Stone, Linda 1997 Kinship and Gender,
Linda Stone is associate professor of anthropology at Washington State University.
The Evolution of Kinship and Gender
In this chapter we briefly
depart from human society to enter the world of the nonhuman primates. How much
of what we see in human kinship systems is really unique to our species? After
exploring kinship and gender among nonhuman primates, we will consider some
speculations on the evolution of kinship, and the implications for gender, in
our own species. Primates are a natural grouping (an order) of mammals that
includes prosimians (i.e., tree-dwelling animals such as lemurs and tarsiers),
monkeys, apes, and humans. Some of the physical characteristics that distinguish
primates from other mammals are binocular vision and the grasping hand with
mobile digits and flat nails. Evolutionary trends characteristic of the Primate
Order and most pronounced in humans also include prolongation of gestation of
the fetus, prolongation of the period of infant care, and expansion and
elaboration of the brain (Clark 1971). Some primates, such as gibbons and many
prosimians, live in "monogamous" pair bonds. Others, notably hamadryas baboons,
live and mate "polygynously" in one-male units consisting of one adult male and
several females. Still others, including chimpanzees, live in multimale,
multifemale units where mating is largely promiscuous. There are even cases of "polyandrous"
primates, such as the saddle-backed tamarins in South America (Goldizen 1987),
whereby two to four males stay and copulate with one female, and all males help
with the care of offspring.
A second trend in recent decades has been the recognition of a far greater behavioral diversity between and within primate species than was previously known or presumed. As mentioned earlier, it was the discovery of such diversity among different types of baboons that led to the decline of a "baboon model" for human behavior and to the rise of the "chimpanzee model" in its place (Strum and Mitchell 1987). But now we find that there is diversity among chimpanzees as well. For example, studies of the Bonobo (pygmy) chimpanzees of Zalre show important contrasts with common chimpanzees, such as those of Gombe National Park in Tanzania. In terms of mating behaviors, wild pygmy chimpanzees not only copulate more frequently but also engage in ventro-ventral copulation, in contrast to the ventro-dorsal copulation seen among common chimpanzees (Kano 1992: 140); and among captive pygmies, mutual eye gazing during copulation has been documented (Savage-Rumbaugh and Wilkerson 1978). These mating behaviors may create stronger male-female bonds among pygmy chimpanzees. Grooming between male and female pygmies is also more frequent (Nishida and Hiraiwa-Hasegawa 1987). Among common chimpanzees, by contrast, male-male grooming is more frequent and bonds between adult males are stronger than those between adult males and females. Male dominance over females is not expressed among pygmy chimpanzees. For instance, a group of male pygmies will not attack a female, whereas a group of females will cooperate to attack a bothersome male (Kano 1992: 188).
Kinship and Evolutionary Theory
Some ideas about
the evolution of kinship involve the notion of natural selection, first proposed
by Darwin in 1859 and later refined through developments in genetics. Natural
selection refers to differential reproduction, or the tendency of certain
individuals in a particular environment to be more likely to produce more
fertile offspring than other individuals. Those who reproduce the most have the
highest fitness (defined as reproductive success), such that their genes are
passed on to the next generation with the greatest frequency. Those traits (or,
on another level, those genes) that favor fitness in a certain environment will
be positively selected. Over time, then, natural selection operates on the basis
of genetic variation (brought about by mutation and recombination), ultimately
bringing about evolutionary change. In 1964 W D. Hamilton considered the problem of
altruistic acts among animals in relation to natural selection. If we say that
natural selection favors fitness, or reproductive success, then how do we
explain individual behavior that enhances others' fitness while simultaneously
reducing one's own? Why, for example, do some ground squirrels place themselves
in considerable risk to predators by sounding alarm calls so that others can
escape? And why do some castes of female wasps forsake reproduction altogether
in order to labor for the wasp colony? An even more poignant example
from the primate world is Dian Fossey's (1983) description of Digit, a male
gorilla who altruistically gave his life to poachers in order that the other
members of his troop could survive (discussed in Fausto-Sterling 1985: 175). To
account for these altruistic behaviors, Hamilton came up with the concept of
inclusive fitness whereby an individual can promote the transmission of his or
her genes to the next generation not just through the children of that indivi dual but also through altruistic acts that favor the survival (and eventual
reproduction) of others who share at least some of the same genes, namely, close
relatives such as brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces.
