Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

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Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Mossling on November 7th, 2010, 11:20 pm 

In ancient Ireland, apparently "there were commonages both of pasture lands and of tillage; but that the lands of the tenants were not held in common is evident from the fact that one tenant could sell his farm to another. There was regulations duly made for enforcing distress in cases of non-payment of rent (another fact which tells against the popular theory), but there does not seem to have been any provision for evictions. In those days a district was never cleared of its human inhabitants by process of ejectment. There was one case, indeed, in which the tenant forfeited his land, but this was an exception which proves the rule; it was not for non-payment of rent, but for not conforming to the dictates of humanity—for neglecting to provide for the support of the aged members of his family." Modern Ireland: Its Vital Questions, Secret Societies, and Government,

On Tanna Island in the South Pacific Ocean, the whole community apparently helps to build someone's house, and territory doesn't require payment - being part of the community means that by default one is entitled to a habitable territory for free, within which to raise a family, etc.

I am aware that such attitudes regarding land tenure can vary between cultures and races, and at different technological stages of development. However, I am wondering why we find such a variation in the attitudes of a community towards land tenure? What would the advantages to the community be, by allowing a chief or king to demand rent payments from the community that defends that very land? Is it just a form of taxation in order to allow for better governance of the nation state, and it was just seen as efficient to use land occupation as a basis for taxation to be structured - not as an 'occupation of land' tax, but as a 'belonging to the community' tax?

I think it needs to be made clear here that I am primarily talking about land upon which to build a house, and concern regarding arable/pastoral land comes second to that. On Tanna Island, for example, it seems that arable/pastoral land is held in common, while in ancient Ireland, it appears that farms were more like large personal gardens/animal pens. I am assuming that in both societies, however, land upon which to dwell in a house comes free. For example, I can't imagine if someone in ancient Ireland decided to build a house in a remote forest, that they would have been charged rent by another person. If that is the case - they didn't have to pay rent, then when did things change, and why?
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Paralith on November 8th, 2010, 1:21 am 

Hi Mossling,

I'm no expert on this, but from what I understand, some of the major factors at play here are subsistence type (= fancy anthropologist talk for how you feed yourself), which is closely related to defensibility of food resources, and population density.

Let's think about hunter-gatherers for a minute. (Yes, Forest, I realize there is a lot of variation across hunter-gatherers and that I'm making generalizations here.) Their population densities are much lower than anything we see today, and even lower than in many agricultural societies. So there's not a lot of people to support per unit of land. Also, how much food they get isn't directly related to the square acreage of land they have access to, other than the general rule that their food exists over a really large territory. But, where the food is also changes over time, so many hunter gatherer groups are nomadic. All these things mean that their primary resource can't exactly be penned up into one spot and guarded. For them, land is usufruct, which means globally owned. They live where they wish and build camps where they wish, though of course this is usually guided by where the food is.

Now let's think about agricultural societies. (And no, I'm not trying to paint some linear ladder of societal development. Just trying to make a contrast.) Population densities start rising when you start having agriculture. You're getting more people, you need more food. And this time how much food you get does directly depend on how much land you have. But, it can't be just any land - it has to be arable, fertile land that can support crops. This is in limited supply. Populations expand, taking over more and more of the fertile land, until finally, there simply isn't any more left. And unlike the broad, shifting territories where hunter-gatherers get their food, a farm's borders can be guarded and protected by a family. Or, a family can pay taxes to a king or other type of overlord, who uses these taxes to build up an army to defend that precious, limited, arable land of his subjects from other members of the growing population who have none and want some. When populations get to this point is when land ownership becomes all-important.

In both the societies you're describing, they seem somewhere in the middle. And we do know that during the earlier days of agriculture in Europe, there were less strict traditions about land use and ownership. This is probably because their population densities were still fairly low, and you could send your sons out to the frontier edges to stake out, clear, and farm more land when it was needed. But after time, populations grew, the amount of arable land available ran out, and very strict rules about land ownership and inheritance came into being. (Incidentally, all those sons who didn't have land to inherit went off to other parts of the world to try and find some. Hello, colonization!)
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Mossling on November 8th, 2010, 2:38 am 

Thanks very much for that very clear and accessible post, Paralith.

So is it all really about farms? My main interest lies in land used for housing - not necessarily farming. Were the attitudes formed regarding farming land use just applied to, say, housing in more developed societes, where blacksmiths, tailors, potters, etc, didn't require such large territories, and where their living spaces were probably not much different in size from their work spaces? I suppose farming most often predates such civically developed situations, and so it is easier to apply tenure laws regarding farm land to land occupied by other kinds of workers later on, rather than invent new laws(?).

