title
macrohistory.com

home | before 1000 BCE

 

previous | next

Inequality

A journal of original scientific research, Science, published a study led by a British anthropologist, Mark Dyble. It describes transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture as changing how people related to each other, including the creation of inequality between the sexes. The study describes men and woman in small hunter-gatherer societies as having equal influence on where their group lived and who they joined up with. Dyble complains about the existing perception today that hunter-gatherers were "macho or male-dominated." He writes that with agriculture "people could start to accumulate resources," and that it was then the inequality arose.

The study collected genealogical data from hunter-gatherers today in the Congo and in the Philippines, including data on kinship relations, movement between camps and residence patterns. In both the Congo and the Philippines the hunter-gatherers tended to live in groups of around 20 and moved approximately every 10 days. People kept track of kin who were at some distance, and with them there were occasional get-togethers for feasts. The study compares this with the reduction of such networks after agriculture appeared. And accumulation of resources began. Males began "to form alliances with male kin." The Science article mentions that when male-dominated pastoral or horticultural (garden) societies emerged so too did tight hubs of related individuals. The article claims that when only men had influence over who they were living with, the core of any community was "a dense network of closely related men with the spouses on the periphery." It added that " If men and women decide, you don't get groups of four or five brothers living together." With the dawn of agriculture, writes Dyble, "Men can start to have several wives."

In my words, the issue of property had arisen. The primary resource with the rise of agriculture was the claim over sections of land. Perhaps males being the warriors was involved. As the owners of property and in power association with other men, males became dominant. With property on their minds, women became their property. Inequality among men also developed. Some dominated bigger stretches of land. Some who had existed by working for those who had more land. The big landowners became the aristocrats. They formed alliances with their fellow aristocrats against dangers posed by those who had little or nothing. Lands were passed down from father to son. Societies became patrilineal, and power too is passed from father to son.

One critic of the article complains that it sounds implausible that "the earliest human societies were founded on enlightened egalitarian principles." Indeed, they were not 18th century philosophers. Others had a problem with the word "equality" and pointed out that in Hunter-gathering socieities men and women had different tasks. Someone else writes: "This idea that hunter gatherer communities moved into patriarchies after the agricultural revolution is hardly new: researchers like Frans de Waal and Richard Wrangham have been discussing it for decades." Another writes: "I was an anthropology major at Harvard College in the late 1960's and we knew even then that sexual inequality began with the agricultural revolution and that the hunter-gatherers were a healthy long-lived group with both genders [and] very equal. Not sure why this is such big news, but I welcome it anyway."

                     

Copyright © 2009-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.