Zachary Taylor’s army at the Battle of Palo Alto. She also participated in the siege of Vera Cruz, 9 to 28 March 1847.

But back to the Pirates:

USS Potomac in Valparaiso Harbor, 1834.

“The Potomac sailed from New York the 24th of August, 1831, after touching at Rio Janeiro and the Cape of Good Hope. She anchored off Quallah Battoo in February 1832, disguised as a Danish ship, and came to in merchantman style, a few men being sent aloft, dressed in red and blue flannel shirts, and one sail being clewed up and furled at a time.

“A reconnoitering party were sent on shore disguised as pepper dealers, but they returned without being able to ascertain the situations of the forts. The ship now presented a busy scene; it was determined to commence an attack upon the town the next morning, and every necessary preparation was accordingly made, muskets were cleaned, cartridge-boxes buckled on, cutlasses examined and put in order, etc.

“At twelve o’clock at night, all hands were called, those assigned to take part in the expedition were mustered, when Lieut. Shubrick, the commander of the detachment, gave them special orders; when they entered the boats and proceeded to the shore, where they effected a landing near the dawn of day, amid a heavy surf, about a mile and a half to the north of the town, undiscovered by the enemy, and without any serious accident having befallen them, though several of the party were thoroughly drenched by the beating of the surf, and some of their ammunition was injured.

“The troops then formed and took up their line of march against the enemy, over a beach of deep and heavy sand. They had not proceeded far before they were discovered by a native at a distance, who ran at full speed to give the alarm. A rapid march soon brought them up with the first fort, when a division of men, under the command of Lieut. Hoff, was detached from the main body, and ordered to surround it.

“The first fort was found difficult of access, in consequence of a deep hedge of thorn-bushes and brambles with which it was environed. The assault was commenced by the pioneers, with their crows and axes, breaking down the gates and forcing a passage. This was attended with some difficulty, and gave the enemy time for preparation. They raised their warwhoop, and resisted most manfully, fighting with spears, sabres, and muskets. They had also a few brass pieces in the fort, but they managed them with so little skill as to produce no effect, for the balls uniformly whizzed over the heads of our men.

U.S. Infantry assaulting the Acehnese forts at Kuala Batu in 1832

“The resistance of the Malays was in vain, the fort was stormed, and soon carried; not, however, till almost every individual in it was slain. Po Mahomet, a chief of much distinction, and who was one of the principal persons concerned in the outrage on the Friendship [an American ship whose capture prompted the expedition] was here slain; the mother of Chadoolah, another rajah, was also slain here; another woman fell at this port, but her rank was not ascertained; she fought with the spirit of a desperado. …

“Lieutenants Edson and Ferret proceeded to the rear of the town, and made a bold attack upon that fort, which, after a spirited resistance on the part of the Malays, surrendered. Both officers and marines here narrowly escaped with their lives. One of the natives in the fort had trained his piece in such a manner as to rake their whole body, when he was shot down by a marine while in the very act of applying a match to it. The cannon was afterwards found to have been filled with bullets.

“This fort, like the former, was environed with thick jungle, and great difficulty had been experienced in entering it. The engagement had now become general, and the alarm universal. Men, women and children were seen flying in every direction, carrying the few articles they were able to seize in the moments of peril, and some of the men were cut down in the flight. Several of the enemy’s proas, filled with people, were severely raked by a brisk fire from the six pounder, as they were sailing up the river to the south of the town, and numbers of the natives were killed.

“The third and most formidable fort was now attacked, and it proved the most formidable, and the co-operation of the several divisions was required for its reduction; but so spirited was the fire poured into it that it was soon obliged to yield, and the next moment the American colors were seen triumphantly waving over its battlements.

“The greater part of the town was reduced to ashes. The bazaar, the principal place of merchandize, and most of the private dwellings were consumed by fire. The triumph had now been completed over the Malays; ample satisfaction had been taken for their outrages committed upon our own countrymen, and the bugle sounded the return of the ship’s forces; and the embarkation was soon after effected. The action had continued about two hours and a half, and was gallantly sustained both by officers and men, from its commencement to its close.

“The loss on the part of the Malays was near a hundred killed, while of the Americans only two lost their lives. Among the spoils were a Chinese gong, a Koran, taken at Mahomet’s fort, and several pieces of rich gold cloth. Many of the men came off richly laden with spoils which they had taken from the enemy, such as rajah’s scarfs, gold and silver chunam boxes, chains, ear rings and finger rings, anklets and bracelets, and a variety of shawls, krisses richly hilted and with gold scabbards, and a variety of other ornaments. Money to a considerable amount was brought off.

“That nothing should be left undone to have an indelible impression on the minds of these people, of the power of the United States to inflict punishment for aggressions committed on her commerce, in seas however distant, the ship was got underway the following morning, and brought to, with a spring on her cable, within less than a mile of the shore, when the larboard side was brought to bear nearly upon the site of the town.

“The object of the Commodore, in this movement, was not to open an indiscriminate or destructive fire upon the town and inhabitants of Quallah Battoo, but to show them the irresistible power of thirty-two pound shot, and to reduce the fort of Tuca de Lama, which could not be reached on account of the jungle and stream of water, on the morning before, and from which a fire had been opened and continued during the embarkation of the troops on their return to the ship.

“The fort was very soon deserted, while the shot was cutting it to pieces, and tearing up whole cocoa-trees by the roots. In the afternoon a boat came off from the shore, bearing a flag of truce to the Commodore, beseeching him, in all the practised forms of submission of the east, that he would grant them peace, and cease to fire his big guns.

“Hostilities now ceased, and the Commodore informed them that the objects of his government in sending him to their shores had now been consummated in the punishment of the guilty, who had committed their piracies on the Friendship.

“Thus ended the intercourse with Quallah Battoo. The Potomac proceeded from this place to China, and from thence to the Pacific Ocean; after looking to the interests of the American commerce in those parts she arrived at Boston in 1834, after a three years’ absence.”

EvX: According to Wikipedia, Downes was harshly criticized upon returning to the US for killing so many people. Piracy did die down for 6 years, when the Eclipse was attacked, provoking the Second (and more effective) Sumatran Expedition:

In August 1838, the American trading vessel Eclipse was visiting the village of Trobongan, on Sumatra, when 24 Malays approached. The ship’s second mate allowed the Malays to board after they relieved themselves of their weapons. A few moments later the Americans returned the Malays their weapons as a sign of friendship. The Malays, now rearmed with knives and other bladed weapons, attacked the crew. First they killed the second mate and then one by one the remaining men. … News of the massacre reached CommodoreGeorge C. Read in December 1838 while he was sailing off Ceylon in command of the East India Squadron. Immediately Commodore Read in the frigateColumbia set sail southeast for Sumatra, together with the frigate John Adams. … 

The two American vessels first headed for Quallah Battoo. Once they had arrived, the two U.S. Navy vessels formed a line of battle just in range of five earth and wooden forts that protected the village and opened fire. Over an hour later all of the forts were destroyed or in shambles. The chief of the village surrendered and agreed never again to attack American ships. … Columbia and John Adams arrived off Muckie the following day. The Americans landed a force of 360 officers, marines and sailors, all under the command of Commander T.W. Wyman of the navy. … Although most of the inhabitants fled their village upon the outbreak of fighting, some of the Malay men attempted to resist the attack but were overwhelmed. Within a short time, Muckie was in flames. The landing party then returned to their ships and sailed away. The punitive expedition ended after the Muckie engagement, and Commodore Read continued his cruise around the world. The second Sumatran expedition achieved what the first expedition had not. Never again did Malays plunder an American merchant ship.

