Before Farming 2009/4 article 2 1 Insulting the meat: foragers, sharing & ideological practices – an appreciation of Richard Lee's egalitarianism

Before Farming 2009/4 article 2 1 Insulting the meat: foragers, sharing & ideological practices – an appreciation of Richard Lee's egalitarianism

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  Before Farming 2009/4article 2 1 Insulting the meat: foragers, sharing & ideological practices – an appreciation of Richard Lee’s egalitarianism Richard Daly Stensrudlia 1, 1294 Oslo, Keywords Primitive communism, egalitarianism as ethos, ideology & indigenous resistance, forager sharing, complexforagers, historical materialism Abstract Richard Lee has not shied away from ideological implications of his ethnographic findings in the Kalahari. Thisarticle 1  looks at empirical and ideological aspects of one of Lee’s many interests, namely egalitarianism,sharing, and above all, the lack of private property among foragers and other kin-based social entities. Lee haslong recognised the importance of upholding both the empirical and ideological identities of societies that arebased on sharing resources and on communal living. The continued recognition of these phenomena, in boththe empirically ethnographic and the ideological senses, are crucial not only to the future of hunter-gatherer studies but also to core features of other small-scale, self-identifying peoples, as well as to wider concerns withhuman sociality, its history and its future. 1 Introduction No one wants to be accused of romanticism, letalone of being soft on communism, even of theprimitive variety[...]Many Marxists fail toacknowledge the significance or even theexistence of primitive communism and theabsence of private property as a central principlein precapitalist social formations(Lee 1988:253)On one occasion in the 1960s, early in the span of hisKalahari work, Richard Lee decided to treat his hostcommunity to a feast since he was about to return hometo North America. He purchased the largest steer hecould find and presented it to his Ju/’hoansi hosts. In-stead of showing gratitude, as Lee would have expectedfrom the perspective of his own European-rooted cul-ture, his gift recipients stood around the steer, shakingtheir heads, frowning, insulting and belittling the giftanimal. It was obviously an old wreck of a beast, toughand stringy. It would not be succulent. Have you ever seen such a poor excuse for a game animal – scrawnyand containing no fat? Professor Lee, shocked andbemused, watched as his gift animal was denigratedby one and all, then slaughtered, roasted and enjoyedthoroughly by the whole community. Later he consultedone of his Ju/’hoansi mentors, Tomazo, who had thisto say:Yes, when a young man kills much meat hecomes to think of himself as a chief or a bigman, and he thinks of the rest of us as hisservants or inferiors. We can’t accept this. Werefuse one who boasts, for some day his pridewill make him kill somebody. So we alwaysspeak of his meat as worthless. This way wecool his heart and make him gentle (Lee1984:156). As Mauss pointed out long ago (1925 [1990]),whether it takes the form of a high-protein feast or shell ornaments, gift-giving works best between so-cial equals. He or she who cannot or does not recip-rocate in due course breaks the interplay of ex-changes, and becomes socially indebted. Le don  inFrench and the English gift become the German gift  ;it ceases to be a present, a geschenk   and becomespoison. In several Germanic languages gift   is liter-ally poison and this is an apt term – from the per-spective of recipients at least – for the quality of so-cial relations that result from long-term unrequitedgiving, or from the lack of sharing in the social imagi-nary of a society.There are many permutations to this equation,but there are relatively few when we examine the  2 Before Farming 2009/4article 2Insulting the meat: foragers, sharing & ideological practices - an appreciation of Richard Lee’s egalitarianism: Daly more hard-nosed gift-giving and sharing in socie-ties with little division of labour and little or no privateproperty – societies that exhibit either a de facto equal-ity, a morality of equality, or at least a social imagi-nary of egalitarianism. Even when ethnographers findno explicit enunciation of egalitarianism, it nonethe-less tends to be enacted in regular daily life. As KarenEndicott (1999:412) points out, quoting Woodburn(1982:432): ‘The verbal rhetoric of equality may or may not be elaborated but actions speak loudly:equality is repeatedly acted out, publicly demon-strated, in opposition to possible inequality’.The intention in this article is to remind the reader of one of the most important and enduring aspectsof the Richard Lee’s many anthropological interests,namely