What makes this a problem is that it isn't always so easy to distinguish the two. For example, the Encyclopedia includes a chapter on the Batak, in the Philippines, despite the fact that "they have long produced some rice by shifting cultivation, together with smaller amounts of maize, cassava and sweet potato, but cultivation is a far less important activity for them than it is for their lowland neighbors" (p. 295). I have a feeling that much the same could be said of a great many Melanesian "horticulturalists" as well.
In an online article, The Hunter-Gatherer Spectrum in New Guinea, Paul Roscoe informs us that some New Guinean populations are -- or were -- hunter-gatherers after all:
It has long been supposed that New Guinea is a land of cultivators. New Guineans were among the first peoples on Earth to cultivate crops, and at contact a majority were either horticulturalists, cultivating root crops such as taro and yam under long-fallow regimes, or agriculturalists cropping sweet potato under intensive cultivation regimes. However, a close examination of the ethnographic record – in particular, of unpublished and non-English language sources – has revealed numerous references to the presence of “hunters and gatherers.”
Roscoe distinguishes two principal types of New Guinea foragers:
Groups that procured limited amounts of meat protein or that relied primarily on terrestrial and arboreal game markedly resembled the classic hunter-gatherer societies typified by the Kung, Inuit, Mbuti, and many Australian Aboriginal groups. At contact, their population densities were usually below 1/sq.km; their settlements were small, typically between 10 and 40 inhabitants; and they were mostly semi- or fully-nomadic, shifting residence every few weeks or months. Political life was relatively egalitarian: inequities in power and influence
were uncommon, though fighting prowess, hunting ability, ritual expertise (including sorcery), and/or economic generosity brought prestige. Mobility was an important conflict resolution mechanism. Ritual life was comparatively unelaborated, and there was little visual art - though other aesthetic pursuits
such as dance and song were sometimes highly developed.
However: "Contradicting a common stereotype that war is attenuated or absent among hunters and gatherers, fighting was endemic." [my emphasis]
The other type of forager group concentrated on "aquatic resources" rather than terrestrial hunting and, interestingly enough, had a very different type of culture:
Groups that depended on aquatic resources rather than terrestrial and arboreal game typically exhibited a cultural complexity rivaling that of agriculturalists in New Guinea and they strongly resembled other aquatically adapted, hunter-gatherer societies such as the Native American communities of the Northwest Coast. . .
Most of these groups also had developed highly elaborate ceremonial and visual art. Some, such as the Asmat, Karawari, Kwoma, and Purari are among the most famous of New Guinea’s ritual artists.
And once again, as with the terrestrial foragers, violence is an important theme: "Warfare was generally intense, and most of these groups were head-hunters."
The importance of violence among New Guinea's hunter-gatherers, and in Melanesia generally, even among the simpler, more egalitarian societies, certainly does go against the stereotype, an "inconvenient truth" that must be accounted for by anyone seeking to characterize hunter-gatherers in general according to the "core values" we've been discussing.
The contradiction is not lost on Roscoe:
Hunter-gatherer scholarship has largely overlooked the importance of war, partly because of long-standing assumptions that warfare is a relatively recent emergence in human history and that hunter-gatherers lead a peaceful life. There is increasing evidence, however, that these assumptions are misplaced and that New Guinea’s foragers may more accurately represent the hunter-gatherer past. Recent primate research finds that chimpanzees practice a form of lethal aggression against neighbors that has striking similarities to ambush in human
society. This suggests that organized deadly violence may antedate the human-chimpanzee split, some 5 to 7 million years ago, and therefore may have characterized the whole of human prehistory. This conclusion is corroborated by historical research on reputedly peaceful hunter-gatherer groups such as the
!Kung, Inuit, and Australian Aborigines, which suggests that war was considerably more prevalent among these peoples than previously supposed.
