POLITICAL DOMINATION'S ORIGINS: SPECULATION OR ETHNOHISTORY?

Recently, a colleague suggested that any analysis of the origins of political domination falls into the category of speculation or philosophy, that which my teachers at Cambridge would have called “armchair anthropology.”  But that is an easy way of ignoring the fact that we have a great deal of historical and ethnographic data to bolster any speculative hypotheses.  

 

Here is my hypothesis:  The origins of political domination lie in the early structures formulated as kin groups and sodalities (e.g., cults and voluntary associations) that emerged once a storable-stealable-surplus was available to aggrandizers – those men who wanted more power, prestige and property for themselves and their close associates.  The political domination of these early forms was mild and largely non-exploitative.  Nonetheless, once social structures were in place and endured through the generations, other structures began to form that began to be exploitative.  Of course, with the passage of millennia fully-blown exploitative states emerged.  But here I want to focus on the early genesis of exploitation.  I am going to look at data gathered among the Yakut-Mono of Early California by Anna Hardwick Gayton (1930.  Yokuts-Mono chiefs and shamans.  University of California Publications in American archaeology and Ethnology, 24:8:361-420).  This is an example of the ethnography we have at our disposal to make judgments about how political domination emerged out of the communalistic ethos of Paleolithic non-storing societies (those without a storable-stealable-surplus). 

The pre-contact Yokut-Mono culture existed in an environment where food collecting and hunting was relatively easy, their California climate being mild.  They were not greatly stressed by their environment, which produced a small surplus for them; nor did they develop the great surpluses we see along the Northwest coast, with their great runs of salmon and candlefish.  The simple nature of these foragers can be seen in this quote from the ethnographer who studied them:

 

the political institutions of Yokuts  and Western Mono were perhaps as simple as any in California.  Clans were lacking.  The moiety, where it existed, regulated marriage ceremonial participation.  Patrilineal families dwelt together in permanent villages but owned no land other than an ill-defined tribal area.  The household group was not large; normally its personnel included a married couple, their immature offspring, and a possible orphaned sister of either spouse, or an aged relative.  A husband and father was head of his own household affairs but bowed to the opinion of elder male relatives when the entire lineage was involved.  These families were entirely free to go about their daily pursuits of hunting, fishing, seed gathering, basket, pottery, and tool making, seeking of supernatural experience, gambling, or idling, without interference from officials.  There were none to interfere.  The sense of right and wrong, of duty to one's relatives and neighbors, was instilled in children as they grew up.  Truthfulness, industry, a modest opinion of oneself, and above all, generosity, were regarded not so much as positive virtues as essential qualities.  Informants today condemn those who are greedy, jealous, or egotistical.  It was largely upon the personal character of individuals that the peace of a community depended (Gayton 1930:408).

 

The idea of chiefship was established among the Yakut-Mono.  Gayton presents detailed myths showing an ideology of chiefship.  The chief was thought to be helped by the eagle, which was his familiar spirit and that of his descent group.  He was always chosen from the eagle lineage or moiety (Gayton uses this term loosely) .  In a primordial conference of animals, the eagle was established as the leader, as the tiya (little chief or titular chief) was the surrogate eagle among men, the leader of a Yokut-Mono community.  Because of this mythology, the lineages of chiefs and shamans were “mildly aristocratic."

There were no big chiefs or elaborate hierarchical structures of privilege.  Little chiefs, tiyas (sing. tiya) had to maneuver in not very well defined offices in order to pursue their particularistic interests without drawing too much attention from the community they were supposed to serve.  Gayton outlines the political structure, limited as it was:  

 

Legal authority over the people at large was wielded by chiefs and their henchmen, the winatums [shaman-bailiffs].  The chief's power was expressed as a general jurisdiction having a paternal-judiciary aspect.  He made decisions on village or tribal affairs such as holding fandangos [dances], or building a new sweat-house, he settled interfamily disputes, and granted permission for death punishments.  His judgment operated in place of fixed laws.  The winatums were the coordinating element in the interrelationship of the people and their chiefs: they were the universal joint in the social machinery.  Their official activities were many, as executing orders from the chief, making announcements, carrying private and public messages between individuals and tribes, directing camp organization, and managing all phases of ceremonial activity.  The presence or absence of the minor officials; subchiefs, and dance managers, made little difference in the powers of chiefs or the freedom of citizens [Apparently, some communities had developed greater political complexity than others, having dance managers and sub-chiefs.].  In other words, the chiefs, with their winatums as manipulating instruments, constituted the sole legal authority in the political system of south central California (my bracketed inserts, 1930:408).