This Wikipedia article is unusually low on footnotes.

That’s all for today. Tune in next week, when Anthropology Friday will take a look at Melanesia.


Anthropology Friday: Indian Warriors and their Weapons, (4/4) the Blackfeet, Apache, and Navajo

Map of Algonquian Language Family distribution

Hey everyone, today we’re wrapping up our look at om Hofsinde Gray-Wolf’s account of Native American cultures in Indian Warriors and their Weapons, with a look at the Blackfeet, Apache, and Navajo.

The Blackfeet live primarily in Canada and partly in northern America, and speak an Algonquin language–Algonquin languages are (were) otherwise dominant primarily in eastern Canada and the US. The Apache and Navajo are related peoples from the American southwest who speak an Athabaskan language. The rest of the Athabaskan speakers, oddly, live primarily in northern Canada and inland Alaska (Inuit/Eskimo/Aleut cultures live on the Alaskan coasts.)

Map of Athabaskan Language Distribution

According to Wikipedia:

Historically, the member peoples of the [Blackfeet] Confederacy were nomadic bison hunters and trout fishermen, who ranged across large areas of the northern Great Plains of Western North America, specifically the semi-arid shortgrass prairie ecological region. They followed the bison herds as they migrated between what are now the United States and Canada, as far north as the Bow River. In the first half of the 18th century, they acquired horses and firearms from white traders and their Cree and Assiniboine go-betweens. The Blackfoot used these to expand their territory at the expense of neighboring tribes. Now riding horses, the Blackfoot and other Plains tribes could also extend the range of their buffalo hunts.

The systematic commercial bison hunting by white hunters in the 19th century nearly ended the bison herds and permanently changed Native American life on the Great Plains, since their primary food source was no longer abundant. Periods of starvation and deprivation followed, and the Blackfoot tribe was forced to adopt ranching and farming, settling in permanent reservations. In the 1870s, they signed treaties with both the United States and Canada, ceding most of their lands in exchange for annuities of food and medical aid, as well as help in learning to farm. Nevertheless, the Blackfoot have worked to maintain their traditional language and culture in the face of assimilationist policies of both the U.S. and Canada.

“Historically” as Wikipedia uses it here merely refers to “in the 17 and 1800s.” The Blackfeet’s linguistic cousins on the eastern coast of the US, such as Pocahontas of the Tsenacommacah or Squanto of the Patuxet, were settled, agriculturalist people who raised corn, squash, and beans. It seems likely that the Blackfeet were originally similarly agricultural, only moving out into the Great Plains and adopting their nomadic, buffalo-based lifestyle after European colonists introduced horses to the New World. Without horses, following the herds on foot would have been very difficult–though perhaps they managed it.

Alfred Jacob Miller, Hunting Buffalo

According to Hofsinde Gray-Wolf:

“The traditional enemies of the Blackfeet were the Shoshoni, the Assiniboine, the Cree, and especially the Crow. Hostilities between these tribes were kept alive by continued raids upon each other, usually for revenge or to steal horses.

“The Blackfeet gave their highest tribal honor to the brave who captured an enemy’s horse, weapons, or ceremonial gear. … Parents asked him to perform the naming ceremony for their newborn baby boy. He was elected to perform special services at rituals and social affairs. These services added to the man’s wealth.”

EvX: I wonder if anyone has attempted to replicate Napoleon Chagnon’s quantitative work on reproductive success among the Yanomamo with other tribal societies. I’d love to know if warriors were similarly successful among the Blackfeet, for example. Back to Hofsinde Gray-Wolf:

“In the early 1800s the Missouri Fur Company started to construct a post at the mouth of the Bighorn River in Crow country. The Blackfeet thought these white people had allied themselves with the Crow. That alone was enough to set the Blackfeet on the war trail against them. … Time and time again the white men were killed, and their guns, their personal belongings were taking. The Indians traded the furs to the British posts.

“After a few of these raids, most of the trappers gave up and were ready to seek their furs in less dangerous parts of the country. For years thereafter, few white men dared enter the Blackfeet country.”

According to Wikipedia:

Up until around 1730, the Blackfoot traveled by foot and used dogs to carry and pull some of their goods. They had not seen horses in their previous lands, but were introduced to them on the Plains, as other tribes, such as the Shoshone, had already adopted their use.[17]

Horses revolutionised life on the Great Plains and soon came to be regarded as a measure of wealth. Warriors regularly raided other tribes for their best horses. Horses were generally used as universal standards of barter. … An individual’s wealth rose with the number of horses accumulated, but a man did not keep an abundance of them. The individual’s prestige and status was judged by the number of horses that he could give away. …

After having driven the hostile Shoshone and Arapaho from the Northwestern Plains, the Niitsitapi began in 1800 a long phase of keen competition in the fur trade with their former Cree allies, which often escalated militarily. … by mid-century an adequate supply of horses became a question of survival. Horse theft was at this stage not only a proof of courage, but often a desperate contribution to survival, for many ethnic groups competed for hunting in the grasslands.

The Cree and Assiniboine continued horse raiding against the Gros Ventre … They had to withstand attacks of enemies with guns. In retaliation for Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) supplying their enemies with weapons, the Gros Ventre attacked and burned in 1793 South Branch House of the HBC on the South Saskatchewan River near the present village of St. Louis, Saskatchewan.

Meanwhile, further south:

“Long ago the Apache and Navaho tribes of the Southwest were once people. Between the years 1200 and 1400, these Indians came down from the far north of Canada and Alaska, following a route along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. The tribes lived in small family camps instead of permanent villages, and their personal belongings were meager. A little over 400 yeas ago the Navajo separated from their Apache brothers. …

“The Apache were raiders. They raided for food, clothing, horses, guns, and slaves. To them raiding was a business, and a dangerous business, but the Apache raider was a past master at commando tactics, and he did not take risks. … He tried not to kill those he raided. In Apache wars it was considered far better to take the enemy as slaves, and threby enlarge the tribe.”

