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Thursday, February 2nd, 2012 at 10:38:38pm UTC 

  1. From "The Headman was a Woman: the Gender Egalitarian Batek of Malaysia" by Kirk M. Endicott and Karen L. Endicott, 2008. Excerpt begins at a sub-heading in Chapter 3: Social Life. Transcribed for a college research project. Relevant to anti-civ, anarchist, and feminist positions. The Batek do not to my knowledge self-identify with these labels and I do not wish to impose them upon the Batek; I merely wish to demonstrate a shared affinity, as the excerpt will make clear. The Batek, currently numbering around 1500, traditionally live/d as immediate-return nomadic foragers in the rainforest of peninsular Malaysia, restricted primarily to the Taman Negara National park now due to encroachment by loggers and farmers and hostility from the Malaysian government.
  3. * * *
  5. Ethical Principles of Social Life
  7. Batek behaved in a manner that maximized individual freedom and autonomy yet required people to help each other when needed. We term this behavior pattern “cooperative autonomy,” as distinct from the “competitive autonomy” of such peoples as the New Guinea highlanders or from what Americans call “rugged individualism,” self-reliance unhampered by obligations to others.
  9. We think of Batek social behavior as having been influenced by—but not absolutely determined by—their ideas of how people should behave, a set of ethical principles. These principles were not explicitly articulated as in the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments, but rather were embedded in their religious beliefs, values, norms, sanctions, and everyday practices. For ease of discussion, we distinguish the following ethical principles: personal autonomy, respecting others, helping others, sharing food, nonviolence, and noncompetition. Batek themselves did not use categories and labels, and other categories and labels are possible. But we think that the beliefs and values encompassed by these terms did exist in the minds and actions of Batek people. Some components of these principles were conscious, explicit, and named, while others were merely implied by people's statements and behavior. Taken together, Batek ethics gave a distinctive shape and tone to their social life, including relations between men and women.
  11. The principles behind cooperative autonomy may be thought of as ideals that were not always fully achieved in practice. As in all ethical systems, Batek ethics were not entirely consistent with each other. For example, the obligation to help others sometimes conflicted with the value on personal autonomy. Should a man stay near his parents-in-law to help them, or should he exercise his right to move and pursue his personal interests? People tried to balance these conflicting obligations in appropriate ways. Other people's responses helped them gauge whether they had made the right choices. Occasionally people might violate a principle entirely, but in doing so they risked alienating other people or offending the superhuman beings.
  13. Ethical principles were enforced in various ways and to varying degrees. Batek did not have an authority structure that could be used to directly punish wrongdoers. In fact it would have violated the principle of personal autonomy had anyone attempted to sanction anyone else's behavior directly. However, two sets of prohibitions had a law-like character: lawac prohibitions (against incest, mixing some categories of foods, mocking some animals, etc.) and tolah prohibitions (against disrespectful acts). Significantly, these prohibitions were enforced not by humans, but by superhuman beings—in cases of lawac, by Gobar and YaɁ, and, in cases of tolah, by Tohan. Other principles were enforced by diffuse social pressure, such as gossip and criticism, backed up by the implicit threat of the withdrawal of social support. For example, people said they would abandon anyone who consistently engaged in violent behavior. In addition, the process of enculturation (or socialization) was highly effective at inculcating Batek ethics in children (see chapter 5). Most people felt a strong commitment to Batek ethical principles by the time they were old enough to understand the difference between proper and improper behavior. Our impression is that Batek had strong social consciences, and they generally conformed quite closely to the ideals described here.
  15. Personal Autonomy
  17. What we call personal autonomy is based on the Batek expectation that everyone could do whatever they wanted to do as long as it was consistent with their obligation to help and respect others. This does not mean that Batek did not cooperate with each other in various ways but merely that such cooperation was voluntary. For example, if a group of men went out to collect rattan together, they did so because they wanted to, not because someone forced them to.