 

Yokut-Mono titular chiefs were expected to be good speakers and were always required to say a few words at a public gathering or ceremony.  A chief was primarily a figurehead with little overt power, the office of chief not being well defined with an elaborate status/role attached.  Gayton describes the part played by a chief:

 

The chief, however limited in power, had a social prestige resting upon his position as a protégé of and surrogate for eagle, the mythological creator-chief.  He possessed more wealth than the average citizen in spite of the fact that his position incurred more than average expenses.  His relations with his subjects had a distinctly patriarchal aspect: he provided food for the poor, settled quarrels, generously paid messengers and ceremonial performers, gave advice on debatable projects, protected public safety by permitting bad shamans and poisoners to be killed, and addressed assemblies in words betokening his desire for the well-being of his people (1930:385).

 

Apparently the regulatory machinery of chiefly office had not yet thickened.  These tiyas were titular chiefs and they could not run amok, being under the control of the opinions of elder men and the community at large.  One informant told Gayton:

 

Men often had their wives or daughters taken by a shaman.  If a woman refused to sleep with a doctor or go off with him he would make her fall ill and die.  A man who knew or suspected who the doctor was that had thus victimized women of his family would take steps for revenge.  Instead of going directly to the chief he would consult first the old and respected men of the village or tribe.  He would go to one old man like Joe (Mexican Joe) and explain his case.  If Joe thought the offended man was justified he would say so; but he would then send him on to another old man to get his advice, at the same time telling him to express his (Joe's) views.  The man would go to four or five such prominent elders and have their unanimous consent to action before approaching the chief.  When he went to the chief he would present his case and say that all these men had advised a certain procedure.  The chief might disagree but could not refuse in the face of contrary opinion.  If the vengeful man had gone to the chief first and the chief had disapproved of the proposal to kill the shaman, that would have been the end of the matter (1930:382).

 

Little chiefs had a little bit more property than most, being able to siphon somewhat more than pure big men.  Gayton goes on to say that the chief was more likely than other men to have multiple wives, a situation thought appropriate because the chief always had to have food prepared in his house to serve to unexpected guests, thus multiple wives were seen as beneficial.  The chief had power and some wealth; but people could drop by and eat at his expense, a form of redistribution. 

Sometimes the chief would arrange to have the traders stay at his place and sell from there.  In this case, he would dispatch his winatums to call the people to come.  In this way, the tiya made himself the center of trade and created an opportunity for extracting some value from trading transactions:

 

In monetary wealth the chief always surpassed his fellow-citizens.  The manner in which his worldly goods were acquired is not completely clear but there are several known sources.  One of these was through commercial trading of desirable objects such as eagle down, and of articles traded with trans-Sierra Mono, or between local tribes.  The commerce in eagle down was controlled by the chief as the bird was sacred to him and could not be killed without his permission (1930:374).  

 

Yokut-Mono chiefs were slightly wealthier than others based on this fabricated and mythologized monopoly in eagle down.  Gayton certainly paints a picture of aggrandizing chiefs operating behind paper-thin walls of the machinery of a fragile office.  Since chiefs were always from the eagle lineage, which was no wealthier than other lineages, the level of amassable wealth must have been so low as to prevent the rise of spectacularly wealthy descent groups.  Wealth alone is not what provided prestige in the Yakut-Mono world.

The chief's house was perhaps larger than that of others but not necessarily or markedly so.  Neither was the dress of a chief or of the members of his lineage distinctive.  Stephen Powers (1877.  Tribes of California.  CNAE 3:369-92.  Washington) stated that Yokut-Mono chiefs wore their hair long; but so did all men.  The food storehouses of the chief were always well filled.  He did not hunt himself since young hunters in the village provided food for the chief’s family.  Such men were not permanently appointed for the task; but would be dispatched by the winatums (shaman-bailiffs) to get fresh meat or fish for the chief from time to time. 