his empirical findings of collective proprietor-ship, egalitarianism and the practices of sharingamong the peoples of the Kalahari in particular, aswell as among foraging peoples in general, together with his ideological engagement with anti-Marxistopponents of the same. Philosophers and socialscientists have often speculated about the extent towhich different human societies are part of a cos-mopolitan and species-wide, almost instinctual bio-logical whole, and conversely, to what extent the en-vironmental context, the local social and ecologicalconditions and the existing local ethos have kept themseparated into distinct indigenous entities. In recenthistory, centralised government, global politicaleconomy and urbanisation have privileged thosesocial formations that are hierarchical, centrally or-ganised and in possession of a complex division of labour. Local indigenous entities (frequently encap-sulated as ‘the Indian reservation’), together with their morality and social structure – in many ways the re-search jurisdiction of social anthropologists – areusually relegated to the periphery of the mainstreamsocial consciousness which, in turn, is misleadinglydubbed ‘western’ (the realm of the cowboys). Theidentity of these ‘non-westerners’ is often interpretedas consequential to the mainstream view of humandevelopment, 2  or, in the case of the proponents of socio-biology, small peripheral ethnic peoples areviewed as primal, historically isolated examples of instinctual biologically-driven behaviour (Wilson1975; Goldberg 1996; Chagnon 1966, 1968, 1977,1988). Not only have those peoples, including manyhunter-gathers, been relegated to this periphery(Hitchcock 1999; Bodley 1999), but also they havelong provided the raw material for opposing ideo-logical positions (collectivist vs individualist) as tothe nature of human social life.For example, in the early Cold War period after World War II we had Eleanor Leacock’s collectivist,historical and socialist-friendly rejoinder to the es-sentialist, capitalist-friendly arguments of LorenEiseley and Frank Speck about the nature of easternDene and Algonquian peoples at the time of contact – portrayed by the latter as individual, nuclear familyentrepreneurs or rural shopkeepers (Leacock 1954;Lee & Daly 1993) 3  and by the former as lacking pri-vate property and living collective lives in a harsh butrewarding environment.More recently, on the biological and individualistside, we have had James Neel and NapoleonChagnon wading into the Amazon (Tierney 2000;Geertz 2001), brandishing their spears at socialismand feminism. Beginning with The Fierce People (1968), Chagnon has championed the dominanceof Yanomami competitive alpha males and their su-perior genes over what he considers to be the re-cessive and genetically debilitating effects of nurtur-ing, gender equality and human cooperation – in other words, the communal and gender equitable featuresof foraging societies found by so many others in somany instances to predominate (eg, Lee 1988, 1990,1992a, 1992b; Lee & Daly 1999; Gailey 2003).Lee has pointed out that the primary step in as-sessing the viability of ethnographic analogies for reconstructing primal states of human existence inevolutionary trajectories is to document the so-calledprimitive, and: ‘see in the primitive an historically validand workable social system’ (1988:254). This is cru-cial to the broader task of examining the sweep of human development in so far as we can use knowl-edge of such social systems to extend our under-standing of probable early trajectories of socioeco-nomic development. The general task in this field isto flesh out the evolutionary paradigm by, first, con-tinuing to compile empirical studies on the subjectof collective living/collective production formationsthat have existed in recent centuries, and second, byfine-tuning our understanding of the wider historicaltrajectories of such kinship societies (which Wolf [1982:95] reminds us is that ‘[T]he ability of the kin-ordered mode to regenerate itself may lie in the ab-sence of any mechanism that can aggregate or mo-bilise social labour apart from the particular rela-  Before Farming 2009/4article 2 3Insulting the meat: foragers, sharing & ideological practices - an appreciation of Richard Lee’s egalitarianism: Daly tions set up by kinship’). These pursuits – of primalforms of production and attendant social organisa-tion, whether they have developed into other, morecomplex forms of kinship society at certain points inhistory, or dropped back into foraging forms at other points – allow us a starting point for improving thehuman evolutionary paradigm in all its variability. 