Interesting article just published at Aeon:Primitive communism.” Contains a few more examples of a theme I've noticed, the cruelty of many tribal societies:

When the anthropologist Richard Lee lived among the Kalahari !Kung, he noticed that a hunter named N!eisi once ignored his sister’s husband while passing out warthog meat. When asked why, N!eisi replied harshly: ‘This one I want to eat with my friends.’ N!eisi’s brother-in-law took the hint and, three days later, left camp with his wives and children. By exercising control over distributions, hunters convert meat into relationships.

Mostly it is against the idea that tribal societies have no private property:

Some proponents of primitive communism concede that foragers owned small trinkets but insist they didn’t own wild resources. But this too is mistaken. Shoshone families owned eagle nests. Bearlake Athabaskans owned beaver dens and fishing sites. Especially common is the ownership of trees. When an Andaman Islander man stumbled upon a tree suitable for making canoes, he told his group mates about it. From then, it was his and his alone. Similar rules existed among the Deg Hit’an of Alaska, the Northern Paiute of the Great Basin, and the Enlhet of the arid Paraguayan plains. In fact, by one economist ’s estimate, more than 70 per cent of hunter-gatherer societies recognised private ownership over land or trees.

Punishments could be cruel as well:

The Ute of Colorado whipped thieves. The Ainu of Japan sliced their earlobes off. For the Yaghan of Tierra del Fuego, accusing someone of robbery was a ‘deadly insult’. Lorna Marshall, who spent years living with the Kalahari !Kung, reported that a man was once killed for taking honey. Through violence towards offenders, foragers reified private property.

More on cruelty:

When a person goes from a lifeline to a long-term burden, reasons to keep them alive can vanish. In their book Aché Life History (1996), Hill and the anthropologist Ana Magdalena Hurtado listed many Aché people who were killed, abandoned or buried alive: widows, sick people, a blind woman, an infant born too soon, a boy with a paralysed hand, a child who was ‘funny looking’, a girl with bad haemorrhoids. Such opportunism suffuses all social interactions. But it is acute for foragers living at the edge of subsistence, for whom cooperation is essential and wasted efforts can be fatal.

Even towards children:

‘We really hate orphans,’ said an Aché person in 1978. Another Aché person was recorded after seeing jaguar tracks:

Don’t cry now. Are you crying because you want your mother to die? Do you want to be buried with your dead mother? Do you want to be thrown in the grave with your mother and stepped on until your excrement comes out? Your mother is going to die if you keep crying. When you are an orphan nobody will ever take care of you again.

The Aché had among the highest infanticide and child homicide rates ever reported. Of children born in the forest, 14 per cent of boys and 23 per cent of girls were killed before the age of 10, nearly all of them orphans. An infant who lost their mother during the first year of life was always killed.

Pair with this post of mine: “The bonds of family and community: Poverty and cruelty among Russian peasants in the late 19th century.”


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