Informants disagree as to whether the chief paid for his provisions or not; but the weight of evidence indicates that he did not.  The chief had to have a plentiful food supply for it was his duty to offer a meal to every traveler, foreign messenger or stranger who entered his village.  Furthermore, the chief or his wives gave meat to extremely poor people or those who had difficulty in obtaining sufficient food, as the aged or widowed, again based on the principle of communalism and reciprocity.  Such people would accept the food and if possible would return a little acorn meal to the chief when they had an extra supply.  A basket might be given in return, as thanks.  Such a return was prompted by courtesy and gratitude and was not compulsory by rule; but was part and parcel of the system of reciprocity and communitarianism.

Unlike some little chiefs in history, the Yokut-Mono had a loose hereditary system.  Gayton says:

 

As a citizen in the community the chief possessed social prestige based primarily on his revered totem and authoritative office, and secondarily upon the wealth that accrued to him because of his position.  His position was acquired by heredity.  Normally the office passed from an elder brother to the next younger, and then reverted to the elder brother's eldest son.  This rule was not rigid, however, and was modified in accordance with circumstance.  When a chief became too enfeebled with sickness or age to continue his duties he would say whom he wanted to take his place.  If his choice was acceptable to the other chiefs and elder men of the village, a gift of money was sent to the nominee.  The man chosen did not have to accept the office unless he wished to (1930:371-372).

 

Though as we shall see, some little chiefs were “big criminals,” as chiefs they still heard and ruled on petty disputes and quarrels between individuals and families and problems resulting in murder or serious personal injury were usually brought to the chief's attention for settlement.

Even with their scheming, monopolies and accumulating activities, Gayton notes that there was no wealthy class.  He attributes this to the leveling function of such rites as the annual mourning ceremony at which a great deal of property was destroyed and more distributed among those present.  This ritualized feast dispossessed a bereaved family of any surplus wealth it might have accumulated.  The casting away of gifts at mourning ceremonies had the further advantage of keeping money and coveted objects in circulation.

Gayton, in his study of Yokut-Mono titular chiefs and shamans, showed that both used their positions for personal enhancement and that some collaborated to kill people and take their wealth, which was a covert source of income for these aggrandizers.  Shamans, in their unofficial capacities, and little chiefs in their formal roles, would at times conspire to rob and murder, as well as commit a number of lesser misdemeanors.  This seems extreme and dramatic fare for quiet foragers in ancient California who were not known as a warlike people.  Yet, every society has its aggrandizers.

Clearly, even in this early storing society, the little chief was receiving support from his community, although he also had responsibilities.  Chiefs had various strategies open to them; one was just being chiefly, which attracted wealth:

 

Further profit came to the chief through intertribal commerce.  Traders who came from other tribes with baskets, pottery, salt, tanned skins, etc., would first go to the chief's house to state their business, as was customary with all outsiders, and to receive the welcoming meal. Hence the chief had first chance to buy the wares they brought and retail them to his neighbors if he so wished.  As a man of wealth he could take advantage of this opportunity to purchase desirable articles (Gayton 1930:401).

 

Obviously, chiefship had its privileges.  Additionally, Yokut-Mono chiefs also took bribes to allow someone to be killed, even within their own Eagle Lineage.  The killer would approach the chief, tell him of his intended victim, reach an agreement as to the payment, and, with the blessing of the newly enriched chief, proceed with his crime.  Here we see a classic example, if an extreme one, of a public servant using his office as a shield for antisocial behavior because that behavior enriches him. 

But there were more outlays for the chief.  Gayton indicates that a chief always had to pay a little more for entertainers, ceremonial performers or specialists, as it was expected that a chief should pay more; but, on the other hand, chiefs made profits when ceremonies were held.  It was said that the chief "gave a dance" or "made a ceremony," but that was symbolic.  It was in the give-and-take that his position was ratified.  It was the flow of wealth through the hands of the chief that counted.  Or rather the appearance of flow.  While the chief was supposed to be spending more than others, in reality it was the public at large who financed big ceremonies.  No public levies were placed on the people in advance but each person at the ceremony was expected to pay.  It was a siphoning situation for the chief.

Because of their control of trade and ceremonies as well as their hidden criminal activities, Yokut-Mono titular chiefs were on the brink of making a profit.  This was the generally accepted picture of the chief; but a chief who was not a good man at heart, and who had a desire for too much personal aggrandizement, was thought to have attained it through illegitimate arrangements with malevolent shamans.  Chiefs’ selfishness had to be kept hidden, behind the shield of office.