  19. A related component of personal autonomy is the idea that no one had the authority to coerce anyone else to do anything that person did not want to do. People could try to persuade others to do something, using every rhetorical device they could muster, but anyone could simply refuse (yeɁ), without any need to explain the refusal. Batek did not accept the authority of anyone else over themselves. A man we knew once organized a group of workers to collect rattan for a Malay trader with whom he had made a contract. After he had distributed the advances of food and goods to his workers, he was unable to get those who had agreed to participate to collect the rattan. He finally gave up in frustration, fulfilling the contract himself and refusing to organize such a project again. He had no way to force the others to do the work. We were struck by how Batek of all ages and both sexes would simply refuse to do what others “ordered” (piɁɔr) them to do if they did not want to. This was a source of great frustration to the staff of the JHEOA, who expected their orders to be carried out and who expected the headmen they appointed to be able to exercise control over other Batek. Even Batek parents could not force their children to obey them and dismissed unruliness in their children by saying they “don't yet understand.” As children matured they increasingly considered the wishes of their parents and other elders out of respect.
  21. The principle of personal autonomy was associated with an expectation that everyone would be as self-reliant as possible, even though they could depend on others to give them food and help if necessary. Although Batek did not make a fetish of working hard or steadily, most seemed to feel guilty if they loafed for very long. Some people said, half jokingly, that if they did not do any work for several days in a row, the ghost of one of their dead ancestors would thump them on the back with a forefinger. Although most adults make regular efforts to support themselves and contribute to the food supply of the camp as a whole, there were some exceptions. For example, no one expected sick or elderly people to support themselves. The children and children-in-law of elderly people were especially obligated to help them, and elders also benefited from the general sharing of food in camp (see below). Nevertheless, many old people contributed significantly by helping to look after children, making things for themselves and others, and using their ritual knowledge for the benefit of the group.
  23. A few people were, in our view, somewhat lazy, but Batek seemed willing to excuse this to some extent for various reasons. For example, a Semaq Beri woman who had married into a Batek group almost never gathered food like other women. She depended on her husband to supply her with her rice, which he obtained by trading forest products. People accepted this with equanimity, saying that because she was Semaq Beri, she was not “used to” digging and eating wild tubers. We also knew one man who seemed never to pull his weight. He was constantly in debt to traders and seemed to expect others to help him collect the forest produce needed to pay off his debts. We once asked some men why they tolerated such behavior. One answered with some surprise, “Because he's Batek!”
  24. The principle of personal autonomy provided both men and women the freedom to do almost anything they wanted to do. Husbands and wives often cooperated and worked together, but as equal, autonomous partners.
  26. Respecting Others
  28. Batek regarded each other as basically equal in their intrinsic value and therefore worthy of respect. Although some people, particularly shamans, were held in especially high regard, they neither expected nor received special treatment from others. All Batek felt that they deserved the same consideration as everyone else, and they were not shy in saying so. For example, when Kirk first started his fieldwork in 1971, a friend in the JHEOA advised him to take a few gifts for the headman at Post Lebir, to break the ice. So Kirk gave the headman a bush-knife and a few other store-bought items soon after arriving. Within the first week, nearly all the other men in the settlement came around asking when they would be getting their bush-knives. Although Batek accepted the idea that people who worked for others would be paid wages in proportion to the amount of work done, when payment took the form of gifts, everyone expected to be included. We never found an acceptable way to give thank-you gifts to the people who went out of their way to help us—a Western gesture that felt right to us—without hurting the feelings of others, who might have had little contact with us. We learned to restrict our gifts to such things as rice and tobacco, which could be given to the camp-group as a whole and then divided into equal portions for all families and individuals.
  30. All Batek expected to be treated with respect by all other Batek, regardless of their personal relationships or feelings about one another. They considered in unacceptable to insult or ridicule someone, except in good-natured joking among friends. To hurt another person's feeling risked causing them to come down with a disease called kəɁɔy (K.M. Endicott 1979a:107, 109-110), which is akin to Western notions of depression. Batek believed kəɁɔy could cause a physical breakdown and even death. Its main symptom is extreme sadness, often expressed by uncontrollable sobbing. The disease was thought to reside in the heart and to make it hot. KəɁɔy could be brought on by a variety of distressing experiences, including losing something or being frightened, but its most common cause was the sense of being mistreated or misunderstood by other people. When someone had an attack of kəɁɔy, all their close friends and relatives rushed to their aid in a dramatic expression of sympathy and social support.