In relation to fitness, researchers also use the concepts of sexual
selection and parental investment in discussions of primate behavior. Sexual
selection refers to the process by which one sex (usually male) competes for
sexual access to the other sex. And parental investment (Trivers 1972) refers to
the contributions that parents make to the fitness of their offspring (the
offspring's fitness by definition benefits their own fitness). Among most
primates (and, indeed, most mammals), the female investment is much higher than
that of the male. But there is considerable scientific interest in the
conditions under which male investment beyond mating is favored, particularly
among human beings. Some researchers suggest, following Trivers (1972), that
sexual selection and parental investment are related: Whichever sex invests the
most in offspring becomes the relatively scarcer resource for reproduction, so
members of the other sex will compete with one another for access to this sex.
By contrast, males, whose
parental investment is low, enhance their fitness by impregnating as many
females as possible.
Criticism of this form of sociobiology has come from within the field as well as from outside it. A female sociobiologist, Sarah Hrdy (1981), complained that previous sociobiologists had either ignored or misinterpreted females and female sexuality in their study of primate behavior and evolution. We will examine some of Hrdy's ideas in a later section; but for now note that she essentially asserted that female primates, far from being sexually passive, could be active, competitive, and aggressive and that their roles in human evolution were important. More recently, Susan Sperling (1991) has claimed that, although Hrdy's vision of primates may be more acceptable to feminists, it is still based on unwarranted assumptions about primate behavior and its meaning in human evolution. Sperling questions the larger idea of interpreting all primate behaviors as end points in evolutionary adaptation. She also points out that many primate behaviors are far more complex, varied, and context-dependent than sociobiological theory suggests. The concepts of fitness and kin selection are central tenets of evolutionary ecology, a field devoted to the study of how evolutionary processes influence social behavior. Evolutionary ecologists maintain that social behavior, including that in humans, is influenced by natural selection. However, most of them veer away from the hard-line genetic determinism of earlier sociobiologists and discount the earlier sociobiological statements regarding human gender patterns.
these lines, Barbara Smuts (1995) has recently advanced some very interesting
ideas on the evolutionary origins of patriarchy, or male dominance. Smuts begins
with some of the same assumptions as those held by sociobiologists-namely, that
nonhuman and human primates seek to maximize their fitness and that males and
females have different reproductive strategies.
Applying the same logic to human evolution, Smuts proposes that the prevalence
of patrilocal residence in human societies means that women are often deprived
of the support of female kin and allies, leaving them more vulnerable to male
Kin recognition is known to be widespread among insects, birds, and mammals. In many species, behavior toward kin is markedly different from that toward nonkin. Thus, for example, mole rat aunts will care for nieces and nephews but not for nonrelated young, and Japanese quails show a clear preference for mating with first cousins (Wilson 1987). And in the case of the desert isopod, a burrowing insect who lives in burrows in nuclear family units but wanders about outside for food, any family member will drive out a nonfamily stranger who comes to the burrow embankment; and whenever and wherever family members meet, they show tolerance for one another but either aggression toward or avoidance of nonfamily strangers (Linsenmair 1987). Nonhuman primates, too, are known to be able to recognize one another individually and to retain recognition over long periods. That kin recognition is a feature of nonhuman primate social life has also been well documented. Some researchers investigating this phenomenon have looked closely at primate behaviors such as grooming, spatial proximity (Who regularly hangs out with whom?), alliance formation (Who regularly comes to the defense of whom?), play, and co-feeding tolerance (Which animals feed peacefully side by side?). In the context of these (and other) behaviors, innumerable studies have shown that among primate species there is a strong bias in favor of kin as opposed to nonkin (Walters 1987; Bernstein 1991).' In species such as rhesus monkeys, in which males emigrate to join other groups, related males sometimes leave together, joining the same new group; males also tend to transfer to new groups into which a male relative has previously immigrated (Gouzoules and Gouzoules 1987: 302). And among Gombe chimps, as noted above, related males form close, cooperative groups. Thus kinship may be an important factor in male alliance formation as well. For example, D. C. Riss and Jane Goodall (1977) have traced how the rise to top-rank (alpha-male) status on the part of a male chimp called Figan was accomplished through an alliance with his (maternally related) brother, Faben. Indeed, there have been many observations of cooperative behavior among kin. From Gombe, Goodall (1986: 376-377) reported the following:
Goblin once ran 200 meters when he heard the loud screams of his mother, Melissa, who was being attacked by another female. When he arrived, he displayed toward and attacked his mother's aggressor. Adult males often support their younger siblings, especially brothers, during aggressive incidents: thus Faben and jomeo frequently hurried to help Figan and Sherry, respectively. Evered was very supportive of his grown sister, Gilka, and almost always inter vened on her behalf.