Thus, one avaricious strategy open to chiefs was amoral collusion with occult entrepreneurs (winatums).   The fear of aggrandizement by officials and attached shaman-bailiffs, and the recorded cases of both chiefs and shamans being put to death, indicate that office-holders and their henchmen did, from time to time, abuse their offices and their imaginary powers. 

However, if the aggrandizers had stratagems, so did the community.  Given the fact that little chiefs did not control any physical means of coercion, and shamans only had their "imagined powers," it was a simple, direct and straightforward strategy: if a man knew positively that a shaman or chief had killed a member of his family he could take it upon himself to kill the evildoer.  He would just get his bow and go out and hide until he had a chance to shoot the man.

Unlike more technologically advanced chiefdoms, where the chiefs had access to superior weapons, guards or warriors, and where they lived in fortified houses or palaces, the Yokut-Mono were not unlike peoples in the Paleolithic, where everyone had the same weapons and there were no defense mechanisms e.g., court guards, police or the like.  The Yakut-Mono chief lived in a simple, if slightly bigger, house and had to walk around unguarded like everyone else in Yakut-Mono society.  This acted as a leveler.  For instance, it would have been very hard to kill an Egyptian Pharaoh, with his enclosed residence and bodyguards; but the Yokut-Mono people had daily access to both chiefs and shamans and could settle a dispute violently.      

A system of beliefs existed in Yokut-Mono society that divided the cosmos into the mundane world and a supernatural realm.  Anyone with special powers to communicate with the occult world was considered a shaman or winatum.  While the overall ethic of post-Paleolithic foraging societies was still largely egalitarian and democratic, in time some developed ideas about the supernatural that formed the basis of informal statuses that could develop into powerful means of pursuing vested interests for some men once there was a surplus over which to compete.  Among the storing Yokut-Mono, such ideas revolved around curing and sorcery, the work of shamans.  These go-getters were said to have more dream experiences than the average person, which was thought to be an indicator of intense contact with the hidden world of spirits. 

To seek assistance from supernatural powers for success in gambling, hunting, or general good health and fortune was anyone's privilege.  Most Yokut-Mono seemed to rely on their innate abilities, not pursuing the supernatural on their own.  Enterprising men did, however.  They worked to become shamans so that, in their belief system, supernatural powers would aid them to accomplish more and get more than their neighbors.  They were opportunity seekers.

While the path to chiefship was defined genealogically, the tiya always coming from the Eagle Lineage, the road to wealth and power for the winatum was more open-ended, easier to access for the common aggrandizer.  Gayton explains:

 

Shaman's power was not of a peculiar sort nor was it inherited.  It was merely a greater quantity, an accumulation of dream experiences, say six, to an average person's one or two.  The more of such experiences one had the greater his knowledge of the occult would become, and the bond between the individual and the supernatural world increasingly strengthened.  In other words, the difference between a shaman's power and that of a non-professional was one of quantity rather than of quality.  As one informant expressed it:  "A doctor was just a person who had too much power.  They got mean, tried to see what they could do just to be doing it, and finally got so they thought they could do anything by means of their power.  People would be here yet if the doctors weren't so mean" (1930:389).

 

Yokut-Mono shamans had two power bases:  their close association with chiefs and their occult base.  Mystically, they used or created imaginary powers that connected them in the minds of the people more closely with the occult.  This connection came in the form of recurrent dreams and the shaman was more frequently able than the average person to access an animal-familiar for secret information, or that was the theory. 

Thus, like shamans everywhere, they fostered the hypothesis that secret avenues to extraordinary information existed and that they had a special channel to that information, which gave them power over others.  Gayton says that their success was largely due to what was doubtless make-believe powers does not matter; they played an awe-inspiring, dominating role whatever its basis.  Furthermore, this was a dangerous path, as shamans who were thought to have become too aggressive were put to death.  But that did not deter the strong-minded.  The acquisition of wealth and power was worth taking a risk, even though both were minimal in Yakut-Mono society.  These were ambitious men in a quiet society, men with the talents needed for the fulfillment of their ambitions. 

The avenue to prestige, power and property can be material, as in getting better weapons or owning the means of production; but it can also be based on immaterial imaginings, as in the case of Yokut-Mono shamans.  In the altruistic version of the theory of Yokut-Mono mysticism, shamans were supposed to be capable of curing people of illness and protecting them against the evil intentions of others. 