4 In what follows I explore features of what mightbe called the ethos of primitive communism, its so-cial imaginary, or the community of ideas and valuesthat reflects local kin-based relations of productionand which are dependent upon reliable empiricalethnography, and which continue to be reflected inthe social realities of many small peoples who todaylive within the jurisdictions of others (Hitchcock1999:480–481). The main features of these relationshave been laid out by, among other, Tim Ingold(1999:406ff) under the linked headings of autonomy  , trust   and sharing.  It is these features which, once juxtaposed with the social relations of the modernstate, give the hunter-gatherer band – the true homeof primitive communism – its philosophical potency.We who have been raised within the hegemonyof the modern state of recent centuries are imbuedwith the paradigm of a society of individuals whohave individual contractual relations with the centralgoverning body. The state, in Weber’s sense, can beviewed as the provider of infrastructure and monopo-liser of the use of force in society occupying a de-fined territory; it offers citizens personal rights anddemands certain duties from them. State-organised 5 individuals stand conceptually apart from one an-other until they choose, individually, to step into civilsociety and operate in relation to others ‘anony-mously, without inter-subjective investment’ (Ingold1986:239, 1999:402). Here the state citizen ideallyinteracts with others on the basis of distance, rea-son and dispassion.By contrast, in the ethos of the kin-based com-munal society, the individual is ‘a center of agencyand awareness within an unbounded social envi-ronment’ (Ingold 1999:402). In terms of local, oftenresidential relations, ‘[a] person acts with  others, notagainst them; the intentionality driving that action bothsrcinates from, and seeks fulfilment through thecommunity of nurture to which they all belong’ (Ibid).Here the actor’s independence is defined by her or his dependence on others. Thus both dependenceand autonomy require trust and social inclusion. Trustis based ultimately on sharing one’s very self withothers. The main feature of sharing in this sensedenotes much more than giving out a resource for distribution since resources are generally not indi-vidually owned; it involves being co-engaged in asocial process governing socialised use of re-sources – the communion with others that is every-day life. Nurit Bird-David (2005) has argued that wehave to depart from bourgeois, state-controlled as-sumptions about the nature of such terms as ‘shar-ing’, ‘egalitarian’, ‘individual’ and ‘property’ and seewhat they actually mean in empirical, non-state con-texts. Yet her views do not seem inconsistent withIngold’s perspective.It is these features of band sociality that are dis-cussed below in the belief that a deeper understand-ing of communal production relations and their ideo-logical effects would lead to scholars more effec-tively explaining and supporting the core values of indigenous people’s resistance to mainstream,statist agendas and, secondly, develop our curiosityabout primitive communism and introduce it againinto the discourse on the possibility of withering awaythe thinking that is the ideological armature of Weberian states. The many trajectories from primalforms of communism should at least be brought backinto the light of day, such that another generationmight consider them along with the question of build-ing more just, equitable and self-regulating forms of associating with one another. As the vastness of theplanet shrinks socially, we increasingly become alarge face-to-face society with much to learn fromour primal ancestors. 2 Autonomy, trust and sharing It seems to me that Ingold’s features of primitive com-munalism, and those of Richard Lee (1988, 1990) areupheld in recent ethnographic descriptions of sharingin hunter-gatherer societies. By way of example I havechosen Laura Rival’s work on Huaorani, sharing andsexual relations, or what might be called the sharing of one’s individuality, the intimacies of interweaving one’scorporeal self with others in Huaorani longhouses of the northern Amazon (Rival 2007). It is interesting tonote that Rival’s Amazonian work (2002) stands in sun-light when contrasted with the deep nocturnal view of Chagnon on Yanomami individual competition, maleaggression and violent warfare (Chagnon 1966). 