«Chapter 4. HORTICULTURAL SOCIETIES I. Introduction A. Basic Concepts Horticultural societies are differentiated from hunting and gathering societies ...»
4-66 Horticultural Societies teractions, and plays almost the same role as described for these societies. Interestingly enough, kinship emphasizes ties through the female line rather frequently in horticultural societies. Such societies are said to be matrilineal. In many horticultural societies, women contribute disproportionately to subsistence activities because they are responsible for most of the gardening work, and it seems to be useful to keep related sets of women together after marriage, rather than men as in the typically patrilineal hunter-gatherer case. However, many horticulturalists are patrilineal, so there is no strongly deterministic effect of subsistence type and environment on this variable. Polygyny3 is also common in horticultural societies for the same reason. When women are the principle wealth producers, a man may get rich by having several wives. Men seem rather parasitical in horticultural societies, because they often do relatively little subsistence work but arrogate to themselves important political and military roles.
The norm for horticultural societies shifts radically in the direction already glimpsed among the richest of hunter-gatherer societies, toward the addition of new forms of social organization. Permanent villages of a few hundred people and much denser populations on the ground make interactions with non-kin commonplace. Coordination of non-kin often leads to political specialists, tradesmen, craftsmen, priests, soldiers, slaves and other occupational specialists, if population densities are high enough to permit sufficient people to be freed of the tasks of cultivation. Note that merely an increase in population density, even without any per capita increases in productivity, can allow some social complexity. If there are many people nearby, a small contribution from each will be sufficient to support a few leaders or craftsmen as full-time specialists. Simple markets may facilitate such specialization, but the role of political institutions in exchange is often large.
Political systems organized by political entreprenuers are common. These “Bigman” systems are characterized by a free competition for the main political role; these are “democratic” societies in which men rise to leadership through their merits and with the support of a body of followers. These systems have been well studied in New Guinea. Similar systems were probably the norm in much of horticultural America, for example in the biggish villages along the main stem of the Amazon. An aspiring bigman tries to talk his relatives into providing him with a share of their produce which he uses to create patterns of obligation among non-kinsmen. If he is successful he may come to be recognized as the main bigman in his village, responsible for the coordination of its affairs and redistributing food and
3. Polygyny is the state or practice of having more than one wife or female mate at a time. Polyandry refers to having more than one husband or male mate. Polygamy refers to a marriage in which a spouse of either sex may have more than one mate at the same time Horticultural Societies 4-67 other necessities between kin groups through the webs obligations that surround him. Typically there remain lesser competing bigmen, who may displace or succeed the current main one. The big-man is a sort of cross between a businessman and a politician. Some of these societies look as if they had been designed by conservative economists, like Milton Freedman, who so emphasize free-market competition (Pospisil, 1978).
There seems to be a strict limit to the number of people that can be organized politically under the bigman system, only up to a few hundred people. Typically, a bigman is merely respected for his personal qualities, and perhaps feared because of his ability to mold a public consensus. His formal powers are generally weak. In this, the bigman system somewhat resembles modern democracies in the extent to which the political elite must respond to public opinion. We are not aware of any known cases of a formal electoral democracy developing directly out of such a system and permitting a state level of political organization to arise. It is interesting that formal democracy is so rare among human societies, and that open political systems based on free competition for popular support occur in relatively simple societies and then again in the industrial democracies. Other kinds of social institutions can operate to link people on a wide scale even with relatively weak leadership. Wiessner and Tumu (1998) reconstruct the way Enga collaborating bigmen in Highland New Guinea used systems ceremonial warfare and ceremonial gift exchange to bring many thousands of Enga across a considerable distance into a rather complex economic system.
Political systems based on hereditary politicians (Chiefs) organize fairly large-scale political units. Chieftainships have a hereditary principle of political power, and, as they are elaborated, evolve into the ascriptively stratified societies so common historically. Often, the senior males of a lineage have some authority over lineage members in hunting and gathering and simple horticultural groups. Chieftainship arises by extension of this principle to the ranking of lineages themselves as senior and junior, so that the senior male of the purportedly senior lineage (the man who can trace his ancestry back to a founding male through eldest sons) claims political authority over a large group. Genealogies may in fact be jiggered fairly substantially to fit political reality, but the ideology of inherited political power over a large “family” is important. The ranking of lineages can be quite deep in the more complex cases. There may be a level or two of sub-chiefs with the head of the most exalted senior lineage of all acting as the overall “paramount” tribal chieftain. Conquered or allied people may be incorporated under some paternalistic principle or simply by “rewriting” history to correspond to the ranked lineage principle.
Sometimes the number of people coordinated by such a system gets very large inHorticultural Societies deed, up to a few tens of thousands, rather than the few hundreds for the big-man system.
However, the typical chief still has to mobilize kin obligations to make his will felt. The subchiefs and other members of the high-ranked lineages do his bidding because he is a kinsman, or because he and his kinsmen are strong enough to compel obedience. The chief typically has to be on site to make his will felt. For example, in war he calls out the warriors and leads them into battle. All of this is true despite the fact that the chief is usually also endowed with supernatural respect, as a chief priest of a local cult as well as a political leader.The supernatural powers (the mana of the Polynesian chiefs for example) is often so effective in preventing revolts by average citizens. However, in most cases, there are enough genealogical complexities so that chiefs always have to watch out for ambitious half-brothers, uncles, and neighboring chiefs. Members of lesser lineages may not often revolt on their own, but they can often easily rationalize a shift of loyalty if the existing chief is too overbearing. Thus the will of lesser folk plays a role, if a diminished one compared to bigman systems, in constraining leaders.