EvX: It appears that the constant warfare had such a debilitating effect on tribal numbers that many tribes ended up relying on captives to keep their own numbers steady–though we must keep in mind that these tribes had also suffered unimaginable losses due to Western diseases. I have seen estimates that as much as 90% of the Indian population had already died before whites arrived in significant numbers in America, simply because their diseases spread much faster than they did.

Here is Wikipedia’s account of early Navajo history:

The Navajos are speakers of a Na-Dené Southern Athabaskan language … It is closely related to the Apache language, as the Navajos and Apaches are believed to have migrated from northwestern Canada and eastern Alaska, where the majority of Athabaskan speakers reside.[4] Speakers of various other Athabaskan languages located in Canada may still comprehend the Navajo language despite the geographic and linguistic deviation of the languages.[5]

Archaeological and historical evidence suggests the Athabaskan ancestors of the Navajos and Apaches entered the Southwest around 1400 CE.[7][8] The Navajo oral tradition is said to retain references of this migration.[citation needed]

Until contact with Pueblos and the Spanish, the Navajos were largely hunters and gatherers. The tribe adopted crop-farming techniques from the Pueblo peoples, growing mainly corn, beans, and squash. When the Spanish arrived, the Navajos began herding sheep and goats* as a main source of trade and food, with meat becoming an essential component of the Navajo diet. Sheep also became a form of currency and status symbols among the Navajos based on the overall quantity of herds a family maintained.[9][10] In addition, the practice of spinning and weaving wool into blankets and clothing became common and eventually developed into a form of highly valued artistic expression.

*Note that sheep and goats are not native to the Americas.

Geronimo, chief of the Apache

I find this progression of economic systems fascinating. Here we have three groups–first a group of Athabaskan hunter-gatherers decided, for unknown reasons, to leave their frigid, far northern homeland and migrate to the baking heat of the American Southwest. (Perhaps they were driven out of their original homes by the arrival of the Inuit/Eskimo?) Here they encountered already established Pueblo peoples, who IIRC are related to the Aztecs of Mexico, an advanced civilization. The Pueblo people built cities and raised crops, a lifestyle the Athabaskan newcomers started adopting, or at least trading with.

Then the Spaniards arrived, with their domesticated animals. One group of Athabaskans, the Navajo, decided to adopt sheep and goats, becoming pastoralist/agriculturalists. Another group, the Apache, decided to adopt the horse and fully realize their hunter-gatherer potential.

But back to Hofsinde Gray-Wolf:

“Although the Apache method of attack was devious, it was not cowardly. Cochise, with less than two hundred warriors, held off the United States army for more than ten years. He was a great leader and did not risk the life of any of his warriors in attacks on wagon trains or supply trains. He did not even attack small caravan patrols outright; instead he literally wore them down.

“A typical attack followed this pattern: from high on the rocks and cliffs an Apache band followed a group of white travelers, showing themselves from time to time, then silently vanishing again. Ahead and behind them the travelers saw smoke rising from signal fire, never knowing what i might mean. With the Apaches trailing them night and day, the nerves of the white men became frayed. They had little time for rest and even less for sleep. Water holes were few and far between, and when they finally reached one, it was usually occupied by hostile Apache. … When at long last nerves had been strained to the breaking point… it was time to expect a raid. …

“The Apache were excellent horsemen, and small groups of them were able to raid and terrorize large areas. These raids, thefts, and captures lasted for two hundred years. Only after the Americans arrived around 1850 was any attempt made to stop them, and this effort took forty years.

“When the Apache first migrated into the Southwest, one weapon they possessed was the arctic-type bow. It was of Asiatic origin, and far superior to any bow then made in their new homeland. …

“The sign of the cross existed in much of the Apache symbolism, but it held no Christian meaning for them. It represented the four cardinal points and the four winds. Thus a warrior painted a cross on the foot of his moccasins before he went into strange country, in hopes that it would keep him from becoming lost. …

“As early as 1538 a Spanish priest wrote about the Navaho and called them Apache del Navahu. …

“Even Navaho women went to war, and thereby gained high positions within the tribe. War usually meant a raid on one of the peaceful Pueblo tribes or on a Mexican village. …

“Raids on other tribes were conducted primarily to capture slaves. … Unlike the Apache, they did not torture their captives, though at times they did take scalps.”

EvX: This brings us to the end of this series; I hope you have enjoyed it, not just for the glances back at the history of the peoples of America (and Canada,) but also for a look at the sort of books children in the 50s were reading.


Anthropology Friday: Indian Warriors and their Weapons (3/4) the Sioux

Chief Sitting Bull, Lakota Sioux, ca 1831 – 1890

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’ll be looking at the Sioux Indians, from Hofsinde Gray-Wolf’s series about Native American culture with selections from Indian Warriors and their Weapons. According to Wikipedia, there are about 170,000 Sioux alive today, primarily the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota. (I’m going to hazard a guess that Da, La, and Na are prefixes that refer to directions or locations.)

Hofsinde Gray-Wolf begins the section on the Sioux with an entertaining (but too long to recount here) story about a Sioux scout who spots some Pawnee hunting on Sioux land. A band of Sioux warriors pursues and surprises the Pawnee, getting the upper hand on them. Wikipedia notes:

Author and historian Mark van de Logt wrote: “Although military historians tend to reserve the concept of “total war” for conflicts between modern industrial nations, the term nevertheless most closely approaches the state of affairs between the Pawnees and the Sioux and Cheyennes. Both sides directed their actions not solely against warrior-combatants but against the people as a whole. Noncombatants were legitimate targets. … It is within this context that the military service of the Pawnee Scouts must be viewed.”[16]

The battle of Massacre Canyon on August 5, 1873, was the last major battle between the Pawnee and the Sioux.[17]

Air burial of a Sioux chieftain

On Massacre Canyon:

The Massacre Canyon Battle took place on August 5, 1873, in Hitchcock County, Nebraska. It was one of the last battles between the Pawnee and the Sioux (or Lakota) and the last large-scale battle between Native American tribes in the area of the present-day United States of America.[2] The battle occurred when a combined Oglala/Brulé Sioux war party of over 1000 warriors attacked a party of Pawnee on their summer buffalo hunt. More than 60 Pawnees died, mostly women and children. Along with the assault on Pawnee chief Blue Coat’s village in 1843, this battle range among “the bloodiest attacks by the Sioux” in Pawnee history.[3] …

John Williamson (23), was assigned as the Pawnee trail-agent at the Genoa Agency, the Pawnee reservation, and accompanied the Pawnee on their hunt. He wrote his recollections of the battle decades after the incident.[24]

“On the fourth day of August we reached the north bank of the Republican River and went into camp. At 9 o’clock that evening, three white men came into camp and reported to me that a large band of Sioux warriors were camped 25 miles [40 km] northwest, waiting for an opportunity to attack the Pawnees for several days, anticipating that we would move up the river where buffaloes were feeding. Previous to this, white men visited us and warned us to be on our guard against Sioux attacks, and I was a trifle skeptical as to the truth of the story told by our white visitors. But one of the men, a young man about my age at the time, appeared to be so sincere in his efforts to impress upon me that the warning should be heeded, that I took him to Sky Chief who was in command that day, for a conference. Sky Chief said the men were liars; that they wanted to scare the Pawnees away from the hunting grounds so that white men could kill buffaloes for hides. He told me I was squaw and a coward. I took exception to his remarks, and retorted: ‘I will go as far as you dare go. Don’t forget that.’