  32. In a typical case, Kirk once noticed a woman crying in her shelter with her eyes closed and her face turned toward the back of the shelter. When he alerted the others in camp, three women came rushing over. Two of them quickly began lightly stabbing their shins with a knife, as in the blood sacrifice, and then rubbed the blood on small pieces of palm leaf. They then took turns rubbing the blood on the afflicted woman's chest and stomach and throwing the leaves briskly away. The blood was supposed to cool the victim's heart, and at the same time the disease was thought to enter the leaf, which could then be cast away. Next, someone sent for her husband, who came immediately. He and the women began massaging his wife and comforting her. He also drew some blood from his leg and rubbed it on her. One woman drew an arrowhead-shaped design on the wife's chest and back with white lime paste, also to drive out the disease. When her sobbing subsided, they asked her what was bothering her. It turned out that she thought her father-in-law was angry with her. So her husband went to his father and got a little of his blood on a leaf, which he then rubbed on her stomach. Their ministrations went on for an hour or so, and by the end she was smiling.
  34. In cases of kəɁɔy the onus was on the offender to make amends to the victim, for example, by giving some blood. If the offender did not, the rest of the group would be angry at him or her. People's concern about causing someone to contract kəɁɔy and getting blamed for it by the whole camp was a powerful sanction against mistreating others.
  36. Batek also believed that Tohan would punish certain disrespectful acts, called tolah (Malay tulah), by causing a disease or an accident (K.M. Endicott 1979a). Tolah acts ranged from saying the true name of an in-law to killing someone. Batek expected people to show special respect to their elders and in-laws. It was considered tolah to say their true names, so kin terms, outsider names, nicknames, or teknonyms had to be used instead. People sometimes called elders taɁ, “grandfather,” or yaɁ, “grandmother,” out of respect, even though their actual kin relationship might be different. In addition, Batek prohibited using ordinary single-person pronouns when speaking to or about a parent-in-law or child-in-law.
  38. Tohan's punishments varied in severity, depending on the seriousness of the offense. Minor offenses were usually punished by accidents. We were told, for example, that a man once urinated in a stream above where people were drawing water. A few days later, he fell out of a tree and hurt himself. For a serious offense, such as physically hurting someone, Tohan would send a fatal disease, Ɂaral tolah, to strike down the offender.
  39. Balancing the demonstration of respect for others and maintenance of personal autonomy was evident in the interaction with elders and in-laws. One way Batek showed respect for elders and in-laws was to listen to them, although they might not agree with what was said. For example, older people sometimes took it upon themselves to criticize and offer unsolicited advice to adolescents and young adults. The youths would listen but then make their own decisions. If an elder put too much pressure on a youth, it would infringe on the youth's personal autonomy and might even cause him or her to contract kəɁɔy. The effect was that elders did not have any actual authority over their juniors.
  41. Helping Others
  43. Batek felt a general obligation to help any other Batek who needed aid, although the feeling seemed to be stronger toward close kin and camp mates than toward occasional visitors from other areas. This obligation was expressed through numerous casual acts of assistance carried out in passing, with little notice or fanfare, as when someone helped another build a shelter or brought some firewood to another family. Although we made a point to pay for work done for us, people helped us regularly in minor ways with no though of reward.
  44. Adults felt a special obligation to help all youngsters, not just their own children. In addition to giving practical assistance to children with their everyday needs, adults willingly mentored and taught youngsters important skills and knowledge. For example, active hunters often took on teenaged boys as apprentices, teaching them and helping them hone their skills and getting help in return in butchering, cooking, and carrying back game. If a child were orphaned, other adults—usually aunts and uncles or older siblings, but sometimes more distant relatives—would raise him or her as their own. Step-parents treated their spouse's children the same as their own, even if they later divorced the child's parent.
  46. Reciprocally, all able-bodied adults and adolescents took a hand in helping elderly and handicapped people as needed. Although such people tried to be as self-sufficient as possible, they willingly accepted help from others. For example, one man who was blind was amazingly capable at performing daily activities and would walk from camp to camp alone at times, but he certainly would have had a much harder time without the general help that others freely gave him.