And what about mainly Pastorialist communities, like we have seen in Africa? It is true, is not, that roaming pastorialists were around in the West during the times your speak of? I mean, even now we have large farms full of sheep and cattle in the UK.

Old Bantu peoples:
"Pastoral herders and light agriculturalists, the Bantu did not usually build permanent fortifications to fend off enemies. A clan under threat simply packed their meager material possessions, rounded up their cattle and fled until the marauders were gone. If the marauders did not stay to permanently dispossess them of grazing areas, the fleeing clan might return to rebuild in a day or two." Wiki: Impi

Modern Sudan:
"Land Tenure: After peace, land tenure is the most important issue for pastoral livelihoods. The Land Commissions created by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement have the potential to safeguard the rights and interests of poor livestock owners, although powerful political and economic actors, including oil interests, may influence the Commissions in such a way that the outcomes are not pro-poor. [...] Changes in land tenure over the last two centuries have caused massive displacement, livelihood disruption, and civil conflict. Land theft and conversion of communal or smallholder land to private property started during the period of Turko-Egyptian rule (1820-1883). During the Condominium period (1898-1956), the British focus on large-scale crop production schemes resulted in large-scale population displacement and land enclosures, particularly in central and eastern Sudan. Since independence, successive governments including the current NCP regime have continued colonial-era land seizures and development projects focused on horizontal expansion of agricultural production. [...] Government land policies—often developed and implemented with international technical assistance and funding—have eroded customary land rights, displaced hundreds of thousands of pastoralists and agro-pastoralists, and led directly to armed conflicts.
Government legislation regulating land and other natural resources has favoured individual rights over community rights, promoted commercial crop production over traditional land use systems (especially grazing), and represented national political and economic agendas over local interests (De Wit 2001)." The Political Economy of Livestock And Pastoralism In Sudan

A GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE: PASTORALISM, NATURE CONSERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT says:
"Communal land tenure: Most pastoral lands have traditionally been communal with local institutional structures and governance preventing a ‘tragedy of the commons’. These structures can take a number of forms. In some systems communal ranches have been established in which a number of families are granted ownership over a single large plot of land. In other cases high value land (such as water sources) are managed communally within a landscape of individual land titles for lower value land. Such systems are not always successful and must be developed in close consultation with stakeholders in order to avoid conflict and ensure the suitability of the land tenure arrangements. In other systems land or use rights are granted to a traditional governing body, which administers the land on behalf of the community. Each of these systems has advantages and disadvantages which should be weighed based on local conditions and traditional management structure."

-------------------------

Is it just because arable farming was more of a dominant factor in laying down the earliest land tenure rules in the West that we see today's attitudes towards land use and ownership for housing, for, say, office workers?
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Paralith on November 8th, 2010, 3:05 am 

It's not "all really about farms," persay. It's simply that farming typically generates certain conditions. High population densities, limited resources, defensible resources. Some Native American hunter-gatherers exploited small stretches of coastline (or was it rivers? can't quite remember) that were particularly rich fishing grounds. These were small, defensible resources, that were limited in number relative the amount of people around, and traditions about who owned them and was allowed to fish there did arise in these groups. It's the nature of the primary resource in a society, especially how much of it is available compared to the number of people, that really drives a lot of the variation in ownership rules.

I've never read/been taught anything about housing specifically - I would imagine that housing is really a secondary concern to the primary resources. In societies where your house and all the trinkets you put inside of it are a big deal, you're essentially using that to show off your wealth. Because you couldn't have any of that if you didn't own large amounts of the essential resource in your community.

For pastoralists, the primary resource is the cattle. Yes, you need land to feed your cattle on, but that is secondary, especially in low population density situations where the amount of land isn't severely limited compared to the number of people trying to make a living off it. I imagine that pastoralists alive today do face problems of land limitation, whereas traditionally that was likely less of a problem. However, cattle are eminently defensible, but also eminently steal-able. A lot of pastoralist societies develop warrior castes of young men whose purpose is to raid other groups for cattle (and/or women) and to protect their own group from such raids.

I am not sure that the development of strict land ownership laws necessarily predates the development of more specialized roles like blacksmithing and tailoring etc. As I said, during the earlier stages of agricultural development while population densities are so low that land isn't very limited, the laws of ownership and inheritance were not quite so stringent. But, perhaps the existing farmers are generating enough surplus food that they can support ancillary specialists like blacksmiths. This is something I'll have to defer to Forest on, what the actual pattern of development seemed to be in different parts of the world.
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Mossling on November 8th, 2010, 3:42 am 

Great stuff. Yes, I remember us discussing the NA Indians a while ago regarding pooling of communal resources.