Chief Bone Necklace an Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (1899)

“The following morning August 5, we broke camp and started north, up the divide between the Republican and the Frenchman Rivers. Soon after leaving camp, Sky Chief rode up to me and extending his hand said, ‘Shake, brother.’ He recalled our little unpleasantness the night previous and said he did not believe there was cause for alarm, and was so impressed with the belief that he had not taken the precaution to throw out scouts in the direction the Sioux were reported to be. A few minutes later a buffalo scout signaled that buffaloes had been sighted in the distance, and Sky Chief rode off to engage in the hunt. I never saw him again. He had killed a buffalo and was skinning it when the advance guard of the Sioux shot and wounded him. The Chief attempted to reach his horse, but before he was able to mount, several of the enemy surrounded him. He died fighting. A Pawnee, who was skinning a buffalo a short distance away, but managed to escape, told me how Sky Chief died.” …

The whites rode up the canyon in the afternoon. “The first body we came upon was that of a woman”, remembered Platt.[32] Army doctor David Franklin Powell described the march up the battleground, “We advanced from the mouth of the ravine to its head and found fifty-nine dead Pawnees …”.[33] A number of the killed women lay naked. “Although the Pawnees made a stand and fought through the day, over a hundred were wounded, killed, or raped and mutilated”.[34]

(So much for “Primitive people were peaceful and never made war.”)

The last week of August, Williamson was back in Massacre Canyon. He covered the dead with dirt broken down from the banks.[43] …

This incident, in particular, caused the government nationwide to intensify “its efforts to keep the Indians confined to their reservation” in an endeavor to curtail intertribal warfare.[49] On local level, Major General George Crook “dispatched a small force” to protect the Pawnee Agency. The presence of troops did not stop the Sioux Raids.[50]

It would take half a century, before the Pawnee and the Sioux smoked the pipe of peace during the Massacre Canyon Pow Wow in 1925.[51]

Note that there were also wars between whites and Sioux, EG the Dakota War.

Scalp dance of the Minitarres

But back to Hofsinde Gray-Wolf:

“On their return to the Sioux encampment the men rode around the village. They had lost only warrior and only one other was wounded, so there was great jubilation. …

“In the evening a victory dance was held. The victory dance was also called a scalp dance because during it the warriors displayed the scalps they had taken. Afterwards the scalps were burned. … Those men who had earned coups in the battle had prepared their coup feathers before the dance. Two of the warriors wore and eagle feather standing upright behind their head. To the tip of the feather they had tied a tuft of horsehair, dyed brilliant red. Those coup feathers were of the highest order and showed that the wearers had, without any weapons in their hands, ridden in among the enemy. … they had dared to ride close enough to strike warriors with their bare hands. … One warrior hand a notch cut into the edge of his feather, and by this sign everyone knew that he had cut an enemy throat. …

“When he had won thirty coup feathers, a Sioux had earned the right to wear a full war bonnet.”

Chief Mato-tope of the Sioux in his headdress

EvX: One of the men in the band is considered a coward, and publicly shamed:

“Suddenly three older women stepped out of the dark outer circle. Each had been widowed when her husband had been killed in battle. Each had been left crying when her son had followed his father to the land beyond. … the middle woman carried a full war bonnet before her. …they turned their steps directly toward the great boaster, the toucher of dead enemies, and to him they presented the bonnet. …

“Would the coward run out of the circle? If he did, he would be banned forever from the tribe and become an outcast. If he accepted the bonnet, he wold have to go on the war trail at once, not returning until he could bring back proof that he was a man and a warrior. …

“Very slowly, he reached for the bonnet, took it, and with bowed head left the circle.

“There was one other way in which a bonnet could be given as a challenge. from time to time, for various reason, two families within the tribe feud. Each family always tried to get the better of the other, especially in public. These feuds could last a long time before they came to a climax. On a night when the tribe had gathered for a dance, a member of one of the feuding families might step forward and present a bonnet to the young son of the other lodge.

“The challenge was a brutal one, for it offered no escape. The youth had to join the next war party that was formed. …

“War societies, which were somewhat like men’s club, existed among the various tribes. The members were warriors of proven merit, and they were usually grouped by age. Often the members of a war society carried shields bearing the same designs, and on the war trail they gave the same war cry. …

Pehriska-Ruhpa of the Dog Society of the Hidatsa tribe of Native Americans

“Among the Plains Indians the best bow makers were the Sioux and the Crow. …

“A lance bent at the top like a shepherd’s crook and wrapped in otter fur was the insignia of the Dog Soldiers, the Sioux tribal police. This society, made up of the bravest men of the village, ran the buffalo hunts, making sure no one started toward the herd until the proper signal was given. The members kept an eye on the sometimes hotheaded young men, to prevent hem from sneaking out of camp on horse-raiding expeditions. They kept order during ceremonies and, in general, acted to enforce the tribal laws.

“In battle the Dog Soldiers held the foremost position. …

“When the tied of battle turned against them, these great warriors dismounted and jabbed the sharp point of their lance through the trailing sash [that they wore.] Anchored to the ground by it, a Dog Soldier stood and fought to the end. Only a man of his own tribe could free him, and one who freed himself would be forever disgraced and dishonored. …

Sioux horse racing

EvX: Among Indians, the Sioux and tribes similar to them seem closest to our stereotypical idea of the “Wild West Indian.”

To be continued…

Anthropology Friday Hofsinde Gray-Wolf’s Indian Warriors and their Weapons (1/4) Ojibwe

Robert Hofsinde Gray-Wolf

Hello everyone, today we’re continuing with Hofsinde Gray-Wolf’s series of books about Native American culture. Today we are reading Indian Warriors and their Weapons.

I am sure every anthropologist has a cultural first love; for me, it was Indians. (Yes, I know, Indians have many cultures.) Such childish love, of course, must eventually encounter adult realities: Indians no longer live like their romanticized ancestors, just as whites no longer live like characters out of a Little House on the Prairie novel. But it is still good to remember what once was and how people once lived. There has been a great deal of forgetting, lately, and I don’t think that is a good thing at all.

(As usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability.)

