«Chapter 4. HORTICULTURAL SOCIETIES I. Introduction A. Basic Concepts Horticultural societies are differentiated from hunting and gathering societies ...»
Chapter 4. HORTICULTURAL SOCIETIES
A. Basic Concepts
Horticultural societies are differentiated from hunting and gathering societies by the
use of domesticated plants as the major basis for subsistence. Horticultural societies are
technically differentiated from agrarian societies by their lack of plows and animal traction,
and from pastoral societies because they do not make domesticated herd animals the main
basis of subsistence.
Many more people can be supported per km2 by investing effort in replacing relative- ly rare wild plant species that produce relatively few parts that humans can eat with masses of domesticated species that produce relatively great quantities of edible parts. People tend to have to work hard to plant, weed, harvest, and process food in horticultural systems.
There is no assistance from animal or mechanical powered tools.
Horticultural societies have agricultural systems that are relatively unproductive per unit of human labor compared to plow agriculture, and more productive per unit land area than hunting and gathering., As figure 4-1 illustrates, this is a generalization about means; it does not tell us anything about the variance. Hunters and gatherers in the very best environments (e.g., the Northwest Coast) had local population densities that far exceed the very low densities of some horticulturalists of the tropical forests. Likewise, the best that horticulturalists can do in a favorable environment in this regard undoubtedly beats what the plowman can do in an unfavorable environment. When livestock becomes impor- tant enough that their herders become mobile, substantially different pastoral societies arise, although many horticulturalists keep some animals, and many pastoralists engage in some farming.
Figure 4-1. A rough comparison of population densities among three pre-industrial subsistence types.
Hunter gatherer Horticultural Agrarian number of societies 0 30 200 10,000 population/km2 Keep these two efficiencies, productivity per unit land and per unit labor, in mind.
They have somewhat different effects on culture core variables.
Horticultural Societies 4-61 B. History Horticulture first developed in the Middle East beginning about 9,500 years ago and by about 5,000 years ago this technology had spread far eastward and to the Atlantic in the West (Times Historical Atlas1, 1979: 42). Cattle and sheep herding developed very early, in association with the plant domesticates, chiefly wheat and barley, plus a substantial num- ber of minor crops. Hence, with the availability of draft animals, agrarian societies arose relatively early from horticultural ones in W. Asia andEurope. North China, Mexico, and Peru were also earlier centers of horticulture. The tropical lowlands of East Asia, Africa, and South America appear to have developed horticulture based on tropical crops rather later than the four semiarid city centers. We will discuss the evolution of horticulture in more detail in Chapter 26.
C. Ethnographic Sample Unlike the case with hunting and gathering societies, we have a rather large sample of contemporary horticultural societies. However, our sample is still rather biased relative to the historical record. A special type of horticulture, swidden cultivation, has turned out to be a quite durable adaptation to the wet tropics. Elsewhere, plow agriculture has tended to replace horticulture. For example, the Spanish brought cattle to the New World, and oxdrawn plows replaced horticulture in most of the drier and more temperate parts of “Latin” America fairly soon after the Conquest. Chroniclers with the conquistadors give us some picture of these societies. We know something more of the horticulture of the Native American of the Eastern half of the US, most of whom were forest horticulturalists, and of the peoples of the Southwestern US and N. Mexico, who were horticulturalists in semi-arid country. These societies persisted in fairly unmodified state into the 19th Century.
Many people still depend upon horticulture in the wet tropics. You may have heard the somewhat old pejorative term “slash and burn” applied to swidden horticulture. After WWII views on swidden cultivation have changed substantially (Conklin, 1954). In many areas of the hot, wet tropics, high rainfall has developed soils that are very poor in nutrient holding capacity. An effective way to farm these poor soils is to burn off the forest and grow crops for a few years in the ash fertilized plot. As nutrients are depleted and weeds invade the field, it is allowed to return to forest. The period of forest fallow varies greatly, but 15-50 years. is perhaps the typical range. No more elaborate form of cultivation has yet proved practical on the worst of these soils, and many examples of quite simple horticulture are common in S.E. Asia, S. America, and Africa. In some tropical areas, especially Africa, there are also societies practicing more advanced forms of horticulture in the seasonally dry
1. This is a very interesting reference work for leisurely perusal.
4-62 Horticultural Societies regions north and south of the Congo Basin. In Oceania, Melanesian and Polynesian societies still practice horticulture. A few hundred million people in the tropical parts of the world practice horticulture today.
II. Technology A. Simplest Horticulture The simplest toolkit of all is very simple indeed. The toolkit of horticulturalists varies immensely in complexity. Lenski and Lenski (1982) recognize this fact by subdividing the continuum into “simple” and “advanced” subtypes. The Amazonian Basin horticulturalists like the Yanomamo, Xavante, and Waorani made do with a simple stone axe to cut the forest, a means of making fire by friction to burn it, and simple wooden digging sticks and spades to plant their cuttings of manioc, sugar cane, maize seeds, etc. (Steel axes and machetes are much preferred to stone these days; steel is roughly 3 times as efficient in results per unit effort as stone.) South American simple horticulturalists typically keep no domesticated animals, and the men hunt and fish for protein. In Oceania, by contrast, pigs are a near-universal element of simple horticulture. In Sub-Sahara Africa, cattle are frequently kept whenever tetse flies, which transmit devastating diseases from native game to the relatively recent cattle, are absent. Residence is semi-permanent, so houses of modest sophistication are constructed. Villages may last on the same spot for a decade or longer, until it is convenient to move to find more game or to be closer to swidden plots.