It is indeed often difficult to discern any solid universal mechanism operating within human societies due to the large number of fluctuating and vayring pressures upon them, so maybe I will never arrive at any solid answer on this thread, other than: "depends on the complex context". Which is fair enough.

However, what about communities agreeing to all of their available land being owned by a monarch/chief, and thus farmers, blackmisths, etc., being forced to rent that land from the monarch/chief - what would be the benefit for the community in this context?
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Forest_Dump on November 8th, 2010, 9:03 am 

What you are talking is chiefdoms and states (usually starting with kingdoms, etc.). Complex societies are generally characterised by redistribution where at least some of what is produced goes to a central authority and is then used for other purposes. These other purposes include various public works, maintaining full time priesthoods, standing armies, bureaucrats, stores in times of famine, etc. What people "get" in these contexts is things like the right live within the town walls, the protection of the gods and armies, access to goods they themselves don't produce, etc.
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Mossling on November 8th, 2010, 9:22 am 

Forest_Dump wrote:What people "get" in these contexts is things like the right live within the town walls, the protection of the gods and armies, access to goods they themselves don't produce, etc.

But can't all this be 'got' by normal taxation? Why the need for the members of the community to all pay the king/chief for letting them remain upon 'his' land 9that they would be expected to lay down their lives for)? What would the reward mechanism have been in this scenario?
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Forest_Dump on November 8th, 2010, 10:19 am 

I think the problem here might be that you are thinking in terms, literally, that did not exist. Individual rights, etc., had not been invented and if you were to ask those kinds of questions, people would have no idea what you were talking about. Repeating some of the ground covered by Para, we can assume (based on modern people and some evidence from archaeology) that earliest communities were composed of people related somehow. Being a member of these communities meant that you had some "rights" but that was only because you were a valuable contributing member. If you did not contribute, you faced any number of consequences. Again through the origins of agriculture and pastoralism, etc., people did not really own property, cattle, etc., the clan, etc., did and individuals who contributed could keep some of the results/products for their own use.

Don't think of it as paying rent, think of it as "under what circumstances would people be allowed to stay without being killed?", etc. Earliest written sources do not really recognise individuals except the elite (e.g., Gilgamesh). By these times, all land was owned by kings, etc. The king let people work the land and, once they had paid a certain amount, they could keep whatever was left over for their own use. If they didn't, they were killed or forced out. But where would they go? (Truth be told, in most ways they were property not much different than cattle, etc., so didn't really have that option.)

What you seem to be talking about came about much more recently with the invention of real private property beyond some personal possessions. For that you are only talking about some places within the last few hundred years.

By the way, much of the land tenure systems you are talking about above are recent historic impositions where a new form of government, i.e., the colonisers, took traditional land and "properties" and redistributed in efforts to cut out traditional political systems and reorganise the societies so the new central government could control them. Of course, with the end of colonial rule in most places, all that changed was that the government was a more local group that gained the same kind of control over a bounded region. So you could ask the question "by what right does the government of the US, India, China, Sudan, etc., get the right to rule, etc., those bounded territories?"

So, the answer to your question:

Mossling wrote:What would the reward mechanism have been in this scenario?


would probably be, in reward, they get to live and live there. Otherwise they would be killed as thieves, invaders, witches, etc.
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Paralith on November 8th, 2010, 2:38 pm 

Forest_Dump wrote:Don't think of it as paying rent, think of it as "under what circumstances would people be allowed to stay without being killed?", etc. Earliest written sources do not really recognise individuals except the elite (e.g., Gilgamesh). By these times, all land was owned by kings, etc. The king let people work the land and, once they had paid a certain amount, they could keep whatever was left over for their own use. If they didn't, they were killed or forced out. But where would they go? (Truth be told, in most ways they were property not much different than cattle, etc., so didn't really have that option.)
...
would probably be, in reward, they get to live and live there. Otherwise they would be killed as thieves, invaders, witches, etc.


