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Nisa - (Shostak R640)
When the gods gave people sex, they gave us a wonderful thing.
Sex is food: just as people cannot survive without eating,
hunger for sex can cause people to die.
!Kung saying - Nisa.
See the previous chapter: Humanity's Evolutionary Heritage for the evolutionary emergence of Homo sapiens and the genetic research into our relationship with Neanderthals, and Denisovians.
Sexual Paradox in Human Origins
A consistent and powerful hypothesis about human emergence is that the complementary reproductive strategies of females and males led to evolutionary gender paradox in early human societies and hence cultural complexity based on sexual relationships driven to a considerable extent by female reproductive choice. The males, to achieve reproductive success needed to compromise their competition to fit with the cooperative nature of the human group, centered on the family and gathering and social relationships with the females. Selection among males reinforces not just the traditional hunting prowess and toughness ('he-man') but diverse social skills ('domestic bliss') - "a mosaic of qualities that reflect the necessities of compromise ... good with the children, relaxed, eloquent, knowledgeable". Women in turn are the immediate progenitors of offspring, nurturing an articulate and cooperative group culture as well as being societal family-builders and resourceful gatherers of diverse plant species. In this way human culture evolved in a social setting where male reproductive success was mediated through the social awareness of the female gatherers, upon whom the child rearing and basic food resource of the society depended.
Our early human record speaks of a 100,000 year period of gatherer-hunter emergence in which women and men enjoyed a degree of reproductive autonomy and choice regained by our own societies only in part in the last century. Homo sapiens has spent the vast majority of this time leaving only flaked tools with only minor changes of design, the social aspects of culture, which are not so easily left in artifacts may have become highly attuned to complex and subtle interactions. Although so-called "primitive" cultures are diverse and parallels, between modern gatherer-hunters and our ancestral origins remain speculative, among the few primitive hunter-gatherers still existent, egalitarian societies such as the !Kung-san 'bushmen' of the Kalahari, the Sandawe and Hadzabe of Tanzania and the Biaka and Mbuti 'pygmies' of the Congo Basin have much to teach us both genetically and culturally.
Genetic Emergence of Modern Humans
Chromosomes contain a variety of markers that can be used to compare diverse populations and infer an evolutionary relationship between them. These include the slowly varying protein polymorphisms of coding regions which are useful for long-term trends, single nucleotide polymorphisms, and non-coding region changes (mutation rates about 2.5 x 10-8 per base pair per generation and useful for reconstructing evolutionary history only over millions of years) insertion and deletion events (about 8% of polymorphisms, extending from one to millions of nucleotides), particularly those driven by transposable elements such as the LINEs and even more frequent SINEs (p 332), non-coding micro-satellites (mutation rate 10-5 - 10-2 due to repeat slippage) and mini-satellite regions of repeating DNA (mutation rates as high as 2 x 10-1 due to meiotic recombination in sperm) that both evolve rapidly and are not subject to the strong selection of coding regions which can differentiate changes over the much shorter time scales of modern human migration.
The insertions and deletions of the million or so Alu elements in the human genome (p 332) are particularly useful, as the most active sub-population of about 1000 Alu is actively transcribing and undergoing rapid change. A subpopulation of Alu are capable of generating new coding regions (exons), when inserted into non-coding introns between spliced sections of a translated mRNA, because one base-pair change within Alu leads to formation of a new exon reading into the surrounding DNA. This is not necessarily deleterious because alternative splicing still allows the original protein to be made as well. We have the highest number of introns per gene of any organism, and thus have to have gained an advantage from this costly error-prone process. Alus may have given rise, through alternative splicing, to new proteins that drove primates' divergence from other mammals. Recent studies have shown that the nearly identical genes of humans and chimps produce essentially the same proteins in most tissues, except in parts of the brain, where certain human genes are more active and others generate significantly different proteins through alternative splicing of gene transcripts. Our divergence from other primates may thus be due in part to alternative splicing.
If we consider the likely effects of the out of Africa hypothesis, we would expect that founding African populations not subject to active expansion and migration would have greater genetic diversity and that the genetic makeup of other world populations would come from a subset of the African diversity, consisting of those subgroups who migrated. This picture is complicated by the evidence for one or more bottlenecks that reduced the genetic diversity of the surviving human population to 3000-10,000 breeding pairs around 70,000 years ago, which has been associated with the supervolcanic Toba eruption in Sumatra.
The Volcanic Winter/Weak Garden of Eden model proposed in Ambrose 1998. Population subdivision due to dispersal within African and to other continents during the early Late Pleistocene is followed by bottlenecks caused by volcanic winter, resulting from the eruption of Toba, around 71,000 years ago. The bottleneck may have lasted either 1000 years, during the hyper-cold stadial period between Dansgaard-Oeschlger events 19 and 20, or 10,000 years, during oxygen isotope stage 4. Population bottlenecks and releases are both synchronous. More individuals survived in Africa because tropical refugia were largest there, resulting in greater genetic diversity in Africa.
In the case of mitochondrial mtDNA (mutation rate about 2.5 x 10-7) and its hyper-variable D-loop (mutations rates as high as 4 x 10-3), which is transmitted only down the maternal line (see Tishkoff and Verrelli R692 for caveat) and the non-recombining majority of the Y-chromosome which is transmitted only down the paternal line, each with no recombination, we would expect greater diversity going deeper into the historical tree of divergence, with certain existing groups who have retained the founding patterns of survival and have not undergone rapid population expansions to retain an increasingly diverse source variation. All these features are broadly observed in the genetic data to date.
(a) MtDNA tree for African groups showing haplotypes of !Kung, Mbuti and Biaka as well as the line coming out of Africa (Chen et. al. R116). (b) Diagram of world migration and regional differentiation of successive mtDNA haplotypes (Gilbert R240). (c) mtDNA distances between founding African groups including Hadza (clicks) Khwe is from (Knight et. al R382). Recent mtDNA evidence suggests a first wave of migration down the coast of Asia all the way to Australia (Forster et. al. R217).
Most studies of non-coding regions of autosomal, X-chromosome, and mitochondrial mtDNA genetic variation (which are desirable markers because they are not so subject to selection and thus have relatively neutral drift) show higher levels of genetic variation in African populations compared to non-African populations, using many types of markers. Although some studies of Y-chromosome variation have observed higher heterozygosity levels in non-African populations, the African populations have higher levels of pairwise sequence differences, consistent with these populations being ancestral. High levels of diversity in African populations alone do not prove that African populations are ancestral. A recent bottleneck event and/or colonization and extinction events among non-African populations, or a more recent onset of population growth in non-Africans, could also cause a decrease in genetic diversity (Tishkoff and Verrelli R692). In fact the complete inter-fertility of all human populations and the relative lack of genetic divergence by comparison with the few remaining chimp colonies in the wild (Hrdy R330 183) does indicate a significant bottleneck. The genetic data is consistent with a human emergence from a population of only 10,000 around 100,000 years ago. This is also consistent with the delayed maturation, long birth spacings as a result of prolonged lactation and high infant mortality seen in gather-hunter populations such as the !Kung. At such low growth rates a population of 100 would take 50,000 years to reach 10,000 (Hrdy R330 183).
Patterns of male migration. The Genographic Project - a partnership between National Geographic and IBM - will collect DNA samples from over 100,000 people worldwide to provide a high-resolution genetic map of human migration.
However studies of protein polymorphisms as well as mtDNA haplotypes, X-chromosome and Y-chromosome haplotypes, autosomal microsatellites and minisatellites, Alu elements, and autosomal haplotypes indicate that the roots of the population trees constructed from these data are composed of African populations and/or that Africans have the most divergent lineages, as expected under a recent African origin rather than a multi-regional emergence model. Additionally, studies of autosomal, X-chromosomal haplotype and mtDNA variation indicate that Africans have the largest number of population-specific alleles and that non-African populations harbor a subset of the genetic diversity that is present in Africa, as expected if there was a genetic bottleneck when modern humans migrated out of Africa. Analysis of genetic variation among ethnically diverse human populations indicates that populations cluster by geographic region (i.e., Africa, Europe/Middle East, Asia, Oceania, New World) and that African populations are highly divergent. The mtDNA studies hypothesize a primal female ancestor - the African Eve - around 150,000 years ago (Chen et. al. R116) while the Y-chromosome Adam is more recent, at around 90,000 years ago (Underhill et. al. R711) consistent with the greater reproductive variance of males than females. Differences between the Y- and mtDNA distributions indicate how migration, intermarriage and female exogamy have affected the gene pool. The genetic patterns of both these and autosomal microsatellites (Zhivotovsky et. al. R780) are consistent with founding African diversity with migratory radiations to form other world populations, with deep founding radiations to the forest people such as the Biaka and Mbuti, Khoisan click-language speaking !Kung-san bushmen of Botswana and the Sandawe of Tanzania, and possibly the Hadzabe, as well as the forest people such as the Mbuti and Biaka 'pygmies' who have adopted the Bantu languages of the farming neighbours with which they now share semi-symbiotic relationships. Along with some Ethiopian and Sudanese sub-populations, these groups may represent some of the oldest and deeply diversified branches of modern humans.
(Right) Genographic project study of mitochondiral origins shows a deep split separating Khoisan mitochondrial inheritance from other groups, including those migrating out of Africa, and a deep division between two Khoisan types L0k and L0d going back 140,000 years, suggesting a separation of some 100,000 years possibly caused by long term drought in Africa Behar et al. 2008 (R787).
There is also suggestive evidence for interbreeding between San and Biaka and sister Homo species, as well as evidence for interbreeding between migrating human groups out of Africa with Neanderthal and Denisovian Homo erectus populations.
Such recent genetic evidence has laid bare the relationships between some of the founding human groups spread across Africa from the 'Cushite' horn of Ethiopia to the southern Kalahari. Mitochondrial DNA studies have highlighted the ancient origin of the !Kung San and of pygmy peoples of the Congo Basin such as the Mbuti and the Biaka.
Y-chromosome studies have shown the !Kung share a most ancient haplotype with sub-populations from Ethiopia and the Sudan, suggesting they are parts of an ancient widespread population later divided by the Bantu expansion. According to an overall survey of genetic research by Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Maryland, the most deeply ancestral known human DNA lineages may be those of East Africans, such as the Sandawe, who share many phenotypic features and a click language with the !Kung. This suggests southern Khoisan-speaking peoples originated in East Africa. The most ancient populations are now believed to also include the Sandawe, Burunge, Gorowaa and Datog people of Tanzania. The Burunge and Gorowaa migrated to Tanzania from Ethiopia within the last 5,000 years consistent with an ancient founding population in this area. Echoes of the earliest language spoken by ancient humans tens of thousands of years ago may have been preserved in the distinctive clicking sounds still spoken by some existing African tribes.
(a) Non-recombining Y-chromosome evolutionary tree (Underhill et. al. R711) (b) Geographical distribution showing the ancient haplotype shared by the San and Ethiopian and Sudanese sub-populations. (c) Genetic distances between Khoisan and forest peoples sharing M112 a Y-chromosome allele common only in these groups showing great genetic distance between Hadzabe and San peoples (Knight et. al. R382) . (d) Autosome satellite analysis confirming ancient divergence of San and forest peoples leading to migration from Africa (Zhivotovsky et. al. R780). In a counterpoint to these studies, Rohde and coworkers (R590, R305) estimate that the repeated spreading of family trees by sexually recombining mobile populations and differences in reproductive rates leads to an estimate of the most recent common ancestor of our global populations existing just 3,500 years ago, excepting these most isolated groups.
The persistence of polygyny is also manifest in the greater divergence between human groups in the X-chromosome than other chromosomes, caused by women possessing double X and men only a single. The diversity arises because some men don't get to pass on their genes, while most women do. When Michael Hammer and his colleagues sequenced DNA from 90 people belonging to six groups: Melanesians, Basques, Han Chinese, as well as three African cultures: Mandenka, Biaka and San. Hammer's team discovered more genetic differences in the X chromosome than would be expected if equal numbers of males and females tended to mate, over human history. The only explanation for this pattern is widespread, long-lasting polygyny (PLoS Genetics DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.100202, SPNews 1691).
The genetic structure of 126 Ethiopian and 139 Senegalese Y chromosomes was investigated by a hierarchical analysis of 30 diagnostic biallelic markers selected from the worldwide Y-chromosome genealogy. The present study reveals that only the Ethiopians share with the Khoisan the deepest human Y-chromosome clades. This confirms the ancestral affinity between the Ethiopians and the Khoisan, which has previously been suggested by both archaeological and genetic findings (Semino et al. 2002 Ethiopians and Khoisan Share the Deepest Clades of the Human Y-Chromosome Phylogeny Am. J. Hum. Genet. 70 265-268).
To investigate associations between genetic, linguistic, and geographic variation in Africa, Wood et al 2005 (Eur. Jour. Hum. Genetics 13, 867-876) typed 50 Y chromosome SNPs in 1122 individuals from 40 populations representing African geographic and linguistic diversity and compared these patterns of variation with those that emerge from a similar analysis of published mtDNA HVS1 sequences from 1918 individuals from 39 African populations. For the Y chromosome, Mantel tests reveal a strong partial correlation between genetic and linguistic distances and no correlation between genetic and geographic distances. In contrast, mtDNA variation is weakly correlated with both language and geography. When Bantu speakers are removed from these analyses, the correlation with linguistic variation disappears for the Y chromosome and strengthens for mtDNA suggesting that sex-biased rates of admixture and/or language borrowing between expanding Bantu farmers and local hunter-gatherers played an important role in influencing patterns of genetic variation during the spread of African agriculture in the last 4000 years.
Highlighting unique features of human genetic evolution, are two key genes whose mutations cause microcephaly, consistent with increased brain size, whose rapid spread through the human population may coincide with spurts in human culture. Microcephalin (R198) appeared ~37,000 years ago coinciding with the birth of culture and ASPM spread from the Near East around 5000 years ago (R466). However studies linking these variants have failed to find differences in intelligence and results remain highly controversial (DOI:10.1126/science.314.5807.1872). Nevertheless, these results are consistent with an overall examination of linkage disequilibrium in single nucleotide polymorphisms (Moyzis et. al. R493) which indicate that about 7% of our genes have been subject to selection in the last 50,000 years, a figure similar to domestication of maize, including genes for protein metabolism, disease resistance and brain function.
The clicks made by the San people of southern Africa and the Hadzabe of East Africa may thus be the linguistic equivalent of living fossils, preserved from a much older and more primitive tongue. A study by geneticists and linguists has found that people who use click sounds as part of their vocabulary have almost certainly inherited them from a common ancestor who spoke one of the earliest proto-languages. The investigation, led by Joanna Mountain and Alec Knight of Stanford University in California (R382), centered on the genetic relationship between the Hadzabe of north-central Tanzania and the Ju'hoansi San (!Kung) who live on the Namibia-Botswana border. Although separated by thousands of miles, both groups use the same sort of click sounds and accompanying consonants to communicate, yet their DNA shows they are only very distantly related and must have been geographically separated for at least 40,000 years.
Distribution of African populations 8000 BC (R128).
Key Click Language Consonants (hear them here):
There is continuing historical and mythological evidence that these peoples were widespread across the African continent before the Bantu expansion about 2000 years ago. Kikuyu myths tells of the 'ground people' or Athi, from whom they 'bought' their land. The Egyptians referred to the Mbuti as 'the people of the trees' renowned for their singing and dancing. Pharaoh Phiops II (about 2300 B.C.) mentions a Pygmy dancer brought back from an expedition to the forest, while Homer, Herodotus, and Aristotle are but a few others to mention Pygmies or small African people, often called Aka a name still used today for the Biaka. The earliest humans in Gabon were believed to be the Babinga, or 'Pygmies', dating back to 7000 B.C. The Bantu name 'Twa' for the pygmies is the same word the Zulus use for the Khoisan click-language speakers they found in their early migrations into what is now Natal province of South Africa. One San tribe there today is still called Twa.
Hadzabe men and Datog women two diverse groups with ancient genetic and cultural roots along with the Bushmen and Pygmies we shall examine in detail shortly (Tishkoff).
There is continuing debate between anthropologists, sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists about whether any group can be regarded as more 'primal' than another in cultural terms or used to infer any universal foundations for emergent human nature (Marks R440 169). Although in a sense all humans alive today are 'equally evolved', the !Kung, Sandawe, Mbuti, Biaka and related groups share both a 'founding' genetic 'footprint' at the base of modern human diversity, indicating long periods of conserved population, and cultural practices which reflect long periods of time in which they have had a low-impact, low-change pattern of survival, despite some contact with other groups and changes in their habitat and life-style, for example imposed by other migrating peoples. These cultural and genetic reasons combine to give validity to their capacity to teach us about human origins.
Human divergence trees calculated by single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) top left Li et. al. (R788) bottom right Jakobsson et. al. (R789). Trees for haplotypes and copy number variation between populatons (R788).
A recent 2012 article describes the complete genomic sequence of three African hunter gatherer populations, the Hadza, the Sandawe (both from Tanzania) and the Pygmies from Cameroon. These populations are considered to be some of the most ancient human lineages. Some stretches of DNA sequence (~2.5 % of the genome) from these populations do not look like any other human sequence decoded until now, and this hints at an admixture with an ancient African ancestor, now extinct, possibly the African equivalent of the European Neanderthals. This builds on evidence found earlier in 2011 suggesting the same thing and is complemented by the reanalysis of a 13,000-year-old skull at Iwo Eleru cave in Nigeria which reveals a skull more primitive-looking than its age suggests.
In the new study, the researchers scrutinized the DNA of five individuals from each group, scanning each genome an average of 60 times. The researchers were looking for telltale variants in the genetic code that could help explain differences between individuals and populations. Among them were sharp differences between the three groups in genetic regions involved in smell and taste - suggesting that each population's senses had adapted to the new smells and foods they encountered. Other characteristic patterns of variants included genes involved in immune system activity and the fat content of breast milk. A group of variants unique to the Hadza spanned the DNA encoding for the cannabinoid immune cell receptor CB2, a cell surface protein that responds to tetrahydrocannabinol - the active ingredient in marijuana - which is intriguing because Tishkoff's team observed that the Hadza smoke large amounts of marijuana. The three populations also had distinctive variants around genes that produced blood compounds involved in injury repair.
(a) Frequency of introgressive variants within three sequenced regions in an expanded sample of ~500 sub-Saharan Africans. The Mbuti represent the only population that carries the introgressive variant at all three candidate loci. Given that the Mbuti population is known to be relatively isolated from other Pygmy and neighboring non-Pygmy populations, this suggests that central Africa may have been the homeland of a now-extinct archaic form that hybridized with modern humans (Hammer et al. 2011 PNAS 108/37 15123-15128). (b) 13,000-year-old skull at Iwo Eleru cave showing signs of coming from a distinct hominin population from Homo sapiens (Harvati et al 2011 PLoS ONE 6/9 e24024) (c-e) The 2012 study comparing Pygmies, Sandawe and Hadza with other populations. (c) How many variants belong to each. (d) Neighbor joining tree based on pairwise identity-by-state matrix distances. (e)Principal component analysis. Pygmy genomes are indicated by green, Hadza by blue, Sandawe by red, and non-hunter-gatherer by gray circles (Lachance et al 2012 Cell 150, 457-469). (Click fig to enlarge).
These suggestions of admixture have been reinforced by the discovery of a Y-chromosome in a deceased African American Adam Perry, which shows no familial connection with the hypothetical African Adam originating between 140,000 and 60,000 years ago, dating back to some 338,000 years ago, suggesting it may have been inherited from an archaic human male who interbred with Homo sapiens. A similar group of Y-chromosomes has been found in an isolated village in the Cameroon (Barras C 2013 The father of all men is 340,000 years old New Scientist 6 Mar).
!Kung San: Egalitarian Gatherer-Hunters
The !Kung San of the Kalahari provide a unique perspective on our possible hunter-gatherer origins. As we have noted, they stand close to the root of both the mitochondrial Eve tree and the Y-chromosome Adam tree. There is more variation in the mitochondrial DNA of such ancient groups than between diverse world peoples, because their population has been relatively stable over long periods, so the original pool of diversity has increased over time without one woman's genes growing to swamp the others in number of offspring.
The !Kung San camp in groups of perhaps 20 to 40 people, always ready to move on - within the constraints of access to water holes - when the food supply looks better elsewhere. Group composition changes as the more stable units that are nuclear families come and go somewhat independently of one another, banding together with one set of relatives for awhile, perhaps, and then with another.
In a !Kung San population studied by Nancy Howell of the University of Toronto, women experience their first menstruation at an average age of 16.6 years, and it is at about that age that they first marry (Daly and Wilson R144 40). The husband is likely to be at least 5 years older than his wife, and may not be the man she would have chosen for herself. Adolescent fertility is low, and the first child is born at an average maternal age of 19.5 Time between the births of children was traditionally about 3-5 years. Because there weren't cereal grains to feed children before they could eat adult food, children nursed for 3-5 years, commonly until age 4 and exceptionally until 6. The child is typically weaned only when the mother discovers that she is again pregnant and informs her disgruntled toddler that her milk and energy are henceforth required by a younger sibling-to-be. Well-nourished but thin, !Kung San women seldom conceive within the first couple of years of nursing due to the frequency of suckling on demand. This made traveling long distances on foot, like to a gathering site or new settlement easier, since fewer children required carrying and population numbers remained controlled.
!Kung women give birth with the earth as primary midwife (a form of unassisted childbirth) walking away from the village camp as far as a mile during labor and birthing the child alone, delivering it into a small leaf-lined hole dug into the warm sand. The child's cord is not clamped or cut, and the placenta is delivered and put next to the child, as guardian. Shortly thereafter, the baby-placenta is lightly covered with another large leaf, and the new mother walks a short way to verbally alert the older women of the completed birth, at which time they join the mother and child in a ritual welcoming. If a laboring woman is delayed in returning a sign to the village that she has given birth, the older women will come looking for her to assist; however, it is said to be a rare occurrence.
!Kung San mothers carry their babies in slings, allowing them to suckle essentially at will throughout the day and night. Timothy Taylor has suggested (R683 44) this is a key cultural invention of women leading to culture. The baby nurses for a couple of minutes about once every quarter hour throughout the daylight hours. This demanding nursing schedule does not seem to vary much for at least the first 2-3 years of the baby's life. Such frequent suckling day and night has hormonal consequences for the mother that tend to inhibit ovulation and hence delay her next conception.
In the rare event that a baby is born before the mother feels she can safely wean its older sibling, or it has a birth defect, then she may feel compelled to abandon the newborn. Howell reported 6 infanticides in 500 live births, but there is probably some under-reporting, since !Kung San women, consider infanticide a major personal tragedy and would sooner not dwell on such painful memories. By custom, a !Kung mother goes into the bush alone to give birth. If she comes back with the baby, it is recognized and protected as a group member. However if she abandons the baby before returning, she is not regarded as someone who has killed a person (Hrdy R639 468).
Although neither contraception nor abortion was evidently practiced, a healthy fertile !Kung San woman - if she had the good fortune to survive until menopause - was likely to produce only about five children. Despite her best efforts, one of these five, on average, would die before its first birthday, of malaria, perhaps, or some other disease. Even more heartbreaking would be the deaths of two older children, nurtured through several years only to succumb to disease or accident or violence while still unmarried and childless. A girl who lived to reproduce - and only 48% of female babies did so - could expect to raise successfully one son and one daughter who would marry and produce children of their own (Daly and Wilson R144 40). The eloquent !Kung San 'autobiographer' Nisa, for example, lost all of her children, at various ages and in various ways, and thus suffered the grief of a middle age without descendants (Shostak, R639). Other women were luckier. All available evidence suggests that the general features of a !Kung San woman's reproductive career as described above - the wide birth spacing, the prolonged demand nursing, low fertility, high childhood mortality, and the other demographic details-are indeed representative of hunter-gatherers, and of the life history that has characterized Homo for thousands of millennia . Raising 2 or 3 children to competent maturity-the life's work of a successful woman-has typically required hard decisions about priorities, attentive management of social relations, ingenuity, luck, and decades of hard labor.
Children always accompany their mothers so they don't get lost in the wilderness. The carrying sling represents a major technological invention which makes it possible for woman gatherers to both look after their children and also bring back enough food for the groups to survive well without a regular kill. Carrying young children can become back-breaking when food is gathered miles away and has to be carried back as well. The !Kung have a proverb 'Women who have one birth after another like an animal have a permanent backache!' and the back-load hypothesis has been advanced as an explanation of birth spacing. (Hrdy R639 197). !Kung mothers may be thus balancing the optimum survival of the children they do have partly by the mother's endocrine system making sure the mothers also replace their reserves. By contrast with a !Kung mother who may carry an infant nearly 5,000 miles overall by the age of 4, Hadza women who travel shorter distances to forage and can thus also more often leave a child in camp have a shorter inter-birth span.
Marriage was generally between a man in his twenties and a girl in her teens. Newlyweds lived in the same village as the wife's family so that she had family support during her new life. Often, young wives would return to their parents' houses to sleep until they become comfortable with their husbands. During this time, the husband would hunt for his wife's family (bridewealth). If the couple never became comfortable, divorce was acceptable, prompted by either gender. If they did become a stable couple, they could reside with either family, settling with which ever was beneficial at a time. Divorce remained possible throughout marriage. Extramarital sex wasn't condoned, but was equally acceptable for each spouse. Domestic violence was prevented because villages were small and close and houses were open so that neighbors and relatives could intervene as needed.
!Kung women often share an intimate sociability and spend many hours together discussing their lives, enjoying each other's company and children. In the short documentary film "A Group of Women" !Kung women rest, talk and nurse their babies while lying in the shade of a baobab tree. This film is a good illustration of "collective mothering" in which several women support each other and share the nurturing role.
!Kung women gathering together with children in slings (Shostak 1981)
Traditionally, women collected plant foods and water, while men hunted. However, these were not strict and people do jobs as needed with little or no shame. So women could grow up hunting and men could do gathering. In such societies the gathering of the females provides 60% to 85% of the diet and the meat of hunting only 15%. One estimate of time spent is 12 hours a week, on about two days, gathering and 21 hours hunting (Ruether R598 160) leaving substantial leisure time for intense social life: trance dancing, story telling, exchange of gifts, rites of passage. As a social activity done largely independently from the men, gathering provides a social concourse and opportunity for reproductive freedom lying largely beyond male control. Hunting's intermittent spectacular success, is symbolic of sexual prowess and is often engaged in a spirit of social altruism through sharing the proceeds, by contrast with gathering, which is performed for the benefit of immediate families. Boasting is discouraged among hunters and may result in jeering insults about one's genitals. Male hunters often prefer to seek large prey, which in turn encourages a pattern of sharing both because the bounty is great and because success is intermittent. There is evidence that at least some Bushmen may have also previously learned to herd cattle (Robbins et al R588).
Women generally took care of children and preparing of food, however, this didn't restrict them to homes, because these activities were generally done with, or close to, others, so women could socialize and help each other. Men also engaged in these activities. Children would be raised in village groups of other children of a wide age range.
Click Language, Medicine, Food and Culture of the San Bushmen [http://youtu.be/s76nVP_Xrec]
Kristen Hawkes' 'show off' hypothesis suggests that the prime motive of hunting is not the food resource itself, but the social status among neighbours (Hawkes et. al. R301), and sexual favours it elicits from the women (Hawkes R300). Large game like the eland represent 'prowess' rather than protein which could be gained more easily from hunting small game. That "women like meat" was the standard explanation for why a poor hunter remains a celibate bachelor. (ibid). Helen Fisher (R208) gave expression to this idea in 'The Sex Contract', which Chris Knight (R383) extended to the idea of a fully fledged sex strike in 'Blood Relations', involving lunar-menstrual synchrony (p 354). Polly Wiessner has a more Machiavellian version of this theory from studying the !Kung and foragers of New Guinea, in which "the hunters are sharing meat in order to influence the political composition of the group, since kin and others helpful for rearing their offspring tend to gather around successful hunters" (Hrdy R330). This is a natural counterpoint in which parenting and sexual choice are complementary facets of the reproductive imperative. Both contrast markedly with the earlier "man the hunter" theories of DeVore and Washburn (R729), in which the driver for cultural diversity is male prowess in hunting and tool-making to provide for their very dependent offspring and 'captive' one-man wives.
Marjorie Shostak (R639) notes: "Here in a society of ancient traditions, men and women live together in a non-exploitative manner, displaying a striking equality between the sexes. Other contemporary gathering and hunting societies have a similar high level of equality - higher at least than that of most agricultural or herding societies. This observation has led to the suggestion that the relations between the sexes that prevailed during the majority of human prehistory were comparable to those seen in the !Kung today." The !Kung are likewise described by Patricia Draper (R174, Sanday R609 124-5), as sexually egalitarian. Draper says that !Kung females are autonomous and participate in group decisions because they do not need the assistance of men at any stage in the production of gathered foods. Nor do they need the permission of men to use any natural resources entering into this production. !Kung men and women live in a public world, sleeping and eating in a small circular clearing, within which all activities are visible. Lorna Marshall (R444) notes: "There is no privacy in a !Kung encampment, and the vast veld is not a cover. The very life of these people depends on their being trained from childhood to look sharply at things ... They register every person's footprints in their minds ... and read in the sand who walked there and how long ago. There are many similar examples of self-sufficiency and autonomy of women in foraging societies.