Despite the relative simplicity of the technology, something like a 100 or more domesticated crops are kept, and plots are botanically complex. Conklin (1954) reported that an “ideal” Philippine Hunanoo swidden plot would contain 48 species of cultivars, including some 250 named varieties of the basic crops. A sharp division between domesticated and wild plants probably gives a misleading impression of tropical forest cultivation. Many wild plants are encouraged or planted. The complexity of swidden plots sometimes seems to mimic the forest, as plants with different stature and maturity schedules are interplanted.
Forest succession seems to be managed to encourage species that will return the plot to cultivatable condition as rapidly and in as good a condition as possible. Altogether, tropical horticulturalists might be styled vegetation managers rather than farmers after the agrarian model (e.g., Conklin, 1961; Manner, 1981). Thus, as in the case of mobile hunters and gatherers, the simplicity of the toolkit belies the sophistication of its application.
B. Complex Horticulture Many ancient horticultural societies had much more than the minimum tool kit. To get an impression of the range of technical sophistication of horticulture, we can compare Horticultural Societies 4-63 the extremely simple Amazonian basin technology to much more sophisticated toolkit of the Andean Highlands. Andean peoples were a fair example of an advanced horticultural society in 1500. Cultivation implements included a “foot-plow”, a sort of spade. Fields were permanent, often terraced and irrigated, and normally manured or cultivated with a short fallow. Inca and pre-Incan water control and irrigation works were quite impressive.
Much of the system is still used today in the Highlands and Coastal Valleys of Peru, and ruined hydraulic structures are common as well. Domestic animals were kept, llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs. Bronze was used for some utilitarian items and for weapons and ornaments (gold and silver for the last, too). Houses made of mud brick were designed to last a generation or two. Monumental architecture and fortifications of dressed stone are the visually most arresting accomplishments of the Andean peoples. You have all seen pictures of Cuzco and Machu Picchu. Textiles and pottery were in common use. Only a few societies we would call horticultural have a more sophisticated toolkit, although African horticultural societies have iron tools. This last is important. Bronze is a good metal for many purposes, but it is expensive because good copper and tin ores are hard to come by. Hence, bronze is an elite metal, not much used for common agricultural tools. Iron is a democratic metal, harder to manufacture, but relatively cheap once the technique is known because its ores are much more abundant. Perhaps significantly, Sub-Sahara Africa has little monumental architecture, which is a product of highly stratified societies. Iron and agriculture came together. Is it possible that the democratic metal (a good, sharp spear for Everyman) prevented the extremes of stratification in Africa?
III. Demographic Consequences In the poor soil regions of the very wet tropics human densities under horticulture are often very low. In Amazonia and lowland New Guinea, densities are well within the range for hunters and gatherers, a fraction of a person per km2. These people keep perhaps a hectare2 of garden under cultivation per family, and do not return to the same plot for up to 100 years. Also unsuitable soils and areas too distant from rivers may not be worthwhile to cultivate at all. Even so, much seemingly suitable land seems to be lightly populated, and much suitable land left uncultivated. Students of Amazonia have debated several possible reasons for this, including depopulation by introduced diseases, the existence of intense warfare, and limited abundance of sources of protein (see papers in Hames and Vickers, 1983). In New Guinea, very high mortality rates from malaria may be a sufficient explanation for low population densities.
2. A hectare is roughly the length of a football field on each side—100m X 100m.
4-64 Horticultural Societies Under more favorable circumstances, horticulture can support quite high human densities. On good soils, densities of up to 100 people per km2 are possible, as in some parts of the highlands of New Guinea and tropical America, in Polynesia, in Africa, and in S.E.
Asia. These densities are perhaps partly a function of recent developments like new crops during the last few hundred years, but in general horticulture is capable of supporting as many or more people per unit land as under the plow, just with more human labor per unit of yield. The maps and tables from Steward and Faron (1959) in figure 4-3 give an impression of the variation in South America during both pre-Columbian and contemporary times.
Settlements are of course much more likely to be permanent or semi-permanent than was the case with hunters and gatherers. Shifting cultivation in poorer tropical areas is the norm, and villages are moved every 5-25 years in some cases, but among advanced horticulturalists, permanent villages are the rule. In the least dense tropical systems, settlements may be no larger than hunters and gatherers’ camps. The Gebusi of lowland New Guinea referred to in the last Chapter average 26.5 people per settlement. At the other extreme, fairsized cities were maintained by the highly developed horticultural societies of Africa, Peru and Mexico. Cuzco, the Inca capital, must have several tens of thousands of inhabitants, for example. Common people lived in substantial permanent adobe houses, and huge monumental edifices were constructed of intricately dressed stone. But such large settlements are an indirect outgrowth of horticultural technology itself and make sense only in the context of the political situation we will consider in a moment.
IV. Social and Political Organization A. The Range of Sophistication is Large The range of variation in political institutions is large under horticultural subsistence. Note in Steward and Faron’s (1959) maps and tables that there is a pretty close correlation between ecology, population density, and political and social complexity. We looked briefly at the Gebusi in the last Chapter, who are as simple politically as the simplest hunting and gathering groups (Knauft, 1985). They lack any sort of formalized political roles. Kin relations and personal ties are all that order Gebusi society. The weak headman is also found among the simpler horticultural societies, such as those of the Amazon Basin, while full-fledged imperial states are found in the most advanced societies, such as the Inca Empire of Peru. More typically, horticultural societies are either organized around “Bigmen” or Tribal Chiefs.
In the simpler horticultural societies, differences compared to hunters and gatherers are, to repeat, modest. Kinship remains the most important means of organizing social in