  48. Some obligations to help others were somewhat formalized and were specified in terms of kin relationships. Adult children were expected to make special efforts to help their aging parents in any way needed. In the sharing of food, people gave portions to their parents and parents-in-law before giving them to other families in camp. Although this obligation did not require couples always to camp near the parents of one or the other spouse, it did obligate them to make certain that someone—perhaps one of the parents' other children—would stay with the parents if they did not do so themselves. Men were also expected to make a special effort to help and share food with their wife's parents. At the beginning of a marriage, especially if the wife were very young, a couple might make a point of camping with the wife's parents for a year or so to help them and give them things. If an elderly couple or widow or widower had only one child, the responsibility for caring for the parents would fall heavily on one couple. We knew of one case in which the husband continually complained about the burden of helping his widowed mother-in-law, and she in turn complained that he was neglecting her. Usually, however, the job was shared by several children, their spouses, and the camp-group as a whole, so it did not seem too onerous to any one person.
  49. Sharing Food
  51. The obligation to share food was a central principle of Batek social life (K.M. Endicott 1988; Lye 2004). Batek generally considered unharvested resources to be free to anyone for the taking, but once food was harvested or bought from a trader or shop, it had to be shared with other members of the camp. Sharing was done on the basis of generalized reciprocity: sharing without calculating exact returns for what a person gave and received from the sharing network (see Sahlins 1972). The usual procedure was for people to give shares first to their own children and spouse, then to any parents-in-law or parents present, and finally to all other families in camp. Small amounts of food could be consumed by the procurer's conjugal family alone, but if a family had more than it needed, it shared the surplus with other families, usually families living nearby. Usually food was shared only with other camp members, but sometimes temporary visitors from other areas would be included, especially if they were closely related to a camp member.
  53. Normally the people who obtained the food decided how to share it, but occasionally other people asked them for food or just showed up at their fire at mealtime. Generally speaking, the amounts of food given were roughly the same for each family, although slight adjustments might be made according to the size of the family. A second stage of sharing might then take place if some families still lacked food. The result was that every family got some food unless, as happened rarely, no one had been successful in the food quest. Even when food was abundant, the sharing went on according to the same principles, thus taking on a ritualized character as each family gave portions of its excess food to other families and received portions—sometimes of the same kind of food—in turn. It was not unusual to see small children carrying plates of cooked tubers to neighboring shelters, while other children were bringing similar plates of food in return. (Schebesta saw Jahai Semang sharing food in this fashion in the 1920s [1928:84].) This apparently unnecessary distribution confirmed that sharing of food was an important ethical principle.
  55. The obligation to share food applied to all foods obtained, but slight differences in the distribution procedure resulted from the different characteristics of the foods and the ways they were obtained. Vegetable foods, especially wild yams, were a reliable food source. Usually anyone who looked for them would get some, although the amount obtained was seldom more than three times the needs of a single family. Thus, there were usually several sources of vegetable food in a camp on any given day, and each source-family supplied between one and three other families. Batek obtained meat less regularly than vegetable foods and in sizes varying from less than an ounce to about sixteen pounds. Small animals, such as fish, frogs, birds, and bats, were usually consumed by the family that caught them. However, larger animals, such as monkeys and gibbons, were usually shared with the entire camp. Often the hunter gutted and partially roasted the kill in the forest, and he and his companions might eat the tail and internal organs. All food collectors ate some of the foods they obtained if they got hungry, and no one begrudged them that right. Hunters or other camp members cut the animals into a standard number of pieces—e.g., thirteen for monkeys—and gave the portions to that many families. If there were more families in camp, the pieces might be divided again. Within families, women often received slightly larger portions than men to compensate for their not eating meat during their menstrual periods.
  57. Batek shared purchased foods and nonfood consumables, such as tobacco and kerosene, according to the same principles as wild vegetable foods unless they were obtained in unusually large amounts. If someone bought, for example, a whole gunny sack of rice (more than 100 pounds), he or she would usually dole it out to others gradually over a period of days or weeks. Occasionally the buyer would resell portions of the food to other Batek at cost, thus becoming, in effect, the purchasing agent for the group as a whole.