6  It isinteresting to note that Rival’s dangerously commu-  4 Before Farming 2009/4article 2Insulting the meat: foragers, sharing & ideological practices - an appreciation of Richard Lee’s egalitarianism: Daly nistic findings do not seem to have been elevated intothe realm of popular readership in the way that those of Chagnon have with the help of the National Geographic  .The values represented by the former are either de-spised by champions of the hegemonic ethos of UnitedStates society, or at least judged ‘naive and romantic’,while the individualism and violent competition of thelatter reinforce the hard-assed view of what, in beef cattle jargon, is unquestioningly called ‘the traditions of the West’.Focusing not on egalitarian relations, but onsexual relations, Rival (2007) nevertheless revealsprofound examples of sharing – of the self – amongthe Huaorani people:The Huaorani’s fierce egalitarianism, present-oriented ethos and rejection of elaborategardening have led them to avoid inter-ethniccontact and exchange. Their hunting andgathering economy is matched by a close-knitegalitarian social organisation based on strongties and shared communal patterns (op cit:191n).Huaorani words that denote ‘living together in alonghouse’, and ‘working on a longhouse’ also mean‘the pleasure of sharing, of living well’ and ‘livinglaughing’. 7  Rival writes:By continuously feeding each other, eating thesame food and sleeping together, co-residentsoften develop a shared physicality of greater import than that resulting from genealogicalbonds. People say that by living together side-by-side they gradually become ‘of one and thesame flesh’ ( aroboqui baön anobain )’(2007:169–170).People spend much time in tactile interaction withbabies and toddlers, with spouses, and with thoseaffines with whom it is appropriate to be intimate.Huaorani say that using coercion toward oneself or others in the local group is bad for personal au-tonomy and induces illness or unleashes evil spir-its. Daily life consists of sharing oneself with one’sfellows, or mutually participating with them in a happycommunion, and thereby expanding mutual trust.‘Longhouse members,’ Rival writes, ‘share ill-nesses, parasites, a common dwelling and a com-mon territory. Love and care are social relations thatcreate solidarity through intimate and sensual bod-ily practices’ (op cit:173–174), and:The mixture of bodily closeness, physical proximityand sensual intelligence described here ischaracteristic of daily life, which unfolds in thecomfort of proximity, and the intimacy that goes withholding and touching familiar bodies (op cit:174). At marriage, a woman’s husband’s brothers andparallel cousins are possible sporadic lovers or part-time spouses for her. For her husband, on the other hand, conjugal relations can extend to the wife’s sis-ters and her parallel cousins. There are occasionalsexual relations between siblings, but not betweenaffines of alternate generations, such as between ahusband and mother-in-law. Despite the public reit-eration of the primacy of males in the sex act andprocreation, women cheerfully ignore this and pur-sue their own sexual interests and view of the world.Mutual caressing and sleeping together is a com-mon practice, especially among young men. Sexualrelations involve relatively much caressing and tac-tile exploration and relatively little penetration andorgasm. Women freely engage in what is called ‘funsex’ with visiting non-kin, and these encounters arealways initiated by the woman, usually with a hus-band sleeping nearby – a telling example of ‘demandsharing’! Rival sums up, as follows:My general impression is that Huaorani culturedoes not eroticise sensuality. Genital pleasureis not treated as the most pleasurable of allpleasures, nor is it clearly distinguishable fromother bodily pleasures (op cit:176).Yet the Huaorani are no more immune to the so-cial danger of the unbridled libido than are mem-bers of any other culture. But with the Huaorani, eroticpreoccupations – like coercive relations – are di-rected outwards to the world beyond the local group,or in the fantasy world of dreams and in the myths of srcin where ancestral figures copulate ecstatically,sublimely – not to mention at great length – withmonsters and certain forest animals. Of course theypay the price for doing so. In other words, pure eroticthrill is potentially coercive, anti-social and can beviolent and lethal to the local group if it is not dis-tanced from proximal daily relations.With reference to Amazonian foragers it is possi-ble to say that both erotic and other potentially coer-cive interpersonal relations are moderated and har-monised by the local group, in part by extending thesharing of self and family with putative affines in or-der to increase the social extent of peaceful rela-tions, and partly by men sublimating unbridled andcoercive libidinous impulses through martial com-bat conducted with good old-fashioned Freudianspears, and referred to by the same term as used for sexual intercourse.In the heat of aggressive coercive combat,whether actual or ritualised, the men do not rape  Before Farming 2009/4article 2 5Insulting the meat: foragers, sharing & ideological practices - an appreciation of Richard Lee’s egalitarianism: Daly women or humiliate other