From Indian Warriors:

historical range of Ojibwe-language speakng peoples

“The Indians known today as the Ojibwa, or Chippewa, originally called themselves Anishinabe. …

“The Ojibwa lived in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, and they were the largest tribe in that region. Others were the Fox, Sioux, and the Cheyenne Indians, and the Iroquois invaded the territory from time to time, too. Each of these tribes wanted the best hunting and fishing areas, as well as possession of streams where wild rice grew, and they were willing to fight for these rights They also went on the war trail to get revenge or to gain personal honor …

“After the Ojibwa obtained firearms from the French around 1664, they drove the Cheyenne and the Sioux west across the Mississippi River. They drove the Fox to the south. A battle is recorded in which twenty-seven Ojibwa fought off more than one hundred Sioux.”

EvX: According to Wikipedia:

The first historical mention of the Ojibwe occurs in the French Jesuit Relation of 1640, a report by the missionary priests to their superiors in France. Through their friendship with the French traders (coureurs des bois and voyageurs), the Ojibwe gained guns, began to use European goods, and began to dominate their traditional enemies, the Lakota and Fox to their west and south. They drove the Sioux from the Upper Mississippi region to the area of the present-day Dakotas, and forced the Fox down from northern Wisconsin. The latter allied with the Sauk for protection.

By the end of the 18th century, the Ojibwe controlled nearly all of present-day Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and Minnesota, including most of the Red River area. They also controlled the entire northern shores of lakes Huron and Superior on the Canadian side and extending westward to the Turtle Mountains of North Dakota. In the latter area, the French Canadians called them Ojibwe or Saulteaux.

The Ojibwe (Chippewa) were part of a long-term alliance with the Anishinaabe Ottawa and Potawatomi peoples, called the Council of Three Fires. They fought against the Iroquois Confederacy, based mainly to the southeast of the Great Lakes in present-day New York, and the Sioux to the west. The Ojibwe expanded eastward, taking over the lands along the eastern shores of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.

“In spring and summer the foliage of trees and bushes helped to shield the warriors as they approached their enemies, so these seasons were the usual ones for making war. An Ojibwa small war party was usually made up of volunteers, who gathered under a good leader…

“The Ojibwa early allied themselves with the French. First they supplied them with furs, and later they fought with them against the English. An Ojibwa could get a good flintlock gun at a French trading post for two beaver pelts. The English, however, were not as generous with their allies, the Iroquois and the Sioux.

“Personal bravery was not lacking among the Ojibwa. In one case, which is recorded, a small group of hunters were attacked by a large number of Sioux. Telling his companions to flee, one of the Ojibwa took a stand behind a fallen tree, and there he held back the Sioux as he sent arrow after arrow in their direction… His friends managed to escape, but at last one of the Sioux warriors’ arrows found its mark, killing the Ojibwa. When the escaping Ojibwa returned to their own village they raised a war party, as was customary, and they avenged the death of the lone Ojibwa soon after. …

Hereby it is manifest that, during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against every man. — Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, chapter 13, 1651

Five Ojibwe chiefs photographed in the 19th century.

EvX: 1651 is a long time ago, but note that Europeans had first encountered Native Americans just over 150 years before–plenty of time for accounts of native lifestyles to be widely read in Europe.

“During the spring and summer the Ojibwa held their dances as well as making war…

“At these dances the Ojibwa appeared in their finest costumes. In early days they painted designs on their garments. Later they embroidered them with moose hair, and finally they decorated them with the imported trade beads. By the early 1800s costumes were made of black and dark-blue velvet and broadcloth. On the dark background flower-and-leaf designs, made with beads of light and dark green light blue, shades of red and pink, white, and lavender, and yellow, looked striking and colorful.”

EvX: Before we leave the Ojibwa, here’s a bit more from Wikipedia:

The Ojibwe, Ojibwa, or Chippewa are an Anishinaabeg group of indigenous peoples in North America. … In Canada, they are the second-largest First Nations population, surpassed only by the Cree. In the United States, they have the fourth-largest population among Native American tribes, surpassed only by the Navajo, Cherokee, and Lakota-Dakota-Nakota peoples. …

The majority of the Ojibwe people live in Canada. There are 77,940 mainline Ojibwe; 76,760 Saulteaux and 8,770 Mississaugas, organized in 125 bands, and living from western Quebec to eastern British Columbia. As of 2010, Ojibwe in the US census population is 170,742.[1]

Ojibwe are known for their birch barkcanoes, birch bark scrolls, mining and trade in copper, and cultivation of wild rice. Their Midewiwin Society is well respected as the keeper of detailed and complex scrolls of events, oral history, songs, maps, memories, stories, geometry, and mathematics.[2]

The Ojibwe people set the agenda with European-Canadian leaders by signing detailed treaties before they allowed many European settlers into their western areas. In 1745, they adopted guns from the British to defeat the Dakota people in the Lake Superior area, pushing them to the south and west. …

They developed a form of pictorial writing, used in religious rites of the Midewiwin and recorded on birch bark scrolls and possibly on rock. The many complex pictures on the sacred scrolls communicate much historical, geometrical, and mathematical knowledge. The use of petroforms, petroglyphs, and pictographs was common throughout the Ojibwe traditional territories. Petroforms and medicine wheels were a way to teach the important concepts of four directions and astronomical observations about the seasons, and to use as a memorizing tool for certain stories and beliefs.

example of an Ojibwa / Ojibwe Indian birch bark scroll piece or Wiigwaasabak with drawings

It would be nice if Wikipedia added some dates or sources for this paragraph, but the page on Midewiwin notes:

Early accounts of the Mide from books written in the 1800s describe a group of elders that protected the birch bark scrolls in hidden locations. They recopied the scrolls if any were badly damaged, and they preserved them underground. … The historical areas of the Ojibwe were recorded, and stretched from the east coast all the way to the prairies by way of lake and river routes. Some of the first maps of rivers and lakes were made by the Ojibwe and written on birch bark.

The Teachings of the Midewiwin were scratched on birch bark scrolls and were shown to the young men upon entrance into the society. Although these were crude pictographs representing the ceremonies, they show us that the Ojibwa were advanced in the development of picture ‘writing.’ Some of them were painted on bark. One large birch bark roll was ‘known to have been used in the Midewiwin at Mille Lacs for five generations and perhaps many generations before’,[6] and two others, found in a seemingly deliberate hiding place in the Head-of-the-Lakes region of Ontario,[7] were carbon-dated to about 1560 CE +/-70.[8]

Back in the main Wikipedia article on the Ojibwe, it is claimed:

Often, treaties known as “Peace and Friendship Treaties” were made to establish community bonds between the Ojibwe and the European settlers. These established the groundwork for cooperative resource-sharing between the Ojibwe and the settlers. The United States and Canada viewed later treaties offering land cessions as offering territorial advantages. The Ojibwe did not understand the land cession terms in the same way because of the cultural differences in understanding the uses of land. The governments of the US and Canada considered land a commodity of value that could be freely bought, owned and sold.