There are inherited positions, such as the 'headman', but these are said to be essentially empty of behavioral content" (Sanday R609 125). The bushmen are not devoid of leadership, but neither are they dependent on it in the slightest. Bushmen groups of the Southern Kalahari have had chieftains in the past, however it is somewhat of a complicated process through which these members of the group would ascertain said position. Chieftainship within these bushmen groups is not a position that has more power than the others; having the same social status as those members of "aged years".
Even when fathers are obviously devoted to their offspring, fatherly love is rarely translated into direct care of infants. Hrdy (R330 211) states that during the first six months of his daughter's life, this doting !Kung San father will hold her less than 2 percent of the time, although this may neglect night times spent sleeping together.
!Kung fathers are affectionate, indulgent and devoted and form intense mutual attachments with their children. Although they do not spend as much time with their children as the mothers and often hand them back for the less pleasant task of child care, fathers, like mothers are not viewed as figures of awesome authority and their relationships with their children are intimate, nurturant and physically close (Shostak R639 45-6).
Bushmen fit into the Kalahari ecosystem at more than one level; they compete with all the animals for water, share the prey of the smaller carnivores, rival the lions and other big predators for the larger game and contest the claims of the scavengers to fresh carrion. Their hunting is not so intensive as to disturb the natural balance. Because they are few and their subsistence comes from so many different points in the food-web, no single animal species is endangered. They kill only to consume, and their usual method of hunting using poisoned arrows and waiting for the animal to fall, they create less disturbance than a lion or leopard, and do not frighten the animals from the hunting grounds. When Bushmen still inhabited the more hospitable parts of the subcontinent, they often trapped the hippopotamus and other large animals by digging holes, disguised with branches, in busy game paths, with upward pointed stakes coated with poison. Early travellers walked in constant danger of a fatal accident, because there were so many of these cunningly concealed pitfalls.
In the central Kalahari, the Big Rains reunite the small groups of Bushmen who dispersed during the dry season (Johnson et al R344, R714). Everywhere they usher in a time of plenty for the Bushmen. Game becomes more numerous and, within a few weeks of the first rains, the ripening of the ochna and grewia berries heralds the richest season. In this season, men and women are continually on the look-out for hives. As the sun sets they may pause to see in which direction a bee flies, because they know that at this time they fly straight back to their hives. When Bushmen find a hive they smoke out the bees and remove the honey, but if the hive is not yet ready for opening, the finder will mark it and return later for the honey. This is truly a case of 'finders keepers' for if another comes and removes the honey from a marked hive his crime is regarded as being worthy of death. Long after the Bushmen had disappeared from the southern areas, the sharpened hardwood pegs they had driven into the faces of precipices to reach the hives and the small heaps of stones with which they had sealed their ownership remained as evidence that this land had once been theirs.
Draper, who accompanied foraging !Kung women of the Kalahari on gathering expeditions, notes that the male hunters depend on the information women bring back about the "state of the bush." If on a gathering expedition women discover fresh tracks, they send an older child to deliver the report to the men in camp. Since women are skilled in reading the signs of the bush, upon their return to camp, men query them about evidence of game movements, the age of animal tracks they may have encountered, and the location of water.
Although all !Kung agree that meat is the most desirable and prestigious food, the hunters cannot always provide it, and the vegetable food gathered by women is the staple, contributing about three quarters of the daily food intake by weight. Draper challenges the view that gathering is a monotonous routine requiring no particular intelligence. Successful gathering among the !Kung involves the ability to discriminate among hundreds of edible, inedible, medicinal and toxic species of plants at various stages of growth. This kind of intelligence is fully as important to !Kung survival as the physical strength, dexterity, and endurance required for success in hunting. It also appears to be an evolutionary trait which still displays itself in studies of the sexual brain in Western subjects.
!Kung eland ceremony for the menarche (R714).
In !Kung society, all manner of sexual liaisons occur, from partnership and serial monogamy, through open polygyny, to a variety of affairs pursued with passion by some members of both sexes, although extramarital sex is 'forbidden' by the male elders unless to entertain an age mate of the husband. There is at least begrudging respect for a woman's determination to love whom she will, with some intermittent male violence, often mediated by the group. Wife sharing has also been reported. The infrequent custom of /kamberi allows men to exchanges wives for a while if the women agree. 'If you want to sleep with another man's wife first let him sleep with yours'( R83 335). However a husband may be enraged if he finds his wife has been unfaithful and may kill the competitor with a poison arrow (R83 275).
Sexual activities amongst children were seen as natural play for both sexes. Although adult !Kung disapprove of child sex games, they only discourage something if they see it, mildly saying "Go play nicer games!". Child sex games are common. Boys solicit sex games with the girls and girls also play sex games together (R640 ). Nisa had a complex love life involving husbands she loved and others who tried to possess her as well as many secret and not-so-secret affairs, proceeding from diffident childhood sex games with both sexes (R640 31) to the passionate enjoyment of sexual love (p 102):
[Nisa] began telling me about her own childhood; her [childhood] homosexual loves, her initial refusal to have sex with boys [for fear of the sexual act], the boyfriend she loved, who taught her to play "house" and her eventual enjoyment of sex.
Trial marriages are common, especially when they involve young girls. A father or mother may take their daughter back if she is not treated adequately. Nisa had several trial marriages. On her first trial wedding night she had to endure her first trial husband sleeping with another man's wife who was there as a chaperone to ally her fears of being a child bride. She also had to endure an adult married sexual relationship before she had had begun to menstruate. !Kung are modest and cover their genitals and a woman's buttocks, but breasts are left bare for nursing.
Shostak (R639 267) notes that infidelity is frequent in !Kung oral history and myth and it was acknowledged and talked about in the 1950s ... it is therefore not likely to be of recent origin. From Nisa's dialogue she says:
"The best insurance against complications arising from love affairs is not to be found out. Great care must be taken to arrange meetings at safe times and places, away from the eyes of others. ... . Those who tell what they know may become central figures in fights that ensue or even be held responsible for the outcome. ... To succeed at and to benefit from extra-marital affairs, one must accept that one's feeling for one's husband 'the important one from inside the hut' and one's lover 'the little one from the bush' are necessarily different. One is rich, warm and secure. The other is passionate and exciting, though often fleeting and undependable. Since such affairs are not openly condoned, it is most important that a lover have 'sense' that he be discrete and play by the rules. He should also show his affection - by arranging rendezvous, by being faithful and by giving gifts. I have told you about my lovers, but I haven't finished telling you about all of them, because they are as many as my fingers and toes."
Commenting on Shostak's work Hrdy (R330 230) notes:
"Nisa's biography provides a !Kung San forager's perspective on the tensions underlying human pair-bonds. Nisa marries four times, always monogamously. When her first husband, Tashay, brings home a second wife, Nisa recalls, "I chased her away and she went back to her parents." Several of Nisa's marriages dissolved under the strain of infidelities, either her husband's or her own. In addition to her four husbands, eight lovers pass in and out of her life. Nisa is quite obviously in love with several of them. 'Pair-bonds' were formed, but the relationships did not last. Two of Nisa's pregnancies probably derive from affairs with men other than her husband at the time. As Nisa's daughter Twi grows up to look more and more like her husband's brother, with whom Nisa was having an affair when the child was conceived, her husband reminds her that his younger brother is the likely progenitor and therefore "will help take care of her." Whenever Nisa finds herself between husbands, when she is widowed or divorced, she sets out across the Kalahari to find her brother and live with him" .
"Hunter-gatherer societies like the !Kung San are as egalitarian as traditional societies ever get. Nisa's husbands were physically stronger than she, able to dominate her, but if she was unhappy enough, Nisa could always vote with her feet and leave. Even when Nisa was caught by her husband in flagrante delicto with a lover and beaten and threatened with murder, others stood up for her, and life went on. In more patriarchal societies, her perpetual adulteries would have been lethal. Since none of Nisa's children survived to adulthood, the life of this spunky woman can scarcely be said to typify success in evolutionary terms. Yet the tensions that characterized her marriages are the same ones that Nisa's mother mentions. Again and again, her predicaments crop up in women's life stories. Nisa cherished her freedom of movement, her freedom to choose mates, and, if her husband did not provide sufficient food, her freedom to negotiate with lovers. Each husband, on the other hand, wanted multiple wives for himself but also to maintain exclusive sexual access to Nisa. There is a dynamic tug-of-war in these relationships that is at odds with conventional pipe dreams about humans having an innate tendency to form long-lasting pair-bonds, unions in which both sexes have a powerful commitment from within to adhere. Such cases make it hard to sustain the illusion that lifelong monogamous families are the natural human condition. Monogamy in Nisa's case is more nearly a compromise than a species-typical universal. Monogamy is the most harmonious common ground she and her husband of the moment can arrive at. And when it works, children benefit. Monogamy reduces inherent conflicts of interest between the sexes. Her reproductive success becomes his, and vice versa, promoting harmonious relations between genetically distinct individuals striving toward common goals. Sociobiology is not a field known for the encouraging news it offers either sex".
Although initial marriages are often arranged by families, subsequent partnerships and their dissolution can come at the initiative of either sex. Women such as Nisa speak of a woman having lovers as a blessing - she can on her travels gain many tributes of food, affection, bonding and possessions that make life good. Domestic disputes which could become violent are often settled by protestations of concern from neighbouring families in their close-knit shelters. When a man does not help his partner she may scold and curse him publicly until the grumbling of the other forces him to take responsibility. When a major dispute threatens to burst into violence, it is confronted by the entire band in frank and forthright discussion, which leaves the offender in no doubt about the consensus of opinion concerning his behaviour and where it is likely to lead him. When their leisure is not beset with pressing problems, they exchange banter and merriment by the firelight, often talking about their relationships long into the night.
Bushmen and Forest Peoples show remarkable balance between the sexes and reverence for women, particularly for the menarche, as a sacred force, which rather than being a defilement, is regarded as a time of psychic power, having vast influence on hunting and the existential flow. Although the !Kung name offspring down the paternal line, they recognize that a husband should first live with the wife's family to aid in hunting. Sarah Hrdy (R330 192) points out that this measure is also a key to the success of !Kung motherhood through grandmotherly allo-parenting of the daughter through her first offspring, providing the key know-how to give the child the best chance of survival and the mother first-hand experience to benefit future children.
The !Kung myth of the striped mouse contains a specific warning that rampant patriarchy nearly led to the destruction of society and recounts how mutuality between the sexes was rescued. An attractive young beetle woman was imprisoned by her father, the lizard, in a house in the earth. The lizard is an image of awareness bound too closely to the earth and its rocks to be good for the future. Hence the beetle woman, its future self, though also intimately of the earth, was winged, capable and desirous of taking to that other great opposite of creation, the sky. But the father, as so many fathers throughout the masculine-dominated past and present, denies the daughter, the soul in him, the right to raise life towards the heavens and so fulfil the end to which it had been born. At this point the Praying Mantis, who has appeared on Bushman earth as the instrument of ultimate meaning, has a dream and sees how life itself would be denied and arrested if the tyranny of the lizard were allowed to continue. He, therefore, sends the long-nosed mouse into battle against the lizard. We already know the reason for a mouse, but why a long-nosed mouse? Because the nose which informs life of things not seen in the night or hidden by distance and other forms of concealment, is one of the earliest of our many images of intuition. But like all intuition, wise and sensitive as it may be, it lacks the cunning of the serpent which is necessary to overcome the lizard. Inevitably the long-nosed mouse is killed by the lizard and, though followed by countless gallant long-nosed kinsmen, all are killed and the lizard remains an adamant and triumphant impediment to becoming' a new being. Happily, Mantis is informed of the disaster in a dream and decides to send the striped mouse into battle instead. The striped mouse, of course, has a sensitive nose but it is not too long, there is no hubris of intuition, and its stripes are of even greater significance. They are the outward signs that it is a more differentiated form of being and consciousness. He kills the lizard, calling out as he does so, 'I am killing by myself to save friends', and hastens to free the beetle woman, the feminine in life. All the dead forces of intuition, the long-nosed mice, are resurrected and this army of tiny visionary creatures are led back to the palace of the Praying Mantis. Jubilant they follow the striped mouse and the beetle woman marching at his side, feeling herself 'to be utterly his woman'. As they march, they wave high above their heads like flags the fly whisks which the Bushmen of the great plains of the south alone had made out of animal tails (van der Post R714 148).
Under the harsh conditions of the desert it will be several years after puberty before a girl reaches menarche (Hrdy R330 187). A girl's first menstruation is a reverent occasion, danced over for several days and nights by women, old men watched by young male onlookers - it is spoken of in awe by the !Kung in the same terms as a young warrior shooting his first big game animal - 'she shot an eland!' The first menstruation is believed to give the girl supernatural potency (nlum), powerful enough to disturb the fate of the village in the hunt, if a man sets eyes on the girl during the 'period'. Consistent with the 'wrong sex, wrong speices' signal (p 77) is the fact that the women expose their buttocks to the girl and whoever may be playing the bull (Power and Watts R551 323). This reverance, accompanied by 'awe' and 'silence' on the part of the girl lasts through to the second menstrual period.
This is in stark contrast to the negative connotations of menstruation as 'unclean' in many cultures and religions. The most ancient of all !Kung music is the 'eland music' that is sung only by women and only when the dance the eland dance in celebration of a young girl's first menstruation (Johnson et. al. R344). Although not matrilineal, they are 'matrifocal' in respect for menarche and mothering (Ruether R598 160).
Chris Knight (R383) sees these rites as founding human motifs in a 'sex-for-meat' exchange phased with the lunar cycle which Camilla Power has highlighted as a 'wrong sex, wrong species' signal (p 77). Evidence of the ancient use of ochre (p 94) and its use among San groups to adorn the 'new maiden' and/or the women of the band and to protect adolescent boys in the hunt is consistent with this interpretation. Consistent with the idea of a sex strike is the nineteenth century anecdote from Smith's notebook (R551 322):
"The Bushmen when they will not go out to steal cattle, are by the women deprived of intercourse sexual by them and from this mode of proceeding the men are often driven to steal in opposition to their better inclination. When they have possessed themselves by thieving a quantity of cattle, the women as long as they exist appear perfectly naked without the kind of covering they at other times employ."
Also consistent with the sex strike concept is the 'normative belief associating menstrual with lunar periodicities' among San peoples. The /Xam, !Xu, G/wi and/or G//ana would not release a girl from seclusion until the appearance of the new moon. Shostak (R639 68) also notes belief in menstrrual synchrony among !Kung women. Also consistent is the fact that the most productive hunting by many San groups and the Hadza consists of night-stand hunts over game trail leading to water holes, optimally during the second quarter of the waxing moon and thereafter. The use of spears rather than poisoned arrows in this context attests to its ancient roots, extending back to the last interglacial (Power and Watts R551 321).
Fulton cave drawing (R714) 1000 BC (BBC 'New light shed on SA cave art' 7 -2-03) celebrating the first menstrual rite, Drakensberg Mountains, Natal (van der Post). The central figure is a young enrobed woman undergoing her first menstruation ceremony in a special shelter. Circling her are clapping women, female dancers and (in the outer ring) men with their hunting equipment. Two figures hold sticks; the women bend over and display 'tails' as they imitate the mating behaviour of elands. Among living San, such rituals are intimately connected with success in hunting. Each male figure has a bar across his penis. This may be the artist marking the marital abstinence associated with menstruation and valued as a condition of hunting luck. The other figures may represent the few men who join in the dance, some holding sticks. The surrounding figures, are all bending over, their buttocks playfully thrust in the direction of the menstruating girl. These details match those of hunt-linked menstrual rituals still practised by San and related groups in recent times (Knight R383, Lewis-Williams R411).
Peggy Reeves Sanday (R609) perceives the evolution of abhorrence of menstruation as a counterpoint between the blood of life and the blood of death wrought by the male hunter, explaining the subsequent fear and 'taboo' associated with the period in terms of avoidance of sex, restrictions on dress, movement and contact with food, ritual equipment, rivers and being secluded in huts, both as a reflection of the male fear of the danger of the female as life-giver, and the life and death counterpoint blood implies. The !Kung no longer practice male circumcision as initiation to adulthood. Female circumcision is not practiced.
The San have been immortalized by anthropologists as 'the gentle people', and indeed they have fought no wars that anyone can still recall, but this does not mean that retaliatory violence is alien to them (Wilson and Daly R144 224). Richard Lee collected the accounts of 22 homicides which had taken place among the traditional foraging !Kung San during a 50-year period, or about 29.3 homicides per million persons per annum, a figure common to large Western cities. Bearing in mind that the men are lethally armed with poisoned arrows, and there is no central authority, this is hardly surprising. Although the Bushmen are profoundly less homicidal than the Yanomamo, they have one thing in common: Each has a societally acknowledged right ultimately to use lethal force to resolve disputes between them. Anyone can literally 'take the law into his own hands' because in such societies that is where justice and judgment ultimately reside. There is no 'government' to keep men in awe, no impersonal authority to decide who is right and who is wrong. As one of the !Kung men in an argument about a marriage put it to his adversary, their dispute could be quickly settled with an arrow. Just one little arrow (Chagnon R111 212). Like their more warlike counterparts on other continents, they avenged slain kinsmen. If a killing occurred it was more likely than not to be followed by a retaliatory killing; 15 of the 22 homicides were parts of blood feuds. A group of the San had also recently avenged a murder by sneaking into the killer's group and executing every man, woman, and child as they slept (Pinker R544 56). Although !Kung society is by no means completely non-violent, people manage to resolve virtually all their disputes through personal dialogue and remonstration, without recourse to a tribal police or vigilante justice. Neither do male elders have definitive authority, particularly over women, although they strive to impose their decisions in resolving disputes. Close-knit neighbours also mediate domestic violence. There is a noticeable ebb and flow of the incidence of wife beating with less in the dry months when people congregate in extended-families than in the wet season of more nuclear families (Broude R83 313).
Lorna Marshall (Lee & DeVore R798) explains how small bands maintain social cohesion and avoid violence through direct communication and interdependence:
The common human needs for cooperation and companionship are particularly apparent among the !Kung. An individual never lives alone nor does a single nuclear family live alone. All live in bands composed of several families joined by consanguineous or affinal bonds. The arduous hunting-gathering life would be insupportable for a single person or a single nuclear family without the cooperation and companionship of the larger group. Moreover, in this society, the ownership of the resources of plant foods and waterholes and the utilization of these are organized through the band structure, and individuals have rights to the resources through their band affiliation. Thus, the !Kung are dependent for their living on belonging to a band. They must belong; they can live no other way'. They are also extremely dependent emotionally on the sense of belonging and companionship. Separation and loneliness are unendurable to them. Their wanting to belong and be near is actually visible in the way families cluster together in an encampment and in the way they sit huddled together, often touching someone, shoulder against shoulder, ankle across ankle. Security and comfort for them lie in their belonging to their group, free from the threat of rejection and hostility. Their security and comfort must be achieved side-by-side with self-interest and much jealous watchfulness. Altruism, kindness, sympathy, or genuine generosity, were not qualities observed often in their behavior. However, these qualities were not entirely lacking, especially between parents and offspring, between siblings, and between spouses. One mother carried her sick adult daughter on her back for three days in searing summer heat for us to give her medicine. N/haka carried her lame son for years. Gau clucked and fussed over his second wife, Hwan//ka, when she was sick. When !'Ku had a baby, her sister, /Tilkai, gathered food for her for five days. On the other hand, people do not generally help each other. They laugh when the lame man, !Xam, falls down and do not help him up. !'Ku's jealous eyes were like those of a viper when we gave more attention to her husband ≠Toma, than to her on one occasion because he was much more ill than she. And, in the extreme, there was a report of an instance of apparently callous indifference in one band on the part of some young relatives to a dying, old, childless woman, an, old aunt, when her sister with whom she lived had died.
Occasions when tempers have got out of control are remembered with awe. The deadly poisoned arrows are always at hand. Men have killed each other with them in quarrels - though rarely - and the !Kung fear fighting with a conscious and active fear. They speak about it often. Any expression of discord (bad words) makes them uneasy. Their desire to avoid both hostility and rejection leads them to conform in high degree to the unspoken social laws. I think that most !Kung cannot bear the sense of rejection that even mild disapproval makes them feel. If they do deviate, they usually yield readily to expressed group opinion and reform their ways. They also conform strictly to certain specific useful customs that are instruments for avoiding discord. Two customs are especially important are meat-sharing and gift-giving. Mannerliness, the custom of talking out grievances, the customs of borrowing and lending and of not stealing function to prevent tension from building up dangerously between members of a group and help to bring about peaceful relationships.
Talking is an aid to peaceful social relations because it is so very much a part of the daily experience of the !Kung, and because I believe it usefully serves three particular functions. It keeps up good, open communication among the members of the band; through its constantly flowing expression it is a salutary outlet for emotions; and it serves as the principal sanction in social discipline. Songs are also used for social discipline. The !Kung say that a song composed specifically about someone's behavior and sung to express disapproval, perhaps from the deepest shadow of the encampment at night, is a very effective means of bringing people who deviate back into the pattern of approved behavior. If people disapprove of an individual's behavior, they may criticize him or her directly, usually putting a question, "Why do you do that?", or they may gossip a bit or make oblique hints. In the more intense instances what I call a talk may ensue. The !Kung are the most loquacious people I know. Conversation in a !Kung encampment is a constant sound like the sound of a brook, and as low and lapping, except for shrieks of laughter. People cluster together in little groups during the day, talking, perhaps making artifacts at the same time. At night families talk late by their fires, or visit at other family fires with their children between their knees, or in their arms if the wind is cold.
W.H.I. Bleek and L.C. Lloyd, (1911) give a long account of how a bushman relates treatment of thieves which begins thus:
If a !kung woman steals, we take hold of her, we give her to her mother and her father; and they all go away from their place. Her stolen thing, we take it, we run, we run to give to the other person the other person's thing. And we say to the other person: "My wife stole your thing which is here; your nice thing here, my wife stole. And I have given (back) my wife to her father and her mother. For, my wife stole the nice thing here." And the other person hears, and objects (saying): "No; kill thy wife." And, we hear, (and) object (saying): "No; I do not listen to you, and will not kill my wife; for, my wife has gone away, has gone to her father and her mother; and is far away; and has gone to her country; and I will not kill my wife." And the others cry, and we hear; and our hearts ache, and we go away; we say to the other people: "We go away; come, that I may kill my wife, kill my father-in-law, kill my mother-in-law, kill my ...
A good idea of the view of consious life among Bushmen can be gained from the following account connecting dreaming and waking life and negative 'energies':
My mother used to do in this manner, when she intended to go out to seek for food, when she was about to start, she took a stone; (and) as she plunged the stone into the ashes of the fire, she exclaimed: "Rider(?) yonder!" while she wished that the evil things, about which she had been dreaming, should altogether remain in the fire; instead of going out with her. For, if she did not act in this manner, they would go out with her. That place to which she went would not be nice; while she knew that she had dreamt of evil things which were not nice. Therefore, she acted in this manner; because she was aware that, if she went out with the dream which she had dreamt, her going out would not be fortunate. The Bushman rice [grubs] which she dug would not be favourable to her, because it was aware that she had dreamt evil things.
Old man in menarche rite representing the eland bull (R714)
Bushmen believe in the existence of two gods: a greater god manifesting the creative force and a lesser god invoking the malevolent forces of uncertainty and misfortune, each with a shadowy consort (Johnson et al R344,van der Post R714). They have many names, but the !Kung Bushmen most commonly call them ≠Gao!na and //Gauwa, while to the /Gwi they are N!odima and G//awama. The Bushmen do not see these as a good and bad god. When a missionary inquired into a Bushman's ideas of good and bad he was told it was 'good' to sleep with another man's wife, but 'bad' if he slept with yours. Still lamenting the Bushman's ignorance of absolute morality, he later asked the man, whom meanwhile he had discovered 'was in the habit of smoking wild hemp', what he thought was the most wonderful thing he had seen. The reply he was given, that no one thing was more wonderful than any other and that all the animals were the same.
≠Gao!na, the !Kung Great God, using one of his seven divine names, created himself:
"I am Hishe. I am unknown, a stranger.
No one can command me.
I am a bad thing. I follow my own path."
These names: Hishe, Kauha, Huwe, !Gara and so on, are both names given to the deity by different Bushman groups, as we shall see, and also more or less spiritually potent, or worldly humorous names for different uses, and in following his ascent from a bumbling supernatural human-animal to the high god in the heavens.
Then ≠Gao!na created a Lesser God who lives in the western sky where the sun sets; and after this two wives for himself and for the Lesser God. ≠Gao!na, tallest of the Bushmen, was in his earthly existence a great magician and trickster with supernatural powers, capable of assuming the form of an animal, a stone or anything else he wished, and who changed people into animals and brought the dead back to life. But as the Great God who lives beside a huge tree in the eastern sky, he is the source and custodian of all things. He created the earth with holes in it where water could collect and water, the sky and rain both the gentle 'female' rain and the fierce 'male' rain thunder and lightning, the sun, moon, stars and wind. He created all the plants that grow on the earth. He created the animals and painted their individual colours and markings, and gave them all names. Then came human beings, and he put life into them; and gave to them all the weapons and implements they now have, and he implanted in them the knowledge of how to take all these things for themselves. Thus their hunting and gathering way of life was ordained from the very beginning and ≠Gao!na ordained that when they died they should become spirits, //Gerais, who would live in the sky with him and serve him. He set the pattern of life for all things, each in accordance with its own rules.
The !Kung include among their herbs traditional use of cannabis as a mind-altering substance.
Dagga is consumed in traditional underground water 'pipes' (Johnson et al R344)
The !Kung pray to ≠Gao!na not as a remote being, but as intimately involved with their lives, sometimes calling him father. They pray for rain, for success in hunting, for healing both of physical and social ills. Only a really great medicine man might see ≠Gao!na face to face, but this is said to be very rare; much more frequently ≠Gao!na may appear to anyone in a dream to encourage or advise. ≠Gao!na does not reveal himself to ordinary humans, for so great is his power that, were he to come too close, he would destroy them unintentionally. But he nevertheless retains an interest in them. He is in no way concerned with their misdeeds, but is aware of them, and if their behaviour offends him he will deal with them appropriately. But he is not truly a god of vengeance. When he deals harshly with someone, it is not an act of retribution but a demonstration of his power. This is the power of the unknown, the 'stranger', which explains why lightning strikes one man dead, and not the other standing beside him. The dead man, it is reasoned, must have offended ≠Gao!na by referring to him by one of his divine names, or perhaps he abused food. But he is not continually on the look-out for offenders. It is only when they happen to come to his attention that he demonstrates his power, and so sometimes people do offensive things and get away with it. Chiefly he acts for the benefit of mankind, for he supplies rain, food, children and poison for the arrows.
//Gauwa, the lesser god, who lives between two great trees in the western sky, also performs deeds that may be either beneficial or harmful to humans, but most are harmful. He is pictured as a very small Bushman, an incompetent who, even when well-intentioned, may bring misfortune by mistake. Although he is supposed to be subservient to ≠Gao!na and to act at his behest, he also sometimes acts on his own initiative while travelling about in a whirlwind, causing sickness and death to those he touches in passing. The people say that at certain times they catch glimpses of //Gauwa among the shadows of the trees.
≠Gao!na is said to live in the sacred Tsodilo Hills whose sexual story is a legendary comment on !Kung sexual relations. A man had two wives, but he loved one wife more than the other, and this caused a big quarrel. The one he didn't love hit him on the head, causing a deep wound. Then she ran off into the desert. But the Great God, ≠Gao!na, decided that because there was no peace among them, he must turn them all into a stone. The man became the largest of the hills; the unloved wife became the smallest hill that stands alone; and the loved wife, with her children, became the cluster of hills in the middle. But they believe there are supernatural powers in the Hills because ≠Gao!na himself lives there. It was there that he created and kept his cattle, sheep, goats, and all sorts of different animals. The !Kung claim you can see footprints in the rocks.
But ≠Gao!na in his various names is also portrayed as a super-natural bumbler who also ribald tricks on his wives before he ascended into the heavens (Shostak R639 325). Here are two accounts from Megan Biesele (Lee & DeVore R798).