Just wanted to back Forest up on this (though he doesn't really need it, lol) and remind you about arable, fertile land being a limited and defensible resource. Because it is defensible a group of people can defend arable land from others. Because it is limited, people outside of this arable land face the choice of either accepting the "leadership" of the land's current defenders, or trying to make do with other forms of subsistence.
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Forest_Dump on November 8th, 2010, 6:00 pm 

Yes, the point about arable land is a key one. Where suitable land is defined, perhaps because of its limited extend, such as on defined flood plains or based on the limits of irrigation technology, it is possible for this land to be controlled and this is often seen among more complex societies. Alternately, land might be difficult to clear and require cooperation in some ways. Among the mechanisms of interest here can be someone controlling the distribution and use of axes, particularly if they are the product of a trade network. On the other hand, where people can easily set up gardens, etc., on their own and land is not restricted in any way, complex forms of political organisation may not emerge. If someone doesn't like the circumstances, they can easily move away. But this assumes there are not other concerns such as a need for defense or other resources such as meat, fish, exotic goods to "purchase" a wife, etc.

Even among hunter-gatherers, if key resources are predictable in terms of when they occur and are in restricted and easily protected in location, you may get the development of more complex kinds of societies. Among northwest coast groups in North America, for example, clam beds and places on rivers where spawning salmon can be concentrated and predictable, clans and chiefs can control these places and restrict who gets to fish there (for a price, of course). These kinds of societies almost always (well I don't know of any exceptions) have distinct classes (i.e., aristocrats, commoners and slaves) and warfare.

Now in the cases talked about above, land for houses is not really much of an issue. In some cases, it is possible that anyone can find a patch of ground and set up their own structure. However, there may still be restrictions such as when houses are in some kind of clan barrio and you need to be part of the group. There can be restrictions about who lives within the walls, because the walls were the product of communal effort, who is allowed to cut lumber, etc., from the forests, who is allowed to use water, etc. Basically, when communal effort is involved or communal resources being exploited, nobody wants to have to put up with a free-loader or parasite. As they say in economics, there is not such thing as a free lunch.
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby owleye on November 8th, 2010, 7:28 pm 

Forest_Dump wrote:I think the problem here might be that you are thinking in terms, literally, that did not exist. Individual rights, etc., had not been invented and if you were to ask those kinds of questions, people would have no idea what you were talking about. Repeating some of the ground covered by Para, we can assume (based on modern people and some evidence from archaeology) that earliest communities were composed of people related somehow. Being a member of these communities meant that you had some "rights" but that was only because you were a valuable contributing member. If you did not contribute, you faced any number of consequences. Again through the origins of agriculture and pastoralism, etc., people did not really own property, cattle, etc., the clan, etc., did and individuals who contributed could keep some of the results/products for their own use.

Don't think of it as paying rent, think of it as "under what circumstances would people be allowed to stay without being killed?", etc. Earliest written sources do not really recognise individuals except the elite (e.g., Gilgamesh). By these times, all land was owned by kings, etc. The king let people work the land and, once they had paid a certain amount, they could keep whatever was left over for their own use. If they didn't, they were killed or forced out. But where would they go? (Truth be told, in most ways they were property not much different than cattle, etc., so didn't really have that option.)

What you seem to be talking about came about much more recently with the invention of real private property beyond some personal possessions. For that you are only talking about some places within the last few hundred years.

By the way, much of the land tenure systems you are talking about above are recent historic impositions where a new form of government, i.e., the colonisers, took traditional land and "properties" and redistributed in efforts to cut out traditional political systems and reorganise the societies so the new central government could control them. Of course, with the end of colonial rule in most places, all that changed was that the government was a more local group that gained the same kind of control over a bounded region. So you could ask the question "by what right does the government of the US, India, China, Sudan, etc., get the right to rule, etc., those bounded territories?"

So, the answer to your question:

Mossling wrote:What would the reward mechanism have been in this scenario?


would probably be, in reward, they get to live and live there. Otherwise they would be killed as thieves, invaders, witches, etc.


A very interesting post about traditional societies, I must say, especially if it's true. And I don't wish to impugn your greater knowledge on this. What prompted me to respond is that is seems unbalanced, notwithstanding that I haven't much to go on. What you seem to be suggesting is that it is political power attributed to its might that are or were the main governing principle of folks living in traditional societies. As such, political might and the leverage it gives the ruling body is what rules the day. What seems to make this unbalanced is that it fails to take into consideration any commonly held religion that in my understanding is most often considered to be the social glue that holds the society together. Of course, behavior is influenced by a variety of threats, and political might could be the result of its relationship with a religious hierarchy. And of course, behavior modification might result not just by putting idlers to death, but by ostracism, or shame, or other fear inducing mechanism, that religions seem to have in their arsenal.