The Ojibwe believed it was a fully shared resource, along with air, water and sunlight—despite having an understanding of “territory”. At the time of the treaty councils, they could not conceive of separate land sales or exclusive ownership of land. Consequently, today, in both Canada and the US, legal arguments in treaty-rights and treaty interpretations often bring to light the differences in cultural understanding of treaty terms to come to legal understanding of the treaty obligations.[11]

You hear this notion that “Indians had no concept of land ownership” quite often. But if so, why bother to go to war against the Dakotas, and push them out of their lands? If I maybe a bit cynical, perhaps it’s a matter of “I understand this concept perfectly well when it is beneficial, and am suddenly unable to understand it when it is not.”

To be continued…


Does the Bronze Age Herald a Major Transformation in Human Dispersal Patterns?

Humans–Homo Sapiens or Anatomically Modern Humans–have been around for about 200,000 years. We have only recently–for the past few thousand years or so–begun making a serious effort at recording human history and figuring out what happened before our own times.

Most of what we know about major migrations and changes among human populations come from three major sources: written records, archaeology, and genetics.

Written records are (usually) the easiest to work with. We know when the Spaniards discovered Cuba because we have written records of the event, for example. Unfortunately, written records go back only a few thousand years–covering a teeny portion of human history–and can be highly unreliable. After all, we thought the entire world was only 6 thousand years old for a while because a book that seemed to say so.

Archaeology lets us peer much further back than written records, but with much less detail. We don’t know a lot, for example, about the folks who made Aurignacian tools–what they called themselves, what sort of rituals they had, what they hoped or dreamed of. Without those details, it’s hard to care much about one culture or another. After a while, pots blend into pots, stone tools into stone tools.

Can you tell which one is Aurignacian, and which is Gravettian?

Gravettian tool Aurignacian tool Mousterian tool

(Oh, I threw in a Mousterian tool, as well. Those were made by Neanderthals, not H. sapiens.)

I can’t, either.

It is difficult to tell whether a change in artifacts between one layer and the next reflects a change in people or a change in technology. The proliferation of steel artifacts in the archaeological record in Mexico circa 1500 reflects an influx of new people, but the proliferation of television sets in the future-archaeological record of my area merely reflects a technological development. Finding a lot of mass graves in an area is, of course, a tip-off that invasion and replacement happened, but invasions aren’t always accompanied by easily identified mass-internments.

This is where genetics comes in. If we can find some skeletons and sequence their DNA, and then find some later or earlier skeletons in the same area and sequence their DNA, then we can get a pretty good idea of whether or not the later people are descended from the earlier people. This probably doesn’t always work (if the people in question are under some kind of selective pressure–which we all are–then their descendants might look genetically different from their ancestors simply due to evolution rather than replacement,) but it is a pretty darn good tool.

As I discussed back in “Oops, Looks Like it was People, not Pots,” archaeologists have fiercely debated over the decades whether the replacement of Narva Pots with Corded Ware Pots circa 3750 ago represented a population replacement or just a change in pot-making preferences:

Corded Ware Pots      Narva Pot

Corded Ware on the left, Narva on the right.

Luckily for us, genetics has now figured out that the Corded Ware people are actually the Yamnaya, aka the Proto-Indo-Europeans, and that they expanded out of the Eurasian Steppe about 4,000 years ago, replacing much of the native population as they went.

So it’s starting to look like there were quite a few conquering events of this sort.

From, A recent bottleneck of Y chromosome diversity coincides with a global change in culture
From, A recent bottleneck of Y chromosome diversity coincides with a global change in culture
from A Handful of Bronze Age Men Could have fathered two-thirds of Europeans
from A Handful of Bronze Age Men Could have fathered two-thirds of Europeans

In general, if you see a lot of mtDNA and only a little Y-DNA, that means there were a lot of women around and only a few men. And that generally means those men just killed all of the other men and raped their wives and children.

Which appears to have happened on a massive scale throughout much of the world around 10,000-4,000 years ago.

Just off the top of my head, recent large-scale migrations and at least partial replacements include the arrival of Indians in Australia around 4,230 years ago; replacement of the Thule people by the Inuit (aka Dorset aka Eskimo) around 1,000 ago; successive waves of steppe peoples like the Turks and Mongols invading their neighbors; the Great Bantu Migration that began about 3,500 years ago; the spread of Polynesians through areas formerly controlled by Melanesians starting around 3,000 BC; displacement of the Ainu by the Japanese over the past couple thousand years; etc.

The genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic
Replacement of the Thule by the Dorset, from The genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic
Paths of the great Bantu Migration
Paths of the great Bantu Migration
Map is in French. Negative numbers are years BC; positive numbers are years CE.
Map is in French. Negative numbers are years BC; positive numbers are years CE.

And of course, we know of many more recent migrations, like the one kicked off by Columbus.

So it looks like people have moved around a lot over the past 10,000 years.

Terms like “bronze age” are a little problematic because people adopted different technologies at different times. So the “bronze age” began around 5,300 years ago in the Middle East, 4,000 years ago in Ireland, and skipped the Inuit entirely (they basically went straight from stone and bone tools to guns.)

Agriculture emerged in the Middle East circa 11,500 years ago; followed by the wheel, 8,500 years ago; carts, 6,500 years ago; and domesticated horses about 6,000 years ago. These technologies made the world ripe for warfare–riders on horseback or in chariots were great at conquering, and agricultural settlements, with their large population centers and piles of food, were great for conquering.

Our conventional views of prehistory are tainted, I suspect, by a mis-perception of time. This is probably basically a quirk of perception–since we remember yesterday better than the day before yesterday, and that day better than last week, and last week better than last year, we tend to think of more recent time periods as longer than they really are, and older time periods as relatively shorter. Children are most prone to this; ask a child to make a numberline showing events like “Last week, my last birthday, the year I was born, and the year mommy was born,” and you’ll tend to get a very distorted number line. Grown ups are much better at this task (we can count the time-distance between these events,) but we’re not perfect.

We show this same tendency when thinking about human history. Our written documents barely go back past 3,000 years, and as far as most people are concerned, this is the beginning of “history”. Nevermind that humans have been around for 200,000 years–that’s 197,000 years of human history that we tend to condense down to: humans evolved, left Africa, and invented agriculture–then came us. We tend to mentally assign approximately equal chunks of time to each phase, which leads to things like people thinking that the Basques–who speak a language isolate–are an ancient, archaic people who hail directly from the first humans, or Neanderthals, or somesuch. Neanderthals disappeared around 40,000 years, and the Indo-European language expansion probably cut the Basques off from their fellow-language speakers about 3,000 years ago. Of course, the Basques could have been cut off since the Neanderthal age, but that’s a jump of 37,000 years (or more) on very little evidence. Likewise, we tend to assume that people just spread out from their original African homeland, got to where they were going, sat down, and never moved again. With the exception of Columbus and his European co-ethnics, everyone is sort of assumed to have gotten where they are now about 100,000-40,000 years ago. (Or the equivalent time period for people who think humanity is much younger or older than it is.)