!Gara tried screwing his wife in the nostrils. Then he tried her ears. Finally. he screwed her nostrils again. He was getting nowhere. His wife looked at him, and said, "Don't you know anything? What do you think you're doing in my nostrils and my ears? Can't you see that there's a much better place here? 'this is what you 'eat,' you fool." !Gara was a person who was really ignorant. He was definitely stupid and didn't know how things were. (as told bv Kashe n!a)
One day Kahua is out hunting and does not manage to kill anything. Fearing the hunger of his wives, he chops out his own anus and makes biltong of it. He brings home the biltong, and the wives start cooking it right away. But as soon as it gets hot, it leaps out of the pot and back into his asshole. "What kind of meat is this?" wonder the wives, and plot revenge. The next day while Kauha is out hunting again, the wives cut off their labia and pound them up with tama melon seeds in a mortar. They set aside a dish of this food for their husband. When he comes home, he eats it with gusto. "What is this delicious meat you have pounded with the tama melon seeds?" he asks. "We found the dried skin of a baby giraffe roiled up and stuck under the roof of a house i.n an abandoned camp," they reply. "Hunger defeated our scruples, and so we took it and pounded it up for food." Kauha goes to sleep satisfied, but later is awakened by the foul stench emanating from his own stomach and filling his nostrils. "What food is this?" he wonders, and schemes what he will do to them next. The following day he hangs his balls up in a n≠ai tree, where they look like edible gum. The wives come along and eat the gum, but soon become aware of what it is and start yelling.
Bushmen of the Orange believed that people and all animals had originated together in a hole in the ground, from which they came speaking the same language. Throughout a day they issued in a continuous stream from this hole between the roots of a giant tree that spread its branches over a vast territory. When the still of evening set in, they all gathered beneath the tree for the night, people and animals together. The Creator warned the people that, no matter how cold it became during the night, they were not to light a fire. But it grew steadily, colder, Until just before dawn, when the people could no longer endure the cold, they lit one. Immediately the animals took fright at the blaze and stampeded, losing, their powers of speech in their panic. And ever, since that time they have fled from man.
The Southern !Kung cosmos is also inhabited by trickster heroes, such as Mantis, who has a key mythic role in the creation process. For the Bushmen of Lesotho, Mantis or, /Kaggen, the first being, made all things by ordering them to appear. He created the Sun, Moon, Stars, wind, mountains and animals. A quarrel began between /Kaggen and his wife Coti over a knife she made blunt by using it to sharpen her digging stick. As a result of his anger, she gives birth to an eland calf in the fields. /Kaggen leaves the calf in the bush while be goes away for three days to obtain arrow poison, his two sons find the calf and kill it for food. /Kaggen accuses his sons of 'spoiling' the eland. He instructs his sons to put the blood of the calf in a pot and churn it with a stick. The blood splatters and becomes snakes. They try again, and the blood that is spilled turns into hartebeest. /Kaggen is still not satisfied. He orders his wife to clean out the pot and to bring fresh blood from the paunch of the little eland. To this he adds fat from the heart, and when the blood spatters this time, each drop becomes an eland bull, and all the bulls surround /Kaggen and his sons and menace them with their horns. 'See how you have spoilt the elands,' says /Kaggen, and he chases them away. The next time the blood is churned it produces eland cows, in such numbers that the earth is covered with them. 'Now go and hunt them and try to kill one', says /Kaggen. 'That is now your work, for it was you who spoilt them.' But they fail, and so /Kaggen himself goes out and spears three bulls. Thereafter, with his blessing, his sons are also successful. Some myths speak of regeneration. The mythical Mantis, in his human person as one of the 'early race', finds that his grandson has been killed by baboons, who are playing a ball game with the child's eye. Mantis joins in the game and, gaining possession of the eye, places it in a pond, where it once more becomes the complete child, the grandson whom the baboons had killed.
The !Kung also have folk tales accounting a beautiful magical trickster heroine who may be Kauha's daughter-in-law. Most of the time she is called !Xo//kamdima, which may mean "beautiful antbear maiden". In some versions she is called Keu!keua for her little barking laugh. Around !Xo//kamdima revolves a huge, fascinating cycle touching on the themes of marriage and marriage-service, murder and blood- vengeance, birth and the origin of meat, and the balance of power between men and women. When her husband is insulted by her mother her daughter overhears and tells him and he kills his mother-in-law. Setting her up to look like she is asleep. !Xo//kamdima sees her blood and pretending her tears are just from the smoky fire she catches him from behind and satbs him in the neck. His brothers, the two dsons of Kahua, Kan//ka and lXoma seek revenge, but she has told her grandmother she may be killed at the waterhole and to keep alittle pouch for her. When she drinks water with the men they spear her through but a little wind with drops of her blood shoots back to her grandmother who cares for them and they grow back to become !Xo//kamdima returned from the dead. The brothers then come to take her in marriage, but she gathers all manner of thorns and rain in her bowls, and escapes into the wilderness with her daughter in the guise of a guinea fowl on lookout being carried behind. The brothers pursue her, but each time just as they reach her her daughter cries out and she scatters thorns and thickets in their path. When they finally catch up to her she releases a cloud into the sky which clouds them in darkness and then releases hail, shattering their spears, snapping the strings of their loincloths, so they end up returning to their village in naked disarray, while she escapes. In some tales she transforms triumphantly into a steenbok so that people may have meat (Megan Biesele in Lee and DeVore R798).
The Bushmen of the Cape directed some of their prayers to the Moon, which they believed controlled the rain. "When we see the small moon, we say !ka!karrishe; we sound the male antelope's horn, (but) women call (it) !ka!karibe."
Hail, Young Moon!
Young Moon! speak to me!
Tell me of something.
When the sun rises,
Thou must speak to me,
That I may eat something.
Thou must speak to me about a little thing,
That I may eat.
And Rain they considered to be a supernatural personage, who sometimes appeared as a black bull. In terms of their conception of nature, Rain was to be shown respect, because he came armed with thunderbolts to chastise those who offend him, and girls were the objects of his special attention. Thus women did not walk about in the rain, lest the lightning seek out their scent. If a shower caught them in the open, they took care whenever the lightning flashed to look immediately at the place where it had struck, believing that in this way they were able to turn back the thunderbolts aimed at them and that Rain would then pass them harmlessly by. It is said that girls killed by lightning were taken away to become stars, or be the wives of Water as the flowers that grow in pools.
Natural and supernatural forces also have a power of their own (Johnson et al R344, van der Post R714). Trance dancing leads the participants to a place where they experience the mystery beyond directly for themselves in personal vigil, not indirectly through intercession of a priest. What Westerners would call 'supernatural' forces are so active in the natural world of the Bushmen that the distinction between them is blurred. In so far as a duality does exist, it is transcended frequently by 'medicine men'. But the state of transcendence is not the exclusive preserve of the 'medicine men', although they are more accomplished at attaining it. It is achieved by everyone who goes into a trance during the 'healing dance'. Someone who achieves this state is said by the !Kung to !kia. This is a condition which is experienced rather than conceptualized, and it seems to correspond to the transcendental experiences of mystics. Among the Bushmen, the medium is the dance, but the description they give of the inner physical process that produces the !kia state is strikingly similar to the way in which the kundalini form of yoga practised in India is said to operate. The !Kung say that !kia occurs when a subtle energy, or power, called nlum, is heated in the lower stomach region by the dance and rises up the spine as a vapor until it touches the base of the skull, at which point the energy is diffused throughout the body, like an electric current, causing the flesh to tingle and all conscious thought to cease in trance, enabling the practitioner to cure illness. Up to half the men and many females are capable of it.
Entering trance (Shostak R639)
Video of trance dancing [http://youtu.be/IyLF3y1YJKA]
People in this state are able to cross into the province of the supernatural and engage the spirits of the dead in battle on their own ground A person charged with nlum repulses the spirits and is cured of his physical and metaphysical ailments, actual and potential. Those who attain it use it to cure other members of the community who fall victim to the arrows of misfortune. It would be a misuse of this power to keep its benefits for themselves. N!um energy is the universal 'medicine' that was given originally to man by ≠Gao!na and has been passed on from man to man ever since. All who can !kia are thus in this sense 'medicine men' and participate in the religious experience. But some 'medicine men' are more accomplished than others. Those who have absorbed a lot of n!um leave their bodies during the trance and ascend the invisible thread to visit //Gauwa in the western sky, and the greatest of the 'medicine men' sometimes even catch glimpses of ≠Gao!na himself.
Nisa reports thus of her trancing revealing further attitudes to God:
My father had the power to cure people with trance medicine, with gemsbok-song trance medicine. Certain animals-gemsbok, eland, and giraffe-have trance songs named after them, songs long ago given by God. These songs were given to us to sing and to work with. That work is very important and good work; it is part of how we live. It is the same with everything - even the animals of the bush. lf a hunter is walking in the bush and God wants to, God will tell him, "There's an animal lying dead over there for you to eat." The person is just walking, but soon sees an animal lying dead in the bush. He says, "What killed this? lt must have been God wanting to give me a present." Then he skins it and eats it; that's the way he lives. But if God hadn't wanted, even if the hunter had seen many animals, his arrows would never strike them. Because if God refuses to part with an animal, the man's arrows won't be able to kill it. Even if the animal is standing close beside him, his arrows will miss every time. Finally he gives up or the animal runs away. lt is only when God's heart says that a person should kill something, be it a gemsbok or a giraffe, that he will have it to eat. He'll say "What a huge giraffe! l, a person, have just killed a small something that is God's." Or it may be a big eland that his arrows strike. That is God's way; that is how God does things and how it is for us as we live. Because God controls everything. God is the power that made people. He is like a person, with a person's body and covered with beautiful clothes. He has a horse on which he puts people who are just learning to trance and becoming healers. God will have the person in trance ride to where he is, so God can see the new healer and talk to him.
'Sometimes when you speak with God he says "I want this person to die and I won't help you make him etter". At other times God helps, the next morning, someone who has being lying on the ground seriously ill, gets up and walks again'.
There are two different ways of learning how to trance and of becoming a healer. Some people learn to trance and to heal only to drum-medicine songs. My mother knew how to trance to these, although she never learned to heal. There are other people who know how to trance and to heal to drum-medicine songs as well as ceremony dance songs. I am a master at trancing to drum medicine songs. I lay hands on people and they usually get better. I know how to trick Cod from wanting to kill someone and how to have God give the person back to me. But I myself have never spoken directly to or seen or gone to where God lives. I am still very small when it comes to healing and I haven't made these trips. Others have, but young healers like myself haven't. Because I don't heal very often, only once in a while. I am a woman, and women don't do most of the healing. They fear the pain of the medicine inside them because it really hurts! I don't really know why women don't do more of it. Men just fear it less. It's really funny - women don't fear childbirth, but they fear medicine!
Many Bushman groups today tell a story concerning the origin of death which is essentially the same as the account given by the Cape Bushmen in historical times. According to this tale, man may blame his mortality on an ancient argument between the moon and the hare. It is said that, in the days when the earth was inhabited by the 'early race', Moon declared that, just as he was dying and being reborn repeatedly in the cycle of his phases, so too would people die and be reborn. But Hare, who was mourning the death of his mother, denied this, saying that his mother was truly dead and would not return. They argued for some time about this, but Hare insisted that when someone died he remained dead. Eventually, Moon offered to demonstrate his own cycle of death and rebirth, but Hare refused to watch. This so enraged Moon that he struck Hare in the face and split his lip. Hare retaliated by scratching Moon's face, leaving permanent scars. Losing his patience, Moon withdrew the offer of immortality and decreed that Hare was no longer a person but an animal, to be hunted, savaged and eaten by wild dogs. Henceforth, said Moon, all men would die and not return. From that time the hare has been an animal with a split lip, and men have been mortal.
The spirits of people who have died in old age are not so much feared, because death is natural for the aged and they have had time to come to terms with it gradually. In fact, old people accept that in times of great thirst and famine, when their band is perpetually on the move in search of food, it may become necessary for the other members of the band to leave them behind, with no more than a fire to warm them and a circle of dry thorn bush to protect them from the hyenas during what will probably be their last hours. But it is not as if they were abandoned utterly to their fate. Whether they stay behind or continue with the band, the choice is unlikely to alter their fate, except that, if they continue, their presence could be the cause of the whole band having to share it. If the others find food and water before it is too late to save them, some of the men return with supplies to fetch them. If not, the old people know how their end will come. The others, knowing it too, never return to that spot, and neither will their descendants, until its deathly associations have been expunged from collective memory.
All places associated with death are left strictly alone. A body is buried in a squatting posture facing the Great God's home in the eastern sky, and all the personal possessions of the deceased are broken over the grave, so that people passing that way will recognize it as a grave and keep away from it. The campsite is then abandoned, and the band moves to another place and does not camp there again for at least two generations.
Left: Hunting eland Kamberg (Mohen R478) Right: San painting of the healing or trance dance Lonyana Rock Kwazulu-Natal. Figures dance around a seated figure apparently healing another reclining person enveloped in a kaross, a short skin-cloak. (Rock Art Res. Inst., Univ. of the Witwatersrand, SA)
The !Kung believe in an afterlife, in which their spirits become //gauwasi, who live in the eastern sky as servants of ≠Gao!na. Life dies in the body and does not leave it, but the spirit survives, and the //gauwasi come to fetch it when someone dies, removing it through the head of the corpse and taking it to ≠Gao!na, together with the heart and blood of the deceased. These he hangs on a branch over a fire, and in the smoke, the heart, blood and spirit are reconstituted. As //gauwasi, they have eternal life. They age, but do not die, because //Gauwa renews them with a special medicine before they become too old. They have bodies, as they had on earth, and they have their own supplies of the same types of food they ate formerly. They also retain their former spouses, but eternity is a long time for even the best of marriages to endure, and so if any of them tires of a partner, he or she may cause a mortal woman or man to die in order to provide a replacement in the spirit world. This explains why a beautiful woman or eligible hunter sometimes dies without apparent cause.
The !Kung have elaborate processes to deal with nature carefully which serve to ensure the land can still provide wildlife and plants. These help ensure nature is respected and the fragile ecosystems they depend on to eke a living are not compromised for their future offspring. A wide range of edible roots, bulbs, berries, fruits, melons, nuts and wild leaf vegetables are available, but as several are usually in season at the same time, some may be eaten only occasionally. The Bushmen naturally indulge their preferences when they can and concentrate on the more appetizing of the plant foods that may be gathered in any given season.
Although the Bushmen were gatherer-hunters with intimate knolwedge of plants and hunting, the 'Hottentots' were pastoralists who grazed herds of cattle.
Wider 'Bushman' and 'Hottentot' Groupings
The !Kung-San are just one of a diverse array of Bushmen groups including the !Xo, and diverse and scattered Southern Bushmen, including the /Xam, //Xegwi, /'Auni≠Khomani the 'Mountain' Bushmen, the G/wi and G//ana of the central Kalahari the Nharo and the Khoekhoe (people people) Naron and Korana herders called by the colonialists the Hottentots of the Cape after the sound of their talking (Barnard R796, Tobias R794). These are named somewhat differently by Schapera in the passages below (R795).
Naron 'Hottentots' share similar features to the Bushmen
The Khoekhoe and related 'Hottentot' peoples and many of the Southern Bushmen have been subject to genocide and disapora by waves of settlers from the 1700s on and are currently significantly incorporated culturally into other 'coloured' peoples of South Africa, so most of what we know about them comes from historical studies.
The ancient divergence of these peoples is attested to by the fact that, although they have similar facial and bodily features, the languages in the Khoisan grouping named for the San and Khoi as typical representatives have diverged as widely as some of the most distant languages on the planet - //Xegwi language is genetically more distant from Nama than Yoruba is from Zulu or English from Hindi - so distant in fact that a majority of lignguists doubt their genearogical realtionship altogether although they do share the ancient features of click languages. The languages attributed to the Khoisan family share a number of similar deep features of structure and phonology, many unique to them, as well as more basic vocabulary words than is often recognized to be the case. Similar great divergences are shown in the biological genetics, where there is more divergence between two Bushmen from distinct parts of the Kalahari than between a European and an Asian.
Despite the ancient divergences of these groups, they do share some common features of attitudes to sexuality and marriage, rites of puberty, which respect feminine power, and in regard to the supernatural and deities. We shall examine each of these in detail.
Although older writers assert that Bushmen are monogamous and don't have sex before marriage, (partly since marriage often occurs at puberty), comments about various groups, from "a girl may do as she pleases, but a married woman may not" to the observation that a husband will look after the unmarried offspring of his new wife until they are sufficiently grown to return to the father, indicates sex before marriage is accepted in several Bushman societies. Girls with unwanted pregnancies might also abort by constraining their abdomen, or someone stamping on it, or deliver the baby in the bush and bury it.
Marriages were often arranged with the girls family, and after a series of negotiations the new husband may stay with the girl's family for several months in temporary matrilocal residence and is required to help them hunt and keep supplied or the marriage may be rescinded. This may extend to the wife's first delivery so her mother can help get the newborn established with breast feeding, and she will often return there to have her first baby if she has already left. Girls seized in war or trespassing might also become abducted wives and mock and real abduction by subterfuge also are reported. In some groups, after securing the bride's and her parents' assent, a young man might have to fight her family in a ritual physical scrap to claim possession.
Occasional polygyny is also practiced, especially in northern tribes sometimes involving a man marrying sisters or cousins to maintain harmony. The principal wife generally retains priority. Sometimes an older man may take a younger second wife after his partner is past childbearing age.
Adultery is met with the likelihood of the man being killed with impunity by the husband and the wife receiving a beating depending on the husband's temper, but she is generally not driven away if she has children. If she is sent away, the adulterer may be expected to marry her. If a woman offers herself to several men in exchange for gifts, the husband will drive her away, but not attack the men, as "if a woman is intimate with many men, the husband can hardly wage 'war' with them all". There is little said of the wife's remedies if her husband is unfaithful.
Marital relations involve a division of labour in which each has complementary roles, he husband hunting and clothes and utensils while the wife builds the hut collects vegetables cooks and keeps firewood and water. Separations also occur without fuss, but if there are children the relations try to bring the parents to reason. Consistent with patriliny children over the weaning age go to the father, although in one, possibly inaccurate, report sons went to the mother and daughters to the father. In some groups, a widower may be expected to marry the sister of his dead wife.
Birth is facilitated by women either in seclusion in the bush or in a hut. The husband is not permitted. Children born while the mother is still breast feeding may be thrown away even against the husbands wishes. The same goes for one of a set of twins (the boys if they are of both sexes). One writer Seiner said of the !Kung that they fear mother and child will die if the mother breast feeds too soon, so surrogates are used who may not be lactating, which he claimed contributes to infant mortality.
Of the Hottentots it is said that despite previous regulations, there was great freedom of pre-marital and even post-marital sex, with children having relatively free sex play. If pregnancy results the father is expected to marry and is responsible for the sustenance of the child. Such children have the same rights as those from marriage. Rape is severely punished. Death for rape of a child and thrashing and confiscation of his property otherwise and the husband has the right to kill him with impunity if the victim is married. Incest is punished with death.
Some writers deny homosexuality but others claim it as common in both sexes, partly as a result of a custom of forming intimate bonds of friendship between parties of either sex. Solitary masturbation is also regarded as a national custom particularly among the women.
Marriage is a matter of free choice excepting prohibitions on marriage with close relatives or namesakes, and is usually a matter of the boy approaching the girl and gaining her consent. This may be accompanied by extensive ritual offering her a stick to break or by patiently attempting to sleep beside her in her family's hut. Once they have come to an understanding negotiations begin between their families lasting up to several months. Herbal love magics are noted both to make a person fall in love and to make them fall out of love.
As with the Bushmen, among the Naman Hottentots, a husband and wife continue to live with her parents for at least a year and only after the first child is born is he at liberty to return to his camp and establish a separate household.
The status of a wife is far from secondary. Although she takes a subordinate role in tribal life and walks behind her husband, her position in the household is supreme and the education of the children is in her hands. She is mistress of the hut and may in some circumstances forbid her husband to enter it. She has her own property in cattle, from her own family and he will consult with her even about his own. She does the milking and allots the provisions If he drinks her milk without permission, his nearest females relative will put a fine on him giving some of his cattle to his wife.
Occasional polygyny was practised with the principal wife having precedence. If a woman failed to have children, or only daughters, her husband might take a second concubine. She is free to marry later but all children of the relationship would stay with the father. Although previously punished by death or thrashing, adultery by the time of the writers had become tolerated and even turned a blind eye to in the case of either husband or wife.
Two men may also enter into an agreement to share their wives or take it in turns to visit one another's wives on alternate nights accomapnied by celebrations. The only valid grounds for divorce is ill-treatment.
In both the Naman and some Bushman groups, a son may take the name of his mother and a daughter that of her father.
One is respecting the menarche as a powerful and pivotal right of passage for the whole community. Firstly we have a summary of the different ways this is celebrated among Bushmen groups:
Among the Cape Bushmen a girl at the time of her first menstruation was In a state of taboo. "She is put into a tiny hut, made by her mother, with a very small aperture for the door, which her mother closes upon her. When she goes out, she looks down upon the ground; and when she returns to the hut, she sits and looks down. She does not go far, or walk about at this time. When presently she becomes a ' big girl ', she is allowed to look about, and to look afar again; being, on the first occasion, allowed to look afar over her mother's hand. She leaves the small hut, when allowed to look about and around again; and she then walks about like the other women. During the time she is in retreat, she must not look at the springbok, lest they become wild.'' She was not allowed to eat game killed by the young men, but only that which her father had shot; and, above all, she was not to look upon or be approached by men lest harm come to both them and herself. There are several legends describing how men who were looked upon by a girl at this time became fixed in whatever position they then occupied, or even became transformed into stones, or stars in the sky, or trees which talked; while girls who were disobedient became converted into frogs or were carried off to death by the rain.
Location of some Bushman and Kalahari peoples
Further north, in some of the North-Western tribes (Naron, Auen, Kung), the central feature of the girls' puberty ceremony is the eland bull dance, which is held in the girl's honour. As soon as she has her first period, neighbours and friends assemble to a big feast given by her parents. By day she is kept in a special hut, tended by women only, and no man may come near her; while every night until her period has passed the eland bull dance is performed. All the men and boys leave the camp, save two old men, who tie elands' horns or wooden imitations thereof to their heads, and wait in the bushes. The older women stand in a line, singing and clapping their hands. The girl is brought from her hut, and sits or lies on the ground by them. The younger women then circle round before them, or make a figure of eight. They dance with their arms outstretched before them, and have a peculiar slow, swaying step. As they dance they lift their karosses and aprons to one side, and expose their buttocks, which they waggle from side to side. Then the two " bulls" stamp up, holding their karosses pulled well down over their shoulders, sud presenting a hunched-up appearance. They join the line of dancers, sometimes leading it, sometimes in the middle of it, and dance with a slow, jogging step. The song accompanying their movements is full and low in tune, but without words. The motif of this dance clearly is the courtship of the eland bull, and they say that it can easily become indecent.
!Kung girl emerges having completed her puerty rites
The /nu //en hold a similar dance on this occasion, a man with a bird's beak on his head taking the place of the "eland bull ". The corresponding ceremony among the Heikum is a much more elaborate affair. As young girls approach the age of puberty, they are placed in a special hut in which they sleep at night. During the day time they gather veldkos (wild edible plants) either by themselves or in company with the married women, who also visit the hut and instruct them in the various matters pertaining to domestic life, teach them how to prepare the food, to gather wood, to make the fire, and so on. Men may not enter the hut, nor may the girls speak to or be addressed by any man, whether married or single.
At the onset of her first menstruation, a girl is isolated in a small round hut (/hawa omi, hut for waiting), which is completely closed in except for a small entrance. In this hut she remains as long as the flow lasts; she may not show herself outside, and above all no man may pass close to the hut or attempt to address her. She is fed by her mother, or, in the absence of the latter, by another married woman, and is not visited by anybody except the person who feeds her. She may be given veidkos, but is not allowed to partake of meat. Every day, too, her hair is smeared by the attendant woman with a mixture of red bark powder and powdered seed.
When the flow has ceased the girl informs her mother or attendant. The latter tells the other married women, and they all prepare for the /hawa-Inal (menstruation dance). This takes place during the day on the central space of the camp. Men may not take part in it, nor even watch it. The girl is led out of her hut by two of the women, who cover her whole head and face with a duiker skin kaross, leaving only the eyes visible. Each of the women takes her by the arm, and they join the line of dancers. The women dance abreast of each other, the feet thrown out sideways, with an old woman leading. What their movements are intended to represent we are not told When the dance is about to end, the girl is taken back to her hut by the two women who had led her out.
The same performance is repeated for three or four days in succession. On the last day, after the dancing has ceased, the girl is presented with various trinkets by the women who took part in the ceremony. Then, after she has been returned to her hut, the adolescent boys, who remain in the camp for the occasion, are summoned to pass in single file behind her hut. As they pass, each presses his scrotum against her hand, passed through a small opening made by her mother in the back of the hut, and she touches it with forefinger and thumb. This is done to protect the boys against swelling of the testicles, which is believed to result from contact, direct or indirect, with a menstruating woman or anything associated with her. After all the boys have filed past and returned to their hut an old woman enters the girl's hut and rubs down her body with a preparation of roots. The girl is then ceremonially taken to fetch first water and then wood, which she brings at a run and places at the hut of the old woman who cleansed her. After these have been deposited the ceremony is over. This fetching of water and wood, together with the cleansing, no doubt symbolizes the return of the girl to the normal occupations of her daily life.
She is now a woman eligible for marriage, she lives in a new hut built for her by her mother, accompanies the married women in their daily occupations, and associates with them. The food collected by her during the four or five days following the ceremony is eaten only by very old women, e.g. the one who rubbed her down After that any food she gathers is shared with her mother. On subsequent menstrual periods she may not go into the veld to gather veldkos, but must remain in the camp, and is fed by her mother.
In many of its details this ceremony closely resembles the puberty ceremony for girls among the Hottentots. There is a strong probability that it may even have been taken over from the latter, by whom the Heikum have unquestionably been influenced to a considerable extent. At the same time, in the seclusion of the girl in a separate hut, the avoidance of contact with men, and the performance of a special dance, this ceremony also presents features noted in the corresponding ceremonies of other Bushman tribes. The differences apparent between it and the others may therefore be due merely to the fact that it has been studied and recorded in much fuller detail. Without further study of the other Bushman tribes no definite assertion can be made on this point.
The puberty ceremony for girls among the !Kung of Angola differs in several important respects from those already noted. Every girl, at her first menstruation, is placed in a separate hut, and kept there until the new moon is seen. A dance is held in her honour on the first nights; both sexes take part in this, but not the girl herself.
During her seclusion a row of small parallel cuts, which are all blackened with ashes, is made on her face, or arms, or legs by her father or a male magician. Miss Bleek is convinced that these cuts are partly for ornament, but adds that there also appears to be a religious element present, as one woman informant said that //gaaa, a supernatural personage, leads this dance, and that the cuts are made in his honour. Both the scarifications and the presence of a supernatural being are foreign to the puberty ceremonies for girls in other Bushman tribes; but, as will be seen shortly, both occur (in somewhat different form) in the puberty ceremonies for boys among the NorthWestern tribes.
In all the ceremonies so far described, girls are required to pass through the rites individually as soon as they have their first period. Among the Hiechware of the Eastern Kalahari, however, it appears from the very fragmentary data supplied by Dornan that girls are initiated in groups. The central feature of the ceremony, as described by him, is an operation performed on each of the girls, which consists in the "perforation of the clitoris" with a stone knife, the operators being the older women. If this information be correct, we have here a ceremony in every way distinct from those of the other Bushmen, and one which can only be regarded as having been borrowed from the neighbouring BeChwana, whose puberty ceremonies for girls are of a somewhat similar nature.
The Hottentots also shared respect for the importance and feminine power of the menarche we have seen in the Bushmen:
Steatopygy is a noted feature of Bushman women as well as elongated labia.
As soon as a girl has her first period, when she is said to kharu, which generally happens between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, she tells her girl friends or some older female relative. Her mother then gets her married sisters and brothers' wives to make a little screened-off mat enclosure inside at the back of the family hut - the kharu oms. The mother goes to fetch a woman who, though now past childbearing, has been renowned for her former fertility. This woman the aba tards takes the girl on her back, carries her into the kharu oms, and cares for her while she is there. Should the period come on in the veld far from home, the girl's companions will on no account let her walk, lest all the roots and berries in her path scorch up, but will do their best to carry her home on their backs, taking turn and turn about.
In the kharu oms, the girl must lie quite still, wrapped closely in her sheepskin kaross. The wind must on no account blow on her, nor must she be exposed to the sun. She may not leave her little hut except at night, and then it must be by the back opening, with one woman behind her and one in front to screen her from view. All the time she is thus secluded she must be careful not to touch cold water on any pretence whatever, as it might harm her, nor may she speak above a whisper in case she becomes chatterbox and muddler and gets a bad name among the people. The hearth fire in the outer hut is now !nau, and nothing at all may be cooked at it, nor may any pregnant or menstruating or sterile woman come and sit by it, lest dire misfortune befall the girl. No man or boy, again, will come near her, for fear of dread consequences to himself. It is believed that should anyone infringe these or any of the other !nau restrictions, some sort of sexual disease would beset him; and this could only be prevented from proving fatal if he were able to persuade the the old woman officiating to inoculate him with her "essence" and so free him. The girl, however, is visited by her older girl friends, who grind sweet-smelling leaves and bark into powder for her, with which she is copiously covered. The time of her seclusion is variously reported as from two or three days to a month. One of the chief things required of the girl while in her little hut is that she should get fat, with a smoothly shining skin.
