Re: Tribes

thomas w kavanagh (tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU)
Tue, 20 Aug 1996 15:03:47 -0500

So I took my lunch hour and went over to the Biology library and checked
out Shapiro. I must therefore modify my earlier commentary:

There is a simple reason why Shapiro's work is "little known among
anthropologists": it is little more than the hunt and peck method of
"anthropologizing" of the kind made infamous most recently by Joseph
Campbell. The nub of the present problem, i.e. Shapiro's view of 'tribes'
(saying nothing about his sociobiology) is to be found on pp 125-127. In
three paragraphs on these pages, Shapiro quotes from Jane Harrison
(Themis, 1912) and Frazier (Golden Bough, 1922 ed), noting a number of
instances where human groups have an connection with some animal, given in
the classic form, "Among the [bongo-bongo] ...", with no further
contextualization or comment about the comparability of the examples:

"Among the Zulus, ... The Damaras of South Africa..., When the
Patagonians ... Among the Ottawas the Bear clan ... Among the
Kurnai, a tribe of Australia, ... The Maqeri Indians are divided
into totem clans ... The Zuni are also divided into such clans.

He then makes the leap, "The totem animal is kin to the tribe, as the
mother and son were kin to the earlier and smaller social group."

This is a classic example of Fried's Problem of Tribe. It mixes
patrilineal clans (Ottawa) and matrilineal clans (Zuni) [and there is
a question as to whether the Zuni clans are indeed 'totemic']. It combines
clans with "tribes" and compares both with empires [Murdock: "Zulu ...
represents an amalgamation of many original tribes in Natal and number
over two million."]

There is also the basic question as to whether examples drawn from 19th
century ethnography [in this case, specifically Frazier], 12th century
Grail legends, Classical Rome, and Ancient Babylon and Egypt, are really
useful as models for processess which presumably operated over a period of
several hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years before then.