But the emerging picture is one of conquering–lots of conquering, at least in the time periods we’ve been able to get details on. But go back more than 10,000 years or so, and the records start petering out. We’ve got no writing, far fewer artifacts, and even the DNA breaks down. The technology we’ve developed for extracting and sequencing ancient DNA is amazing, but I suspect we’ll have a devil of a time trying to find any well-preserved 40,000 year old DNA in the rainforest.

So what did the human story look like between 200,000 and 10,000 years ago? Have humans been conquering and re-conquering each other from the beginning? Is it ethnic group after ethnic group, all the way down? Or did lower population density in the pre-agricultural era make it easier to spread out and avoid one’s neighbors than to bother fighting with them? Certainly armies would have spread much less slowly before the domestication of the horse and invention of the chariot. (Not to mention that they require quite a bit of food, which is a tough sort of thing to get in large, easily-transportable form if you’re a hunter-gatherer.)

Certainly prehistoric peoples slaughtered (or slaughter) each other with great frequency–we can tell that:


It doesn’t take a lot of technology to go put a spear into your neighbor’s chest. Even bands of chimps go smash other bands of chimps to bits with rocks.

We also have genetic evidence emerging from further back, ie, An Older Layer of Eurasian Admixture in Africa. As Dienekes summarises:

The authors propose that a genetic component found in Horn of Africa populations back-migrated to Africa from Eurasia ~23 thousand years ago. … For a time, there was a taboo against imagining back-migration into Africa; in a sense this was reasonable on parsimony grounds: Africans have most autosomal genetic diversity and the basal clades of mtDNA and Y-chromosomes; a model with Out-of-Africa is simpler than one with both Out-of and Into-Africa. However, we now know that pretty much all Africans have Eurasian ancestry, ranging from at least traces in theYoruba and Pygmies (to account for the Neandertal admixture) to intermediate values in East Africans, to quite  a lot in North Africans.

Eurasian admixture in Africa seems to be general, variable, and to have occurred at different time scales. It’s still the best hypothesis that modern humans originated in Africa initially and migrated into Eurasia. However, it is no longer clear that Africa was always the pump and never the destination of human migrations.

Whether this was “conquering” or just wandering remains to be discovered.

As for me, my money’s on horses and agriculture making warfare and dispersal faster and more efficient, not fundamentally changing our human proclivities toward our neighbors.

These are a few of my favorite things (Indian DNA)


People often make the mistake of over-generalizing other people. We speak of “Indians,” “Native Americans,” or better yet, “Indigenous Peoples,” as though one couldn’t tell the difference between a Maori and an Eskimo; as though only two undifferentiated blocks of humanity existed, everywhere on the globe: noble first people who moved into the area thousands upon thousands of years ago, sat down, and never moved again, and evil invaders who showed up yesterday.

In reality, Group A has conquered and replaced Group B and been conquered and replaced in turn by Group C since time immemorial. Sometimes the conquered group gets incorporated into the new group, and years down the line we can still find their DNA in their descendants. At other times, all that’s left is an abrupt transition in the archeological record between one set of artifacts and skull types and another.

Even “Indigenous” peoples have been migrating, conquering and slaughtering each other since time immemorial. The only difference between them and Europeans is that the Europeans did it more recently and while white.

When we take a good look at the Indians’ DNA, we find evidence of multiple invasion waves, some of them genocidal. The Sururi, Pima, and Chippewyans are clearly distinct, as are the Eskimo and Aleuts:

DNA of the Eskimos and related peoples
DNA of the Eskimos and related peoples
DNA of the Aleuts and related peoples
DNA of the Aleuts and related peoples

(all of the charts are from Haak et al’s charts:

Click for full size

Please note that Haak’s chart and the chart I have at the top of the blog use different colors to represent the same things; genetic admixture of course does not have any inherent color, so the choice of colors is entirely up to the person making the graph.)

The Karitiana are one of those mixed horticulturalist/hunter-gatherer tribes from deep in the Amazon Rainforest who have extremely little contact with the outside world and are suspected of having Denisovan DNA and thus being potentially descended from an ancient wave of Melanesians who either got to the Americas first, or else very mysteriously made it to the rainforest without leaving significant genetic traces elsewhere. I’m going with they got here first, because that explanation makes more sense.

The Pima People of southern Arizona had extensive trade and irrigation networks, and are believed to be descended from the Hohokam people, who lived in the same area and also built and maintained irrigation networks and cities, and are probably generally related to the Puebloan Peoples, who also built cities in the South West. An observer wrote about the Puebloans:

When these regions were first discovered it appears that the inhabitants lived in comfortable houses and cultivated the soil, as they have continued to do up to the present time. Indeed, they are now considered the best horticulturists in the country, furnishing most of the fruits and a large portion of the vegetable supplies that are to be found in the markets. They were until very lately the only people in New Mexico who cultivated the grape. They also maintain at the present time considerable herds of cattle, horses, etc. They are, in short, a remarkably sober and industrious race, conspicuous for morality and honesty, and very little given to quarrelling or dissipation … Josiah Gregg, Commerce of the Prairies: or, The journal of a Santa Fé trader, 1831–1839

Linguistically, the Pima speak an Uto-Aztecan language, connecting them with the Soshoni to the north, Hopi to the east, and the Aztecs to the south (and even further south, since the family is also spoken in Equador):

Map of Uto-Aztecan language distribution
Map of Uto-Aztecan language distribution

The Aztecs, as you probably already know, had a large empire with cities, roads, trade, taxes, etc.

In other words, the Pima were far more technologically advanced than the Karitiana, which suggests that the arrow of conquering here goes from Pima-related people to Karitiana-related people, rather than the other way around.

Now, obviously, the Pima did not travel down to Bolivia, kill a bunch of Karitiana people living in Bolivia, rape their women, and then head back to Arizona. More likely, the ancestors of the Karitiana once lived throughout much of South and Central America, and perhaps even further afield. The ancestors of the Pima then invaded, killing a bunch of the locals and incorporating a few of their women into their tribes. The Karitiana managed to survive in the rainforest due to the rainforest being very difficult to conquer, and the Pima failed to mix with other groups due to being the only guys interested in living in the middle of the Arizona desert.

The Chipewyan people (not to be confused with the Chippewa people, aka the Ojibwe,) live in northwest Canada and eastern Alaska, and are members of the Na-Dene Language family:


Map of Chipewyan Language Distribution
Map of Na-Dene Language family Distribution

Those guys in the southern branch of the family are the Navajos and Apache. These languages are speculated to be linked to Siberian languages like the Yeniseian.

(I think the Chilote people are from Chile.)