Her relations commence slaughtering animals to provide in her honour the feast known as kharu lap, "menstruation killing." All her nearer relatives contribute to this killing. Everything slaughtered must be female, and above all a heifer must be provided. The entrails must on no account be eaten by any relative. The visiting friends enjoy them. This kharu lap is the great feast for the women, all who have already passed through the puberty rites. The only exceptions to this rule are that no menstruating woman may eat of the meat, "lest the girl's period never stop," nor any pregnant woman, "lest the girl's period stop never to return." No man or boy either was formerly supposed to take any part at all in the feast, but nowadays, owing to the extreme poverty of the people, males are allowed to share the meat of all but one of the first animals killed. The girl and her friends remain in the kharu oms, drinking plenty of milk and eating all the meat they can.
As the time of her seclusion draws to a close, the young people of the kraal begin practising the reed dance, and the girl's friends, both male and female, play and dance round the hut in which she is confined. The day before she is to come out, a long series of purification rites takes place. First, the aba tards cleanses her with melted butter and moist cowdung. The girl is now given a complete set of new clothing - the full woman's dress. Next the girl is led into the outer hut by the aba tards, with whom she prepares a meal for the other women assembled to meet her. The aba tards must hold her hand as she takes the pot, and aid her with everything she does. Soot from the pot is put on her forehead, and together the old woman and she eat a piece of meat prepared apart from the rest. So she is made free to cook and prepare a meal once more. Then she takes the fire, ashes and all, and dumps it far from the hut. She next sprinkles fresh sand on the hearth, and lays a new fire, which must not be lit from another, as is usually done when a fire goes out. The fire thus lit is no longer !nau.
Whole genome study of a Bushman genome combined with amino acid sequences of several individuals shows the ancient divergence of the Bushmen and thir genetic diversity. The SNP genetic divergence of Bushman men from different parts of the Kalahari diverge more than the difference between Europeans and Asians (Schuster S et al. 2010 Complete Khoisan and Bantu genomes from southern Africa Nature 463 943-7 |doi:10.1038/nature08795).
The girl is now ready to receive visitors as a young marriageable woman - oaxais. All her relatives and friends pour in, each with some gifs, some on loan, of beads, or earrings, or other finery. The girl shines with clean, well-greased skin, she is scented all over with the buchu she and her friends have ground, her face is painted in various curious patterns with red and white mineral powder mixed with fat, and her body is loaded with the presents. Then the young boys, even up to sixteen years of age and more, come into the hut from which they have hitherto been excluded, and go up to the newly-made oaxais. She takes her "powder-puff" full of buchu, and with it rubs each of them on his testicles. This ensures fertility and is a protection against sexual diseases.
Female animals, both ewes and heifers, are killed, cooked, and eaten, and everybody, men and women, boys and girls alike, joins in this "feast of rejoicing ". The girl's nearest male relative takes the fat of one of the heifers, hangs it over her head, and wishes that she may be as fruitful as a young cow and have many children. The other friends repeat the wish. Towards evening the girl's friends enter the hut to fetch her out, and for the last time she must leave it by the special opening made for her at the back. Her friends surround her, and for a time try to keep her from the view of the youths, for she is very shy. The youths now start the reed dance, forming the inner ring, while the girls, with the oaxais in their midst, dance round them in an outer ring. Every now and then there is a change of partners, and gradually the youths get to the side of the girl and choose her as partner, till in the end her shyness has all gone. During the dancing she throws buchu over the men and boys as she sees them to bring good luck. The dancing often lasts through the night.
When it is over the final round of rites begins, reintroducing the girl to her daily tasks, freeing her from the spell under which she has hung. Early in morning she is led out of her hut by the aba tards, accompanied by her girl and boy friends. She is conducted round the kraal, and as she goes along picks up earth from the cattlefolds and strews it about, plucks twigs and blossoms from the various trees and bushes she passes by, and also scatters buchu as she goes. Every male thing, too, she touches, be it ram, calf, or man, as well as the milking vessels in the huts. The explanation given for this was that such a young girl brings fertility to all she touches, and that the day after she had come out of her hut it was sure to rain and there would be plenty in the land. Next she milks a cow, if possible a young cow calving for the first time. This milk is !nau to be drunk only by the old woman herself or others of her age. Once this milking has taken place, the girl can resume her milking duties with impunity.
Similarly she is reintroduced to all her other daily tasks by the aba tards. They gather wood together, collect roots and berries together in the veld, and so on. Finally, towards evening, when the usual time comes for getting the household supply of water, they go together, accompanied by all the old women of the kraal, to the waterhole. Here the aba tards takes wet mud from the water and rubs it on the girl's legs, then with a branch in her hand splashes water over the girl. Finally both of them take hold of the branch and strike the water. The aba tards then fills the girl's water-pot and her own, puts the former on the girl's head, and the procession returns home. The girl is now free to use water whenever she likes, except when she is menstruating. Finally she must run about quite naked in the first thunderstorm coming on after her festival, so that the rain pours down and washes her whole body. The belief is that this causes her to be fruitful and have many children.
With these final rites of aggregation the ceremony is at an end. The girl is able once more to take part in the routine life of the community, only now she is regarded as ready for marriage. During her subsequent periods, however, she is again !nau, and must observe the same injunctions as when she first menstruates. Thus she may not enter the cattle-fold, let alone milk; it is believed that if she does milk a cow, its milk will turn to blood. Nor can she touch cold water for her own safety.
The corresponding puberty rites for boys revolve around becomig a hunter:
Boys are subjected to the ceremony of initiation after reaching the age of puberty, and as soon as they are considered to have become proficient in hunting, especially in the pursuit of big game. Among the North-Western tribes this ceremony is carried out in a secluded spot in the bush, near which no woman may come. Here all the eligible big boys from several neighbouring encampments are taken by the old men, with a couple of magicians in charge; and here they remain for about a month, living together in a big hut or enclosure. During the first few days they are roughly handled and half-starved; they may have no fire, and eat no meat, but live only on a little water and on raw roots and berries, which are sprinkled by the magicians with powdered hark " medicine". The greater part of this early period is spent in the performance of sacred dances (/gi, men's dance), which are held all through the day and often continued at night.
"All gather in a circle, clap their hands, and sing a weird, solemn tune with the refrain ' honk a honk'. Then they stamp round in a circle waving their arms to another phase of the melody (no words are used); then they stand still and sing the first part again and so on." At this dance the boys often wear ostrich feathers, or the head and beak of the white stork, as head ornaments; otherwise there is no special costume. Anyone owning dancing rattles also wears them, as at the ordinary dances.
On one of the nights of this dance, " a supernatural being - Hishe approaches the dancers, circles round them, and is driven away by the medicine men. The older men had seen this being. One said that it was like a woman in appearance, another that it was not a person at all, but a creature about three feet high with a flat head, red eyes underneath the head, a black body, wings, and claws. Some old Auen said two beings came, male and female, looking like lions, but walking upright. They were followed by children like baboons. The male came first and called the others, they danced round and vanished to the east. Apparently medicine men of different times and places got up different bogies. Latterly their invention seems to have failed, for the middle-aged men told me Hishe came to the dance, but only the medicine men saw her and drove her away." Similarly, among the !Kung of Angola, " the spirit Huwe occasionally appears and dances with them, sometimes as a youth, sometimes in double form as man and woman. Huwe then retires without any particular demonstration."
As will be shown subsequently, Hishe and Huwe are beings who figure prominently in the religious beliefs of the Naron and Kung, so these ceremonies serve in some way to introduce the initiates to the mysteries of tribal religion.
More light is thrown on the routine of these ceremonies by Fourie's description of them as practiced among the Auen." On the first day they are given neither food nor water, but are subjected to the smoke of the ' devil's ' fire (//gaaa-da) and are required to partake of the ' devil's ' urine (//ganalkam). The proceedings of the second day begin with dancing before daybreak. After sunrise and at sunset they are given a small quantity of //noun (one of the staple vegetable foods of the Kalahari Bushmen) to eat and a little water to drink. During the day their bodies are blackened from head to foot with powdered roasted //noun. After partaking of the evening meal they retire to rest without dancing. On the morning of the third day they start dancing at sunrise and dance without interruption and without food or water all day long until sunset, when they go to sleep. On the following morning before sunrise, their hands are washed with water by the elders and they are given a little //noun to eat. Thereafter they are taken to a pan of water and required to walk through it. The rest of the day is spent in collecting veldkos. In the evening they are introduced to the ' Devil ' and partake of honey brought by the latter. On the fifth day their bodies are cleansed with chewed roasted //noun, and they are permitted to move about the camp and partake of food. They may, however, not speak to young unmarried women. As they retire to rest at night their bows and arrows are handed to them by the elders. From now onwards, each lad is taken separately and required to prove his skill in stalking and killing game with bow and arrow. Each one who passes through the test in a satisfactory manner is tattooed with meat taken from the animals shot by him and then permitted to return to the werft."
The " tattooing ", or rather cicatrization, referred to by Fourie is confirmed by all the other writers on the puberty ceremonies of the North-Western Bush men. Among the Kung the boys receive these cuts between the eyebrows, and, among the Naron and Auen, also on the back between the shoulder blades. They consist of from one to three vertical incisions, about half an inch to an inch long, and are made by the magicians in charge of the ceremonies. Among the Naron at Sandfontein powdered acid roots are rubbed into the wounds to keep them from closing as they heal, but no colouring matter is applied; further east, however, according to Passarge, wood ash is rubbed in to make the wounds black. All men in the North-Western tribes have these cuts (see Frontispiece), which are supposed to make them " see well ", i.e. to bring them good luck in hunting. After this operation the boys are permitted to return to the camp. They are now regarded as men, they can marry, and they take part in the councils of the men and associate with them.
The rites described above appear to exist only in theNorth-Western tribes. There is no definite record of any puberty ceremonies for boys among the Southern Bushmen. The Hiechware of the Eastern Kalahari also practiced circumcision, although this is likely to be borrowed from the BeChwana among whom they live.
Despite significant divergences in their spiritual and religious beliefs, there are deep commonalities which shed a great deal of light on the human religious perspective and show many features to be far more ancient that the traditions of the major established religions.
Many groups have a belief in an afterlife and a fear of the spirits of the dead which are generally regarded as evil influences even though the ancestors are regarded as good. Some say the stars know the time when a Bushman dies, announced by a falling star and others say girls struck by lightning are turned into stars. The new moon is said to be hollow because it is carrying the spirits of the dead. The idea may be turned into shooting stars, clouds and other phenomena and some believe the dead visit them as apparitions. Some greatly fear the dead, who are believed to move about like a ghost at night, especially those who died a bad death. Some believe those who die a good death go to the good being !khutse and the others to the bad being Gaua. Propitiations of arrows and water are offered at the funeral to avoid the dead interfering with the rains, or coming to look for their belongings.
The Naman Hottentot likewise associate the spirits of the dead with //Gaunab and say people who die in tranquility will just appear placidly in their dreams while those who die in agony or raving madly will appear as a terrible phantom. However they fear the spirits of the dead including their own ancestors, who they believe hover around the place of death and may return and molest them. Some go naked to the grave site to throw bucha leaves on it and after a month or so believe the spirt is take up by a mythical jackal. Cool water may be poured on the grave to dampen the spirit or stones heaped on it to prevent the spirit rising up. If a whirlwind comes by the hut they throw cold water at it attributing it to //Gaunab. Changes in the weather are also attributed to the spirits of the dead. Those passing a prominent grave may throw stones to it in the name of Heitsi Ebib - the heroic great father from the East.
The Eastern !Kung are said to believe the vital principle - a man's soul is immortal and that they are taken to the sky hut of the 'great captain' Xu, in which dwell the souls of all peoples, while small ghost-like human images of the person - shades - frequent his earthly abodes. The hut is hairy like a caterpillar and he eats honey locusts and butterflies in great abundance. Some say the great captain makes living beings out of the souls again. Others say the souls go to join the ancestors in certain remote places which they avoid, although there is nothing in the form of ancestor worship.
Worship of the heavenly bodies is common, especially of the Moon which also figures as a manifestation of the high God. Prayers were directed to the new moon on its first appearance, for example asking it for rain. We have already noted in the myth of the Hare that the Moon is linked to mortality. Children are admonished not to look at the moon when it rises in case it eclipses. The Sun and stars are also prayed to to ask for certain foods. Several peoples regard the Moon as an old man and the Sun a young girl pursuing one another across the sky who are said to have ascended because men tired of carrying them on their backs.
The Hottentot Naman prominently worshipped the new Moon as a manifestation of the great chief Gounja.
"Be welcome. Give us plenty of honey, give grass to our cattle that we may get plenty of milk"
The women would dance around the men clapping giving hope the new Moon would serve them as well as the last. An eclipse was treated with dread, as was an eclipse of the Sun. A comet, or even the Aurora was beleived to threaten war or death and a shooting star the disease of cattle.
Beliefs in supernatural beings are more varied. Among the Southern Bushmen, the trickster hero Mantis or /kaggen, 'Kaang etc. and his wife Coti the Dassie or Rock Rabbit figure prominently, along with two sons a daughter and an adopted daughter, whose father is a monster. Mantis is both in possession of super-human powers and is perverse and foolish, leading to all manner of scraps. He can change animals into humans and bring people back to life again. However he is never prayed to although he made the Moon and stars and all beings, although some groups do so in a dance of blood in times of famine or war.
"O Cagn! O Cagn! are we not your children, do you not see our hunger? Give us food!"
Rain is also acknowledged as a supernatural being associated with animals. Young women should avoid the rain, not snap their fingers or be spoken to against their wish or the rain may become aroused and could transform them into frogs or water flowers. certain magicians are believed to have power to bring or stop the rains.
Three names stand out in the Hottentot ritual and mythology: Tsui //Goab, Heitsi Eibib and //Gaunab. Tsui //Goab is the great hero. It is translated as "sore knee" because he went to war with another great chief //Gaunab, killing him but getting wounded on the knee and becoming lame in the process. He is said to have been a great chief, a noble warrior and a powerful magician. He made the first rocks and stones from which the ancestors came. He could tell what would happen in future times. He died several times but each time he rose again. He is also worshipped as the rain giver, and on the appearance of the Pleiades as the bringer of a plentiful harvest in a ceremony in which milk and fat and the uteri of animals is passed through the fire. Heitsi Eibib was a great and celebrated magician among the Hottentots in prehistoric times who did miraculous things. He conquered their enemies. He was born of a young girl who became pregnant eating a kind of grass. He committed incest with his mother and cursed and ruled the animals. His 'graves' are found all over the country in piles of stones. Like Mantis, he is full of tricks and inconsistencies.
As noted earlier, the !Kung universe is inhabited by a great creator god ≠Gao!na (old=Gao), also known as Hishe, Huwe and seven names in total whose home is in the Eastern sky; a lesser 'administrator' //Gauwa; and the spirits of the dead. The wives of the two deities are called by the same names in feminine form Hishedi, Huwedi and also have earthly names Khwova!na and //Gow and respect names and all may be revered so deeply they are not named at all. Tilling the soil is regarded as against the established order although the Angolan groups have adapted to agriculture.
Some groups, such as the Naron address the god above them by the Nama name Goba, or !khuba (master, Lord) as male and the one below them Ko as female accompanied by the Gauna. The Nharo and G/wi refer to God as n!adiba (which otherwise means sky) and his wife as n!adisa - simply God in the feminine singular - just as Allah and Allat and El and Ella were referred to in the Middle East. N!adiba is also the father of the moon and the sun whose mothers are the twin wives or n!adisara. Implied is that all phenomena are a manifestation of genealogy. The two are also generators of all the mammals and people. In partial contrast the !Xo creator God Gu/e is said by some to have a wife and children but by others to be unmarried.
The Auen and Naron refer to the god Hishe who lives in the east, where the spirits of the dead go by day, and is associated with hunting. The Northern !Kung attribute the creation and maintenance of all thing to Huwe a good being who wards off disease, gives plenty and protects from danger. He is also identifiable with the 'great captain' Xu or //Khu. There is also a more abstract being Thora which may or may not be Huwe and whom they are not sure where he dwells or if he is a person. He may or may not be another manifestation of Huwe.
In addition, the Northern Bushmen also speak of //gaua, a lesser, more maleficent being, associated with misfortune, who is also the spirits of the dead and is like a bird spirit driving the howling wind, thunder and lightning. The stars are his fire. However he is sometimes referred to as an agent of the high god who is neither good nor bad. A man may die when he throws a shooting star at him. In others he is the antithesis of the high God and there is a struggle between the forces of good and evil. According to the G/wi the maleficent god G//amama casts down from the sky evil wooden arrows. These lodge in women from whom their evil diffuses through the bands, especially at times of seasonal aggregation.
The Damara foragers to the North of the Nama have a very different cosmology centered on the sacred fire, with the other players being the supreme deity //Gamab who lives in the sky surrounded by a Damara village where the dead go and his sacred fire under a tree, and the evil spirits. The holy fire was kept lit by the 'great wife' the first wife of the headman, was born by her as glowing coals at the head of the clan to new camp sites and could only be relit by magic formulae and twirling of sticks.
Among both the Bushmen and Hottentots, magicians were historically also associated with bringing rain, success in the hunt and warding off misfortune or the bad effects of other magicians. Among the !Kung the 'black' ones speak to no one, and suck out the poisons of illness, while the 'white' ones make medicines and hunting poisons. Both are called on by the 'great captain' to do this work which gives them powers greater than the spirits. They are regarded as born into the role although they must receive training in the skills. In the medicine dance human illnesses are transferred to spirits to take away the malady giving them a good role on this occasion.
The diversity, yet ancient commonalities, of these peoples shows us many important things about sex, culture and religion. Although they respect the power of female fecundity in the rites of menarche, accept the matrilocal residence of a young married couple till after the first baby is born, despite their patrilineal inheritance, and allow a degree of sexual choice in both women and men not dissimilar to modern 'emancipated societies, they nevertheless have religious traditions uncannily similar to the major world religions.
These include a conception of the afterlife, the idea of a creator god in the heavens and a division between good and evil forces, in a lesser deity who appears sometimes in opposition as a kind of satanic influence influencing chaotic elements of nature and misfortune, as well as miraculous heros who can resurrect themselves from the dead. There are also deep parallels between the trickster hero who can take human form, has miraculous powers and can regenerate from the dead and the Christ figure. Notably these deities come with consorts given their same names in the feminine, so are not exclusively patriarchal. These spiritual beliefs are vastly more ancient than the major world religious traditions, yet show deep similarities with them, suggesting the religious impulse is a deeply held human characteristic to do with perceiving the world as a conscious continuum transcending the physical manifestations of biological mortality extending in mythological time to a concept of the eternal.
These deities are abstract, as abstract as the Judeo-Christian God but they do not appear to be moral nor do they appear to punish humans for their perceived sins, nor do they care if they are worshipped, nor demand allegiance, but deal only with human sustenance and misfortune in small family bands surviving amid the vagaries of nature.
In fact the gods may be cursed by humans for their vagaries and aritrariness rather than human sin provoking god's wrathful punishments.
'This God, his ways are foul! Why did he give me a little one and take her away?'
'That's the way it is God is the one who destroys. It isn't people who do it,. It is God himself.'
The Gods of Eden thus form an existential explanation for conscious existence devoid of the religious imperatives of moral punishment that characterize the undesirable utopian tendencies of Islam and Christianity, whose moral aspects are designed to demand conformity of worship and morally reduce intra-social strife in more populous agricultural, pastoral and urbanized societies, enabling them to become ever larger and more dominant over their neighbours.
Neither did these gods curse the Earth, send us out of the Garden of Paradise with a flaming sword, or anticipate Apocalypse or Armageddon, as the desert gods of the Middle East have done. Rather than subduing the wilderness in dominion over nature, even tilling the soil is regarded as going against the cosmic order.
These spiritual traditions coexisted with nature in the fragile sensitivity of the gatherer-hunter way of life, taking only what was necessary for survival, in ensuring the continuity of life in the wilderness for the generations to follow, as they had done over some 150,000 years or more in this same locale. There is a deep lesson for us all in this, in looking to a sustainable planetary biosphere in the face of a mass extinction of life caused by human impact and apocalyptic religious expectations.
Eastern Khoisan Peoples
The Hadza and Sandawe belong to the earliest populations that once inhabited the whole of East and southern Africa which, according to the archaeological record, emerged around 19,000 BCE. The Sandawe represent a cultural continuity with the bushmen but the Hadzabe may be an equally ancient separate people. Around 1000 BC Cushitic peoples pushed into East Africa from north of Lake Turkana and absorbed most of the original inhabitants. Only a few of the Khoisan peoples wee able to remain as distinct ethnicities after the arrival of the Cushites., including the Hadza and Sandawe. Around 500 BC Nilotic groups also moved in and pushed as far as central Tanzania. They were followed by the expansion of the Bantu, who arrived from central Africa after 500 BC. Both Hadza and Sandawe have resisted changing their way of life and have remained gatherer-hunters.
Sandawe people in traditional dress (click to enlarge).
Sandawe: More Ancient Roots
The Sandawe people are a small group living in north central Tanzania. They are a remnant of the earlier inhabitants of the area, thought to have once covered all of eastern and southern Africa. Southern Cushites then Eastern Cushites were followed by the Highland Nilotes (Kalenjin Cluster), then the early Bantu. Oral traditions of the Kikuyu of Kenya refer to the Athi (the ground people), whom the Kikuyu paid for the right to move into their land. The Athi are thought to be the original San people of the area.
The Sandawe are racially different from the surrounding tribes. Whereas most of the tribes in Tanzania are Bantu people, the Sandawe are San. They have lighter skin and are smaller, with knotty hair like that of the Bushmen, commonly referred to as peppercorn hair. They have the epicanthic fold of the eyelid (like East Asian peoples) common to the Bushmen and excessive wrinkling of the skin in old age. Some, particularly women like the Bushmen, show signs of steatopygia, or accumulated fat in the buttocks and haunches.
The Sandawe adopted agriculture from their Bantu neighbors, probably the Gogo, and scattered their homesteads wherever a suitable piece of land was found for their staple crops of millet, sorghum, and eventually, maize. They were uncomfortable with and had no use for denser village life, and remained a basically stateless people, showing little talent for 'empire-building'. The Sandawe did, however, have a tradition of mutual cooperation in such things as hoeing and threshing, home-building, and organizing informal parties to hunt pigs and elephants. They built their very temporary huts away from water holes, and then went hunting in the surrounding country.
Kolo Rock painting Tanzania Believed to have been painted by ancestors of the Sandawe 4000 BP.
Left: May be a healing ceremony. Originally thought by Mary Leakey to represent an abduction.
The Sandawe practice an insular and deeply spiritual culture with an emphasis on animism. Caves in the hills were believed to harbor spirits and were respected and even feared. So as not to disturb these spirits, the caves were avoided, no animals were herded there, and no wood cut or twigs broken. Once a year the Sandawe would go to the caves to perform rituals of sacrifice in order to make sure the spirits would not be spiteful and interfere with the community's general well-being. People would go to the caves in the hills as a group shouting prayers to the spirits, assuring them that no one had come to disturb them, but had come to pay their respects. These prayers were shouted as loudly as possible, to make sure that the spirits could hear no matter where they were. The Sandawe beliefs also centered on a veneration of the moon, the stars, the seasons, and the mantis insect, connecting them to the trickster hero of the southern Bushmen. The moon was seen as a symbol of life and fertility; cool and beneficial, it brought rain, and it controlled the cycle of fertility in women. The mantis was divine messenger with a special reason for appearing and a medium was usually consulted to find the explanation.
There was a god, Warongwe, who was so abstract, distant, and unrelated to the well-being of normal life that it was rarely prayed to or given sacrifices. As in almost all African areas, religion consisted of a long line of ancestors and a strongly-knit extended family system that mediated between living beings and a very remote all-powerful God.
The Sandawe were and remain an outgoing people, fond of singing, dancing, making music, and drinking beer, having an enormous store of songs. All ceremonials and rituals differed from one another, such as those of harvest and courtship, as did those of the curing rituals with their trances, the circumcision festivals, and simba possession dances, in which dancers imitated lions in order to combat witchcraft. Even today the Sandawe retain a strong oral tradition, loving to recount stories, which embody the collective wisdom of the group.
Much of Sandawe life focuses on a series of fertility rites known as phekumo. The dances of phek'umo are held after sunset, the only illumination allowed being the benign, 'cool' light of the moon. Linking the phekumo with the eland-bull dance of girls' puberty rites among the north-western Bushmen is the native claim that such dances were organized in the past by men who had daughters who had begun to menstruate (Ten Raa R685 36). Menstruation as such is associated with the darkness of new moon; but the nocturnal dances get under way only as the moon approaches fullness at around the beginning of the moon's second quarter.
The dance is begun by the women, who go round in circles:
They carry their arms high in a stance which is said to represent the horns of the moon, and at the same time also the horns of game animals and cattle. The women select their partners from among the opposing row of men by dancing in front of them with suggestive motions. The selected partners then come forward and begin to dance in the same manner as the women do, facing them all the time (Ten Raa R685 38). As the dance warms up, the movements become more and more erotic; some of the women turn round and gather up their garments to expose their buttocks to the men (rather than to the newly menstruating girl as in the !Kung): Finally the men embrace the women while emitting hoarse grunts which sound like those of animals on heat. The men and women lift one another up in turn, embracing tightly and mimicking the act of fertilization; those who are not dancing shout encouragements at them ... What the women are in fact doing, writes Ten Raa (ibid), is to re-enact the role of the moon in the basic creation myth, according to which the moon entices the sun into the sky for the first celestial copulation. The women are the moon; the men, the sun. The whole rite is held under the aegis of the moon, and has the explicit purpose of 'making the country fertile'.
Hadza couples (top right) smoking cannabis, men returning from the hunt (click to enlarge).
Hadzabe: Emerging Sexual Tensions
The Hadza, or Hadzabe live around Lake Eyasi in the central Rift Valley in north-central Tanzania and in the neighboring Serengeti Plateau. They number just under 1,000, with some 300-400 living as hunter-gatherers.
While traditionally classified with the Khoisan languages, primarily because it has clicks, the Hadza language appears to be an isolate, unrelated to any other. The descendants of Tanzania's aboriginal hunter-gatherer population, they have probably occupied their current territory for several thousand years, with relatively little modification to their basic way of life until the past hundred years. Hadzaland is just 50 km from Olduvai Gorge. Archaeological evidence suggests that the area has been continuously occupied by hunter gatherers much like the Hadza since at least the beginning of the Later Stone Age, 50,000 years ago. Several rock art sites within their territory, probably at least two thousand years old, are considered by the Hadza to have been created by their ancestors, and their own oral history does not suggest they moved to Hadzaland from elsewhere.
Genetically, the Hadza do not appear to be particularly closely related to other Khoisan-language-speakers: even the Sandawe, who live just 150 km away, diverged from the Hadza more than 15,000 years ago. Genetic testing also suggests significant admixture has occurred between the Hadza and Bantu, Nilotic and Cushitic-speaking populations in the last few thousand years. Today a small number of Hadza women marry into neighbouring groups such as the Bantu Isanzu and the Nilotic Datoga, but these marriages often fail and the woman and her children return to the Hadza. In previous decades rape or capture of Hadza women by outsiders seems to have been common. The reverse situation (Hadza men marrying non-Hadza women) is very rare today, probably because their neighbours view the Hadza as having low status.
Like the San and Mbuti, the Hadza are gatherers and hunters. They hunt game, gather edible plants and honey, and move from place to place whenever the weather changes, or the wild herds migrate, or they just feel like moving. In small groups of about eighteen adults and their children, they pitch camps among the rocks and trees of the dry savanna.
Hunter gatherer clue to obesity Jul 2012 A study of the Hadza tribe, who still exist as hunter gatherers, suggests the amount of calories we need is a fixed human characteristic. This suggests Westerners are growing obese through over-eating rather than having inactive lifestyles, say scientists.
It takes less than two hours for Hadza women to build a new camp. They make huts by bending and weaving branches into round structures about six feet high, then covering them with thick clumps of long, golden grass. Or, if the weather is very wet, the women may skip the hut building and choose a dry cave to set up a camp that includes a hearth, cooking vessels, sleeping mats made of animal skins, and tools for sharpening stones and scraping skins. Some rock caves have been used intermittently over thousands of years and are decorated with ancient rock paintings.
