Friday, January 1, 2010

270. The Baseline Scenarios -- 46: The Migration

Before proceeding, I must reiterate that the scenarios I've been presenting are hypothetical. At this point I am simply exploring certain interesting possibilities, not (yet) laying out a full-fledged theory. There is still much to be learned about both the genetic and the cultural background of the Out of Africa migration, and even the notion that such a migration took place at all is itself hypothetical, despite increasing support from the population genetics community generally and a slowly growing number of linguists and anthropologists.

The history of South Asia is particularly problematic in this regard, especially because the tribal peoples remain relatively little known. And I'll take this opportunity to confess that my own ignorance led me into an error which I will now correct. Earlier I claimed that the only so-called "negrito" peoples were to be found to the east of India, and that their absence in South Asia was a symptom of the gap I've been dwelling on. Today, however, I came across a paper in which certain Indian tribals of Kerala, near the southern tip, namely the Paniyan, Kada, Irula and Kurumba are described as either possessing "Negrito morphological features" or "several Negrito traits" (Mitochondrial DNA diversity among five tribal populations of southern India, Deepa Edwin et al.). So, to be safe, and until I have a chance to look into the matter more deeply, I'm going scratch negritos off my list of gap evidence.

In the last post, we left the descendants of HMP strewn out in various colonies along the Indian Ocean coast, all the way from the western border of Pakistan to at least Southeast Asia -- and possibly farther, to what is now Indonesia, the Philippines, New Guinea and Australia (though Australia is problematic, as we'll see). Now. If we leave this scenario as is, and let "evolution" take its course, how far can we get before encountering a serious problem?

If the migrating populations out of Africa simply marched (figuratively speaking, natch) across the full length of the Asiatic beach, leaving colonies as they went, it stands to reason that all these colonies would be pretty similar in a great many ways. Since we went to so much trouble to characterize HMP and HMC, we might want to save ourselves any further effort by characterizing their migratory descendants in more or less the same terms. Why not? If they are direct descendents of HMP, why wouldn't they be maintaining essentially the same traditions?

And there is evidence that would tend to support such an idea. For example, I have before me a paper titled The Muduga and Kurumba of Kerala, South India and the Social Organization of Hunting and Gathering, by George Tharakan C. Both groups are characterized as hunter-gatherers, though they also practice "non-intensive" agriculture. They "hunted and gathered in rain forests" but also, like so many African pygmy groups, "frequently interacting with outsiders."

Gathering in the forest is of great importance both as a means of obtaining food and also as a source of raw materials. Major plant foods include tubers, edible roots, mushrooms, leaves, berries, nuts, seeds and seasonal fruits (Table 2). A considerable portion of the diet comes from roots, tubers, yams and green leaves (p. 9). . . Gathering and collecting is done both by men and women, although it is mainly a women’s activity. . .
Collection of honey is done only by men who are highly skilled in activities such as climbing big trees, driving away the bees, and also tracing the bees and locating the honey comb in the thick forest (p. 10). . . Hunting is mostly a male activity where groups of men, both agnates and affines, gather together and proceed into the forest in search of game for one or two days (p. 11).

So far this sounds very much like the African hunter-gatherer norm. I find the bit about honey particularly telling, because, first of all, as I neglected to mention earlier, both Pygmies and Bushmen and a great many other hunter-gatherers worldwide are mad for honey, which would certainly have been equally important for both HBP and HMP; and secondly, the above description makes it very clear that simply having a taste for honey is not enough -- honey gathering is a challenging skill that was, in all likelihood, passed down from generation to generation,from HBP on.

There are differences as well. The Muduga and Kurumba now hunt mainly with rifles and traditionally hunted with traps rather than bows and arrows, a tradition which was, apparently, lost at some point. They do hunt with dogs, however, as do African pygmies.

As far as core values are concerned,

game is shared equally among all those who participate in the hunt and if the game is sizable a share is given to all other households in the hamlet. Apart from the normal share, the inner meat (i.e., heart and liver) and a thigh go to the person who shot the animal. . .

Sharing and food exchange among the Muduga/Kurumba is a highly institutionalized daily activity. It is necessary that those who obtain game share with those who did not. The Muduga/ Kurumba believe that even small game should be shared among all members of the hamlet so as to avoid the craving (daham) they feel for meat. However, small game is often shared only among the members of the hunting party and their close kin. Large game animals are always widely shared (pp. 12-13 ).
All of the above is strikingly similar to what we find among African pygmies and bushmen, though in the case of the Mbuti, the best cuts go to the owner of the arrow rather than the one who did the shooting.

As far as kinship is concerned, we find a flexibility quite similar to what we've seen for both pygmies and bushmen: "Though they are patrilineal by descent, the system shows bilateral tendencies of a flexible and loosely structured system (p. 15)."

Also, as with the pygmies and bushmen, we see no signs of warlike or competive tendencies, but on the contrary, a willingness to peacefully share with others, even from other groups:

Among the Muduga/Kurumba it is the corporate group, the clan, which owns the land and has primary rights over its plant and animal resources. However, people from other groups and hamlets are never restricted from hunting and gathering in the clan’s territory.

Though there are significant differences as well, the most important being the clan structure and their long-term involvment with swidden agriculture, these Indian tribals do in fact seem quite close, in a great many ways, to African pygmies and bushmen, and thus to their HBP and HMP ancestors. And as I hope everyone reading here understands, such strong affinities should no longer simply be attributed to "hunter-gatherer-ivity." Functionalists be gone! Here we have very strong cultural evidence to reinforce the genetic evidence of a historical continuity between the Out of Africa migrants and at least some of the many tribal peoples of India.

(to be continued . . . )


German Dziebel said...

Victor, I think you can still kepp the Negrito gap as is because a later paper that includes Edwin Deepa as one of the co-authors reported that "phenotypic similarities of some Indian groups to Africans do not reflect a close relationship between these groups, but are better explained by convergence." (Visvanathan et al. Genetic structure and affinities among tribal populations of southern India // Annals of Human Genetics 68 (2004)).

Again, convergence...

DocG said...

Thanks for the tip, German. I am fully aware of that paper and will be discussing it soon.

German Dziebel said...

"Though there are significant differences as well, the most important being the clan structure..."

Various bilateral peoples may exhibit patrilineal tendencies. Including some of the San Bushmen. See Draper, Patricia, and Christine E. Haney. 2005. Patrilateral Bias among a Traditionally Egalitarian People: Ju/’hoansi Naming Practices. Ethnology 44 (3): 243-259.

The Khoekhoe, who are herders, are strongly patrilineal.