The Algonquin people (of whom the Ojibwe are part,) come from the North East US and Canada:

Map of Algonquian Language Family distribution
Map of Algonquian Language Family distribution

There also exist a couple of languages on the California coast which appear to be related to the Algonquin Family, possibly a case of Survival on the Fringes as a new wave of invaders migrated from the Bering Strait.

The Algonquins appear to have been semi-nomadic semi-horticulturalists. They grew corn and squash and beans, and also moved around hunting game and gathering wild plants as necessary.

Where we see red admixture in Haak’s graph, that means Siberian people. Where we see dark blue + orange + teal, that’s typical European. Most likely this means that the Algonquins in Haak’s data have some recent European ancestors due to a lot of inter-marriage happening over the past few hundred years in their part of the world. (The Chipewyans live in a much more isolated part of the continent.) However, some of that DNA might also have come with them when they migrated to North America years and yeas ago, due to their ancient Siberian ancestors having merged with an off-shoot of the same groups that modern Europeans are descended from. This is a likely explanation for the Aleuts and Tlingit peoples, whose dark blue and teal patches definitely look similar to those of other Siberian peoples. (Although, interestingly, they lack the red. Maybe the red was a later addition, or just didn’t make it over there in as large quantities.)

The Eskimo I have spoken of before; they appear to have wiped out everyone else in their immediate area. They live around the coastal rim of Alaska and northern Canada.

The Aleuts likely represent some kind of merger between the Eskimo and other Siberian peoples.


My summary interpretation:

Wave One: The Green People. Traces of their DNA appear to be in the Ojibwe, Eskimos, and Chileans, so they may have covered most of North and South America at one time.

Wave Two: The Pink People. They wiped out the vast majority of the Green people throughout North America, but as migration thinned their numbers, they ended up intermarrying instead of killing some of the Greens down in Central and South America.

The Green People only survived in any significant numbers deep in the rainforest, where the Pink People couldn’t reach. These Greens became the Karitiana.

Wave Three: The Brown people. These guys wiped out all of the Pink people in northwest Canada and Alaska, but as migration to the east thinned their numbers, they had to inter-marry with the local Pinks. This mixed group became the Algonquins, while the unmixed Browns became the Chipewyans.

Few Browns managed to push their way south, either because they just haven’t had enough time, or because they aren’t suited to the hotter climate. Either way, most of the Pink People went unconquered to the south, allowing the Pima and their neighbors to flourish.

Wave Four: The Eskimo, who wiped out most of the other people in their area.


Theory: the inverse relationship between warfare and homicide

That whole myth about hunter-gatherers being peaceful and non-violent probably got its start because hunter-gatherers tend not to be as good at organized warfare as the Germans.

Homicide is an act of disorganized impulsive passion; warfare is an act of organized dispassion; the two are inverse of each other. Thus we see the highest homicide rates in the world’s least developed countries, and the lowest rates in its most developed countries.



Note that it is not an absolutely perfect correlation; many Latin American or Caribbean countries have higher homicide rates than even less-developed countries in Africa, but broadly speaking, the pinks and reds are poorer than the blues. (Russia excepted, ‘cuz Russia.)

Also, as you may recall:

sp-Slide013 homicide_in_europe_1200_2000

Share of violent deaths, non-state societies vs. state societies
Share of violent deaths, non-state societies vs. state societies

Countries involved in the world’s biggest wars:




Nuclear stockpiles or programs by country:


(South Africa used to have nukes, but they got rid of them before the end of Apartheid.)

Here’s another graph that makes the size of the arsenals clear:

Source: SMTKS
Source: SMTKS

And here’s another graph that says about the same thing, but is a wonderful example of how to display data:

Source: SMNTKS
Source: SMNTKS

I’m pretty sure this graph means we’re all going to die.

And likewise, space programs by country:


Also a nicely done graphic.

You might have heard about India’s space program:

Test launch of India's GSLV Mk III
Test launch of India’s GSLV Mk III

But have you heard of the Congolese space program?

To be fair, it’s more “One guy with a rocket-building hobby” than a real space program, but I understand where he’s coming from. Rockets are cool.

The point of all of these maps and graphs is that homicide rates tend to be highest, both today and throughout history, in the places with the lowest levels of social organization/complexity.

Even in our own society, convicted criminals are overwhelmingly lacking in the ability to handle complexity. It looks like they aren’t really all that much more retarded (note: PDF) than the general population (the truly intellectually impaired are often pretty highly supervised and lack the ability to execute many crimes, but are often victims of violence,) but they are drawn disproportionately from the dumber half.

According to respondents in the AR15.com forum thread “Cops and Lawyers – What percent of criminals/clients are retarded?” (Note: I know nothing about this forum or its reliability)

“Not retarded per se. My personal experience is most criminals stopped developing emotionally at about 3 or 4. They live life for the moment, think only of themselves, have no impulse control, can’t control their emotions, throw temper tantrums when they don’t get their way, can’t think past the next 10 minutes, don’t understand consequence, etc……. They are basically little children in adult bodies. Of course, most 3 or 4 year olds are better behaved than the average criminal, but you get the point.”

“I found that better than 90% of them were functionally illiterate, so when they say reading is fundamental, they aren’t kidding!”

“With the advent of welfare, it became profitable to squirt out children.It relegated men to the status of semen injectors. No men, no fathering. down the spiral 40 odd years and we’ve got multiple generations of female children “raising” children.
The results aren’t retarded, they are more like Comanches or Lakota, they have regressed several thousand years.
It is painful to watch good officers try to “reach” these kids. Watching with an unsympathetic eye, it is plain that most of these kids don’t even understand what the officers are talking about.
That’s the brutal truth that no one wants to face. These kids aren’t just lost-they are damned in our society.”
Recall our discussion back in Two Kinds of Dumb–just because someone has a low IQ, doesn’t mean they are retarded. But anyone who is illiterate (in our society) with the emotional maturity of a 3 or 4 your old is not very bright or capable of thinking through the results of their own actions.
The art of killing large numbers of people, by contrast, requires organization. One guy with a pointy stick might kill a few dozen guys who don’t have pointy sticks, but one guy who convince a thousand other guys to stand next to you with their pointy sticks, and you get this:
Source: Chapleton
The Romans didn’t conquer an empire by poking barbarians with pointy sticks; they did it by organizing themselves into an unstoppable war machine.
Armies do not generally fund themselves; they depend upon a vast support structure producing weapons, food, transportation, shelter, technology, etc. The bigger the army and more advanced the weaponry, the bigger the support structure has to be. Nukes take far more people to produce than pointy sticks, from the farmers making the food to feed the scientists working out the details to the structural engineers building the research labs to the guys building the rockets or planes to drop the bombs.
Complex organization requires large numbers of people working in close proximity without punching each other; it requires that people be able to suppress their own personal desires in pursuit of the group goal. All of this requires being less violent, less impulsive, and less inclined toward murdering each other.