Hadzabe camp and activities (www)
Men and boys hunt with bows and arrows, almost always alone. Women and girls do not hunt. By the age of 10, an Eastern Hadza boy will have made himself a sturdy bow and a set of arrows to kill hyrax, rabbits, squirrels and birds. Men tend to make long bows, about six feet in length, which are exceptionally powerful and heavy to pull. Hadza hunt from very close range to shoot impala, zebra, eland or giraffe. Some Hadza also eat predators, including lion, leopard, and other wild cats, or perhaps scavengers like jackal, hyena and vulture, but they draw the line at reptiles like monitors, snakes and lizards. Like the !Kung, they use poisoned arrow tips to hunt large animals. Once a beast has been wounded, the hunter waits a few hours for the poison to act and then tracks the wounded animal until it dies.
Most meat is eaten where it falls. Hunters take each day as it comes and generally hunt alone to feed themselves, however they occasionally go out at night, encircle a troop of baboons, and kill them. They take meat back to camp only if there is a surplus and they feel like making the effort. Most men content themselves with vegetable foods and small animals. The men frequently gamble their few possessions in a game of chance throwing wooden discs until one matches the large one. Far from resenting these non-hunters, the few big-game hunters readily share meat with them as well as with women and children. A good hunter will be favored by women and will tend to be welcome, perhaps even pampered, when he joins a camp. Like the !Kung, the interactions of Hadza people are relatively free of jealousy, resentment, elitism, tyranny, or any concept of private property.
"Hadza women are independent and powerful, free to marry or divorce at will. Gender roles are distinct, but for women, there is none of the forced subservience knit into many other cultures. A significant number of Hadza women who marry out of the group soon return, unwilling to accept bullying treatment. Among Hadza, women are frequently the ones who initiate a breakup - woe to the man who proves himself an incompetent hunter, or treats his wife poorly. Some of the loudest, brachest members were women" (Finkel, Muchael 2009 The Hadza National Geographic Dec 94-119).
Hadzabe woman and man (www)
Gathering begins early in Hadza childhood, when babes help their mothers, big brothers and sisters pick berries, dig edible roots, and gather seeds and pulp from baobab trees. Like the San this food supplies 80 percent of the normal diet by weight. Hadza people obtain the remaining 20 percent of their food from meat brought back to camp and wild bee honey taken from hives in the bush.
Hadza women make skirts from the skins of female impala, sometimes decorated with beads, shells and bells. A second garment, made of cloth and beads for a married woman, or strings and beads for an unmarried woman, hangs in front. The upper garment, also made from impala hide, can be used for warmth or to carry berries, babies, firewood or meat. Men and boys of the Hadza tribe wear the skin of a small animal as a loincloth, its tail hanging down between their legs. They wear sandals to protect them from the thorns on the savanna.
Hadza people generally come and go as they like. They may travel alone, join a camp, move to a different camp, or gravitate to a small area and live there with any group that happens to come along. The major exception is demonstrated by married couples, who may stay together for twenty years and tend to live with the wife's mother. If husband and wife live apart for two weeks or more, they are likely to be considered unmarried. Marriages are not arranged and there is usually no wedding ceremony. Marriage usuallyfollows a brief sexual relationship and is evident when a couple starts living together. Polygyny is rare. Spouses of either gender may abandon the marriage and seek a new partner by reverting to the dress of unmarried members of the tribe.
In the rock-strewn hillsides of Tanzania, Hadza foragers collect all the tubers and baobab pods they need without having to travel more than two miles from camp. Mothers are rarely gone longer than an hour. Infants are left behind at around two rather than the four characteristic among the !Kung, often with subadult caretakers. Because they have the option to leave babies with an allo-mother, Hadza mothers can produce infants after shorter intervals than !Kung mothers without compromising survival. As a consequence, the Hadza population is growing by 1% a year rather than holding steady (Hrdy R330 197).
A camp has no organized leadership and no sense of itself as a permanent group. They are far more likely to move on than create conflict. Dissidents are more likely to leave a camp than face a conflict. Conflict is often concealed behind ecological excuses, such as an claiming the berries are better or the game more plentiful somewhere else.
Hadza hunting video [http://youtu.be/_x8xDDhdUXs]
Hadza hunting and their traditional lands (www)
Hadza women depend on their female kin to act as buffers against a husband's violence. The mother of a beaten woman may threaten to take her daughter back, and a wooman's relative may band together to beat the husband with their digging sticks if his abuse of his wife becomes too severe (Broude R83 313). Hazda men who have a grudge against another camp may attack, or rape, the women without repercussions (R83 252). On the other hand if a Hadza man leaves his family for more than a few weeks they say "his house has died". Marriage last only as long as the two live together on a regular basis. The man no longer has rights over the woman and any children they share and it is up to the woman whether to take him back or not if he returns (R83 76).
"In the Hadza matriarchy myth of Mambedaka, the original owner of the sacred epeme meat is an old woman who dresses as a man, hunts zebra and wears a zebra penis which she uses to have sex with her 'wives'. She demands that men bring the epeme meat to her cooking pot which she distributes to the 'wives'. Men have no share in the sacred meat until the violent overthrow of Mambedaka's rule" (Power and Watts R551 323). This is again a depiction of the logic of women procuring fatty meat from men by signalling 'wrong sex, wrong species (p 77). This interpretation, like many others in more patriarchal societies speaks of an overthrow of female power over sexuality by the men. Consistent with this trend, among the Hadza there is an extraordinarily intense consciousness of sexual difference, which divides the sexes into "two hostile classes, each of which is capable of organizing itself for defense or virulent attack against the other" (Sanday R609):
This opposition between the Hadza sexes is more pronounced during the dry season, when camps are bigger and large animals and humans congregate near the few available sources of water. During the wet season, however, food becomes both abundant and evenly dispersed, and the sexes live together relatively harmoniously in small, widely scattered camps, subsisting on roots and small game. In these small wet-season camps, men and women are not segregated greatly. Only the large camps of the dry season seem to stimulate sexual segregation and mutual hostility between the sexes. It is common for the relationship between the sexes among the same group of foragers to change, depending on seasonal activities or a switch from nomadic to sedentary life. In foraging societies, when food is abundant and dispersed, small family groups wander with relative ease in their environment and the sexes are integrated in most activities.
This ease disappears during the dry season, when the food supply fluctuates, or is concentrated in certain areas, bringing animals and people into competition for the same water resources. Hadza men hunt large game, which implies danger, and they gamble in camp, which conveys a concern with chance. In the concentrated settlements of the dry season, the Hadza believe that contact with menstrual blood is dangerous. This is the wedge that drives the sexes apart - as is the case in most societies in which sexual separation is rigid. When a Hadza women menstruates, she avoids certain activities, which would be polluted by her contact. In addition, her husband of the moment, whoever he may be, must abstain from his ordinary activities lest he endanger the rest of the camp's chance of success in hunting. Just as the !Kung say a menstruating girl at menarche has 'shot her first eland' the Hadza say 'she has shot her first zebra', consistent with the link between menstruation and hunting.
For the Hadza, the dry season marks the phase of social aggregation when their most sacred rituals are held - The epeme dances held on each night of the dark moon for the duration of the aggregation. All camp fires are extinguished and the women call upon each man in turn to dance, referring to him exlusively in consanguineal kinship terms [therefore, as borthers and sisters rather than lovers]. In Hadza belief women synchronize their menstruation with the dark moon, hence at the time of epeme rites. The dance emphasizes gender segregation cross-cut by kinship solidarity. As well as being a healing dance, it is believed to ensure success in forthcoming hunts, when portions of the fattiest meat will be offered in birdeservice. A coherent pattern emerges: First, men should not hunt nor have sex while their wives are bleeding; second, the most successful hunting in the dry season occurs around full moon; and third, menstruation normatively occurs at dark moon, at the same time as the most sacred ritual. (Power and Watts R551 322).
The most important Hadza ritual, the Epeme Dance, is a solemn affair carried out in total darkness on moonless nights. The men become sacred beings and dance, one by one, communicating with the women, who sing sacred accompaniment in a special whistling language reserved for this context. The men are secretive about what is going on and sit apart from the women and children. Despite this, the ritual emphasizes the shared interests of men and women, especially as parents of children. This ritual is considered indispensable for Hadza well-being. It may be interpreted as a recurring ceremonial reconciliation of men and women, and indeed all Hadza. Attendance is obligatory for all the camp's dwellers (Lee and Daly R404).
Adding to sexual tensions, the Hadza also appear to have partially adopted both male and female circumcision from neighbouring tribes on their periphery although this is disputed:
Bagshawe (1925) said the old men and women circumcised boys and girls but no ritual was involved and he felt the practice had only recently been adopted from neighboring tribes. Based on my interviews, I suspect he was right. Linguist Dorothea Bleek (1931) visited the Hadza in 1930 and said that unlike other tribes, circumcision was unknown to the Hadza. Hadza men are not circumcised today and only a certain unknown fraction of women are. Given all these differences, it appears there may have been more influence from Isanzu then than now, at least along the margins of Hadza country. (Marlowe R441)
Hadza men and women are differentiated in religious contexts. Men are initiated into an egalitarian community of men which has privileged rights over certain portions of the best meat or most game animals. Initiated men meet on their own and have secrets from women and children. Men are liable to respond violently to perceived encroachment on their secret activities. Women too have secrets from men. Female circumcision, clitorectomy, in which the men have little interest, is organized by the women alone, and is seen as a matter entirely for women. After the operation, the newly circumcised young women chase after and violently attack the men, especially their potential husbands, with specially decorated staves. There are at present some indications that Hadza women may, on their own initiative, soon decide to give up circumcision (R404). It is likely this has come about through ancient contact with the Cushites. Men say the reason why women are clitorectomized is that babies would otherwise have difficulty during delivery since the clitoris would otherwise protrude and obstruct the birth canal. However at least one Hadza man also said that, without cutting off the clitoris, a woman will move around too much and make too much noise during sex.
Studies in sexual preference of voices among Hadza show interesting trends. Hadza men judged deeper-voiced women to be better foragers, but they fancied the highest-pitched women as partners. Women judged deep voiced men to be better hunters, but offered no clear preference for what a husband should sound like. Nursing women favoured higher-pitched tones, while fertile women showed a slight preference for the deeper voices, suggesting higher pitched men may be perceived as better resourcers when a woman is breast feeding and has limited foraging abilities (Callaway E 2008 Deep-voiced men not guaranteed to impress New Scientist 3 Dec).
Peggy Reeves Sanday (R609) notes the sexual tension involved:
"The sexual segregation and taboos restricting the activities of Hadza men and women during the dry season may well be the means by which the Hadza handle their perception that the odds are stacked against them, that their lives are at the mercy of random blows inflicted by nature. We can only speculate why people handle their fear at such times by separating the sexes and deeming menstrual blood powerful and dangerous. To many peoples, blood means the source of life and the signal of death. A people's experience with blood must be more negative than positive when their lives are threatened by starvation, thirst, or by the hungry animals they hunt. Little information exists on the mortality rate of hunters. If, as in warfare, hunters risk death, then they must be extraordinarily cautious. A hunter who has had recent contact with a menstruating woman possibly carries the smell with him, warning the animals of his presence. Unfortunately, we have little information on how hunted animals are affected by the smell of menstrual blood. Restrictions separating the sexes are more elaborate in concentrated settlements. When humans congregate in larger settlements, the smell of menstrual blood must be more obvious. It is a frightening smell because it is reminiscent of death. Being a fluid that flows from the body, menstrual blood is like the fluid that drains from the newly dead. Both types of fluids represent the loss of a vital essence. The more people experience death in nature, the more likely they are to view menstrual blood as dangerous. Such a response to menstrual blood is illogical, because blood in women signals their readiness to bear life, whereas the blood drawn by hunters signals death. However, by killing animals, men also bring life in the form of animal protein - a food with a high prestige value wherever men hunt. If the blood that flows from women can only be equated with life, then why is it so often equated with danger? Perhaps the answer lies in a rather simple proposition. If blood is associated with life and death in the experience of males, a balance is achieved by associating female blood with life and danger. If humans do strive to achieve such a balance, we would expect, to the extent that men have more experience with blood and death, that the blood of women would be endowed with corresponding connotations."
Hadza religion involves a set of general rules that when broken cause illness. The belief is that spirits cause a person to become ill (physically or mentally) and not following the rules can anger the spirits.
The Hadza's oral history of their own past is divided into four epochs. In the beginning of time the world was inhabited by hairy giants called the Akakaanebe or Gelanebe "ancestors". They did not possess tools or fire; they hunted game by staring at it and it fell dead; they ate the meat raw. They did not build houses but slept under trees, as the Hadza do today in the dry season. Fire was not used because it was physically impossible in the earth's primeval state. They were succeeded by the Tlaatlanebe, equally gigantic but without hair. In this second epoch fire could be made and used to cook meat, but animals had grown more wary of humans and had to be chased and hunted with dogs. The Tlaatlanebe were the first people to use medicines and charms to protect themselves from enemies and initiated the epeme rite. They lived in caves. The third epoch was inhabited by the Hamakwabe "nowadays", who were again smaller than their predecessors. They invented bows and arrows and containers for cooking and further mastered the use of fire. They also built houses like those of the present day Hadza. The Hamakwabe were the first of the Hadza's ancestors to have contact with non-foraging people, with whom they traded for iron to fashion into knives and arrowheads. They are also attributed with the invention of lukuchuko, a gambling game. The fourth and final epoch continues to the present day and is inhabited by the Hamaishonebe "modern".
In the past the sky used to be located under the earth. There are mythological figures who rolled the sky and the earth like two sheets of leather swapping their order to achieve the recent situation. These figures also made crucial decisions about the animals and humans, giving people the fire and the capability of sitting. They have celestial connotations: Ishoko is a female solar figure, and Haine her husband, a male lunar figure. Ishoko, or Ishoye, is depicted in some tales as someone who created animals, even people. Her creatures included the man-eating giant and his wife who turned out to be a disaster for their fellow people. Ishoko saw this, and she killed them saying "you are not people any longer". Uttering Ishoko's name can mean a greeting, a good wish to someone for a successful hunt. Indaya, is a culture hero the man who went to the Isanzu territory after his death and returned, introducing customs and goods to the Hadza.
Pygmy language groups
Pygmies: The Ancient Forest Dwellers of Tropical Western Africa
As shown in the map of African peoples 8000 years ago, the pygmies represent a second very ancient African human group that was more widespread until other peoples such as the Bantus spread across the continent. They still remain in several isolated cultures, in the densely forested parts of the Congo Basin, under increasing threat from development and genocide as a result of the Congo wars. We will examine two peoples, one eastern and the other western, the Mbuti and the Biaka.
Mbuti: Father, Mother, Lover, Friend
The Mbuti Forest People share significant ancient characteristics with the bushmen and form the largest single group of pygmy hunters and gatherers in Africa (Sanday R609 93). Around 2500 BC the Egyptians referred to the Mbuti as 'the people of the trees' renowned for their singing and dancing. These records support the Mbuti remaining stably in this habitat for 4000 years. Because of fission into small isolated groups they have lost their original language and adopt those of neighbouring Bantu tribes with whom they share a semi-symbiotic relationship and more features than the !Kung.
1964 Video of Mbuti Pygmies singing [http://youtu.be/fSr-TyJ0a3g]
Like the !Kung, the Mbuti have a minimal differentiation of sex roles. Mary Douglas says of the Mbuti (R173) 'Neither sex, age nor kinship order their behavior in strictly ordained categories'. They have no concept of pollution 'of death nor of birth nor of menstruation'. Forced marriages and divorces are very rare. Eligible men and women are free to chose their spouses, but the approval of both sets of parents is usually sought. As a gesture of appreciation to the family of the women, the man usually offers an antelope to the father of the bride. Arobo, or free love, is practiced by youth. The Mbuti consider youth to be a period of experimentation and exploration and adolescents are free to satisfy their sexual curiosities. Despite their premarital permissiveness, children outside of marriage are rare. There is no social prohibtion on married men having affairs but they are discrete to avoid angering their wives (R83 276). A Mbuti girl is ritually deflowered by her boyfriend. The girl remains in a hut surrounded by armed women and the boy must fight the whips and missiles aimed at him to get in. If he succeeds he pays an axe as price and spends the night with her (R83 64). There are no prohibitions on sex during menstruation among the Mbuti (R83 226).
A Mbuti camp ([email protected]). Pygmy representatives have asked the United Nations to set up a court to try government and rebel fighters from DR Congo for acts of cannibalism against their people. Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of Mbuti pygmies, told the UN's Indigenous People's Forum that during the civil war his people had been hunted down and eaten. 'In living memory, we have seen cruelty, massacres, and genocide, but we have never seen human beings hunted down as though they were game animals,' he said. 'People have been eaten. This is nothing more, nothing less, than a crime against humanity.' More than 600,000 pygmies are believed to live in the DR Congo's forests. Both sides in the war regard them as 'subhuman'. Some say their flesh can confer magical powers (BBC). The Biaka are also threatened by logging, which damages the forest, drives criss-crossing roads into their territory and frightens away the game as well as poaching of the game animals they hunt.
Their habitat and their heaven is the Ituri Forest. The forest is their godhead, and different individuals address it as 'father', 'mother', 'lover', and/or 'friend'. They say that the forest is everything: the provider of food, shelter, warmth, clothing, and affection. Each person and animal is endowed with a spiritual power that "derives from a single source of power whose physical manifestation is the forest itself". Disembodied spirits deriving from this same source are also considered to be independent manifestations of the forest. The forest lives for the Mbuti. It is both natural and supernatural, something that is depended upon, respected, trusted, obeyed, and loved. The forest is a good provider. At all times of the year men and women can gather an abundant supply of mushrooms, roots, berries, nuts, herbs, fruits, and leafy vegetables. The forest also provides animal food.
There is little sexual division of labor. The hunt is frequently a joint effort. A man is not ashamed to pick mushrooms and nuts if he finds them, or to wash and clean a baby. In general, leadership is minimal and there is no attempt to control or dominate either the geographical, or human environment. Decision making is by common consent: Men and women have equal say because hunting and gathering are both important to the economy. The forest is the ultimate authority. It expresses its feelings through storms, falling trees, poor hunting all of which are taken as signs of its displeasure. But often the forest remains silent, and this is when the people must sound out its feelings through discussion. Diversity of opinion may be expressed, but prolonged disagreement is considered to be 'noise' and offensive to the forest. Certain individuals may be recognized as having the right and the ability to interpret the pleasure of the forest. In this sense there is individual authority, which simply means effective participation in discussions. The three major areas for discussion are economic, ritual, and legal matters having to do with dispute settlement. Participation in discussions is evenly divided between the sexes and among all adult age levels. The avoidance of differentiation between the sexes is consistent with the principle of egalitarianism that rules Mbuti life in the forest.
If something bad happens, it must be because the forest is asleep and not looking after its children. An old man told Colin Turnbull how all pygmies have different names for their god, but how they all know that it is really the same one.
Just what it is, of course, they don't know, and that is why the name really does not matter very much. 'How can we know?' he asked. 'We can't see him, perhaps only when we die will we know and then we can't tell anyone. So how can we say what he is like or what his name is? But he must be good to give us so many things. He must be of the forest. So when we sing, we sing to the forest.'
The complete faith of the pygmies in the goodness of their forest world is perhaps best of all expressed in one of their great molimo songs, one of the songs that is only sung fully when someone has died. At no times do their songs ask for this or that to be done, for the hunt to be made better or for someone's illness to be cured . . . it is not necessary. All that is needful is to awaken the forest and everything will come right. But suppose it does not, suppose that someone died; then what? Then the men sit around their evening fire, as I had been doing with them for the past month, and they sing songs of devotion, songs of praise, to wake up the forest and rejoice it, to make it happy again. Of the disaster that has befallen them they sing, in this one great song, 'There is darkness all around us; but if darkness 'is', and the darkness is of the forest, then the darkness must be good.'
Video of "The darkness is good - Mbuti Polphony"
Religion in the lives of tropical forest foragers increasingly reflects borrowings from neighboring African groups. They believe the wealth and goodness of the forest comes from Muungu, a high deity, the greatest of forest gods, who fills all their needs. Tropical forest foragers believe in totemic spirits (sitana) - animals whose spirits and characteristics represent the group's unity. They also believe in a water animal, called nyama ya mai in Swahili, who is responsible for any serious water accidents. Tropical forest foragers also practice magical rituals called anjo to help control the weather and improve hunting. Their main concern is to delay rain and storms until the hunt is over. The most important ritual ceremony is the molimo. It is held whenever hunting becomes unproductive or a special problem demands a solution.
Many of the ceremonies and beliefs, including the molimo have been shared by both the neighbouring Negro villagers and the forest Pygmies. For the neighboring Negro villagers, the ritual act is the important thing. In their religious rites. It is the correct performance of the ceremonial that counts most. If correctly performed it is bound to bring the desired results, regardless of the accompanying thought, if indeed, there is any. All attention is focused on the act itself. And it must not only be performed correctly, but with a solemnity that betrays fear. The difference between the two attitudes is perhaps one of those fine shades of difference that divide magic from religion, though there is so much overlapping that they can seldom be divided in practice. Whereas the villagers believe that the act itself brings about results in a way they cannot explain, which is what we call magic, the Mbuti do not believe in this at all. They believe in a benevolent deity or supernatural power which they identify with the forest. To this they owe as much respect and affection and consideration as they owe to their own parents, and from it they can expect the same in return. So, for the pygmies, it is not so much the act itself that counts, but the manner in which the act is performed and the thought that goes with it. The collecting of food from hut to hut is not a magical act, but a way of emphasizing that this is something in which every single member of the group must participate.
Turnbull classifies the legends of the Mbuti principally into stories dealing with relations with Negroes, with animals and the forest, with only a few covering creation myths (Turnbull C 1959 Legends of the BaMbuti J. Royal Anth. Inst. of Great Britain and Ireland 89/1 45-60). The most prized virtue in the myths is cleverness, particularly Pygmy cleverness and the most despised is ignorance. Notably the Pygmies and negores tell opposing stories of their mutual contact in which each clamins to have found the other trapped in a deep hole before releasing them. The first beginning of the pygmies receives scant attention. The one legend in the collection referring to this runs as follows:
Way, way back, when the Great Forest was young, there were two pygmy men and one pygmy woman. They went off into theForest together.The one man lived with his wife,but time went by and still they had no children. The other pygmy saw this and decided that he would go to the main hunting camp.There he found another woman. He lived with her, and in due course a child was born. The pygmy ran to his friend in the Forest in great joy, and told him the news. His friend immediately left the Forest and also lived with the woman in the hunting camp. They too had a child. And that is how pygmies began, and how they became so plentiful. Basi [That is all]
The pygmies have a complex, complementary although to a degree captive relationship with neighbouring Bantu villagers, involving bartering village goods for meat and other forest products the pygmies are expert at securing. Villagers often have a claim of ownership over pygmy individuals and consider it their business to officiate their marriages, and oversee their ceremonies such as the elima. A pygmy may in a given instance take advantage of his villager 'owner' through his unpredictable behavior and sometime pick another village sponsor, but often this relationship degenerates into effective and financial slavery, in which the pygmy gets only a few items of little value in return for his labors. Neither do they have citizenship status or any identity papers in the countries in which they live.
Some sexual differentiation occurs in the emotional connotations associated with mother and father and is acted out in one of the most important Mbuti ceremonies. Motherhood is associated with food and love, and fatherhood with authority, although fathers physically nurture their children. The mother is regarded as the source of food; all food that is collected or hunted is cooked and distributed by women. Hungry children look to their mothers for food, not to their fathers.
Sexual differentiation is acted out in the molimo ceremony, which is held irregularly, when someone dies or when conditions of life are generally poor. Its goal is to awaken and 'to rejoice the forest.' The festival symbolizes the triumph of life over death. The central ceremonial symbols are the molimo fire and the molimo trumpets. Both are associated with life, regeneration, and fertility. Both are believed to have been once owned by women and stolen from them by the men. The trumpet is sometimes referred to as an animal of the forest: It is symbolically fed, it is passed through the fire, and during a dance it is used by a young man to imitate the male and female parts in the sexual act. The trumpet is the only sign of the presence of a supernatural power during the molimo festival.
The trumpet is supposed to sing and to pass on the song of the Mbuti into the forest. It is kept out of the sight of women and children, who are supposedly forbidden to see it. The Mbuti do not consider the trumpet to be sacred in itself - it is simply a vehicle for transferring power between the Mbuti and the forest. The molimo festival includes two rituals that separate male from female. Both focus on an old woman who symbolically kills and scatters the molimo fire (the symbol of life) and later ties all the men together with a roll of twine. The old woman dances the fire dance led by a chorus of women singing molimo songs (supposedly known only by men). The men follow in obedient chorus. The high point of the dance comes when the old woman jumps into the flames, whirls around, and scatters the molimo fire in all directions within the circle of men surrounding her. The men, still singing, gather the scattered embers, throw them back onto the coals, and dance while the flames begin to rise again as if they had brought the fire back to life. The old woman repeats her dance, each time seeming to stamp the fire out of existence, after which the dance of the men gives it new life. Finally the old woman and the women leave the scene. A little later the old woman comes back alone. The men continue singing while she ties them all together, looping a roll of twine around their necks. Once all are tied they stop singing. The men then admit to having been bound and to the necessity of giving the woman something as a token of their defeat, so that she'll let them go. After a certain quantity of food has been agreed upon, the old woman unties each man. No one attempts to untie himself, but as each man is untied he begins to sing once more. This signifies that the molimo is free. The old woman receives her gifts, and before leaving several weeks later, she goes to every man, giving him her hand to touch as though it were some kind of blessing.
Colin Turnbull (R707, R708), the major ethnographer of the Mbuti, suggests that in the fire dance women assert their prior claim to the fire of life and their ability to destroy and extinguish life. However, he asks, was the old woman really destroying the fire? Perhaps when she kicked the fire in all directions among the men she was giving it to them, to gather, rebuild, and revitalize the fire with the dance of life. In discussing these ceremonies, Turnbull suggested to me the possibility that they symbolized the transference of power from women to men. As he put it, "Women have the power which they give to men for them to control" (personal communication). If this is indeed the case, and it is difficult to be sure, then whereas in some societies men take power from women, Mbuti women give power to men (Sanday R609 23).
Explaining to Colin Turnbull the reason for the molimo ceremonies, held when the Mbuti feel that all is not well between themselves and the forest, upon which they depend for everything, an old Mbuti man said: "The forest is a father and mother to us and like a father or mother it gives us everything we need food, clothing, shelter, warmth . . . and affection". Normally everything goes well because the forest is good to its children, but when things go wrong there must be a reason. Things go wrong, the old man said, at night when the people are asleep, when no one is awake to protect humans from harm. At night army ants may invade the camp or leopards may come in and steal a hunting dog or even a child. The old man said that such things would not happen when people are awake. Thus, he reasoned, "When something big goes wrong, like illness or bad hunting or death, it must be because the forest is sleeping and not looking after its children." Because things go wrong when the forest is 'asleep,' the forest must be 'awakened' so that it looks after the interests of the people. The old man said: "We wake it up by singing to it, and we do this because we want it to awaken happy. Then everything will be well and good again. So when our world is going well then also we sing to the forest because we want to share our happiness. One way the Mbuti 'awaken' the forest is to sound the molimo trumpets. These trumpets are referred to as 'the animal of the forest' and are kept from the sight of women, who are supposed to believe that the sound of the trumpet is made by an animal and that to see the trumpet would bring death. It is also believed that the women used to possess the molimo trumpets and that they were stolen from them by the men. This is the main reason why the women must be barred from viewing the trumpets. Were they to have access to the trumpets, it is thought, the women might try to seize them from the men (Sanday R609 187).
A ceremony called the 'lesser' molimo is held when hunting is bad. This ceremony involves men alone. After supper the women and children are bundled away safely in the huts and the men prepare for a night of eating and singing to the forest. When the men sing in the camp, the sound of the trumpets echoes the men's song from the depths of the forest. Sometimes the sound of the trumpet is that of an angry animal who will endanger the lives of women and children. Other times the trumpet's sound is mournful and pleads with the forest and men for food. The trumpets are fed food and water and passed through the flames of the molimo fire in an act that signifies the male role in copulation . These acts suggest that men are responsible for the well-being and fertility of animals. The 'lesser' molimo ceremony is one of the few times when men and women are separated and men imitate a dominant role. This ceremony signifies the responsibility of men in connection with animals and the hunt. Women and children are bundled off into the huts in order to protect them from the dangerous forces emanating from the forest world during the night. The animal nature of men is expressed in the association of the trumpets with masculinity and animality. The manipulation of the trumpets during the ceremony, however, indicates also that with the aid of their forest, men are meant to control animal nature for the good of the community.
The idea that the trumpets were stolen from women suggests that it was from women men believe they found the means to control the destructive forces that stalk the forest at night and that it was from women they received their animal nature. Stealing the trumpets implies also that masculinity must be aggressively separated from femininity, that men in order to be powerful and to have control must take these rights from women by force.