  59. Sharing food was an obligation for Batek, not something the giver had much discretion over. The sharing obligation was enforced by strong social pressure. As one hunter said: “If I didn't take the meat back to camp, everyone would be angry at me.” Recipients treated the food they were given as a right; no expression of thanks was expected or forthcoming, presumably because that would imply that the donor had the right to withhold it. The person who obtained the food could decide how to divide and distribute it, or he or she could delegate that job to someone else. There seemed to have been an element of randomness in who got food on a given occasion.
  60. The ubiquity of sharing didn't mean that people always wanted to share, however. Once a young hunter returned to camp with two monkeys, which he divided up and shared with all the other families. Later he told Kirk that he and his children had cooked and eaten a third monkey in the forest. He said he was unhappy at having to share the meat with so many other people—it was an unusually large camp—as it made the portions so small. Supposedly anyone who consistently refused to share food would be excluded from the food-sharing network. Although we did not see this happen in Kelantan in 197576, Lye Tuck-Po reports that it often happened during her research in Pahang after 1993 (personal communication).
  62. The food-sharing network was the Batek's safety net. Besides ensuring that everyone, regardless of productive capacity, had food regularly, the sharing network ensured that all men and women, whether married or not, had direct access to the foods usually procured by the opposite sex. And because food sharing was an obligation rather than a voluntary act, it did not give power to food getters over food recipients.
  63. In theory nonconsumable goods a person made or obtained in trade, including cash, were considered personal possessions that did not have to be shared. In practice, however, the general obligation to help others led to a relatively even distribution of material wealth. Although sometimes people tried to hide their possessions, Batek frequently loaned and gave things to others. People also regularly borrowed other people's possessions, even without asking. When we gave gifts or payment to someone in the form of durable goods, such as clothes, we often saw them later being used or worn by someone else.
  65. Nonviolence
  67. Batek, like most other Orang Asli, considered all violence, aggression, and physical coercion unacceptable (see, e.g., Dentan 1968). To them being violent was something only outsiders would do. One man told us that the ancestors had forbidden Batek to engage in war. In former times, when Batek were attacked by slave-raiders, the Batek fled rather than fighting back. Kirk once asked a Batek man why their ancestors had not shot the attackers with poisoned blowpipe darts. The man looked shocked at the question. “Because it would kill them!” he replied. Batek said that hurting someone was both tolah, punished by Tohan, and lawac, punished by Gobar and YaɁ. We were told that if a person were violent during life, the superhuman beings would refuse to take the offender's shadow-soul to the afterworld after death. The offender was doomed to roam the forest as a malevolent ghost. Any human punishment for violence would be superfluous in light of these powerful sanctions from on high. Still, in answer to our hypothetical question about what people would do about a persistently violent person, we were told that the group would abandon that person, fleeing if necessary.
  69. Except for occasional scuffles between small children and the odd swat from a frustrated parent, we never saw any Batek commit violent acts. Batek methods of socialization were very successful at curbing violent impulses in children at an early age. By the time they were old enough to play together without adult supervision, children rarely deliberately hurt each other. We never witnessed a violent altercation between adults, although we heard about a few instances. Once in the late 1970s, we were told, two men got into a physical fight over one man's wife, whom both wanted. While a few people tried to break up the fight, most of the group fled the scene in panic, fearing that YaɁ would split open the earth beneath the camp and destroy it in a massive flood. One man said he grabbed the wrists of the two combatants and said, “Think of the sun; think of the earth; this will all dissolve.” Such behavior was obviously regarded as a serious breach of the natural order of things. While we were in the field in 1976 we heard that a woman in another camp, whom we knew quite well, had hit her two-year-old boy over the head with a piece of bamboo and knocked him unconscious. The boy's grandmother was so angry that she hit the mother in turn. We were later told that the mother had actually killed two of her previous babies by hitting them. Some people said her behavior was a bit insane. As far as we know, she was never punished either by the superhuman beings or by society, although people were furious at her after the last incident.
  71. The prohibition against violence removed the potential for stronger people to coerce weaker ones. Women and men alike were protected from abuse, spouse beating, and other acts of physical violence that are committed—and often accepted—in many societies.