In a few cases, state-level political systems are based on horticultural subsistence.
At some point, the size of a chiefdom becomes too large to managed by the paramount chief without a cadre of clerks, judges, policemen and soldiers directly answerable to the chief, and we judge that a state has arisen. However nepotistic the recruitment of this body of retainers may be, a new principle of social organization, bureaucracy, is said to have arisen when the chief’s subordinates are no longer sublineage leaders in their own right, but functional specialists of one sort or another who exercise authority only as agents of the state leader. Then the chief is called a king. As the state emerges, it is also typical for the senior lineages to be separated from lesser folk qualitatively as an aristocracy, rather than being only quantitatively higher-ranked. If you are familiar with medieval European history, there is no simple point at which this boundary was crossed. (Were Shakespeare’s MacBeth and Lear kings or chiefs?) States are usually, but not always, underpinned by agrarian technology, whereas horticulturalists more commonly get only as far as chiefdoms. Nevertheless, there are many examples of small states under horticultural technology in the New World, Africa, and S.E. Asia. The Inca’s very late, large, multiethnic conquest empire was a unique achievement under horticultural technology however. (See Patrick Kirch (1984) for a good example of the political evolution of chiefdoms from the simplest exemplars to borderline states in Polynesia.) B. The Redistribution Function The political organization of horticulturalists is important because of the redistributive aspect of political institutions. Crop production is not a particularly secure mode of Horticultural Societies 4-69 life in many environments. Any given family can easily suffer from insufficient production in a given year. Political institutions often function to redistribute food to the unlucky, either as a loan or “gift” that creates obligation to the bigman or chief. Chiefs and bigmen are celebrated for their generosity and condemned for selfishness. A failure of generosity will result in substantial loss of popular support, and more or less severe risk or loss of power.
Furthermore, given a modicum of political leadership with an interest in economic prosperity and efficiency, a considerably more complex economy can develop. This is because, similarly, craft specialists such as long-distance traders and blacksmiths require some guarantee of subsistence before they will abandon horticulture for a trade. Of course, the costs of maintaining a full blown chief in the rich style to which he easily becomes accustomed is not a negligible cost. We will return to consider the functional versus exploitative aspects of political institutions in Chapter 27.
C. Management of Violence Warfare is typically much more important under horticultural than hunter-gatherer technology. This is true even among the groups like the Amazonian horticulturalists that do not otherwise depart from hunter-gatherer social and political organization much.
Terroristic practices such as headhunting, headshrinking, scalping, and cannibalism are commonly practiced by horticulturalists, and are vivid testimony to the high levels of intercommunity violence they commonly exhibit. Probably, the main impulse for such warlike behavior is that fixed property is much more available as booty, cultivated land is more worth seizing (or defending), slaves can be put to productive work in the fields, etc. Just the fact of higher densities mean that unrelated people are closer at hand to cause trouble (or offer opportunities to raid).
The very simplest societies seem to exhibit a lot of violence at the level of individual homicides, as we saw in the last chapter. As population density goes up, and political sophistication increases, organized authority gradually suppresses internal violence at a larger and larger scale. Politically organized communities forbid murder, as Thomas Hobbes hypothesis long ago suggested. Bigmen and chiefs in simpler chiefdoms do not monopolize legitimate violence (the right to punish transgressors) to anything like the degree of states.
Rather they act as mediators, mobilizers of public opinion, and occasionally co-enforcers of customary rules. Often in such societies a kin group remains responsible for its own policing, say avenging a murder or demanding blood payment for one. The big-man or chief advises, and uses his good offices and prestige to ensure in-group peace, but does not wield a big stick. Still, this is sufficient to make a marked reduction in within-group violence.
However, politically organized and independent communities feud and war. With the 4-70 Horticultural Societies problem of in-group violence substantially solved, people are freer to turn to their more distant neighbors. Horticultural societies are typically as highly and exuberantly aggressive as groups as typical hunters and gatherers are overtly peaceable but murderous as individuals.
Clan vendetta, raids led by “fight chiefs” (actually a type of bigman), and chiefly wars of conquest are typical of horticultural societies.
Much of this warfare is highly ritualized, including on the one hand chivalrous arranged battles, and on the other the conspicuous exhibition of warrior virtues and the preparation of grisly trophies. We will consider why warfare might have such elaborate symbolic attributes in Chapter 19.
V. Other Features of Culture Elite “high” culture emerges in chiefdoms and states. Lenski and Lenski note several interesting correlates of the development and elaboration of horticulture for the symbolic elements of culture. One is the development of “high” art, art for the elite made by specialists. Hunter-gatherer “folk” art was something people did for their own enjoyment and use in exchange. At the horticultural stage, art begins to be used also as a symbol of prestige, especially ascribed prestige of noble birth. Regalia like crowns, and ceremonies like coronation develop that mark elites as qualitatively distinct from commoners. Similarly, supernatural beliefs are elaborated. Witchcraft, for example seems to be correlated with sedentary life. Horticulturalists may not like their neighbors and kin, but they cannot move away the way hunter-gatherers usually can. Maybe this is the reason why witchcraft beliefs become particulers developed among horticulturalists (Edgerton, 1971).
In chiefdoms, we begin to see another phenomenon, the development of a close relationship between religion and political organization. Chiefs frequently claim supernatural powers or support, and supervise the construction of monumental buildings to celebrate the connection. The well known henge monuments4 of the Atlantic coast of Europe are examples, as are the totemic mounds of the US Mid-West, and the statuary of Polynesia—that on Easter Island being the most spectacular.