men sexually, but whenthey attack enemies, they use their spears with aviolently erotic and ‘irrational’ passion. Followingsuch momentary bursts of coercive martial behav-iour – external to the communalism of living, the affi-nal matri-focal networks quickly draw the men backinto the ‘life of laughter’ of the local group. Huaoranisdo not engage in sexual coercion for political endswithin their society and they use this fact as a distin-guishing mark of their ethnic identity within the Ecua-dorian state. In fact, in 2005, a group of Huaoraniwomen marched in the streets of the capital, Quito,to protest the upsurge in the incidence of rape andsexual abuse that their villages were now sufferingdue to the proximity of the petroleum frontier in their  Amazonian territories (ibid).To reiterate, in communal societies of the Ama-zon, personal desires that might inflame coercivebehaviour tend to be expressed in dreams, narra-tives and external relations. On the other hand, localrelations of joking and caressing are cemented bysharing food and small pleasures along networksof family and affinity. Sexual freedom is consider-able; even when sexual activity slips into occasionalincestuous relations this is merely frowned upon.What are not tolerated however are violations of theautonomy of another person – in other words, anyform of coercive behaviour.It could well be the case that these features of social relations documented among classic hunter-gatherer peoples lie at the core of what at one timewas primitive communism, and that in modified formthey continue to exist even among more complexhunter-gatherers, among tribal peoples and even inpockets of our own globalised world, as Gailey haspointed out with reference to the sharing of child-rearing that her single-parent students engage in asan everyday, every-night means of social survival(Gailey 2003). In other words, there are forms of shar-ing and social levelling that survive and find socialfunctions even within Weberian state formations. 3 Communal ethos in more complex formsof sociality Ingold (1999:400) argues that the cultural featuresof sharing and the ethic of social levelling found inthe hunting band are superseded by reciprocal rela-tionships in more complex and less immediately-distributive kinship social formations. He maintainsthat among such peoples we find the proper realmof reciprocity, and, I would add, the potentially coer-cive phenomenon of the gift. Ingold takes issue withSahlins’ use of the term ‘generalized reciprocity’(Sahlins 1972:193–194) to describe the diffuse giveand take in everyday life in band societies, sayingthat the whole notion of reciprocity, and its impliedsocial accounting between various individuals andvarious groups more properly describes relations intribally divided social formations or otherwise morecomplex kinship societies, although one might sus-pect that in some cases this distinction can be rather subtle, or even indistinct, in practice.My ethnographic experience of complex hunter-gatherers of the Northwest Coast and adjacentCordillera, and with hunter-horticulturalists of theEastern Woodlands has shown that the ethos of communalism-in-living, especially sharing and so-cial levelling remains a living feature of these Cana-dian First Nations, even though these are not band-organised social formations. These complex ‘forag-ers plus’ emphasise reciprocal relations betweenlineage fragments, or between clans or kindreds,and seek peace and cooperation along lines of classificatory kin terminology. 8  At the same time theypossess what Anthony Wallace (1972:296) so aptlycalled ‘an extreme sensitivity to issues involving per-sonal dominance’ – in other words, a fine sense of social levelling and an intolerance toward the coer-cive nature of protracted leadership. Leadership isbest left to elders who speak only for their familygroup, or should be limited to short-term tenure bycapable individuals who can be pressed into serv-ice to lead the wider community through a period of crisis, but who are subsequently cut down to size.But to return to the issue of sharing: how are selvesshared in such kinship formations ?Let us first examine some examples of sharingin the classic band. Here, those lacking resourcesat any one moment usually initiate distribution fromthose who have resources to those who are request-ing to share with them. And when someone brings agame animal into the community, distributive actionis frequently taken without any managerial direction(see Bird-David 2005; Chance 1966). Here the ini-tiative is usually not taken by he who possesses themeat. The game is butchered and apportioned tofamilies according to habitual practices. These fam-ily units then prepare and consume their portions
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