However, the study of primate kin behavior is in most cases necessarily restricted to maternally related kin. In species such as chimpanzees in which mating is promiscuous, neither the human observers nor the animals can know who the father is or who is related to whom through the father.
Studies indicate that not only cooperative acts but also aggressive acts are more frequent among nonhuman primate kin (Walters 1987; Bernstein 1991: 10). This finding might be considered evidence against kin selection theory, but opinions vary. Some researchers suggest that certain kinds of aggression between kin are carried out to reinforce learning of adaptive behaviors (Bernstein and Ehardt 1 986).
Of course, this situation may change as use of the technique of extracting DNA from animal hairs spreads throughout primate research sites. What we do know at present is that in certain species - for example, Indian langurs - a male will sometimes kill infants he has not sired. Indian langurs live in one-male polygynous units. A new male will sometimes enter such a unit, kill the current polygynous male, mate with the females himself, and kill off infants the females already have (Hrdy 1977, 1981). Infanticide, which has also been observed in other one-male primate species, is interpreted as a male strategy to promote individual fitness, or reproductive success, given that the female quickly resumes estrous after losing a nursing infant and the new male avoids wasting energy by protecting infants not his own (Goodall 1986: 522). However, the proposed link between this type of infanticide and male interest in maximizing fitness remains controversial (Zlhlman 1995). Researchers have expressed considerable interest in the question of whether male care of infants increases among primates with high levels of "paternity certainty." (The question has obvious implications for humans, though we do not need to assume that the male primates consciously "know" that males can be parents.) Patricia Wright (1993) has shown how male care of infants varies widely among different primates. In her work, the category of "care" includes defense and protection, food sharing, and carrying. The conclusion she applies to all nonhuman primates is that "if male aid is not necessary for the survival of the infant, then the male does not invest in parental care" (1993: 136). In the particular ecological setting of the polyandrous tamarins of South America, male aid is essential to infant survival, and here all the males mating with a female will jointly assist in infant care to a high degree. Wright connects this pattern with the issue of "paternity certainty" by suggesting that "even with only the possibility of paternity, these males are 'going to invest heavily in infant care" (1993: 139). But among langurs and other species in which males kill other males' infants, male care of their own infants is nonexistent beyond general defense of the herd of females and their young. In this case, paternity is more or less "assured" but, according to Wright, male assistance in infant care is not needed for infant survival. Among multimale, multifemale species, males participate somewhat in infant care-a finding that some researchers have interpreted not as parental investment but as a means of gaining sexual access to the mother (Smuts 19 85). Indeed, Smuts and David Gubernick (1992) suggest that, among primates generally, male care of infants is better understood as a mating strategy than as a parental investment strategy linked to "paternity certainty." According to this view, a male cares for a female's infants in order to befriend the mother and increase his chances of mating with her. If this hypothesis can be extrapolated to human evolution, male care of infants may have emerged from male-female "friendships" rather than from conditions of greater "paternity certainty." Hewlett (1991) concurs with this view and suggests by extension that, in human evolution, greater male care of offspring came about as a result of stronger social bonds between males and females. Other behaviors in primates suggest the existence of additional forms of kin recognition. One is incest avoidance, which will be discussed later. Another is the adoption of orphaned infants by older female siblings, as has been observed among Gombe chimps (Goodall 1986: 101). Adoption of orphans by maternal kin has been reported in other species as well (Walters 1987). There are many cases of strong attachments to younger siblings among chimpanzees and other primates. Consider the following account from Takayoshi Kano's study of pygmy chimpanzees in Zaire concerning an adolescent mate, Tawashi, and his year-old little sister, Kameko: "Tawashi often approached his mother, peered into her face, and after looking awhile carried Kameko and took her for a walk. Once he made a nest 10 m from Kame [his mother] and, lying on his back played with Kameko on top of his stomach. He tickled her, held her up by the arms, embraced, and kissed her (open-mouth kiss), pressing his large open mouth everywhere on her body." Kameko later died. Kano's account continues:
When we found Kameko dead, her small body was being held and carried around by Tawashi. He carried his little sister's body with all four limbs hanging down lifelessly; one of his arms pressed her against his chest; and he walked slowly in the tree apparently in deep thought. . . . The following morning, the first to leave his nest and approach the corpse was Tawashi. He lightly touched the corpse.... [The] mother, Kame, came later. She lingered near the corpse and stared at it. As the sun rose, flies started to swarm around the corpse. Several times Kame grabbed quickly at the air with her hand as she shooed them.... For a while, Kame's family seemed, in general, to live separate from the others. Then the family left together and did not come back to the feeding site. Six days later when we found Kame, she did not have the corpse.
