1.22 Overpopulation and machism

Our species started in very harmonious groups with the women as the dominant gender. Survival on the savannahs was extremely precarious. Groups living in harmony flourished better than groups with tensions: natural selection advanced harmony within the groups or tribes. Millions and millions of years of harmony is what made us the most social beings in nature, while the other side of our nature – violently defending ourselves and our kin – was pushed far away to the background. On the sparsely populated savannahs, such violent behavior was only used against them threatening predators or when hunting, not against each other or their neighbors. Their groups, moreover, exchanged continual of composition, so that one cannot even speak of ‘neighbors’.

 

Women were dominant in religious performances, like they were dominant in medical care and magic and everything. Males should never put the success of their hunting at risk by using female speech to pray to the Big Ancestor: they clung on the sacral sign language for their hunting prayers. Nowadays before each hunting trip, the Semai hunters still use sign language to pray to their Big Ancestor. When we look at the important role of gestures in sacred rituals today, we see that sign language must have survived a long time in the sacral singing-and-dancing of the Creation Stories which had such a dominant place in the lives of our ancestors.

To get back to the point: let’s take a look at how overpopulation led not just to war, but also to male dominance. We need to make a difference here between male dominance and machism. So let’s clearly define both.

Male dominance means that men replaced women in highest status. In this hyper-religious phase of humanness it was tantamount to be leading in the adoration of the Ancestral Being – in the form of the concerning culture. In many cultural myths all over the world this is illustrated by the element of males taking over the holy flutes for their own ritual use.

The iconic Bushmen wallpainting with the elima, the menstruation hut, where the women do the moose dance. The boys form the first circle and the adult men form the outer circle.

It is clear that in this painting the women are still leading in the religious experience of the world. Today the San Bushmen still need the singing of the women to get in trance.

In the Pygmy culture, God is the forest, the Pygmies are His children[1]. Pygmies adore the Forest in singing/dancing their holy songs. For special occasions young males go in the forest and bring out the molimo, the holy flute. The molimo ritual is a male business: women and children have to retire in their huts, with doors closed. But once a year women take over the ritual, showing that they are the real performers of the holy songs. Men keep quiet, knowing that the women are right. After this performance, the women retire in their huts, satisfied to have made their point. The men stay around the fire the whole further night, most of them in trance.

This demonstrates a take-over of the highest status by men, but initially without losing respect for the women. But what later AGR machismo means, is humiliating women into the status of inferiority, even of slavery. Example of early exacerbation of male dominance are the AGR Baruyas of Papua-New Guinea, studied by French anthropologist Maurice Godelier in 1967-88.[2]

Baruyas are horticulturists, have gardens in which women grow taro and sweet potato’s. And they keep pigs. The Baruya men keep the kwaimatnié (flutes, rattles and other holy things) in the men’s house. At the age of nine the boys are brutally separated from their mothers and from the world of women, to be taught, during years of initiation, that the flutes were originally the property of the women, and that one of the men’s ancestors stole the flutes from them. The men justify this expropriation by saying that the first women did not know how to put their powers in the service of the community. For instance, “they killed too much game [sic], and were at the source of multiple disorders. It was necessary for men to intervene”.

An interesting indicator of gender relations in most tribes is the initiation rite. Initially, initiation only concerned girls (a boy’s passage to manhood was accepted after his first big hunting kill). As an example of the initial girls’ initiation ceremony, see the San wall-painting above.

Colin Turnbull describes the one among the Mbuti.[3] A girl’s first menstruation is still one of the happiest, most joyful occasions in her life – and in the community also. The girl enters in the elima, a specially built grass hut, with all her young friends, those who have not yet reached maturity, and some older women. Pygmies from all around come to pay respects, the young men sitting outside the elima house in the hopes of glimpse of the young beauties inside. The girls inside sing special elima songs in a light, cascading melody, the men replying with a vital chorus. On some days, the girls burst out of the elima, wielding saplings, chasing after any particular boys they fancy. On being touched, a young man is honor-bound to enter the elima, where he may have his first sexual experience, attended to by a whole bunch of women. Over the next few days, a succession of youth may find themselves similarly initiated.

The final test of a favored boy is, however, that he goes into the forest and brings back a large game animal.

  1. Colin Turnbull The Forest People (1961)
  2. La production des grands hommes : pouvoir et domination masculine chez les Baruya de Nouvelle-Guinée, Paris, Fayard, 1982
  3. Ituri forest pygmies

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Used abbreviations

GHs: gatherers/hunters (the phase from 2 million years ago to 10.000 years ago)

AGRs: agriculturers (the phase from 10.000 years ago till now)

NT(s)Neanderthal people

MSA(s): Middle Stone Age people (African NTs)

AMH(s): Anatomical Modern Humans (H sapiens people), like we are

(m)ya: (million) years ago

ANBOs: Ancestor Bonobos (ape-men), our earliest human ancestors

Paleos: all scientists that are important for our story.

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