  73. Noncompetition
  75. Competition, like interpersonal violence, was almost nonexistent in Batek social life. We never saw people deliberately trying to outdo each other or drawing attention to their accomplishments. Although people seemed pleased when they succeeded at something, Batek etiquette required people to be modest and self-effacing (see also Lye 2004:140). When we were weighing foods brought in, we sometimes found it difficult to determine who, in a hunting party, had actually killed an animal. People might say something like, “We got one leaf monkey,” rather than stating who shot it.
  77. Similarly, children's games were not competitive. In many hours of observing children's play, Karen never saw them playing in a way that created winners and losers. In the early 1970s when Kirk was staying at Post Lebir, the school teacher introduced the sport of soccer to the students. He divided them into teams depending on whether they were from the Aring or Lebir River. They spent many happy hours rushing back and forth across the playing field trying to kick the ball into the opposition team's goal. However, the main difference between this and soccer as we know it was that the teams took turns scoring! Once in 1990 we saw some adolescents playing cards in someone's shelter. They were having great fun drawing cards, discarding, and throwing their hands down triumphantly every few minutes. However, as far as we could tell, there were no agreed-upon rules to the game, and no one kept score.
  79. In a sense the lack of competition was merely a side-effect of some of the other principles of social life, including prohibitions against aggression and hurting the feelings of others. Competition creates winners and losers, and Batek avoided making anyone feel the pain of losing, since it might cause them to contract kəɁɔy. However, we have highlighted noncompetition as a separate ethical principle—even though it is the mere absence of something they had little experience with—because in some other egalitarian societies, such as those of New Guinea, competition is highly developed. We think the difference between competitive and noncompetitive egalitarian societies has a bearing on gender concepts and relations. The relative lack of competition in Batek society, we believe, helped prevent either sex from dominating or out-doing the other in areas in which one might have had inherent disadvantages.
  81. {chapter continues}
  83. * * *
  85. Chapter 7: Understanding Batek Egalitarianism
  87. The preceding chapters have shown that the Batek were remarkably egalitarian in the social and cultural treatment of the sexes. This was so as recently as 2004, despite economic changes due to government-sponsored development projects. There was no area of Batek culture or social life in which men controlled women or subjected them to asymmetrical systems of evaluation. Batek concepts of males and females recognized the physical differences between the sexes without imposing evaluative or symbolic significance on them. In daily social life, men and women had equal control over themselves and an equal voice in the affairs of the camp-group. Men and women were equal partners in marriage: the choice of spouse was left to the individuals involved, husbands and wives cooperated economically but were not exclusively dependent upon each other, decision making was a shared responsibility, and divorce could be initiated by either spouse. The political system did not favor men over women except in the headmanship system imposed by outsiders. In the economic sphere, males and females had equal access to the sharing network, which included the foods brought in by both men and women. Neither sex was prohibited from participating in any activity, except for the prohibition among a few Aring River people in 1990 against women doing blowpipe hunting and men weaving pandanus. The contributions by each sex to the foods supply differed between 1975-76 and 1990, but in both periods both sexes contributed to the material well-being of the group, and neither sex group thought it was being exploited by the other. Socialization to gender roles occurred without coercion or preferential treatment of either sex.
  89. In this chapter we attempt to bring out the features of Batek culture and circumstances that fostered their gender egalitarianism. We think of these features as leveling mechanisms that prevented the rise of male dominance, for we accept the premise that in societies in which there is competition for control, males are at an advantage because of their greater physical strength and their freedom from childbearing and nursing. We do not mean to imply that the conditions enable the Batek to be gender egalitarian are the only conditions that could do so. Gardner (1991) argues that a number of different combinations of cultural and natural circumstances can lead to individual autonomy—which we see as a key feature of gender equality—in hunting and gathering societies.
  91. The Bases of Batek Gender Egalitarianism
  93. In chapter 1 we defined a gender egalitarian society as one in which neither sex has overall control over the other or greater cultural value than the other. Control can be based in the economic system (e.g., the ability to withhold a resource necessary for survival), the system of authority (authority may be vested in such areas as political offices, kinship relationships, and religious ideologies), and in direct force. With these possible bases of control in mind, let us turn to a consideration of how the Batek prevented men from gaining control over women.