The whole community participates in the 'greater' molimo, a ceremony held when hunting is bad, someone has died, there is widespread sickness, and death seems to rule life. In this ceremony the Mbuti conception of male and female is thrown into sharp relief. While the 'lesser' molimo is spoken of as 'waking' the forest, the 'greater' molimo ideally is a festival of joy. The purpose of this ceremony, Turnbull says, is to symbolically establish the triumph of life over death. The focal role in this ceremony is played by an old woman This woman, together with the nubile girl with whom she dances, symbolizes the forces of life and of death. The old woman is referred to as 'mother,' the same term used to address the forest in its capacity as giver of life and death. In her ceremonial acts the old woman symbolizes these two forces. When she stamps out the fire, the symbol of life, she enacts the meaning of death. When she scatters the embers and allows the fire to be revitalized and rebuilt by the men, she enacts the transference to men of the role they are to play in connection with life. The men revitalize and rebuild the fire with a dance that simulates copulation. Turnbull says that fire is primarily connected with women; the hearth is often referred to as the vagina. When the men rebuild the fire and sing to the forest, they are serving as agents for restoring order. Women, on the other hand, appear to be placed in the role of either giving or taking life. They do not, at least within the framework of the molimo ceremonies, act as mediators between positive and negative forces. The symbolism of the old woman tying the men with a roll of twine suggests that in their role as life takers women have ultimate control but that this control is inimical to the survival of the group. When the old woman ties the men, they stop singing, which means that the male capacity to rejuvenate the forest has been bound. The men say: "This woman has tied us up. She has bound the men, bound the hunt, and bound the molimo. We can do nothing." By untying the men the old woman gives them control once again. But in order to be freed the men must admit that they have been bound and they must give the woman something as a token of their defeat. Once she has been given an agreed-upon quantity of food and cigarettes, the old woman unties each man. As each is untied, each begins to sing again. Once more the molimo is free.
Turnbull says that the molimo festival serves as an integrating factor in Mbuti life. It also expresses the latent antagonisms that exist between the sexes while uniting the band in a common expression of their dependence upon the forest. The molimo forces "an acknowledgment of the most basic dependency of all, that of life and death". The molimo is also an enactment of the interdependence between male and female. The latent antagonism between the sexes to which Turnbull refers could be viewed as an expression of the basic antithesis between forces meant to give as well as take life (associated with females) and forces meant to regenerate the forces of life from those of death (associated with males). The molimo expresses the double nature of women as well as of men. Men and women stand for life and death in different ways, women more directly than men. Men regenerate life in the 'greater' molimo and enact the role of destructive animality in the 'lesser' molimo. Though the old woman's superior position is assured by the deferential behavior of the men, it is the ceremonial give-and-take between male and female and between men and the forest that controls and harmonizes opposing forces in the Mbuti forest world.
Blood symbolizes both life and death. As noted previously, menstrual blood in particular symbolizes life. The blood that comes for the first time to the young girl comes as a gift, received with gratitude and rejoicing, because she is now a potential mother and can proudly take a husband. The girl enters seclusion, taking with her all of her friends. Here they celebrate the happy event and are taught the arts and crafts of motherhood by an old and respected relative. They learn to live like adults and to sing the songs of adult women. Pygmies from all around come to pay their respects, because for them this occasion is one of the happiest, most joyful occasions in their lives.
Chris Knight (R383 388) notes:
"The onset of a girl's first flow is marked by a joyful ritual known as the elima, this word denoting in the first instance a large hut in which one or more pubescent girls are joined by female relatives for a period of singing and celebration. During this, the girls are taught to be proud of their bodies both sexually and in terms of reproductive potential (Turnbull 1976: 167-81). The elima forges strong bonds of solidarity between girls who together 'have seen the blood'; it simultaneously achieves 'at least a temporary obliteration of the bonds of the nuclear family' (Turnbull 1966: 136). A girl who has begun to menstruate for the first time is said to be 'blessed by the moon' and becomes the focus of rejoicing as everyone is told the good news".
Turnbull's account (R707) is enough to refute the view that such 'seclusion' must always and everywhere be a degrading experience, which shows in detail the contrast between the elima of the neighbouring villagers and that of the Pygmies:
[To both the Mbuti pygmies and the neighboring Negro villagers], the elima is concerned with the arrival of a young girl at the age of maturity, her transition from girlhood to the full flowering of womanhood. Both pygmies and villagers recognize the significance of the first appearance of menstrual blood, and both celebrate it with a festival which they call 'elima'. But here the similarity ends. Everywhere, right through to the very edge of the forest, blood of any kind is a terrible and powerful thing, associated with injury and sickness and death. Menstrual blood is even more terrible because of its mysterious and constant recurrence.
Its first appearance is considered, by the villagers, as a calamity-an evil omen. The girl who is defiled by it for the first time is herself in danger, and even more important she has placed the whole family and clan in danger. She is promptly secluded, and only her mother (and one or two other close and senior female relatives) may see her and care for her. She has to be cleansed and purified, and the clan itself has to be protected by ritual propitiation from the evil she has brought upon them. At the best, the unfortunate girl is considered as a considerable nuisance and expense. It is generally assumed that the girl was brought into this condition by some kind of illicit intercourse, and her mother demands of her who is responsible. This is the girl's chance to name the boy of her choice, whether or not she has even so much as spoken to him. He is then accused, and has to make suitable offerings which are not only necessary to help in the protection of the girl and her family, but also for his protection, since he had been linked with her verbally, however untruthfully. He may then deny the charge, and there may be some litigation if the girl's parents think he would make a suitable husband. Or else they may consider him unsuitable, and let the matter drop. If he likes the girl, and accepts the responsibility, this constitutes the first step towards official betrothal. If he disclaims all responsibility, then the girl has to try again, as until she has a husband the danger is thought to remain. The period of seclusion varies from tribe to tribe, and even from village to village. Sometimes it is just for a week or two, sometimes it lasts a month or more. And sometimes it lasts until the girl is betrothed and can be led from her room of shame to be taken away by her husband. At the final wedding ritual she is ceremonially cut off from her famliy, and told that she is now her husband's responsibility and must fend for herself and not come running home every time she gets beaten. The point being, of course, that if she does this then her husband can claim back the wealth he will have already paid over in the expectancy of her fidelity and success as a wife and bearer of children. And by the time the disaster occurs her family will almost certainly have spent the money to obtain a bride for one of her brothers. The whole affair is a rather shameful one, in the eyes of the villagers, as well as a dangerous one. It is something best concealed and not talked about in public. The girl is an object of suspicion, scorn, repulsion, and anger. It is not a happy coming-of-age.
For the pygmies, the people of the forest, it is a very different thing. To them blood is, in the usual context in which they see it, equally dreadful. But they recognize it not only as being the symbol of death, but also of life. And menstrual blood to them means life. Even between a husband and wife it is not a frightening thing, though there are certain restrictions connected with it. In fact they consider that any couple that really wants to have children should 'sleep with the moon'.
So when a young pygmy girl begins to flower into maturity, and blood comes to her for the first time, it comes to her as a gift, received with gratitude and rejoicing; rejoicing that the girl is now a potential mother, that she can now proudly and rightfully take a husband. There is not a word of fear or superstition, and everyone is told the good news. The girl enters seclusion, but not the seclusion of the village girl. She takes with her all her young friends, those who have not yet reached maturity, and some older ones. In the house of the elima the girls celebrate the happy event together. Together they are taught the arts and crafts of motherhood by an old and respected relative. They learn not only how to live like adults, but how to sing the songs of adult women. Day after day, night after night, the elima house resounds with the throaty contralto of the older women and the high, piping voices of the youngest. It is a time of gladness and happiness, not for the women alone but for the whole people.
Pygmies from all around come to pay their respects, the young men standing or sitting about outside the elima house in the hopes of a glimpse of the young beauties inside. And there are special elima songs which they sing to each other, the girls singing a light, cascading melody in intricate harmony, the men replying with a rich, vital chorus. For the pygmies the elima is one of the happiest, most joyful occasions in their lives. And so it was with happiness that we all heard that not one, but two girls in our camp had been blessed by the moon.
Akidinimba in hat celebrates her forthcoming wedding with the girls of the elima.
Mbuti elima song
Akidinimba was a notorious flirt who considered herself the most beautiful girl in the world. She was just sufficiently plump to be envied by less well-endowed girls, but not so plump that her maidenly figure was lost. She was particularly proud of her breasts, which were certainly the largest in that part of the forest, and she showed them off to advantage, when dancing, by adopting an unusually springy gait. As her breasts bounced up and down the eyes of all the bachelors followed their movement with pleasure. Everyone agreed that Akidinimba's elima would be a lively one. Then we heard that Kidaya had also been blessed with the blood, and she went to join Akidinimba. Kidaya was more handsome than she was pretty, and she had a reputation for an ability to beat up even the strongest of youths if their advances were not welcome to her. So the elima promised to be exciting as well as lively.
The girls had already learned most of their songs, and they were now at the stage where they were taking a more active, even an aggressive interest in the eligible bachelors of the neighbourhood. In the evenings, when they assembled outside their hut to sing, they were carefully guarded by their mothers and older sisters. But the girls and their attendants cast sly glances at the young men who always drew close to watch and listen. They whispered and laughed among themselves, and when they stood up to dance they often made it very clear by their gestures which boy had taken their fancy. Sometimes they chose at random simply to annoy their special lover, and boys often stalked away in a huff. That was a mistake.
At any time of the day the girls were likely to emerge from the elima house, armed with long fit whips. If you were close enough you could hear them plotting their strategy behind the door, but there was no escape once they burst out into the open. Any male, young or old, and particularly those who had shown annoyance at being teased, were liable to be chased and whipped by the eager young furies. Once inside the elima house there is no need to do anything further, but you are subject to considerable attention if you refuse. And to get into the house, in the first place, requires no small amount of courage and strength. But the elima beauties did not confine themselves to their own village. After all, most of the men there were relatives, and could not decently be invited into the elima house. Many strangers came to visit from other groups, but sometimes the attendance was disappointing. Then the girls would set out one morning to visit one of their hunting camps. The girls sang all the way home; even when they left the forest and made their way back across the Epulu, gleaming orange and gold in the late afternoon light, they sang. They sang so that everyone should know that they were the Bamelima, the people of the elima, girls who had been blessed with the blood and were now women.
[After weeks of dancing, because the collective hunt was suffering], it was decided to bring the elima to an end. It was during this time that the older women paid more and more attention to what was going on, and gathered almost nightly outside the house to join in the singing. But this evening was different in that almost every woman in the group was there. They gathered early, before it was fully dark. The bright blue sky was deepening without any of the wild tinges of colour that so often come at dusk, and the tiny puffs of cloud that drifted across remained a shining, fluffy white, even when the sky was almost black. The women brought sticks of fire with them, and some of them cooked and ate their evening meal right there, outside the elima house; others just sat around and gossiped, huddling close to the fires from habit, though in the village it was still warm. Inside the house the girls were singing, but the women outside did not join in. The men sat before their huts, watching and waiting.
Finally the door opened and the girls trooped out. The younger ones came first, their bodies decorated with modest blobs of white paste made from clay; then came Akidinimba and Kidaya and their attendants, resplendent and magnificent, yet strangely shy. They must have spent hours working on themselves and each other, for they were covered with elaborate patterns skillfully drawn with fingers and thin sticks, also using the white clay. Akidinimba had taken particular trouble to paint her breasts with intricate circles of lines punctuated with blobs, something like a grape-vine gone to seed, whereas the more demure Kidaya had concentrated on her buttocks, and these were covered with a hundred carefully painted little stars. Each girl had her favourite style, and each was different. They looked around coyly, to make sure they were being admired, and sat down at the edge of the group of women. They began singing then, together with the women, much more seriously than they had ever done before. They sang as though they were women. They sang right through the evening, and now and then stood up and danced in a bashful circle around one of the fires. They sang songs whose words had no particular significance, but which in themselves were of the greatest significance, being songs only sung by adult women. That was why so many of the mothers and grandmothers had assembled, to welcome their daughters into their midst again, no longer as children, but as friends and partners in adult life.
During the last week the elima battles reached their pitch, both sides making the most of the opportunity while it lasted. It was, on the surface, a pretty happy-go-lucky affair, and what went on inside the hut was best left to the imagination. But in fact it all had a very definite purpose and was closely supervised by the watchful eyes of Asofalinda and Mambunia. For the pygmies, the elima is not just a puberty rite for girls. It is a celebration of adulthood, and just as much for boys as for girls.
For Akidinimba and Kidaya certain physical changes had taken place which marked them as women, but for boys there were no such self-evident changes. They have to prove their manhood. Village boys do this by entering the initiation schools, and even though pygmies enter the same schools, it is for a different purpose, quite unconnected with adulthood as they see it. For them the elima serves the purpose, or at least a part of it. In the elima the boy has to show considerable courage to fight his way into the house, after he has been invited. In this last week the women maintain constant guard outside, and they are well supplied with all sorts of ammunition. If they want to keep any particular boy away from their daughters they are perfectly capable of doing it. And when a boy finally succeeds in breaking his way through he still has to face a possible beating from the girls inside. If he has not been invited by having been beaten beforehand, he will certainly have to go through it now. As well as this, in order to prove himself a man, the boy has to kill 'a real animal'. That is to say, not a small one, such as a child might kill, but one of the larger antelopes, or even a buffalo, so proving that he is not only capable of feeding his own family but also able to help feed the older members of the group who can no longer fend for themselves.
Once a boy has gained access to the hut he may do one of several things. He may flirt or even sleep with the girl who invited him. The elima gives an opportunity for boys and girls to get to know each other intimately, and such friendships often end in marriage. On the other hand it gives two lovers a chance to discover that they are unsuited to each other before becoming betrothed officially. From what I was told, by older men and women as well as by the bachelors who took part in this elima, one may even have intercourse, but with certain restrictions. These restrictions must be effective in preventing conception, because nowhere have I ever heard of a girl becoming pregnant in an elima house. A boy may only sleep with a girl if she consents. The tacit consent of her mother has already been given by his having been allowed to gain access to the elima house. If he sleeps with her then he must not leave the house, and has to stay there until the festival is over, subject to the same restrictions as the girls. But he may decide on just a mild flirtation. Or he may, and this is considered a master move, simply turn around and leave the house without having paid the slightest attention to any of the girls. Whatever happens, there are always the older girls, such as Kondabate, to keep an eye on their younger companions and see that they do not get into trouble.
The pygmies are not a ritualistically minded people; to them the important thing about any festival is that they should openly express their emotions and accept the realities of whatever situation the festival marks. Instead of living in constant fear of the spirits of the dead, performing elaborate rituals to remove the souls of the departed as far away as possible and as quickly as possible, the pygmies sing in their memory for months on end, during the molimo. And so, with the elima, they sing to celebrate the blessing of potential motherhood conferred on the fortunate girl or girls. The month or two that the festival lasts gives them time to adapt themselves to the new situation, but they have no need for elaborate ritual acts. When the giris appeared that night and sat down with the women, and sang with them before all the camp, that was a formal public acknowledgment of their new status as women. And yet the elima dragged on for several days afterwards. Part of the reason, of course, was that if they ended with a feast, in the tradition of the villagers, the villagers would be so pleased that they would probably contribute most of the food. But the girls had another reason, they wanted to placate the villagers who had been somewhat outraged an their unconventional and profligate behavior on their forays to other hunting camps and had threatened to curse them all. And so the girls put on a traditional ending (village style) to appease them.
To the pygmies, a woman is more than a mere producer of wealth. She is an essential partner in their economy. Without a wife, a man cannot hunt, he has no hearth, he has nobody to build his house, gather fruits and vegetables and cook for him. So a group than loses a woman looks for a woman in return. The pygmies extend the term brother or sister so that it can be applied to almost anyone of the same age group, however distantly related, and this means it is seldom impossible to find someone to exchange and someone who is willing. But sometimes it needs a little coercion, as Turnbull noted.
Mbuti boys sometimes sleep together in one hut and, during these occasions, are likely to be in close physical contact, with legs entwined, or thrown around one another's waist or hips. But no homosexual activity occurs, and the idea of something of the sort horrifies the Mbuti, who only refer to homosexuality when they are extremely provoked and wish to level an enourmous insult at a man (Broude R83 298).
Male circumcision represents a 'pass through age' ritual, and for them makes a difference not only between boys and men, but between the Village and the jungle. When a group of boys reaches the age of 8 to 12 years take place the 'encoumby' (the name given by this people to the ceremony). Each boy is prepared by their own mother and aunts. Their body and face are painted with white and black colors. The body is dressed with some kind of skirt made with fibers from palm tree. The group is taken to the center of village and begins a dance, meanwhile women and girls leave the village announcing the beginning of the party. The origin of the custom is explained by the following legend: "The tradition of circumcision was made an institution by a woman ('amiana'), come from west, and her husband ('tocool'). They saw the monkeys making a circumcision and adopted the practice. The season for the ceremony is announced by a bird, who flies high and which cry is very recognizable. 'Monkey' may the nickname given by them for other human groups). The high flying bird is to distract the subject so the cut can be made "See the birdie!"
In addition to the Mbuti, the Ituri forest also contains three other pygmy groups. The Tswa also net hunt, the Akka have turned to agriculture and the most isolated, the Efe (Wheeler R797) live largely by arrow hunting. They were first described in 2250 BC by the Egyptian pharoah Nefitare. The term pygmy comes from the ancient Greek pygme the distance from the elbow to the knuckle for their diminutive stature. The Efe appear to almost completely lack receptors for human growth hormone IGF1. The Efe do not believe in chance. All misfortunes are due to spirits, sorcery and witchcraft.
In 2003, Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of Mbuti pygmies, told the UN's Indigenous People's Forum that during the Congo Civil War, his people were hunted down and eaten as though they were game animals. In neighbouring North Kivu province there has been cannibalism by a group known as Les Effaceurs ("the erasers") who wanted to clear the land of people to open it up for mineral exploitation. Both sides of the war regarded them as "subhuman" and some say their flesh can confer magical powers. Makelo asked the UN Security Council to recognise cannibalism as a crime against humanity and an act of genocide. According to Minority Rights Group International there is extensive evidence of mass killings, cannibalism and rape of Pygmies and they have urged the International Criminal Court to investigate a campaign of extermination against pygmies. Although they have been targeted by virtually all the armed groups, much of the violence against Pygmies is attributed to the rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo, which is part of the transitional government and still controls much of the north, and their allies.
In the Republic of Congo, where Pygmies make up 2% of the population, many Pygmies live as slaves to Bantu masters. The nation is deeply stratified between these two major ethnic groups. The Pygmy slaves belong from birth to their Bantu masters in a relationship that the Bantus call a time-honored tradition. Even though the Pygmies are responsible for much of the hunting, fishing and manual labor in jungle villages, Pygmies and Bantus alike say Pygmies are often paid at the master's whim; in cigarettes, used clothing, or even nothing at all. As a result of pressure from UNICEF and human-rights activists, a law that would grant special protections to the Pygmy people is awaiting a vote by the Congo parliament.
Biaka: The Forest's Family Care-givers
The earliest humans in Gabon were believed to be the Babinga, or Pygmies, dating back to 7000 B.C., who were later followed by Bantu groups from southern and eastern Africa.
Like the Mbuti, the Biaka, Ba'Aka, or Aka Forest Pygmies of the Central African Republic and Gabon do not have formally defined sex roles. The sexual division of tasks is never rigid and compulsory. Biaka life is characterized by gatherer-hunting with an emphasis on hunting in a semi-symbiotic relationship with neighbouring farming villagers. Sexual relations are extremely egalitarian and cooperative. Violence by men against women is extremely rare. Women share autonomous power although men hold symbolic roles and men play an exceptional role in infant care.
Unlike the Mbuti Pygmies in the Ituri who speak the same language as their village neighbors, the Biaka speak their own language (diaka), as well as the language of their neighbors
All women get married, generally by age sixteen to seventeen years of age. Men first marry two to four years later than women. Aka prefer to marry far away, and clan exogamy is practiced. About 17 percent of Aka men have more than one wife, and about one of four marriages ends in divorce. Most of the divorces come at an early age before children are born. Most of the early divorces are initiated by women, whereas most divorces after age thirty-five (when women have completed fertility) are initiated by men.
Fertility is high and infertility infrequent. Female infertility is rare among the Aka; only one women was reported infertile. Birth intervals are about 3.6 years shorter than the 4.0 year interval found among the !Kung San , but substantially higher than the 2.9 year interval estimated for the Yanomamo. The completed fertility of Aka females is about 5.6 lying between the 4.7 live births found with !Kung San females and the 7.9 live births found with Yanomamo women (Hewlett R312).
The camp generally consists of groups of three to four adult males (about half the males) from the same patriclan (usually brothers or first cousins), their wives and children, an elderly mother of some of the adult males, an older divorced sister of the patriclan and her children, a daughter of one of the adult males and her spouse who is performing bride service (about a fifth of the males), and one or two visiting families (about two fifths of the males).
The Aka are patrilineal, having shallow patriclans (dikanda), and are generally patrilocal except for a few years after marriage when the male provides bride service in the camp of his wife's family. While the core of the camp usually consists of about thirty five people consisting of adult males belonging to the same patriclan (dikanda) -that is, individuals tracing their ancestry patrilineally to a mythical plant or animal. Clan identity is weak. Few Aka know the mythology associated with their clan and Aka rarely invoke clan obligations if family members do not help out in subsistence activities. Aka adults can seldom remember patrilineal links back more than two generations and matrilineal relatives are visited frequently. Female lines are also recognized by the term mobila. This term refers to the lines of mother, mother's mother, father's mother, and father's mother's mother.
Two to four clans gather together for net hunting which is pursued in the dry season. Aka tend to travel in a 50 km radius area from their place of birth, and get to know about 700 Aka in this area. Aka males generally have a greater exploration range than females. The 'exploration range' is where subsistence activities take place, a spouse is encountered, and other aspects of geographical as well as social knowledge are acquired and transmitted.
Aka know hundreds of forest plants and animals, but subsist primarily on 63 plant species, 20 insect species, honey from 8 species of bees, and 28 species of game. The Aka collect roots from 6 species of plants, leaves from 11 species, nuts from 17 species, and fruits from 17 species. They collect 12 species of mushrooms, 4 types of termites, crickets, 3 types of grubs, and 12 species of caterpillars. The Aka hunt for 7 species of large game with the spear (primarily hog and elephant), 6 species of duiker with the net (primarily the blue duiker), 8 species of monkeys with the crossbow, and 7 species of rat, mongoose, and porcupine with a variety of small snare and net traps. The Aka clearly identify forest zones rich in particular plant or animal species.
Tamassi, head of a pygmy family with eboka. Myths tell of the discovery of the hallucinogen iboga (p 477). The wife of a pygmy finds the plant and uses it to communicate with the spirits of the dea in the form of her husband who has become scattered as the plant. Suggesting discovery of the sacrament by women (D. Lieberman [email protected]).
Zame last of the creator gods gave us Eboka. One day he saw the pygmy Bitamu high in the Atanga tree gathering fruit He made him fall. He died and Zame brought his spirit. He took the fingers and the little toes and planted them in various parts of the forest. They grew into the Eboka bush (Furst R229 245).
During the year the Aka spend about 56% of their time in hunting, 27% of their time in gathering, and 17% of their time in village work for the Ngandu. The Aka spend up to 90 percent of their time net hunting in the drier season (January to May), while during part of the rainy season (August to September) 60% of their time is spent collecting food, especially caterpillars. Much of the vegetable food in the Aka diet is obtained by trading meat to farmers for manioc and other cultigens. Researchers suggest the forest does not yield enough carbohydrates (specifically, wild yams) for people there to live independently. They hypothesize that Pygmies originally lived on the margins of the forest exploiting both forest and savannah habitats and did not move into the forest until forest farmers moved in with them. The forest is sanctuary to the Aka while the village is a place of doubt and suspicion. In the forest, Aka sing, dance, play, and are very active and conversant. In the village, their demeanor changes dramatically - they walk slowly, say little, seldom smile, and try to avoid eye contact with others. Although both men and women collect leaves, fruits, nuts, mushrooms, and termites, women do the majority of the collecting. They may do this as a conjugal unit or individually. Men do the majority of the honey collecting, especially if it involves climbing a tree large in diameter. Both men and women net hunt, usually together, but sometimes individually, and men and women both use small traps to hunt, often together, but again, sometimes individually. Only men use the spear and crossbow to hunt.
As with the Mbuti, most camp members - male and female, young and old - participate in the net hunt . Unusual for the sexual division of hunting generally, women net-hunt more frequently than men. From the time Aka leave the village and return to the forest (February-March) until caterpillar season (July-August), they often net hunt six days a week, four to nine hours per day. Net hunts decrease in frequency during the caterpillar season and the major rainy season (August-October); individual and small group foraging techniques (e.g., spears, crossbows, traps) are utilized more frequently during these seasons. There is no stalking of game, once the nets are set the object of the "beaters" is to make as much noise as possible in order to wake up the nocturnal duikers, the primary targets of the net hunt. It is one of the few hunting techniques where ears are just as important as eyes and where women carrying infants and older children can contribute to the success of the hunt.
There are few Aka status positions. There is no chief in the sense of a person commanding ultimate authority, yet there is the kombeti, who is generally more influential in subsistence and camp movement discussions. The nganga is the traditional healer and provides a wide range of services to the community--such as divination on hunts, curing of witchcraft, and herbal healing. Most Aka camps have an nganga. Ngangas can cure all forms of illness (e.g., malaria, worms, bad luck, attack by witchcraft), see into the future to help one make decisions about travel, marriage or friendships, and can see game animals deep in the forest while on the net hunt. Women are also skilled in plant healing as traditional doctors. Specific remedies include those to help a girl find a husband, or for a woman who is having problems desiring her husband. Witches or sorcerers (the Aka make no distinction) practice secretly and are unknown to the general population, although ngangas are highly suspect. The tuma is the great hunter who has often killed several elephants on his own. He leads spear hunts and important hunting and seasonal rituals, and organizes the training of young boys in the men's secret society. The status positions are usually held by males.
Aka who believe in bembe, the creator of all living things, believe also that bembe retired soon after creation. The most consistently mentioned divinity or spirit is that of dzengi, a forest spirit. All Aka adolescent boys are taken on an elephant hunt by a tuma to learn how to hunt elephant as well as to learn about the secret lore of dzengi. While women are kept peripheral to powers and secrets of dzengi, most women I spoke to about dzengi were not mystified or fearful of dzengi or the mens' secrets, and in fact, sometimes laughed and said it was just a way the men tried to keep knowledge and power from them.
The Aka are fiercely egalitarian and independent. No individual has the right to coerce or order another individual to perform an activity against his/her will. Even when parents give instructions to their children to collect water or firewood, there are no sanctions if they do not do so. Aka have a number of informal non-institutional methods for maintaining their egalitarianism. First, they practice prestige avoidance; one does not draw attention to his or her activities. There are certainly exceptional hunters, dancers and drummers, but individuals do not brag to others about their abilities. Second, they practice the rough joking described among the !Kung San. For instance, if a man is boasts about the amount of honey he collected, others will joke about the size and shape of his genitals. And third, they practice demand sharing. This simply means that whatever one has will be given up if requested.
Sharing, cooperation, and autonomy are but a few other of the Aka core values. The community cooperates daily in the net hunt, food hunted is shared with members of the camp, and decision- making is the reserved prerogative of the individual; if one is not content with living conditions, for instance, one moves to another camp. As a result, camp composition changes daily.
Aka infant mortality at 20 percent is indistinguishable from the infant mortality rates of the !Kung (20.2 percent) and the Yanomamo (21.8 percent). The Aka are more peaceful than many other hunter-gatherers and horticulturists. Accidental and violent deaths were relatively infrequent especially in comparison with the Yanomamo and !Kung San. The causes of death study also indicated that males at every age were at greater risk of death than were females. Young adult males (18-25 years) were at especially high risk relative to female risk of death at the same age. This pattern is consistent with that found among the Yanomamo and !Kung San. Aka infancy has the following characteristics: constant holding and skin-to-skin contact, high father involvement, multiple care giving, indulgent care, lack of negation, early training for autonomy and subsistence skills, parents as primary transmitters of culture, and precocious motor and cognitive development. Infants are held almost constantly, and have skin-to-skin contact most of the day as Aka seldom wear shirts or blouses. They are nursed on demand and attended to immediately if they fuss or cry. Aka parents interact with and stimulate their infants throughout the day.
Aka fathers do more infant care giving than fathers in any known culture. There are various aspects of Aka infancy that contribute to and reflect the intimate nature of the father's role. Aka fathers hold or are within an arms reach of their infant about half of a twenty four hour period and perform 22 percent of the care giving of 4-month-old infants in the camp. They are the second most active care givers after the mother and their style of caretaking is characterized by its intimate, affectionate, and helping-out nature, rather than by its playfulness. Numerous others help out with infant care. While in the camp setting, Aka one-to-four month-old infants are held by mothers less than 40 percent of the time, are transferred to other care givers an average of 7.3 times per hour, and have seven different care givers on average that hold the infant during the day. The multiple care giving decreases as the group moves out of camp to travel or go net hunting. Like the !Kung, Aka infants are carried vertically most of the day. Infants will sleep for hours in their side sling as parents set up nets and chase after game. The increased vestibular stimulation may contribute to the Aka infants' precocious motor and cognitive development.
