Two fine articles by noted scholars have been added to the Archive of Articles about Peaceful Societies this week, and both are worth taking on vacation to read along with some good books.
Kirk Endicott’s piece “Property, Power, and Ideology among the Batek of Malaysia” describes how the concepts of property ownership among a forest-dwelling Orang Asli society of the Malay Peninsula affect their power relationships (or lack thereof). Prof. Endicott uses anthropology jargon only a few times—the Batek are “immediate return foragers”—and his writing style is effective overall.
He leavens his account with lots of great details about the Batek. For instance, he tells us that one day he asked one of his informants why his ancestors had never used their lethal blow pipes against the invading Malays in the past when they came into the forests on slave-raiding expeditions. “Because it would kill them!” the man responded in shock.
The Batek have a relaxed attitude toward possessions—nothing lasts too long in the humidity of the forest anyway. One man was unconcerned that his two-year-old son was using a new flute as a hammer. “It doesn’t matter. I can make another one,” he told the anthropologist. Of course all of Batek life is not roses. Endicott mentions the thorns, the conflicts that arise from time to time and he discusses their causes. Overall, Endicott describes a fascinating society in a scholarly article with very worthwhile, interesting information.
The second article added to the Archive this week is by Patricia Draper on the Ju/’hoansi (formerly called the !Kung). Her piece contrasts gender relations of the Ju/’hoansi still living nomadically in the Kalahari Desert (in the late 1960s) with people who recently settled into villages.
Prof. Draper describes the self-confidence, autonomy, and influence of Ju/’hoansi women, whom she evidently admires for their skill and discrimination at finding foods in the desert. She makes it very clear that the lack of fighting within the bands, or between the Ju/’hoansi and the neighboring Bantu peoples, helped make the lives of the women safer.
A lot of the richness and warmth of the Ju/’hoansi culture and social life comes through in this effective article, which includes several personal observations that enliven the narrative. For instance, in a section on men’s relations with children—part of a description of gender equality—she describes the reluctance of men to clean snot off their kid’s noses.
Though they usually seem to be easy-going fathers, one Ju/’hoansi man called to his son, repeatedly, to bring him his tobacco from the family hut. The boy ignored him. Finally the father glared across the camp and bellowed at his son, but the child only responded, “do it yourself, old man.” After a few minutes, the father got up and fetched the tobacco he wanted, without any later recriminations toward the child.