However, being human, regardless of one's circumstance, means in a given society, the possibility of resisting enforced execution, even if they are not successful at such resistance. I'm thinking here of living under slavery. I'm thinking of Frederick Douglass and even Martin Luther King. Yes, I can imagine the kind of society you describe, but the suppression of thought opposing such extreme measures troubles me insofar as it is describing a human society.

Don't get me wrong. Life and death in many societies isn't treated as sacred as it ideally is in some of today's societies. Lots of deaths can be said to occur just because of the victim is considered to be unworthy of life, or of deserving death. In listening to insensitive folks some of whom are far away who blame victims, say of a bear attack, it is easy to understand how this idea can gain a footing. I'm merely suggesting that total suppression of thought, a la Ruth Benedict, isn't a stable enterprise. At least this is how I see it.

In reading over this, I see I'm making two points -- one about the role of religion, and the other about thought control. I don't want to take the time to make this more coherent, so I'll sign off for now hoping for a clarifying response from you.

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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Paralith on November 8th, 2010, 7:38 pm 

James, Forest will probably know more details but from what I understand, religious or other spiritual beliefs do not take a large role in molding many of the more traditional societies, like hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists (small gardening/animal domestication with some hunter-gathering), and pastoralists. Certainly every group has beliefs about spirits and/or gods but the primary differences between the structures of these societies are not really determined by any differences in beliefs.

As for your comments on thought control, I have to confess I can't really follow you. And I don't think either Forest or myself has commented on thought control, really. We're discussing control of resources, and yes, in the absence of overarching modern governments, might equals right. If there is only so much fertile land available, and you have an army, you can control it. Other people, if they want to participate in agriculture, don't have any other choices than, accept the rule of the defenders, or try to fight them and gain control themselves. It's not thought control, it's resource control. And relatively small, concentrated chunks of land are easy to control.
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Forest_Dump on November 8th, 2010, 8:11 pm 

Paralith wrote:James, Forest will probably know more details but from what I understand, religious or other spiritual beliefs do not take a large role in molding many of the more traditional societies, like hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists (small gardening/animal domestication with some hunter-gathering), and pastoralists.


I would have to disagree with that and it may be quite the opposite that is more correct. Recently I read an account of the religion of the "!Kung/san" and how they cannot believe that white people think religion can be separated from anything else (I can get the reference tomorrow if needed). It is usually spirits that are believed to guide hunting as well as ensure its success or not. Among more complex societies, the existence of classes in chiefdoms is determined by the amount of manna among Polynesians (like the Hawiians) and Kingdoms of course were based on divine right to rule, etc. But in more egalitarian societies, kinship is often traced back to supernatural ancestors, that can translate to totems, etc. Land was given to specific people by creators (so you had to have some of the original blood to qualify to use the land, you need to trace your roots back to ancestors buried there and who now have ghosts protecting them and the land, etc.).
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Forest_Dump on November 8th, 2010, 8:13 pm 

I am afraid I don't follow the ideas on thought control either. Are you talking something like limited linguistic determinism (which influences logic, etc.)? Dominant ideology?
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Paralith on November 8th, 2010, 8:37 pm 

Forest_Dump wrote:
Paralith wrote:James, Forest will probably know more details but from what I understand, religious or other spiritual beliefs do not take a large role in molding many of the more traditional societies, like hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists (small gardening/animal domestication with some hunter-gathering), and pastoralists.


I would have to disagree with that and it may be quite the opposite that is more correct. Recently I read an account of the religion of the "!Kung/san" and how they cannot believe that white people think religion can be separated from anything else (I can get the reference tomorrow if needed). It is usually spirits that are believed to guide hunting as well as ensure its success or not. Among more complex societies, the existence of classes in chiefdoms is determined by the amount of manna among Polynesians (like the Hawiians) and Kingdoms of course were based on divine right to rule, etc. But in more egalitarian societies, kinship is often traced back to supernatural ancestors, that can translate to totems, etc. Land was given to specific people by creators (so you had to have some of the original blood to qualify to use the land, you need to trace your roots back to ancestors buried there and who now have ghosts protecting them and the land, etc.).


But, do differences in beliefs drive differences in social structure for different subsistence patterns? That was my point. I wasn't trying to say religious beliefs are not important to them.
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Forest_Dump on November 8th, 2010, 9:03 pm 

I had to think about this because I am not really sure how to answer this. I will try to get a few points out of the way (because I am not sure how relevant they might be). I hope you can help me on this.

First, chiefdoms do have coercive authority while states have this plus full-time religious specialists. So higher ups with religious authority can make their decisions stick and back it up with "because the gods say so".