This account suggests an emotional side to chimpanzee relationships, and one can clearly detect an emotional compassion on the part of the human observer. The observer in this case admits to a bit of "anthropomorphizing this situation" but wishes to make the point that, "in chimpanzees, we may have to admit that feelings exist that are similar to those of human beings" (Kano 1992: 174). There is evidence that some primates are able to recognize not only their own kin but that of others as well. This trait has been observed among baboons, for example (Smuts 1985). And among pigtailed macaques, nonrelated individuals in aggressive encounters later "reconciled" not just with each other but also with each other's close kin (judge 1983). Nonhuman primates recognize their kin, but how exactly do they do so? Regrettably, this is not known, and as yet we have no way to probe into their consciousness. But with primates we feel that something more than the innate mechanisms of mole rats and desert isopods is involved. Some research suggests the existence of a recognition mechanism such as phenotype matching, or visual recognition of physical "family resemblances." But there is little consistent evidence that nonhuman primates use this mechanism. Another, more likely possibility (Walters 1987; Bernstein 1991) is an association mechanism whereby an infant primate simply grows up forming a close bond with and certain recognition of the mother, and gradually learns to distinguish, or classify, others on the basis of their interaction with the mother and himor herself. The implication is that what exists inside the minds of primates are not "categories of kinship" but various leamed "categories of association." Still, when we consider primates' recognition of one another's kin, it is tempting to speculate that something more complex is going on. As we will discover in the next section, things do get more complex.
We have seen that primates recognize some kin and behave differentially (usually favorably) toward them. We do not know precisely what this finding "means" for primates, but what should it mean for us? To what extent and in what ways can we catch a spark, if not a flame, of human kinship systems among primate groups? Or, conversely, are fully human forms of kinship unique to our species? In the last chapter kinship was defined as the recognition of relationships based on (1) descent or (2) marriage. Robin Fox (1975, 1980) focused on these two fundamental aspects of human kinship, probing the extent to which either has any basis, however rudimentary, in primate life. His ingenious suggestion was that some types of primates have adopted a rudimentary sort of "marriage" pattern (which he terms "alliance") whereas other types have adopted a rudimentary "descent" pattern, but that no primate species exhibits both alliance and descent. His suggestion was that the two building blocks of human kinship already exist among nonhuman primates; the uniquely human development was merely to put the two elements, alliance and descent, together in one system. Let's consider each of these elements as they affect nonhuman primates. Looking at Old World monkeys and apes, Fox contrasted those who live in one-male groups with those who live in multimale, multifemale groups. Fox (1975: 12) includes monogamous primates in the category of one-male groups.