Generally, it is difficult for parents to get their older children to do much for them. The parents may yell at their children, but more often than not, they just go and get what they need by themselves. Children are independent and autonomous at an early age. Infants are allowed to crawl or walk to wherever they want in camp, and allowed to use knives, machetes, digging sticks, and clay pots. By three or four years of age children can cook themselves a meal on the fire, and by ten years of age Aka children know enough subsistence skills to live in forest alone if need be. Respect for an individual's autonomy is a core value among the Aka, and it is demonstrated and encouraged in their patterns of infant care. The great respect for autonomy is consistent with another Aka value - inter-generational equality. This is a positive description of what villagers would call lack of respect for elders. Violence or corporal punishment for an infant that misbehaves seldom occurs. In fact, if one parent hits an infant, this is reason enough for the other parent to ask for a divorce.
While fathers are very active in infant care, they do not usually participate in the birth of their infants. Unlike some other forest people the mother is first to suckle her newborn. Usually only women and young children attend births. If a father attended and helped in the delivery of his infant because his wife gave birth while they were walking together in the forest he is not teased or stigmatized for his participation. Both mother and father observe food taboos during the pregnancy and until the infant can walk well. There is also a postpartum sex taboo until the child can walk very well. Most Aka know about the postpartum sex taboo, but limited interview data and impressions indicate it is not observed. Even if one does break the rule there are indigenous medications to remedy of the transgression.
Aka male-female relations are extremely egalitarian by cross-cultural standards. What is especially remarkable about the Aka is the amount of time husband and wife spend in cooperative subsistence activity. Husband and wife are together on a regular basis to net hunt, collect caterpillars, termites, honey, fruit, and sometimes fish. On net hunting days husband and wife are within view of each other 47 percent of the time. They are not only in association with each other, but actively cooperating in subsistence activity. On days when there is no net hunt, it is not unusual to see a husband and wife going out together to collect plants or honey. Wives are less likely to participate in cross-bow hunting for monkeys and trap-line hunting for medium size game, and never participate in spear hunts for wild pig and elephants. Aka husbands and wives are together often and cooperate in a wide variety of subsistence tasks throughout the year; they clearly care for one another, but it is also clear that Aka men and women like to be with members of the same sex at least as much as being with their spouses.
Men contribute slightly more to the diet while in the forest camps because in addition to the net hunting, men hunt for monkeys, pigs, elephants, and most of the honey. In the village camps females are the primary providers, contributing at least 70 percent of the calories. Women not only contribute substantially to the diet, but have considerable control over the distribution and exchange of food. Both women and men butcher and distribute game captured on the net hunt, and if it has been a reasonably good hunt women will prepare pots of food for other camp households. Women also distribute gathered food--mushrooms, fruit, nuts, tubers. Besides having a central role in the distribution of food, women are primarily responsible for exchange with villagers.
The political power and social prestige of Aka women is pronounced, but is not as structurally salient as that of Aka men. Aka men hold all the named positions of status - kombeti, tuma , and nganga--but as mentioned already, these men hold no absolute power. They influence people through their hospitality, persuasiveness, humor, and knowledge, not by their position. Aka women challenge men's authority on a regular basis and are influential actors in all kinds of decision-making. There is something of a queendom in many camps as the mother of the men who form the core of the camp is often the eldest patriclan member. Since men marry younger women, Aka women usually outlive their husbands by many years. These grandmothers eventually move back to the camp of their patriclan. Women in this position are vivacious characters and become respected patriclan spokespersons. The men in the named status positions are usually her sons.
Husbands and wives cooperate in a wide range of activities, but there is respect for each other's feelings and peculiarities. Husbands cannot force their wives to come on the hunt, and the wives cannot force their husbands to look for honey. Spouses can and do ridicule each other with rather crude joking (e.g., uncomplimentary remarks about the size and shape of their partner's genitals), but for the most part the partner does not pay much attention to the ridicule. If the couple does not get along, divorce is a matter of one partner simply moving out of the house.
Physical violence in general is infrequent and violence against women is especially rare. The lack of violence enhances female autonomy and encourages husband-wife cooperation and trust. Husband-wife conflicts do of course occur but they are usually resolved through talking, rough joking , leaving camp for awhile, or mediated assistance from other camp members. Female violence can occur against men, such as cutting their husband's face with a knife or hitting their husbands with logs from the fire for sleeping with other women. Women, however, are more likely to show their anger and displeasure with their husband by tearing down the family house. Aka women make the houses, and Aka men are not very good at it (they usually make lean-tos). Female autonomy and the lack of violence against women is also demonstrated by the frequent travel of women, alone or in small groups, throughout the forest.
Husband and wife are together often, know each other exceptionally well, and cooperate on a regular basis in a diversity of tasks. Men and women have distinct tasks, but there are few underlying beliefs that one sex is naturally inclined to perform certain tasks. Aka men are similar to men cross-culturally in that men predominate in the named status positions, only men hunt large game, and polygyny is relatively common. Aka male-female relations have commonalties with male-female relations cross-culturally, but the Aka are probably as egalitarian as human societies get.
Nuer: Nilotic Pastoralist Sexual Trade-offs
As noted in the map of the main population divisions of Africa around 8000 BC Nilotic peoples form another ancient African population. Nilotes today refer to related ethnic groups inhabiting the Nile Valley, the African Great Lakes region, and southwestern Ethiopia, who speak Nilotic languages. Most practice pastoralism, and many are also known for a tradition of cattle rustling. A Proto-Nilotic unity based on pastoralism is assumed to have emerged by the 3rd millennium BC. Excavations on the Nile, around 400 miles north of the Upper Nile Basin, suggest that there was an economic system almost identical to that of the Nuer/Dinka by 3372 B.C.
The Nuer are located primarily in southern Sudan along the banks of the Nile River, as well as parts of western Ethiopia. The Nuer refer to themselves not as Nuer, but as Naath, meaning "human beings." They form one of the largest ethnic groups in southern Sudan, second only to the Dinka. Their history is connected to that of the Dinka, their neighbors, with whom the Nuer have inter-married when they took over parts of the Dinka lands.
Cattle herding is a pivotal part of Nuer culture. Cattle have historically been of the highest symbolic, religious, and economic value among the Nuer, and play an important role in most areas of Nuer life. Cattle are particularly important in their role as bridewealth, where they are given by a husband's lineage to his wife's lineage, as well as their role in sacrifice. While the Nuer do eat beef at celebrations after sacrifices, most of their food consumed consists of fish, grains, and vegetables, all of which are grown or caught for sustenance and not to be sold.
The Nuer provide an intriguing example of the give-and-take social trade-offs than can result from adopting polygynous patrilineal inheritance and retaining a degree of balance in sexual relations between women and men and the lineages of a bride's and her husband's families. The men end up owning the property in the marriage (chiefly cattle) but in forming the marriage have to pay a commensurate bride price to the wife's family. Marriage, infidelity and divorce are also a delicate negotiation between the two family lines providing a degree of balance in a patrilineal context.
Marriage is polygamous in Nuer culture, and men will often have several wives in various villages. Once a woman is married, she is expected to remain loyal to her husband, and encounters with other men are treated as adultery. Marriage is a series of complicated ceremonies, one of the first of which involves the presentation of the bridewealth (cattle) to the bride's family. Marriage is not considered complete until the first child has been born, at which point the marriage has produced a child that connects the husband and wife's lineage. After the birth of a second child, the marriage is considered stable, and none of the bridewealth would need to be returned if the couple divorced. It is important for Nuer men to father at least one male heir, and if a man dies before he is able to do so, his relatives can marry a wife to his name and have children by her. This custom is known as "ghost marriage."
Bride price (or wealth) is the reverse of a dowry. It involves the groom giving things of high value to the bride's father. It is common among polygynous, small-scale, patrilineal societies. Often the bride price is large enough to require kinsmen to help the groom in making the payment. This is especially common among pastoralists societies, such as the cattle herders of East Africa who have traditionally paid bride price with cows. Among tribes like the Nuer, Turkana, and Masai, borrowing to make up the agreed upon bride price puts the groom in debt to his older male relatives for many years. The bride's father usually disburses the payment in turn as bride price for his sons and nephews. As a result, the community's wealth is circulated.
Generally, girls marry around the age of seventeen. If the man impregnates a girl, "he is expected to marry her and he is sometime likely to find himself subject to the girl's family raiding his land, properties, and taking his cattle by force." Most marriages are intertribal marriage. "Men tend to marry women who are within visiting distance of their village, but they are strictly forbidden to marry women to whom he is even distantly related because doing so will cause an incest which is a dead cultural relations' disease." After the couples agree to marry, “the announcer usually goes to the villages, singing and dancing to inform the people about the coming celebration. The first day of celebration is always declared to both sides and preparation will take place for three months to four. Marriage in Nuer culture has many ceremonial steps, including betrothal, wedding and the consummation.
Some societies including the Nuer are flexible in allowing unconventional marriage arrangements. A woman who is unable to have children is sometimes married as a "husband" to another woman who then is impregnated by a secret boyfriend. The barren woman becomes the socially recognized father and thereby adds members to her father's patrilineal kin group. The Nuer and Dinka also have several forms of "ghost marriage." A man may marry a woman as a stand-in for his deceased brother. The children that are born of this union will be considered descendants of the dead man - the "ghost" is the socially recognized father. This allows the continuation of his family line and succession to an important social position. A Nuer woman of wealth may marry a deceased man to keep her wealth and power. Married Nuer women traditionally have no significant wealth - it belongs to their husbands. With this form of "ghost marriage", there will be no living husband, though she may subsequently have children. She is, in effect, a widow who takes care of her husband's wealth and children until they are mature. Among the Nuer, a ghost marriage is nearly as common as a marriage to a live man.
Divorce can also be granted for several reasons such as "drunkenness, sexual and temperamental incompatibility and unfriendly relationship with mother-in-law, adultery; barrenness and impotence." In South Sudan, when the woman divorces, the child custody typically goes to the males (problem of gender balance). If the husband and wife are having a lot of crises, "the members of the extended families, both men and women will discuss the situation. The wife usually goes to her parent's house and the husband usually will remain home and his relatives will then meet with the male relatives of the wife's family to further discuss the situation and determine a course of action."
Although they live close to Cushitic people who have practised both male circumcision and female genital mutilations, the Nuer, do not ordinarily circumcise, but on rare occasions they may [circumcize men], in order to purify someone who has committed incest. Midwives from the eastern and mountainous Nuer region have invented a technique to cooperate using a secret code communicated through henna tattoos - a special design dyed temporarily on the skin to indicate to a midwife that a mother wants to avoid genital mutilation on her daughter.
The religion of the Nuer is one of monotheistic animism. The Nuer religion is animistic in many respects, but they also worship a creator - the Spirit of the sky, or the spirit who is in the sky (Kwoth nhial or Kwoth a nhial). There are other lesser spirits, some in the sky (of the above), some of the earth (of the below). Nuer 'believe' in the coming of God through rain, lightning and thunder, and that the rainbow is the necklace of God. The sun and the moon as well as other material entities are also manifestations of God, who after all is a Spirit. All life is believed to both come from and return to Kowth. The Nuer pray and offer sacrifices of cattle to Kowth, hoping for health and well-being, to ward off danger or evil, and as part of ceremonies such as marriage. There is no organized hierarchy of religious practitioners, although individuals may become diviners or healers (tiet). This fact is fully consistent with the aggressively egalitarian Nuer social ethics. Nuer religion is decidedly "this-worldly" in orientation; they do not imagine a heavenly abode awaiting them upon death. Efforts by Christian missionaries have converted a very small segment of the Nuer people to Christianity, but most practice the traditional religion.
The Nuer adhere to concepts of "aliveness" which include the notion of a soul or spirits residing in an object. They treat the objects they consider animate as if these things had a life, feeling, and a will of their own, but "did not make a distinction between the body of an object and soul that could enter or leave it." The spirits of the air (above) are believed to be the most powerful of the lesser spirits, while there are also spirits associated with clan-spears names such as wiu, a spirit of war, associated with thunder. Nuer also believe in colwic. These are regarded as spirits of the above which were once persons. They become ancestral spirits, and every lineage tends to have a patron colwic. Like other Nilotic religious traditions, long-dead ancestors are respected and venerated, but the more recently deceased are thought to be able to cause trouble or misfortune. When a man or a woman dies, the flesh, the life and the soul separate. The flesh is committed to the earth, while the breath or life goes back to God. The soul that signifies the human individuality and personality remains alive as a shadow or a reflection, and departs together with the ox sacrificed, to the place of the ghosts, wherever that place is. The reverence that Nuer people in Sudan grant to deceased relatives is based on believing that in dying, they have become powerful spiritual being or "even admittedly less frequently to have attained the status of gods." This is usually based on the notion that ancestors are active members of society, and still interested in the affairs of their living relatives.
The religion of the Nuer has become a test case for assumptions about the notion of religious belief. In several founding works Evans-Pritchard (R800-802) laid out the dimensions of Nuer religion and following him Needham (R799) questioned the notion that affirmative religious belief, in the sense Christian's or Muslims associate with the term is a human cultural universal. Societies who have an elaborate cosmological description of reality involving deities do not necessarily conceive of their relationship with reality in terms of belief as such, but as a natural or existential condition. Thus propitiating deities in the way major religions do, on the assumption that believing the God is an essential attribute of religious life, may be simply asserting their own rather idiosyncratic 'beleif system' which has arisen from their own cultural circumstances and history.
Ashanti: Sexually-balanced Separation
Ashanti carved box (www).
Mawu, the female principle, is fertility,
motherhood, gentleness, forgiveness;
while Lisa is power,
war-like or otherwise,
strength and toughness.
Moreover, they assure the rhythm
of day and night.
Mawu is the night, the moon,
freshness, rest, joy;
Lisa is the day, the sun,
heat, labour, all hard things.
By presenting their two natures
alternately to men,
the divine pair impress on man
the rhythm of life and the two series
of complementary elements
of which its fabric is woven.
The notion of twin beings . . .
expresses the equilibrium between opposites,
which is the very nature of the world.
Dahomean Mawu-Lisa cult.
In many societies male leadership is balanced by female authority. Among the Ashanti, Iroquois, and Dahomeans, though women were not as visible as men in external public affairs, their right to veto male actions formed checks and balances in which neither sex would dominate the other. We thus have defined sex roles and separate spheres of influence and power, but these do not automatically result in male dominance.
The Ashanti, one of the great West African Kingdoms, convey the essential outlines of the segregated-but-equal sex-role plan (Sanday R609 27). The Ashanti were polygynous, matrilineal and avunclocal or virilocal, that is daughters move in with their husbands family, but this actually means the family of the husband's maternal uncle, because sons are expected to live in the household of their mother's brother. This is a common pattern in matrilineal societies, as it brings the adult male members of a matrilineage into a single residential unit. Both men and women could own land but a women could inherit only from a woman and a man from a man (Low R427 203). Ashanti wives occupied separate quarters.
Ashanti society was divided into a number of chiefdoms composed of eight dispersed matriclans, recognizing a remote common ancestress. At the apex is the king, the Asantehene, with his court. Clustered around are a group of Ashanti chiefdoms, each a largely autonomous unit that, in major outline, reproduced the higher jurisdiction of the king but owed allegiance to the unity of the state. Each chief had a council of hereditary advisers or elders, and succession to chiefly office (like succession to the title of king) was inherited through the female line. The unity of the new empire was symbolized in the Golden Stool which, being without past, was regarded as having descended from the sky and contains the soul of the Ashanti nation, the people's power, health, bravery, and welfare (Sanday R609 28).
Everyday life was organized around the group of related men and women lining in village or township wards. These groups, called localized lineages, trace their descent through females. Each has a male head, who is often one of the chiefs councillors. He is chosen by the consensus of the older men and women and with their assistance is responsible for the welfare of the entire group. In lineage affairs there is a "high degree of equality between male and female members." The lineage head is assisted by a senior woman informally chosen by him and his elders. This is extended to the kingdom as a whole and to each chiefdom. The senior woman of the royal lineage is the Queen Mother. She has her own stool, which is senior to the chief's stool. Traditionally, the Queen Mother has had the most to say in selecting a new chief or king. No one can be put upon the stool who is vetoed by the queen and her veto cannot be overruled. After the chief or king is 'enstooled,' he sits down on the right of Queen Mother to receive the homage and oaths of allegiance of the assembled subchiefs or chiefs. As long as he is in power, Queen Mother's place is on his left hand. Pre-menopausal women were barred from war, but Ashanti queens might accompany an army to war if they were post-menopausal (Sanday). Others assumed responsibility for civil government in the absence of the king on a military campaign. Each queen mother had the right to choose the king's senior wife, or replace her if she died. The queen mother thus had direct political power, and influence over coalition formation. The classic study of the Ashanti states the recognized seniority of the woman's stool is no empty courtesy title. But for two causes, [the physical inferiority of women, menstruation and ritual avoidance] the stool occupied by the male night not be in existence at all" (Low R427 203).
Today, in addition to her power to select a king when the stool is vacant, the senior Queen Mother controls all the Queen Mothers of Asante. The Ashanti regard for women comes from their idea that the lineage - and the clan that incorporates several lineages - is synonymous with blood, and that only women can transmit blood to descendants. A man cannot transmit blood, and so no Ashanti can have a drop of the male parent's blood in his or her veins. Males transmit ntoro, meaning soul or spirit. The Ashanti trace blood through the female line alone, because of the blood observed at menstruation and child-birth. It is agreed that a male has blood in his body, but he does not transmit it to his offspring. People say that if a male transmitted his blood through his penis he could not beget a child. The word ntoro is sometimes used to mean semen.
Ashanti women are definite about their own importance. They say: "I am the mother of the man ... I alone can transmit the blood to a king ... If my sex die in the clan then that very clan becomes extinct, for be there one, or one thousand male members left, not one can transmit the blood, and the life of the clan becomes measured on this earth by the span of a man's life". As the Queen put it: "We in Ashanti here have a law which decrees that it is the daughters of a Queen who alone can transmit royal blood, and that the children of a king cannot be heirs to that stool. This law has given us women a power in this land so that we have a saying which runs: 'It is the woman who bears the man' (i.e., the king)".
The importance of women is also seen in Ashanti religion and ritual. Priestesses participate with priests in all major rituals. Sky and Earth are the two great deities. The Ashanti creation story emphasizes the complementarity of male and female and of sky and earth: It is said that a very long time ago one man and one woman came down from the sky and one man and one woman came up from the earth. From the sky also came a python who made its home in a river. The first men and women did not bear children, they had no desire, and conception and birth were not known at that time. The python, on learning that the couples had no offspring, bade them to stand face to face and plunging into the river he rose up and sprayed water on their bellies and then ordered them to return home and lie together. The women then conceived and brought forth the first children into the world. These children took the spirit of the river where the Python lived as their clan spirit. Members of that clan hold the python as taboo; they must never kill it, and if they find a python that has died or been killed by someone else, they put white clay on it and bury it human fashion.
Asase Ya, the name of the Earth Goddess, means 'the soil, the earth', but not what grows or stands on it. People say: 'We got everything from Asase Ya, food, water; we rest upon her when we die . . . every one must pass into the earth's wallet'. Just as the sky is believed to be the source of the Golden Stool, the symbol of the Ashanti confederacy, the earth is believed to have been the source of the aristocracy of the Ashanti clans. On Thursdays, the day set aside for the observance of 'Old Mother Earth', the Ashanti farmer will not break soil. In the past, infringement of this rule was punishable by death (Sanday R609 31).
Female power among the Ashanti, as among the Iroquois, is associated with a ritual orientation to plants, the earth, and fertility. Like the !Kung, the Ashanti also equate menstruation and childbirth with hunting and warfare, emphasizing the complementarity of female reproductive functions and male activities considered vital to social survival. This kind of orientation, together with the belief that the child is formed from the mother's blood, gives Ashanti women power and authority in everyday affairs. Like the !Kung, it is said that some Ashanti originated from the earth. The earth is believed to be filled with the spirits of the departed forbearers of the clan. These spirits are thought to be the real landowners, who still continue to take a lively interest in the land from which they had their origin or that they once owned.
The Golden Stool (the male symbol of leadership), which is believed to have originated from the sky, cannot come into direct contact with the earth; it is always placed upon an elephant's skin. The feet of the king of Ashanti can never touch the ground, "lest a great famine should come upon the nation."
There is a sacred grove in a forest that is marked as the most hallowed spot in all Ashanti territory. At this spot, it is said, some clan forbearers belonging to certain ruling clans came forth from the ground, and settling near by, increased and multiplied, learned to use fire and other arts, till eventually, compelled by increasing numbers, they scattered and became the clan or 'blood' from which the rulers of the united nation later chose their kings and queens (Sanday R609 116). This is notably similar to the !Kung myth and it has been suggested that the Ashanti adopted the beliefs of a more ancient people when they migrated into the area which is also littered with ancient remains. Again like the !Kung they specifically equate menstruation with hunting the prize animal - "the Bara state has stricken her. She has killed an elephant." and childbearing with being a warrior. This is an occasion for elaborate ceremonials and exchange of gifts. A mother's first act, upon learning the news from her daughter, is to inform the villagers, the Sky God, the Earth Goddess, and the ancestors. Taking some wine and spilling it on the ground, the mother says:
"Supreme Sky God, who is alone great,
upon whom men lean and do not fall,
receive this wine and drink.
Earth Goddess, whose day of worship is a Thursday,
receive this wine and drink.
Spirit of our ancestors,
receive this wine and drink.
This girl child whom God has given to me,
to-day the Bara state has come upon her.
0 mother who dwells in the land of ghosts,
do not come and take her away
and do not have permitted her to menstruate only to die"
Although the blood denotes the possibility of life, it also reminds people of death. The advent of puberty means that the child of a departed ancestor will soon die in order to be reborn into the world of the living. People say, "A birth in this world is a death in the world of ghosts." Menstrual blood implies power, and there are many taboos in connection with ii. During the puberty ceremonial, a girl is taken to the river, where she is disrobed and immersed three times with the words: "We quench the bara fire at its source". Again like the !Kung menstruation evokes supernatural danger. Menstrual blood is thought to nullify all supernatural powers possessed by persons, spirits, or objects. These powers, if rendered inactive by contact with a menstruating woman, have to be "recharged, as it were, by propitiation, extirpation, and augmentation rites, to placate them and build them up anew."
If a woman dies during childbirth, she is treated like a warrior who has lost an important battle. A ceremony is conducted that only pregnant women attend. The goal of the ceremony seems to be to chastise the woman who has died, and hence has failed in her primary duty, and to prevent other such failures. They feign shooting the evil and holding knives say: "We told you to fight but you could not fight, when our turn comes to fight we swear the oath we shall not pass out." Thus, the Ashanti impose hunter and warrior imagery on female reproductive functions. By phrasing the natural rhythms of life giving and life taking in the same terms, the Ashanti establish a symmetry between male and female.
The Ashanti were considered extreme enemies of Islam. They had a taboo against male and female circumcision, and no one could become elected as a chief if their skin were cut. Divorce was permissable if either party was a thief or insults kin, the husband was impotent or infertile, or the wife was quarrelsome or practised witchcraft, and was frequent, even among established relationships, because of conflicts of loyalty to partners and children (Broude R83 72). Incestuous sexual intimacy between brother and sister is strongly denounced, partly because it undermines the kinship of matrilineal descent through sisters (R83 149). They did however negotiate promissory marriages and had symbolically dire penalties for anyone caught in adultery with the chiefs wives (Low R427 49):
"the culprit through whose cheeks a sepow knife has already been thrust is taken ... the nasal septum is now pierced and through the aperture is threaded a thorny creeper ... by which he is led about . For other sepow knives are now thrust through various parts of his body, care being taken not to press them so deeply as to wound any vital spot. He is no led by the rope creeper ... to Akyermade where the chief of that stool would scrape his leg , facetiously remarking as he did so ... 'I am scraping perfume for my wives' next to the house of the Chief of Asafo where his left ear is cut off thence to Bantama where the Ashanti generalissimo scrapes bare the right bone. ... then he was made to dance all day after dark his arms were cut off at the elbows and his legs at the knee he was ordered to continue dancing but since he couldn't his buttock flesh was cut off and he was set on a pile of gunpowder which was then set alight Eventually the chief gave permission to cut off the offender's head".
Dogon: Male Dominion by Primal Violence
The Dogon of Mali illustrate how sexual identities become antagonistic when the sexual spheres become separated and patriarchal dominance is exerted in violence against the female in the name of social order. Their cosmology more than any other explains how control of the female and violence to her to maintain paternity certainty are the prime 'thrust' of patriarchal dominion.
The Dogon are a society of millet and onion farmers who reside in a system of stone canyons and plateaus on the southern edges of the Sahara, where temperatures are high and food, water, animals and plants are scarce. On their small fields they cultivate their staple diet stored in high quadrangular granaries around which they build their house. They possess an unusually complex and advanced cosmology, with intimate knowledge of the stars and planets, a numerical system, extensive physiological and anatomical knowledge, genetics and a systematic pharmacopoeia. (Griaule and Dieterlen R267 57). They believe that the star Sirius is a binary system, with a smaller counterpart, invisible to the naked eye, orbiting it. This was recorded in 1931, 40 years before the existence of Sirius B was confirmed with telescopic photography for the first time, and 6 years before the first Christian missionaries made contact with them. Their mythology includes Saturn's rings, and Jupiter's four major moons and a knowledge that planets orbit the sun.
Dogon primordial couple (www)
The Dogon claim they were part of the ancient Mandingo empire of Keita, (10th - 13th cent.) which dominated a greater part of West Africa. They emigrated from the west bank of the Niger River to northern Burkino Faso, where local histories describe them as kibsi. Around 1490, they fled a region now known as the northern Mossi kingdom of Yatenga when it was invaded by Mossi Islamic authority calvary. They ended up in the Bandiagara cliffs region, safe from the approaching horsemen. Carbon-14 dating techniques used on excavated remains found in the cliffs suggest that there were inhabitants in the region before the arrival in the Dogon, dating back to the 10th century. They slowly absorbed this Tellem culture who became part of their mythology.
Although unusual for Africa, a continent with many matrilineal societies, their classically patriarchal family system, endorsing polygyny, with patrilocal residence, patrilineal inheritance, and male-biased institutions, including preferential inheritance of property by sons has many parallels with societies in Asia and, to a lesser extent, the Western world.
Sarah Hrdy (R330 254) and Meredith Small (R647) describe various aspects of Beverly Strassmann's discoveries (R670 - R672):
Polygyny among the Dogon—as in other patriarchal societies—occurs hand in hand with various means of monitoring female sexuality. Countering millions of years of evolution, the Dogon have become a culture where ovulation cannot be concealed. Each woman's menstrual cycle is open to public scrutiny. By custom, as soon as she detects bleeding, a woman must relocate to a special hut, as documented in about 2 percent of tribal societies.
The menstrual huts are situated outside the walled compounds of the village, but in full view of the men's thatched-roof shelters. As the men relax under their shelters, they can readily see who leaves the huts in the morning and returns to them in the evening. And as non-menstruating women pass the huts on their way to and from the fields or to other compounds, they too can see who is spending the night there. Failure to comply with the rules, especially cheating (pretending to menstruate when a woman is actually pregnant), brings social reprisals in the real world, and the prospect of worse punishments in the supernatural one. In this way, a man can be confident that any woman he marries is not already pregnant by another man. The huts are cramped, dark buildings - hardly places where a woman might go to escape the drudgery of work or to avoid an argument with her husband or a co-wife. The huts sometimes become so crowded that some occupants are forced outside - making the women even more conspicuous. Although small children can go with their mothers to the huts, they are not allowed to spend time with the rest of their families. Yet they are still expected to do their usual jobs, such as working in the fields.
The explanation is that a menstruating woman is a threat to the sanctity of religious altars, where men pray and make sacrifices for the protection of their fields, their families and their village. If menstruating women come near the altars, which are situated both indoors and outdoors, the Dogon believe that their aura of pollution will bring calamities upon the village. The belief is so ingrained that the women themselves have internalized it, feeling its burden of responsibility and potential guilt. Violations of the taboo are rare. A menstruating woman who breaks the rules knows that she is personally responsible if calamities occur.
However Beverly Strassmann who investigated their habits proposes the menstrual taboos are actually expressing a carefully defined reproductive protocol. She notes: "There are two important pieces of information for assessing paternity: timing of intercourse and timing of menstruation. By forcing women to signal menstruation, men are trying to gain equal access to one part of that critical information." Such information is crucial to Dogon men, because descent is marked through the male line; land and the food that comes from the land is passed down from fathers to sons. Information about paternity is thus crucial to a man's lineage. And because each man has as many as four wives, he cannot possibly track them all. So forcing women to signal their menstrual periods, or lack thereof, helps men avoid cuckoldry. When she leaves the hut, she is considered ready to conceive. When she stops going to the hut, she is evidently pregnant or menopausal. And women of prime reproductive age who visit the hut on a regular basis are clearly infertile.