At the other end of the spectrum (and you know I use statement like that cautiously and only in context), Kalahari hunter-gatherers exhibit some interesting variations even when environmental conditions are constant (and by our standards harsh, determining, etc.) So, for example (to be brief particularly since I don't have my books handy - I am not at home or the office at the moment), R. Lee's Dobe !Kung have a settlement pattern closely tied to seasonal availability of water and other resources. However, Silberbauer's Gwii, also San speaking Kalahari hunter-gatherers who live in a virtually identical environment and at times may include some of the same individuals who just travelled from the Dobe region, have a polar opposite settlement system. So, under conditions when you get aggregation among the Dobe, you get dispersal among the Gwii, and vice versa (discussed and summarized in A. Bernard's book on the region). Now if you ask them, then they will say that of course this is because of religious reasons but that is because the religion does define everything.

At broader levels, if you ask people why they are hunter-gatherers vs., horticulturalists, they will definitely say it is because it is the way of their people, that is what the spirits/ancestors/etc., intended and make them as, etc. Ditto for the existence of clans, etc.
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Paralith on November 8th, 2010, 9:12 pm 

Wiat....some Kalahari hunter-gathers don't settle near water and food resources? Then how do they survive? I guess I don't know what you mean by "polar opposite."

I have no doubt that people living in similar environmental conditions can having differing cultural practices, certainly including religion. But do these various Kalahari hunter gatherers have significantly different ways of hunting, gathering, and using/owning land due to religious motivations? And I am thinking in very generalized terms when I'm describing the structures of their societies. I mean, I doubt you would say that agriculturalists have more stringent land ownership rules than hunter-gatherers primarily because their beliefs dictate it, would you?
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Forest_Dump on November 8th, 2010, 10:04 pm 

Paralith wrote:Wiat....some Kalahari hunter-gathers don't settle near water and food resources?


Open exposed water sources are not available year round. When they are not, they get water from gourds and tubers. I think it is the Dobe who congregate at specific water holes and disperse into smaller groups when these are dry. The Gwii would do the opposite. Both these groups are known as foragers with high residential mobility. They will bring small game back to camp but when something big is killed like a giraffe or elephant, they will move the camp to the kill site.

Paralith wrote:I mean, I doubt you would say that agriculturalists have more stringent land ownership rules than hunter-gatherers primarily because their beliefs dictate it, would you?


Personally, as an outside observer, I tend to use more "functionalist" interpretations so religion just rationalises adaptive decisions. This is the "etic" or outsider's perspective.

However, if you ask them, i.e., the emic perspective, "they" in I would expect almost all cases, would cite religious reason for why they do almost everything. But this is a key concept in anthropology called embeddedness. Only in our societies do we find evidence of attempts to separate religion from other things - although I am not sure how successful we can say this is. I talk about the origins of belief in scientific "laws" for example but there are many remnant examples from the past. (As a total tangent, right now I am again looking at examples of symbolism from weaving - everything from Rumpelstilskin to the distaff side at weddings to references to the fabric of life, or the fabric of anything, etc. Some neat things here. But I digress.)
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Paralith on November 8th, 2010, 10:41 pm 

Well I suppose, in your terminology, I am primarily interested in the etic perspective when it comes to broad differences in social structure between groups. But I think James would be satisfied by the emic perspective, wherein the power of religious belief is just as important as he thought it should be.
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby owleye on November 9th, 2010, 11:54 am 

The problematic aspect for me had to do with the unifying application of the coercive force of killing those who are considered unworthy, which in this discussion, was not fulfilling one's obligation to contribute to the society. I find this a plausible idea, but that I felt it had to be considered within the context of a broader understanding of the population that comprises the society, some of whom might strongly resist such coercion, even possibly by persuasive argument, where I gave the examples of two African American leaders who fought against their enslavement as a class with success but without the use of force. (I recognize these examples are not particularly good as they may not apply to the traditional societies under discussion, but I would hope it reveals something relevant to them.)

And it is in this context that I felt there were two contributing factors, one, the hold that religion has on a society which was intended to reflect that there are other considerations besides the coercive force of killing unworthies, and two, the difficulty I have with anthropologists of the Ruth Benedict stripe where it is felt that culture itself defines all the possibilities and impossibilities within it, as Benedict believed. (Perhaps I erred in thinking of this as thought control, but this is what I had in mind by my referencing it.)

Another thought occurred to me, that if Benedict is correct and culture cannot change from within, then foreign or external elements could be the stimulus for resistance. Notwithstanding, I seem to recall a functional need among societies, generally, for kinship patterns to succeed they need new blood, so to speak, from time to time, and this in itself could have implications for the ability to change a culture.