In the antisocial version, the occult powers of the sorcerer could be used to sicken or kill people.  Shamans who were successful at curing people were revered; those who appeared to be performing their trade in an evil fashion, as evidenced by an inordinate number of dead patients, were themselves killed.  Thus, the use of imagined powers had its rewards and its dangers.  Gayton wrote that any shaman who continued to cure after losing lots of patients was the one to be feared.  The dead were an indication that he was causing illness just to make money in curing, without regard for public welfare.  But the doctor whose avidity led him to such extremes could be done away with on slight evidence; so he had but a tenuous hold on life.  One of Gayton's informants, who had winatums in his family tree and had known them intimately, described the activities of shamans in the following words:

 

If a man, especially a rich one, did not join in a fandango [festival or dance] the chief and his doctors would plan to make this man or some member of his family sick.  The doctor would sicken his victim with the "air-shot" (toiyuc) used in the doctors' contest.  The doctor sees to it that he is called in to make the cure.  He makes several successive attempts to cure his victim, each time being paid for his services.  He withholds his cure until he has financially broken the man and got him in debt.  If he then cures the patient he sucks the shot out and shows it to the bystanders, saying that Night or a spring (of water) has made him ill.  On the other hand, he may let the person die, in which case the family must perforce join in the next mourning ceremony (and pay out much money to the chief and shaman). (1930:399).

 

The real power of the shamans came in their alliances with chiefs.  By working closely with shamans, through their exercise of imaginary powers, chiefs were able to attain more wealth and power.  Gayton wrote that the cozy relationship between chiefs and shamans was a reciprocal back-scratching enterprise.  In essence, it was a system that greatly increased the wealth of the chief on the one hand and protected the shaman from the violence of avenging relatives on the other.

Income from murders was divided by the tiya and winatum who had committed the homicide.  Should the victim's relatives seek vengeance, for which they had to obtain the chief's permission, the chief then simply refused on the grounds of insufficient evidence.  In one case, the chief was report to have told the offended family that the shaman was not at fault because the night had caused the illness, which may have been a reference to the chill of the night air. 

In every Yokut-Mono tribe a powerful shaman was the close friend and associate of the chief.  They operated jointly to extort money from their constituents.  This extractive alliance operated in various ways.  For instance, they used non-payment for important ceremonies as an excuse to kill.  Theoretically no one was compelled to contribute to the annual mourning ceremony, or any other ceremony, for that matter; but dire results often befell those who did not do so.  The chief had to keep the money coming in from the various rites, ceremonies and dances.

Shamans, in addition to their ritualistic duties, also acted as bailiffs or community organizers.  This provided the chiefs and shaman-bailiffs opportunities for extortion.  Conjoining in a political economy of scare tactics, chiefs and shamans would bully the people into contributing to the various ceremonies arranged and controlled by the chiefs and organized by the shamans.  Anthropologically, this can be viewed as a nascent version of the exploitative state (see my book, (2008 The Scripting of Serfdom in Medieval Catalonia: An Anthropological Perspective.  Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press).  For the Yokut-Mono, the shaman and chief ran a protection racket not unlike that perpetrated by the Count of Barcelona on the Muslim principalities on the Catalan border that I describe in this 2008 book.  In the Yokut-Mono case, tribal citizens were supposed to be protected by the chief; but they were also at risk of him using his office nefariously, especially when he hooked up with wicked shamans.  We will see the same kind of misuse of office on the part of the Count of Barcelona who participated in the abuse of the peasants he was sworn to protect.

The Count of Barcelona was high and mighty, surrounded by armed guards; but in the Yokut-Mono case both chiefs and shamans had to be careful not to incur the wrath of the community, as they could be killed using traditional means: with a bow and arrow, a lance or a knife.  In a world with no indoor plumbing, even chiefs and shamans had to go frequently and alone into the bush.