The Dogon do use that information to make paternity decisions. In several cases a man was forced to marry a pregnant woman, simply because everyone knew that the man had been the woman's first sexual partner after her last visit to the menstrual hut. Strassmann followed one case in which a child was being brought up by a man because he was the mother's first sexual partner after a hut visit, even though the woman soon married a different man.
In addition to menstrual monitoring, ancient female incentives for confusing paternity are countered by removing each girl's clitoris. The Dogon take it for granted that after clitoridectomy a woman will find sexual intercourse outside marriage less tantalizing, not worth the risks. In this way, older men with several young wives can be as certain of paternity as any primates in the world - Dogon certain.
Dogon women mostly play by the rules. In 86% of the hormonally detected menstruations, women went to the hut. Moreover, none of the tested women went to the hut when they were not menstruating. In the remaining 14% of the tested menstruations, women stayed home from the hut, in violation of the taboo, but some were near menopause and so not at high risk for pregnancy. None of the women who violated the taboo did it twice in a row. Even they were largely willing to comply. In general, women are cooperative players in the game because without a man, a woman has no way to support herself or her children. But women follow the taboo reluctantly. They complain about going to the hut. And if their husbands convert from the traditional religion of the Dogon to one that does not impose menstrual taboos, such as Islam or Christianity, the women quickly cease visiting the hut.
Like the !Kung a woman in a natural-fertility population such as the Dogon has only about 110 menstrual periods in her lifetime. The rest of the time she will be pre-pubescent, pregnant, lactating or menopausal. Women in industrialized cultures, by contrast, have more than three times as many cycles: 350 to 400, on average, in a lifetime. Women spend most of their reproductive years in lactation amenorrhea, suppressing ovulation from nursing each child on demand. . Dogon women bear eight to nine children on average.
Does certainty of paternity ensure that Dogon men invest more in their children? Not necessarily, especially not if they have several wives and many sons. As in most patriarchal societies, a man's attention tends to be focused on gaining and maintaining prestige, with its corollary of more wives and more children.
Typical for this area, child mortality among the Dogon is very high. 46% will die before age five. What is more noteworthy, though, is that the chances of a child dying are 7 to 11 times higher if the mother is in a polygynous family, working together with and sharing meals with cowives, than if she is married monogamously. In a monogamous union, a mother's loss is equally the father's. But in the case of a man married to three wives, the polygynist comes out ahead reproductively even if more than half his children die.
Unlike a mother's goal, which is generally "quality," well-spaced, healthy offspring, each one well provided for, the Dogon's father's goal is "quantity"—as many children as he can have, even if many die. Among the Dogon, this is particularly unfortunate, because land is increasingly in short supply, and men can bequeath a homestead only to one select son, or to a couple of sons. Yet men have little incentive to take fewer wives. For women work hard. Owning them confers prestige, a higher standard of living, and reproductive success.
Dogon mothers claim that their sons are being poisoned by co-wives. Strassmann was invited to attend rituals at which masked dancers intimidate women to deter wives from such nefarious pursuits. Indeed, wild-sounding accusations about children poisoned by cowives can be extensively documented in Malian court records. Occasionally women actually confess to poisoning a rival's child. But why primarily sons? Because daughters leave home when they marry, and it is sons who are favored, and who remain at home to compete with their father's other sons for inheritances of scarce land.
Why don't wives married to the same man manage to cooperate more? In some societies, they do, especially if the husband marries sisters. Among Australian Aborigines, wise men often seek to marry wives who are related to each other precisely because such women are known to get along better. But among the Dogon, the benefits of reduced strife do not outweigh the benefits to the patriarch of discouraging his wives from forming alliances. The patriarch's strategy is to "divide and conquer." Strassmann notes that sisters and other related women are specifically prohibited from marrying into the same patriline. Such strictures make it hard to sustain the functionalist argument that these polygynous families are set up for the common good, with eugenic intent to promote the well-being of all concerned. In a world where the optimal number of fathers per child is pretty obviously at least one, not some fraction of one, most Dogon men still aspire to be polygynists.
In 'Conversations with Ogotemmeli' Marcel Griaule (R266) recounts a cosmological tale of sexual origins from the creator God and Mother Earth in which sexual antagonism leads to an order reinforced by male and particularly female circumcision at every stage. Despite being a type of joint creation including an androgynous primal couple, the entire cosmology is both sexual and confrontational. We can see frankly enshrined a root collision between male and female sexual and orgasmic capacity, and its 'cutting' out of the female to 'feminize' her in the (negative) image of man. At every stage this creation myth re-emphasizes the dominance and invincibility of the male in setting out the 'world order'.
Dogon mythology describes the creation of the universe in terms of contrasting motions. In his initial act of creation, the one God Amma, threw out the seed of the world, which radiated out in four directions forming the surface of the earth. The stars came from pellets of earth he flung out into space. He had created the sun and the moon by a more complicated process: the art of pottery.
The God Amma took a lump of clay, squeezed it in his hand and flung it from him, as he had done with the stars. The clay spread and fell on the north, which is the top, and from there stretched out to the south, which is the bottom, of the world. It extends east and west with separate members like a fetus in the womb. This body, lying flat, face upwards is feminine. Its sexual organ is an anthill, and its clitoris a termite hill. Amma, being lonely and desirous of intercourse with this creature, approached it. That was the occasion of the first breach of the order of the universe.
At God's approach the termite hill rose up, barring the passage and displaying its masculinity. It was as strong as the organ of the stranger, and intercourse could not take place. But God is all-powerful. In the primal act of female circumcision, he cut down the termite hill, and had intercourse with the excised earth. But the original incident was destined to affect the course of things for ever; from this defective union there was born, instead of the intended twins, a single being, the pale fox, or jackal, symbol of the difficulties of God.
God had further intercourse with his earth-wife, and this time without mishaps, the excision of the offending member having removed the cause of the disorder. Water, which is the divine seed, was thus able to enter the womb of the earth and the normal reproductive cycle resulted in the birth of twins. Two beings were thus formed. God created them like water. They were green in colour, half human beings and half serpents. From the head to the loins they were human: below that they were serpents. Their red eyes were wide open like human eyes, and their tongues were forked like the tongues of reptiles. Their arms were flexible and without joints. Their bodies were green and sleek all over, shining like the surface of water, and covered with short green hairs, a presage of vegetation and germination.
These spirits, called Nummo, were of divine essence like himself, and developed normally in the womb of the earth. They are androgynous couples who each embody the proper balance of the sexes. Their destiny took them to Heaven, where they received the instructions of their father. They were of the essence of God, made of his seed, which is at once the form, and substance of the life-force of the world, from which derives the motion and the persistence of created being. This force is water, and the Pair are present in all water: the water of the seas, of coasts, of torrents, of storms, and of the spoonfuls we drink.
The Nummo, looking down from Heaven, saw their mother, the earth, naked and speechless, as a consequence of the original incident in her relations with the God Amma. It was necessary to put an end to this state of disorder. The Nummo accordingly came down to earth, bringing with them fibres pulled from plants already created in the heavenly regions. The purpose of this garment was not merely modesty. It manifested on earth the first act in the ordering of the universe and the revelation of the helicoid sign in the form of an undulating broken line, for the fibres fell in coils, symbol of tornadoes, of the windings of torrents, of eddies and whirlwinds, of the undulating movement of reptiles. In these fibres full of water and words, placed over his mother's genitalia, Nummo is thus always present.
Thus clothed, the earth had a language. It was good; nevertheless from the start it let loose disorder. This was because the jackal, the deluded and deceitful son of God, an unnatural and socially disruptive creature born without placenta and thus robbed at birth of his female counterpart desired to possess speech, and laid hands on the fibres in which language was embodied, that is to say, on his mother's skirt. His mother, the earth, resisted this incestuous action. She buried herself in her own womb, that is to say, in the anthill, disguised as an ant. But the jackal followed her. There was, it should be explained, no other woman in the world whom he could desire. The hole which the earth made in the anthill was never deep enough, and in the end she had to admit defeat. The myths of the pale fox demonstrate the chaos resulting from this imbalance of male and female qualities. This prefigured the even-handed struggles between men and women, which, however, always end in the victory of the male.
The incestuous act was of great consequence. In the first place it endowed the jackal pale fox with the gift of speech so that ever afterwards he was able to reveal to diviners the designs of God. It was also the cause of the flow of menstrual blood, which stained the fibres. The resulting defilement of the earth was incompatible with the reign of God. God rejected that spouse, and decided to create living beings directly. Modeling a womb in damp clay, he placed it on the earth and covered it with a pellet flung out into space from heaven. He made a male organ in the same way and having put it on the ground, he flung out a sphere which stuck to it. The two lumps forthwith took organic shape; their life began to develop. Members separated from the central core, bodies appeared, and a human pair arose out of the lumps of earth.
At this point the Nummo Pair reappeared. The Spirit drew two outlines on the ground, one on top of the other, one male and the other female. The man stretched himself out on these two shadows of himself, and took both of them for his own. The same thing was done for the woman. Thus it came about that each human being from the first was endowed with two souls of different sex, or rather with two principles corresponding to two distinct persons. In the man the female soul was located in the prepuce; in the woman the male soul was in the clitoris. Man's life was not capable of supporting both beings: each person would have to merge himself in the sex for which he appeared to be best fitted. The Nummo accordingly circumcised the man, thus removing from him all the femininity of his prepuce. The prepuce, however, changed itself into an animal which is "neither- a serpent nor an insect, but is classed with serpents." This animal symbolized the pain of circumcision and the need for the man to suffer in his sex as the woman does.
The man then had intercourse with the woman, who later bore the first two children of a series of eight, who were to become the ancestors of the Dogon people. In the moment of birth the pain of parturition was concentrated in the woman's clitoris, which was excised by an invisible hand, detached itself and left her, and was changed into the form of a scorpion. The pouch and the sting symbolized the organ: the venom was the water and the blood of the pain. Dual souls were implanted in a new-born child by holding it by the thighs above the place of the drawings with its hands and feet touching the ground. Later the superfluous soul was eliminated by circumcision, and humanity limped towards its obscure destiny.
As if this surgical excision of the female identity were not enough the creation process continues with the complete take-over of Mother Earth by male identity. The divine thirst for perfection was not extinguished, and the Nummo Pair, who were gradually taking the place of God their father, had in mind projects of redemption. But, in order to improve human conditions, reforms and instruction had to be carried out on the human level. The Nummo were afraid of the terrifying effect of contact between creatures of flesh and blood on the one hand and purely spiritual beings on the other. There had to be actions that could be understood, taking place within the ambit of the beneficiaries and in their own environment. Men after regeneration must be drawn towards the ideal as a peasant is drawn to rich farmland. The Nummo accordingly came down to earth, and entered the anthill, that is to say, the sexual part of which they were themselves the issue.
In the fullness of time an obscure instinct led the eldest of the offspring of the primal pair towards the anthill which had been occupied by the Nummo. He wore on his head as head-dress and to protect him from the sun, the wooden bowl he used for his food. He put his two feet into the opening of the anthill, that is of the earth's womb, and sank in slowly. The whole of him thus entered into the earth, and his head itself disappeared. But he left on the ground, as evidence of his passage into that world, the bowl which had caught on the edges of the opening. All that remained on the anthill was the round wooden bowl, still bearing traces of the food and the fingerprints of its vanished owner, symbol of his body and of his human nature, as, in the animal world, is the skin which a reptile has shed.
Liberated form his earthly condition, the ancestor was taken in charge by the regenerating Pair. The male Nummo led him into the depths of the earth, where, in the waters of the womb of his partner he curled himself up like a fetus and shrank to germinal form, and acquired the quality of water, the seed of god and the essence of the two Spirits. And all this process was the work of the Word. The male with his voice accompanied the female Nummo who was speaking to herself and to her own sex. The spoken Word entered into her and wound itself round her womb in a spiral of eight turns. Just as the helical band of copper round the sun gives to it its daily movement, so the spiral of the Word gave to the womb its regenerative movement. Thus perfected by water and words, the new Spirit was expelled and went up to Heaven.
All the eight ancestors in succession had to undergo this process of transformation; but, when the turn of the seventh ancestor came, the change was the occasion of a notable occurrence. The seventh in a series, it must be remembered, represents perfection. Though equal in quality with the others, he is the sum of the feminine element, which is four, and the masculine element, which is three. He is thus the completion of the perfect series, symbol of the total union of male and female, that is to say of unity. And to this homogeneous whole belongs especially the mastery of words, this is, of language; and the appearance on earth of such a one was bound to be the prelude to revolutionary developments of a beneficent character. What the seventh ancestor had received was the perfect knowledge of a Word-the second Word to be heard on earth, clearer than the first, destined for all mankind. Thus he was able to achieve progress for the world. In particular, he enabled mankind to take precedence over God's wicked son, the jackal. In the future order of things he was to be merely a laggard in the process of revelation.
The potent second Word developed the powers of its new possessor. Gradually he came to regard his regeneration in the womb of the earth as equivalent to its capture and occupation, and little by little he took possession of the whole organism, making such use of it as suited him for the purpose of his activities. His lips began to merge with the edges of the anthill, which widened and became a mouth. Pointed teeth made their appearance, seven for each lip, then ten, the number of the fingers, later forty, and finally eighty, ten for each ancestor in a kind of vagina dentata of genealogy.
These numbers indicated the future rates of increase of the families; the appearance of the teeth was a sign that the time for new instruction was drawing near. But here again the scruples of the Spirits made themselves felt. It was not directly to men, but to the ant, avatar of the earth and native to the locality, that the seventh ancestor imparted instruction. At sunrise on the appointed day the seventh ancestor Spirit spat out eighty threads of cotton; these he distributed between his upper teeth which acted as the teeth of a weaver's reed. In this way he made the uneven threads of a warp. He did the same with the lower teeth to make the even threads. By opening and shutting his jaws the Spirit caused the threads of the warp to make the movements required in weaving. His whole face took part in the work, his nose studs serving as the block, while the stud in his lower lip was the shuttle. As the threads crossed and uncrossed, the two tips of the Spirit's forked tongue pushed the thread of the weft to and fro, and the web took shape from his mouth in the breath of the second revealed Word. By so doing he showed the identity of material actions and spiritual forces, or rather the need for their co-operation.
Consistent with this stark division between the sexes, the Dogon divide their community into two opposed categories: living or pure man, and impure or dead man. The Hogon, the most important village chief, is leader of the pure men, while the Olubaru, the highest official of the Awa society, is leader of the impure men. The Awa society assumes control during the ceremonial period, while the Hogon is the leader of the community during the rest of the year and assumes ritual duties at the time of agricultural rites. The impure perform rituals associated with death, such as the preparation and burial of the corpse, the sacrifice and eating of sacrificial animals, and the construction and maintenance of the menstrual huts.
Female Power and Male Dominance
In 'Female Power and Male Dominance' Peggy Reeves Sanday (R609) analyzed over 100 societies seeking the causative or contributory factors leading to male dominance. She examined societies both from their creation mythologies and actual social patterns. She divides societies in three types, 'equal' where women and men shared power and there was little or no aggression or suppression, 'mythically dominant' where there was male aggression in the presence of female economic or political power, and 'unequal' where males were both mythically and practically dominant (R609 164). Dominance was expressed in both exclusion of women from political and economic decision making and male aggression against women in several forms: the ideal that males should be tough, brave and aggressive, the existence of exclusive men's houses or spaces, frequent quarreling fighting or wife beating, institutionalization or regular occurrence of rape and raiding other groups for wives. She cites a variety of anthropological theories for male dominance giving some validity to each of them and then developing a theory of her own which is a form of the prisoner's dilemma polarization.
Marvin Harris has suggested imbalance between protein sources and population density leads to male dominance. This has several suggested manifestations. Female infanticide ensues to produce hunters and warriors to compete for the available protein supplies. This slows population but causes a shortage of marriageable women requiring men to take them from hostile groups. Polygyny, the mark of a successful and powerful hunter and warrior exacerbates the shortage. Male supremacist institutions arise as a by-product of warfare, male monopoly over weapons, and the use of sex to nurture aggressive male personalities. There is some debate about this issue. Sanday (R609 45) claims the Yanomamo have a protein deficiency with 85% of the diet from plant sources, noting they have a specific word for craving meat. However this proportion for gathering is similar to the !Kung diet and although the !Kung hunt with lethal weapons war is unknown. Chagnon (R111 94) has this to say: "The most prominent champion of the protein theory is an anthropologist named Marvin Harris. We disagree a good deal and have 'debated' the protein issue publicly on a number of campuses. The argument began when I cautioned the protein-deficiency advocates that the Yanomamo did not suffer from a protein shortage and that their warfare (and the warfare in any group) was too complex to reduce to a single variable."
Charted results from Sanday (R609) indicate that sexually equal societies are likely to be aboriginal and peaceful while migratory and warlike societies are likely to be mythically or materially male dominant. A constant food supply also favours equality while stress from erratic food supply is associated with male dominance. The form of the society is also reflected in its creation myths with mythical or actually male dominates societies having male creation mythologies unlike sexually equal societies. Joint creations are not necessarily indicative of equal societies. Extremely warlike patriarchal societies such as the Yanomamo and Jivaro use joint creations specifically to portray sexual antagonism.
Ernestine Friedl (R225) suggests that men have greater control than women over the extra-domestic distribution and exchange because of the male monopoly on hunting large game. Among shifting agriculturalists this becomes male monopoly on clearing land and its cultivation. Warfare then becomes the domain of males because they are the expendable sex in reproductive terms. There is also some evidence to support this as a contributory factor.
Rare and occasional parental care of young children is associated with male creation myths, hunting especially of large game and shifting cultivation and advanced agriculture are likewise, while gathering and horticulture are associated with balanced or feminine creation myths.
Martin and Voorhies (R447) deduce that paternal descent and residence rules are adaptive where resources are scarce or where populations have been subjugated by patrilineal invaders. Matrilineal and matrilocal patterns are accommodating and integrative while patrilineal ones acquisitive and internally divisive. There is also evidence for this factor both in the social forms equal and unequal of these differing residence and lineage patterns and in the fact that matrilineal and matrilocal societies have become rarer over time, having been displaced by more aggressive patrilineal and patrilocal systems.
Hrdy (R330 252) states: "Such matrilineal arrangements are fragile, and they quickly disappear after contact with patrilineal herders, agriculturalists, or wage economies. A mid-twentieth-century survey revealed 15 percent of the world's cultures were matrilineal, and they were becoming scarcer." Hrdy notes that 70 percent of human societies were living in male philopatric arrangements. About two-thirds of these patrilocal societies have patrilineal descent groups, and most are polygynous and founded on paternity certainty at the expense of female choice. "Elaborate modes of socialization, rituals, and whole mythologies have grown up to endorse male control over the inconvenient sexual legacy that women inherited from their primate predecessors". Low ( R427 223) likewise associates the male inter-group violence occurring in 60% of human societies with primate raiding parties (p 148).
However, unlike the matriarchal origins of Bachofen and the hopes of some feminist authors, genetic studies on the Y-chromosome and mitochondrial mtDNA distributions (Seielstad et. al. R633) indicate that human societies have been predominantly patrilocal with moderate polygyny throughout human emergence with an eight times higher rate of female migration overall. Thus while more extreme forms of patriarchal dominion have definitely emerged, human sociobiology over the last 100,000 years appears to have been similar to ape societies rather than like many monkeys and other mammals in which related females reside together.
Matrilocal and matrilineal societies each tend to be more equal then patrilineal and patrilocal societies, which tend strongly to mythical or actual male dominance.
This picture was further refined and a more complicated picture emerged with the work of Giovanni Destro-Bisol and Gabriella Spedini three years later (New Scientist 7 Feb 2004 40-42). In this study gatherer-hunter societies tended to have higher male migration, possibly associated with greater male mobility in the division of labour, and agricultural populations had more female mobility possibly associated with the rise of agricultural patriarchy. Large spreads of male Y-chromosomes were also associated with the Batu migrations although these would have also been accompanied by women. There were clear signs of Y-migration into pygmy populations where we know there has been cultural adaption. Conversely there is an outward flow of female mtDNA from Pygmy to Bantu, reflected in a low bride price and a reputation for high fertility, but higher-class Bantu women did not 'marry down' in the other direction. Western Biaka have 62% of a Bantu Y-mutation called M2 coinciding with the beginning of the Bantu migrations. By contrast a much lower Y-influx has occurred in the !Kung who do not traditionally intermarry with Bantu. The Pygmy Y-inflow may have been caused by affairs with Bantu men, pygmy women returning after divorces, or adopting mixed marriage offspring. Destro-Bisol sees agriculture as being responsible for a traditions from cultures which buffered genetic underpinnings allowing adaption to diverse environments, to "the driving factor for establishment of more complex societies with social inequalities within and between populations".
Sherry Ortner (R517) describes women as associated with nature and life while men's role is driven in compensation to take up the projects of culture. Lacking creative functions man must assert his creativity externally. Simone de Beauvoir notes: "It is not in giving life but in risking life that man is raised above the animal; that is why superiority has been accorded in humanity not to the sex which brings forth but to that which kills." John and Beatrice Whiting take a more psychological point of view in the male need to break a primary identity with powerful women particularly when expressed primarily in the domestic sphere in a way which later can be rejected when a young male finds differing realities in the wider world. Margaret Mead notes the difficulty of striking a balance between the need to reproduce and overpopulaion and that different reactions to population stress involve rejection of powers of fecundity for example in a fixed circut of energy, male only fertilization powers.
These views can be readily combined into a pespective where males are more vulnerable to their feelings of mortality because they do not themselves give birth to new life, they are also fearful and uncertain of their paternity by contrast with the certainty a female has, and they are naturally in sociobiological terms the competitive sex who risks life to reproduce and who throughout the mammalian evolution has sought to jealously guard mates and female resources as a means to secure reproductive advantage.
Peggy Reeves Sanday (R609) takes up Mary Douglas' (R173) idea that patriarchal dominance is part of a people's response to stress. She notes however that adaption to stress does not always involve the subjugation of women. Where there is cooperative immersion in nature and the feminization principle male dominance is unlikely. She thus articulates a two stage process leading from aboriginal cooperative societies to male dominance in which the cultural configuration first enters a divergence of sex-role plans into a dual-sex configuration such as we have seen in the Ashanti, the stage is set for mythical male dominance when competition under stress drives the separate complementary spheres into a symmetry-breaking into dominance. This two-step evolution is really a presentation of the prisoners dilemma and its bifurcation between cooperation as a feminine strategy and competition to the point of violent defection as a masculine strategy.
There are further sociobiological interpretations of this process which are also consistent with the above interpretations but lead to a more historically realistic description of how major societies including our own cultural tradition have entered a major epoch of male dominion. In sexual selection there is always a counterpoint between female reproductive choice and male competition and mate guarding. The exact balance varies from species to species with a degree of genetic conflict from example between hierarchies of male chimps who practice infanticide and raids on other groups and loose female coalitions who in the case of bonobos have managed to achieve a relatively high degree of female power.
It is easy to see that the first migrations of homo sapiens were into niches not previously occupied by modern humans, and only sometimes by relatives such as Neanderthal and so there was initially little need for inter-group competition and stress between modern humans. Populations could also gravitate to regions where the food supply was relatively constant and plentiful. However once modern human populations spread widely, the niche opens for a more predatory type of male-dominating culture to take selective advantage, based on male coalitions, warfare, abduction of females and rapid population growth fuelled by resource exploitation. Such societies would be associated with migration, war, food stress caused by ecological instability, patrilineal inheritance, patrilocal residence, drives for increased population rather than attempts to balance fertility and male domination of females. Viewed in this way the emergence of male dominance is as natural as the emergence of carnivores, but its also raises serious questions of ecological stability of the human species if the population of predatorial societies begins to exceed that of the 'hosts'.
These processes can become profoundly amplified by technological changes such as the transition from gathering to horticulture espoused predominantly by women through to large-scale plow agriculture dominated by men, and a parallel transition from hunting through to shepherding and animal husbandry again male dominated. Major inventions such as metallurgy, the wheel and the domestication of the horse not only transformed society in peace time but gave huge new opportunities for migratory warfare. New types of society evolved in which several of these motifs come together such as the liaison between planter queens and shepherd kings in Sumeria portrayed in the tale of Inanna and Dumuzi (p 180).
Sexual Paradox and Cultural Sustainability
The evidence is that the sexes have complementary evolutionary strategies, the male based on competition, by dominant rank or subterfuge, exploitation of reproductive advantage, even at risk of death, exponentiation of resources to provide unbounded reproductive opportunity, and maximum investment in the current opportunity, without necessarily providing long-term. By contrast the female investment is more out-front, honest and massive over time, seeking to spread the benefits over all offspring in a way which conserves scarce resources in a way which is sustainable over time. By being closer to the immortal flow of life in the cytoplasmic continuity of the birth process the female is also more liable to make a cross-generational investment than the male who does not reproduce directly and lives in mortal fear of cuckolding.
No one who would question the idea that sexual paradox has been the evolutionary driving force for our linguistic articulacy, diverse crafts and skills, abstract reasoning and technology can deny that sexual relationship is the dominant theme in spoken fable, written literature, music and song, now winging the 'air-waves' of radio and television throughout human culture. Without it, mass media and popular literature, and the trappings we associate with 'culture' would atrophy, if not collapse. This view is central to all social theories of the evolution of intelligence through the dissonance between trustworthiness and deceit, the subtleties of detecting and concealing deceit and the complexity of the social 'grapevine'. Notably gatherer-hunters such as the !Kung spend long evenings discussing their sexual and emotional relationships and the resulting stresses, often through to the dawn.
Acknowledging our sociobiological roots does not mean conceding society and culture are biologically determined, but simply that biology cannot fail to contribute its heritage, subtle or frank, to the form of society and culture. Any culture which ignores, or rejects, its biological foundations will experience dissonance or repression. To ignore such factors will mean that they play out their effects in less constructive ways, despite social taboos. To repress them will result in tyranny and human misery. However in acknowledging and taking advantage of our biological roots, we may not only come to a point of genuine personal and cultural freedom of expression, but also gain the capacity to enjoy a sustainable evolutionary future. Neither does a complementary view of gender divide the sexes, for the feminine is present in both men and women, as the small spots in the yin-yang symbol of the Tao attest.
The evidence from both primate and human gatherer-hunter societies shows that the patrilocal kinship common to apes does not automatically lead to a cultural emergence based on patriarchal dominance, or women being treated as commodities. Male dominance may arise rather through cultural stress and the development of patterns of social predation. At issue in our view of gender and culture is not whether individual women have better innate ecological sustainability than men, because survival of the species depends ultimately on both, but the more subtle question of the survival value of the complete human reproductive strategy, with the feminine playing a full and pivotal part as a complementary contributor to the male, in conceiving and forming whole sustainable societies. Repression of the reproductive protocols of an entire sex in a society could thus have potentially disastrous consequences.
It behooves us to consider whether current ideals of partnership involving a division between the illusion of strict monogamy and images of sexual attraction based on the heroic fantasy of a 'rebel without a cause' serve the creative needs of human cultural evolution. It is not clear the ideal of the delinquent 'he-man' portrayed on the media serves reproductive interests of women, in a society of increasingly single-parent and dysfunctional families. A non-violent society of 'conjugal bliss' follows only from a more open and honest approach to sexuality and our biological roots, in which women are able and encouraged to make good choices which abet the best in male resourceful defence and support of the family, agreeableness, humour, affection, and all the features of artistry and skill the 'good hunter' can provide, as Geoffrey Miller (R475) suggests (p 53). Moreover this needs to happen with some respect, and room for, female reproductive choice to occur, in all its gambits, from established long-term partnership, to more secretive affairs, along with a reasonable degree of ethical compassion on the part of men towards supporting, with love, those offspring who are not their own children, without stripping bare all the devices of sexual selection, through genetic testing and paternity suits.
NISA (Shostak R639)
We have to lay at Adam's feet, in the spermatogenic evolutionary strategy, responsibility for all the unstable features of competitive and exploitative instability society is displaying. Instability which compromises our future viability and sustainability - an endlessly exponentiating relentless industrializtion, extinction-risking boom and bust economics, winner-take-all exploitation of natural and non-renewable resources, population crisis, environmental impacts which are never addressed until the damage is possibly irreversible, and the devastation of a billion years of evolutionary diversity. The use of controlled violence combined with reproductive competition has led to war, atrocity and genocide as well as the development of industrial civilization and post-modern culture. These features began with the patriarchal dominion of large city states, exacerbated by patriarchal religious leaders who insist on the male right to reproduce as well as man's dominion over nature. They have resulted in war and genocide to the point of final end-game 'solutions' such as sheol and the nuclear madness of mutually assured destruction. For this reason it is necessary to exorcise the doctrine of original sin which has cursed Eve throughout the history of patriarchal monotheism.
References at: http://dhushara.com/paradoxhtm/biblio.htm