Re: tribes

thomas w kavanagh (tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU)
Sat, 17 Aug 1996 21:50:14 -0500

On Fri, 16 Aug 1996, Robert Snower wrote:
<snipping my post on Fried/Sahlins/Service>
> I find most interesting the conjecture about pre-historic origins of
> society, and, since Mark Shapiro (The Sociobiology of Homo Sapiens, 1978) is
> apparently little known among anthropologists, I will present his view of
> "tribe" for the general edification of all.

There is a simple reason why Shapiro's work, at least as presented by
Snower, is "little known among anthropologists": it is little more than
19th century unilineal cultural evolutionistic/Freudian evolution of
totemism, having no basis in empirical ethnography. Indeed, the sections
quoted by Snower could have come from any of the classic -- and
discredited -- nineteenth century writers, Morgan, Lubbock, Tylor, Maine,
or Frazier.


[just in case you deleted the post, I'll include it, but in the future
I'll save the bandwidth]

> I quote his own words.
> " . . . In the absence of the certainty of paternity, and without
> genealogical records, their maternal provider, as infants, and as children,
> of the necessities of life, was the only criterion available. But this
> criterion for the identity of the members of a family, and of the members of
> the primordial sibling society, was not applicable to the society which
> first transcended the boundaries of sibling kinship.
> "However, this new transendent society succeeded in finding its criterion of
> identity in exactly the same place, i.e., in its common source of food and
> warmth, but now in the adult source of them, rather than the infantile. The
> primitive adult's provider of food and warmth was the animal whose flesh
> supplied his food, and whose skin supplied his warmth. Whereas the memory
> of a common provider was available as the key to sibling identity, the
> contemporary experiencce of a common provider was available as the guide to
> tribal identity--the communal hunting, killing, eating, and skinning of the
> same animal. But of course the shared animal, unlike the shared mother, has
> no interest to delegate, or genetic connection by which to delegate it, to
> those who eat from it, and are warmed and clothed by it. So this interest,
> and this genetic connection, were attributed to it--to the shared animal.
> And when this attribution of interest and kinship was accepted as fact, when
> the imaginary was accepted as real, then it served as well as fact. [I omit
> something here which is important, but the reader will be at a loss to
> understand out of context.] . . . now the young tribesman's allegiance was
> to the totem animal, and in virtue of the allegiance he devoted his
> competence to the service of that kinship interest which he truly believed a
> certain species of animal held vested in the tribe. . . . If the animal had
> the disadvantage of harboring an imaginary interest and an imaginary kinship
> connection, it had the great advantage of not confining that interest and
> genetic connection to the boundaries of sibling kinship, and of bestowing
> them beyond those boundaries impartially.
> "The imaginary kinship connection between the animal and tribe is proved the
> same way as the real one between mother and siblings was remembered, by the
> criterion of the common meal, and to make a community affair of consuming
> the parts of the animal, or drinking its blood, established the connection.
> But the animal was consumed only on the most special of occasions, and then
> only under the auspices of the tribal authorities. Upon all other occasions
> its eating was strictly forbidden. For, once the kinship connection had
> been estaablished, a studious refraining from eating served the same purpose
> as the original ceremonial eating, namely, to celebrate a creature in whose
> impaaginary interest the sons of the tribe deboted their competence to the
> tribe. To eat the totem alone, apart from the company of the tribe, was to
> disavow and reject that kinship connection which the communal consumption
> affirmed. To studiously refrain from eating it alone became as much to
> acknowledge and ratify the import of the shared consumption as to eat it
> collectively.
> "Thus, the animal to which allegiance had been owed on the basis of its
> being the literal provider of food and warmth to the tribe became the object
> of respect on the basis of its being a figurative provider of them, and the
> sternest measures were taken against the unsanctified slaughter and
> consumption of it. . . .
> "The sons of the tribe remain motivated, in their devotion to cooperation
> among others, precisely as they were motivated in stage B, and according to
> the same criterion, that of kinship. But now they BELIEVE they are EQUALLY
> related to the larger group. They are guided accordingly in their devotion
> to cooperation among others. The fact that they are WRONG means they have
> sacrificed a real genetic advantage. But they have also gained a real one,
> the one accruing from the wider cooperation imposed. Herein lies the
> adaptive value of the modification from the incest restriction to the
> prohibition of endogamy, endogamy as defined by the criterion of the totem.
> And herein lies the explanation of the belief: it prevailed because it was
> adaptive--to all parties concerned." [Cannot be understood out of contest.]
> Best wishes. R. Snower