It is understandable that there might be a bad egg or two in the basket.  But Gayton's ethnography shows that both chiefs and shamans went against public opinion by engaging in secret dealings, sometimes including multiple chiefs, not just one chief with one shaman.  This happened in spite of the fact that both chiefs and shamans were sometimes killed for such behavior.  It was imperative then, for the perpetrators of malevolence to keep things under wraps, to operate behind the camouflage of office.  Yokut-Mono society was small, a little community of face-to-face foragers.  In such a setting, secrets were hard to keep, yet conspirators tried.  Gayton says:

 

Lacking newspapers, gossip was rife.  Popular sentiment turned against the chief who gave unfair decisions, or was suspected of self-aggrandizement.  Such a man was not deposed from office; but gradually lost prestige.  He was ignored in favor of another chief.  If necessary, a new chief could be selected from among possible heirs, as a brother, or son, or a cousin.  Such a drastic procedure was rare, unless the incumbent was insensible.  The chief, holding the highest place of respect in the community, would not care to lose it.  Loss of respect, loss of prestige, in turn meant loss of wealth, a combination of disasters which no normal man wished to bring upon himself.  The intriguing chief could and did hold office; but his selfish enterprises were carried on secretly and curbed by public opinion (1930:411).

 

Again, Gayton says that peace and public satisfaction were maintained through the covert and antisocial use of sorcery and the fear it instilled in people, and that this was done, not only in the covert one-on-one meetings of a chief and shaman; but that, at times, several chiefs would conspire to murder a man, take his property or steal his wife, using their offices and the occult services of shamans as leverage.  In the following passage, Gayton emphasized the social order functions of such conspiracies:

 

[The fear of sorcery] in civil life worked for public good; it was an awe-inspiring force itself, and served as a tool for chiefs when used by them through their shamans.  The fear of sorcery operated between any one individual and another.  If, as we have said, the peace of a community depended largely upon the personal character of each person, the personal character in turn was determined or molded by belief in supernatural powers which could be turned against one.  A man dared not cheat another at gambling or trading, commit adultery, or neglect any civil or ceremonial duty toward his neighbor, lest the offended person visit sickness or death upon him or some member of his family, either by his own power or that of a shaman hired for the purpose (1930:409; my bracketed insert).

 

In short, in this foraging society, where information was widely spread on an informal basis, aggrandizing chiefs had to use their wiles to avoid detection as they amassed wealth, competed with others and performed crimes.  Yet, crime was sometimes perpetrated by chiefs and shamans to make a moral point.  Gayton says that there was some justification for the back-room dealings and indicates that it was not always easy to separate altruism from selfish pursuits:

 

A chief who hired a shaman to sicken a rich man who did not join in the expenses of a fandango or mourning ceremony was setting a public example at the same time that he was enriching himself.  To the chief and to his shaman, who shared the money paid in fees by the sick man, it was unquestionably a matter of financial profit. But from the point of view of the public at large it was a fair punishment.  Thus: a man of money who neglected or refused to bear his share of a public expense was placing a heavier financial burden upon his fellow-citizens; furthermore, generosity was an ideal, and the man who failed to contribute his share was showing himself to be greedy, and hence received no sympathy if misfortune befell him.  In the absence of any law or system of taxation, it behooved each citizen, especially those of wealth, to participate in the sharing of public expenses, lest he incur the displeasure of the chief and of the public, and sickness or death be visited upon him (1930:410).    

 

This belief system must have operated as a general leveling mechanism; but it was also open to abuse by chiefs who saw the trumpeting of ideal values as a way of making personal profits.  We see here how office, and the ideology of social service, act as a screen for personalistic pursuits of office-holders.

It seems that such secret machinations were a “known secret.”  Gayton shows that the illicit devices of the shamans and chiefs were so institutionalized that it was even possible to make arrangements for intertribal murders.  An informant put it this way, describing the secret meetings of the Yokut-Mono power élite as they hatched up a variation of a protection racket:

 

A chief may be jealous of a rich man in another tribe.  If he wants him killed he sends his winatum [shaman-bailiffs] to several other chiefs of near-by tribes, including that of the ill-fated man, asking them to come to a certain place on a certain night.  Tawatsanahahi (Baker's Hill) was a favorite spot for these meetings.  The various chiefs together with their doctors came at the stated time.  There might be ten to fifteen present, including the doctors and the chiefs' trusted winatums.