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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Forest_Dump on November 9th, 2010, 1:40 pm 

Okay, I think I see a couple of things.

First, there have been some interesting arguments that religion in the Middle east did lead to the adoption of agriculture, sedentism and denser towns/cities. The arguments have to do with domesticated foods being used for feasting and people settling near religious centres. Is this what you meant? There are definitely many cases that could be cited about religion bringing about dramatic change within groups, one way of another.

It has been a long time since I read much by Ruth Benedict but taking your summary, I would say that the idea of culture being so all defining is largely correct but not entirely. Some individuals do interpret their culture differently and some understand it differently. Some of these would be familiar as psychopaths or sociopaths, for example, depending on their context and how they were perceived. In other contexts, the same individuals could be saints, visionaries, revolutionaries, etc.
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby owleye on November 9th, 2010, 2:49 pm 

Forest_Dump wrote:Okay, I think I see a couple of things.

First, there have been some interesting arguments that religion in the Middle east did lead to the adoption of agriculture, sedentism and denser towns/cities. The arguments have to do with domesticated foods being used for feasting and people settling near religious centres. Is this what you meant? There are definitely many cases that could be cited about religion bringing about dramatic change within groups, one way of another.

It has been a long time since I read much by Ruth Benedict but taking your summary, I would say that the idea of culture being so all defining is largely correct but not entirely. Some individuals do interpret their culture differently and some understand it differently. Some of these would be familiar as psychopaths or sociopaths, for example, depending on their context and how they were perceived. In other contexts, the same individuals could be saints, visionaries, revolutionaries, etc.


Ok. This is what I was looking for, since it is something I hadn't thought of. On the first point, I must admit I'd never heard the idea that religions could be advocates for change, largely because I think of them as generally opposed to it and only reluctantly change over the course of time, if they ever do. However, seeing as how certain practices and rituals evolve around past adaptations that responded to recurring problems such as draughts or shortages of sustenances, religion could be a way to ingrain such adaptations, granting powers to it that it otherwise might not have had, but which nevertheless arose from particular insights or leadership of certain members, possibly now legendary, of the population at some earlier period.

On the second point, this is what I remember as social (or cultural) deviancy, where various psychological and social techniques are used to keep the few from infecting the many. In so far as there is justice in this, which presumably could be an adaption over time based on trial and error, I would imagine there would accrue a system that fits the sentence to the deviancy, or a system by which justice isn't dispensed arbitrarily. As such, if there occurred from time to time a charismatic advocate against the killing of (at least some one of) those who have been judged as not sufficiently contributing, I could see it as disrupting such a policy, even though well entrenched and effective. As such, if such a thing occurred, policy makers would have to find refuge in something that might have broader acceptance, namely the religion that binds them in the first place.

Thus, killing might remain in place, but the justification for it wouldn't necessarily be its effectiveness, but rather in something that could generally be accepted by the population it is intended to affect -- somehow its value would have to be enabled by some higher authority, allowing the possibility that lesser authority could be vulnerable to being wrong on occasion.

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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Forest_Dump on November 9th, 2010, 3:21 pm 

One kind of example of religion causing change or promoting change are phenomena called revitalization movements. One example is the collapse of Judaism due to the Roman conquest and ultimately the fall of Masada. So a charismatic individual, named Jesus, came along and took aspects of the older religion plus some new ideas, and reformulated the old religion as Christianity. This was originally a religion of resistance but later was rewritten to allow it to be adopted by non-Jews. Of course Christians don't see it that way but the idea was put out by an anthropologist named marvin Harris in a book although I think Anthony Wallace might have talked about it first.
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby owleye on November 9th, 2010, 9:52 pm 

Forest_Dump wrote:One kind of example of religion causing change or promoting change are phenomena called revitalization movements. One example is the collapse of Judaism due to the Roman conquest and ultimately the fall of Masada. So a charismatic individual, named Jesus, came along and took aspects of the older religion plus some new ideas, and reformulated the old religion as Christianity. This was originally a religion of resistance but later was rewritten to allow it to be adopted by non-Jews. Of course Christians don't see it that way but the idea was put out by an anthropologist named marvin Harris in a book although I think Anthony Wallace might have talked about it first.