Looks like deja vu all over again. I've already examined some of these issues in earlier posts, specifically the questionable comparison of humans with chimps (see Post 197), Steven Pinker's claim that early humans must have been "naturally" violent, based on all the "new" evidence of violence among hunter-gatherers (see Post 199), and the "revelation" that the so-called "Harmless People," i.e., the !Kung Bushmen, were at some point discovered to have an unusually high homicide rate (see Post 209).
Another complication posed by Melanesia, not mentioned by Roscoe, but of equal relevance, is the importance in just about every Melanesian society of the so-called "Big Man." According to Marshall Sahlins, who made an intensive study of Melanesian social structure,
Politics is in the main personal politicking in these Melanesian societies, and the size of a leader's faction as well as the extent of his renown are normally set by competition with other ambitious men. . .While Melanesian social structure is still often referred to as "relatively egalitarian" or "more-or-less egalitarian" (see for example "Irian Jaya - Anthropological and Historical Perspective," by Waruno Mahdi, part 2), the notion of a "Big-Man" in the above sense would be pure anathema to any of the Pygmy or Bushmen groups whose cultures we've been examining. These cultures are more than simply "egalitarian," they perpetuate social mechanisms that actively discourage any attempt on the part of any individual to stand out from the group. While certain individuals do emerge as what could be called "natural leaders" due to certain outstanding abilities, personal ambition is strongly frowned upon, and overt competition of any kind is almost unheard of.
[A Big Man] must be prepared to demonstrate that he possesses the kind of skills that command respect . . . Typically decisive is the deployment of one's skills and efforts in a certain direction: towards amassing goods, most often pigs, shell monies and vegetable foods, and distributing them in ways which build a name for cavalier generosity, if not for compassion (Poor Man, Rich Man, Big Man, Chief, pp. 290-291).
It's important to understand that neither violence nor "Big-Man" politics among hunter-gatherers, or horticulturalists with otherwise very similar cultures, is by no means confined to Melanesia, though both are particularly common in this region. In fact there are many such groups that have exhibited highly competitive and violent behavior, in many parts of the world.
So what gives? Does this mean that "deadly violence" in fact "characterized the whole of human prehistory," as Roscoe, and so many others, have alleged (see above)? Does it mean that the spirit of competition is ingrained into the human spirit, in the now widely accepted "liberal" view dominating "free" market economics? Only if we are willing to accept the commonly held view of "hunter-gatherers" as represenative, for better (the traditionalist view) or worse (the revisionist view), of some sort of universalized essence of "Stone-Age Man."
As I made clear in the previous post, I cannot accept such a view, from either perspective (i.e., "naturally" egalitarian and non-violent or "naturally" competitive and warlike), because neither makes sense and both are based on assumptions rather than evidence. As now seems clear, from both the genetic and the cultural evidence, all such groups, along with all other human societies now sharing our planet, are descended from a single ancestral group that could only have had a very particular culture, which I've been calling HBC.
And if the ancestral culture can be modeled, as I believe it can, on the "fiercely egalitarian" (Barry Hewlett, Intimate Fathers), non-competetive, and essentially non-violent* ("War is unknown," William L. Ury, Conflict Resolution among the Bushmen) ethos of Pygmy and Bushmen hunter-gatherers, then I'm sorry but no: neither "deadly violence" nor the competitive spirit "characterized the whole of human prehistory." While some "hunter-gatherers" can undoubtedly be described in such terms, the ancestral group from which they emerged was, in all likelihood, relatively egalitarian and peaceful.
What could have happened among so many of their descendants that turned them so disastrously in the direction of both competiveness and war?
*See Post 209 for an in-depth discussion of Bushmen violence. While acts of violence, including murder, have been reported among both Pygmies and Bushmen, the core values reported over and over again for all these groups strongly discourage violent behavior, there is no glorification of war or warriors, and in fact no warrior class at all -- nor are there any weapons of war, nor any sign of the blood feuds, raids and out and out warfare so common among the groups discussed above.