The chief who called the meeting addresses the group saying that he and perhaps others want to do away with this certain man, and asks those present for their opinion in the matter.  The people who want the man killed put up a sum of money to pay the doctors who are to do the killing.  If the doomed man's chiefs want him saved they have to double this sum and give it to the opposing chiefs.  If they do not do so they automatically sanction the man's death.  The case is decided right there at the time.  Very often such a man is killed not because he is rich but because "he knows too much" about doings of chiefs, etc., or because some man wants the victim's wife, and has bribed the chief to have the man killed.  If the man is to be killed the doctors start right in to do it.  "No matter how far off that man may be the doctors will be able to kill him (italics & bracketed inserts are mine, 1930:399).

 

Notice that money was involved.  Clearly, the chiefs and shamans were using their offices to enrich themselves, sometimes at the expense of society and sometimes causing death to others.  Furthermore, this was a widespread practice, as it was carried out in tribes other than the Yokut-Mono.  Sam Garfield, an informant, gave this account of a similar political economy concerning chief/shaman collusion in his own and the neighboring Yandanchi tribe:

 

The chief always had money.  People made him presents when he was going to give a ceremony.  If he got short of money he would have his doctor kill somebody who was rich.  If the victim chosen belonged to another tribe he would send a gift of money to the chief of that tribe asking that he have his doctor kill the man.  If the chief accepted the money he had his doctor proceed with the process of sickening and killing the man.  The money received was divided between the chief and the doctor.  Doctors who killed this way made sure that the patient would finally send for him by making him more sick for every other doctor that the sick man sent for.  Usually we had good chiefs with good doctors; but sometimes even a good chief would bribe a doctor to kill some man he thought ought to be killed (1930:400).

 

Thus the Yokut-Mono data show their normative structure not so much as coercive in an automatic sense; but as a set of rules, ideas, customs, procedures that could be used as tools for the public good or private aggrandizement.  The chief/shaman duo could hold a mourning ceremony because custom demanded it; but also they could benefit from that rite economically.  Custom had its uses.

Another entrepreneurial means to advancement open to a Yokut-Mono commoner-opportunist was to become a Prophet in the Ghost Dance, which was a millenarian movement that came to California by way of traders about 1870.  Ghost Dance prophets claimed that the "Father" and a "Host of Dead" were about to return.  This did not last long for the reason that the chiefs suppressed the Ghost Dance because the people were spending too much time, and presumably wealth that usually went to chiefs, on Ghost Dance ceremonies.  The new phenomenon came as the:

 

… first news of the cult to reach the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains was brought by traders.  No attention was paid to this.  A few months later a North Fork apostle visited Western Mono and Yokut tribes of the San Joaquin river to proselytize.  This he did by making public speeches, sending winatums about to near-by tribes, and "making" a Ghost Dance at a site in his own territory (1930:416). 

 

By all accounts this chief, and presumably others who initially became involved, saw this new cult as another means of self promotion.  The movement spread from north to south encompassing many communities.  Whenever the Prophets entered a community, they went to the chief to get permission to hold a dance or ceremony.  Chiefs often consulted powerful shamans to get a second opinion, so to speak.  Presumably the shamans either saw an opportunity or became apostles and Prophets themselves, because the movement raged for more than a year among the Yokut-Mono. 

Eventually, however, the millenarian movement became a social problem.  At first chiefs and shamans supported the new ceremonies; but when the movement seemed to be getting out of hand, as it was taking away their traditional supporters and clients, the chiefs interceded to put an end to their competitors.  Also when the "Father" and the "Host of Dead" did not materialize, the chiefs saw the cult as a drain on the community's energy and resources and they called a halt to the movement.

Is this speculation on Gayton’s part or ethnography?  We have many other ethnographies and historical data (e.g., those on Medieval Catalonia) to indicate that my hypothesis is not off the mark.  Non-exploitative structures can be transformed into exploitative ones by the agency of men who desire more power, prestige and property than others in society possess.  Yakut-Mono little chiefs and shamans did it and so did the Counts of Barcelona.  Such aggressive exploitation is, of course, a central feature of global capitalism and the greed of aggrandizing men.

 

 

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Comment by Eugene L. Mendonsa on November 3, 2011 at 9:41pm
Muito obrigado Seba.  I await your contribution.  ciao,
Comment by Seba RP on November 3, 2011 at 8:19pm

Took a while to read lol. I do not think, according with what you've proposed, that the kind of analysis in question is in fact just a speculation of philosophy. I got an interesting example to contribute, i'll type it when i get some time off.

 

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