I like it. Interesting this one, if it is deemed to be a revitalization movement, is that apparently it wasn't convincing enough to enable Judaism itself to change, at least by much, but instead spawned a whole new religion, in lands to the north of its homeland, in the very homeland of its battle tested occupiers, making a kind of mockery of any notion that military might itself can alter the human religious landscape to its own ends. In consideration of the topic, I wonder how the settlement issue in today's news can be traced back to those ancient times. The Israel of today seems to be convinced that might makes right, or at least its principle policy-makers seem to think so.

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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby epilogic on November 9th, 2010, 9:57 pm 

being part of the community


ah, to live in a society which held that value high.
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Forest_Dump on November 9th, 2010, 10:50 pm 

The original, "classic" case of a revitalization movement by Wallace was the Iroquois or at least the western Iroquois (Seneca and Cayuga). By the end of the 18th century, Iroquoian culture had pretty much broken down because of war, alcohol, disease, etc. A charismatic leader named Handsome Lake had a series of visions in 1799 that led to a movement that took some old aspects of the culture and mixed in new to become what we know today as the Longhouse movement. The Code of Handsome Lake is published and it is interesting although very reminiscent of Dante.

Judaism itself is another example in that the formation of the Jews as a distinct ethnic group may well go back to the time of the captivity in Babylon (Uruk?). This would also be why it is hard to confirm archaeologically - they did not have that distinctive an identity yet. The other key formative time would have been the captivity in Egypt. But again, no independent evidence of that either. Still, the common theme is ethnic change or reformation coupled with a religious transformation in a time of crisis - here the captivities. Muslim might be another example.
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby steaveford on May 19th, 2011, 7:57 pm 

Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members of the Complex societies are characterized by redistribution Nowhere Generally at least Some of the produced goes to a central authority and is then Used for other purposes.
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby weakmagneto on February 27th, 2012, 10:50 pm 

As a Native American, I am familiar with stories and oral traditions that were passed down in my family. In my region, pre-contact with Europeans, many of our tribes were unfamiliar with the concept of ownership. A clear example of this can be derived from first contact of Native Americans with Europeans. Some ship captains noted that the Native Americans were stealing from them when, in fact, the Native Americans had no concept of ownership and shared freely among themselves. A classic cultural misunderstanding...
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby wuliheron on February 28th, 2012, 4:28 am 

That's how captain Cook died. He was famous for being very respectful of native cultures, but in Hawaii he ran into trouble when some of the natives started swimming out to his ship and borrowing items. His crew got into a riot on the beach and when Cook ordered his men to fire upon the rioters the Hawaiians executed him on the spot for shooting people over a disagreement involving mere "things".

If I had to guess its precisely because the ancient Irish were pastoral and would flee into the hills in time of war that the condition was added that they must care for their elderly. In other societies where people had to fight the elderly were sometimes stripped of their possessions the minute they became a burden and thrown out into the cold. These are primitive people who lived on the edge and often did not live past 25. Elderly in this context was usually someone in their mid 30s who looked 60. Those who couldn't afford to pay rent were in all likelihood half starved and anyone replacing them would have done no better. Hence the agreement to merely pay rent if they could.

Its notable that these people had someplace to run to in time of war and could easily return home a short while later. One theory is that land distribution is dependent upon the geography. The more valuable the land and less easily defended because of geography the more fighting there will be. In China where there are no significant natural boundaries they turned exploiting peasant labor into a science and to this day the Chinese have inherited unique adaptations to starvation. During the "Waring States" period which lasted for hundreds of years generations of peasants starved to death to pay for wars their sons fought in. Growing their population became an arms race to afford more mercenaries and to surround their enemies. The Chinese game of chess known as "Go" reflects this simple sounding strategy, but requires at least 20 years to master.
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Re: Ancient Communities & Land Distribution between Members

Postby Forest_Dump on February 28th, 2012, 6:44 am 

Don't really have the time right now to review the whole thread but since I am doing some review of the topic in general, one question I have is just when was this ancient Ireland, etc. Ancient Ireland alone could be any time before or after the Romans (i.e., Iron Age) and include a lot of change through time. I didn't see any reference (by me) to a great book on the topic (granted one of many) called "How Chiefs Come to Power: The Political Economy in Prehistory" by Timothy Earle that explores this topic. Earle actually compares the high Andes from AD 500 to the Inkas with Hawaii from AD 800 to 1824 and the Norse from the Neolithic to Early Bronze Age (2300-1300 BC and a bit beyond). The latter would be very comparable to the Ireland case including the adoption of pastoralism and Earle looks at things from warfare to the use of prestige goods and explores the similarities and differences within and between the three cases. Personally I would think it obvious that there is going to be as much or more variation as you would see if you compared 21st century US with Feudal Japan.
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