  95. Economic Security
  97. We believe that the key economic reason Batek men did not dominate Batek women is that no woman was dependent on a specific man—such as a father, husband, brother, or son—for survival (cf. Leacock 1978). Women were economically secure, surviving through their own foraging efforts and through direct participation in the camp-wide food-sharing network. In 1975-76 most of the staple foods in the Batek diet, including rice and flour obtained in trade, could be procured by both men and women using skills, knowledge, and tools that were readily available to all. No rights of exclusive ownership over resources restricted women's access to any foods or other necessities, and the flexible division of labor permitted them to harvest any resources they came upon. Women also had full rights in the food-sharing network, and they retained these rights even when men obtained most of the food, as was the case in 1990. By contributing to and drawing from the food-sharing network, women could usually be certain of getting some food—including foods ordinarily obtained by men, such as honey and arboreal game—even when they were ill or when their own food-getting efforts failed. Thus, the economic security of Batek women was based on their being able to depend upon the group as a whole in addition to their own efforts. Although Batek women—and men—could survive by their own efforts alone for limited periods of time, they were not economically independent like Hadza and Paliyan women (Woodburn 1978, 1979; Gardner 1966), who gathered most of their own food and shared little even with their husbands.
  99. Because Batek women were economically secure, women could withdraw from unsatisfactory marriages without suffering economic hardship. Both in 1975-76 and in 1990 we saw divorced women with children living happily for extended periods without remarrying, even when they had persistent suitors.
  100. Some scholars have claimed that external trade and other economic processes that involve a delay between when the work is done and when the reward is received undermine the autonomy and equality of women in hunting and gathering societies. Leacock argues, following Engels (1972), that when hunter-gatherers begin to produce commodities for trade, in addition to goods for consumption, families become isolated from each other, and women come to depend on their husbands and sons for survival, rather than on the group as a whole (1954, 1972, 1981). Woodburn contends that “delayed-return” economic processes, which include collecting goods for trade, enmesh women in a system of binding commitments that place them under the authority of men (1978:10).
  102. Why, then, hasn't trade led to male dominance among the Batek? The answer is certainly not that trade is a recent innovation; there is good reason to suppose that the ancestors of the Batek have traded forest produce to horticulturalists for cultivated foods and other goods for the last 30004000 years (Dunn 1975), and commercial trade goes back at least to the 1930s (Endicott and Bellwood 1991). Rather, the reason seems to be that the Batek practiced trade in ways that were compatible with the general conditions ensuring women's economic security. Among the Batek, both men and women could and did collect and trade forest produce in 197576, although men generally spent more time at it than women. Trade in forest produce was just one of several sources of food for the Batek, and it was compatible with the other forms of food getting they practiced and with their general nomadic, egalitarian way of life. Most importantly, they shared all food obtained by trade just as they shared all food obtained directly from the forest. Thus, women benefited from external trade in the same way as men (K.M. Endicott 2005).
  104. Dispersed Authority
  106. Another characteristic of Batek society that seems to have inhibited the development of male dominance was the broad dispersal of authority (see, e.g., Leacock 1978; Begler 1978; Woodburn 1979). What little authority existed was spread among all adult men and women and consisted mainly of the authority to govern oneself and one's young children. Leadership was based on persuasion; there was no possibility of coercion. In these circumstances it was the qualities of the individual—including eloquence, intelligence, and tact—that determined what, if any, influence a person had over others. Group decisions were usually based on open discussion, and individuals had the right to ignore the consensus and follow their own desires. Batek ethics promoted extreme respect for personal freedom, constrained only by a general obligation to help others—as exemplified by the food-sharing requirement. Men, women, and children could all express their ideas and wishes and act on them as they saw fit.
  108. Nonviolence
  110. Another feature of Batek culture that seems to have inhibited male dominance was their suppression of all physical aggression. Like the horticultural Semai Orang Asli, who also appear to be gender egalitarian (Dentan 1968; Gilmore 1990), the Batek abhorred violence and claimed that they would abandon anyone who was habitually aggressive. They regarded violent behavior as a sign of madness. They were usually successful at defusing potential violence through their methods of conflict resolution, and they took great pains to teach their children to avoid all aggressive behavior. Because no aggression was tolerated, Batek women were safe from coercion based on physical force or the threat of physical force.
  112. {chapter continues}


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