Hamadryas baboons are a good example of the former. These baboons live in wooded or steppe areas of countries such as Ethiopia and Sudan. They are organized into polygynous units consisting of one adult male and several females, usually about four, with their young infants. The male mates with these females and "herds" them, keeping them together in a unit and making sure that they don't stray. If a female does wander away, the male chases her back, sometimes biting her on the neck. If another male ventures into the group and attempts to copulate with the females, the herding male will fight him off. The young female daughters of this unit are allowed to stay w'tth the group, but the young sons are driven off by the adult male. Several such polygynous units of hamadryas baboons are loosely organized 'into larger units called "troops." Members of a troop move about an area together, and the adult males occasionally come together for defense (e.g., to fight off village dogs). But otherwise the adult males have little to do with one another, and there is no dominance hierarchy among them. When the young sons are driven away from the polygynous units, they become peripheralized, hanging out on the fringe of baboon society but staying within their troops. Now, as the young peripheralized males mature, how do they find mates? Two mechanisms are involved. The first, called "apprenticeship," involves the efforts of a young male to attach himself to a polygynous breeding unit. He does not attempt to copulate with the females, as he would be forced away, but rather tries to gain acceptance from the older mate by helping to herd the females and chase off any other males who come around. Eventually his presence becomes tolerated. Later, when the older male becomes too old, the younger one takes over as polygynous mate of the herd and mates exclusively with the females. The second mechanism, called "kidnap," comes into play when a peripheralized male snatches away a female infant, raises and cares for her himself, and, when she is mature, mates with her. After several such successful kidnappings, he has his own group of females. In Fox's view, the polygynous units of hamadryas baboons are cases of alliance. These are distinct breeding units, and the social mechanisms of the baboons result in long-term assignment of mates. Interestingly, the baboons have a breeding season; but rather than coming together to mate during this season, the males and females stay together year-round in relatively stable units (Fox 1980: 102). How long do such mating "alliances" last? One study (Abegglen 1984, cited in Stammbach 1987: 114-115) found that the polygynous males herded their one-male units for at least three years; but 70 percent of the females in these units changed their one-male units within three years. Thus females can transfer between units in spite of male herding and neck bites. The same study reported that females change their onemale units two to three times during their lifetimes. It also found that females tend to transfer into new units that contain females with whom they have previously lived. J. J. Abegglen (1984) has suggested that it is not just male herding but female bonding within these units that keeps the group together. These relatively stable polygynous arrangements among the hamadryas baboons are not, of course, cases of "marriage" in any human sense, but Fox proposed that because of their relative stability and exclusivity they are getting close to being categorized as such. Now, what about "descent"? To see a kind of rudimentary descent pattern at work, Fox looked at multimale, multifemale Old World Monkeys such as common baboons (not to be confused with the hamadryas baboons described above), rhesus monkeys, vervet monkeys, and Japanese Macaques. All four species live in groups consisting of a subunit of females with their young and a subunit of adult males. The males are arranged in a dominance hierarchy among themselves. At the same time, all adult males are dominant over all females. In contrast to chimpanzees, females of these species remain in their natal group and males usually disperse to join new groups at adolescence, although in some cases they remain for a time as adults in their natal group. The female core groups contain mothers with their young, and in some cases these units extend over several generations, producing "matrilines." Thus, for example, a subunit may contain an old mother, her daughters, and her daughters' infants. Young males start to grow up in these units but then leave and spend time as peripheral males on the fringe. During this later period they may emigrate to another group, J'olning in with the adult males and establishing their position within the male hierarchy there. Mating in these groups is brief and nonexclusive, although a male will sometimes form a "consort relationship" with one of the females in estrous. In this case, the male and female go off together for a few days or weeks and may copulate many times. In these multimale, multifemale groups there is a dominance hierarchy not only among the adult males but also among the females.3 In addition, the female hierarchy is established by maternal kinship. In fact, the differ'lines w'th'n the female core group are themselves ranked. For exent matri 1 1 1 ample, all the members of line A are higher than those of line B, who in turn are higher than those of line C, and so on. Every female of line A will thus be dominant over any female of line B. Rankings occur within each matriline as well.
Fox (1975, 1980) also discusses the multimale, multifemale chimpanzees, who share many features of social organization with these Old World Monkeys. However, in the case of female chimps, who disperse out, a local female hierarchy is not well defined (Nishida and HiraiwaHasegawa 1987).
A mother is dominant over her offspring, and the offspring assume a rank order based on birth. That is, the most recently born infant ranks highest, and the oldest one ranks lowest. Exactly why this rank ordering occurs is not known (Walters and Seyfarth 1987: 312), but there is some indication that the mother gives the youngest daughter assistance during her rise in dominance over her older sisters (Hrdy 1981: 111). The males of these species have a linear hierarchy that they partly work out themselves based on relative strength, aggressive contests, and so on. But to some extent the position of a male in the male group is also determined by the position of his natal matriline in the female group, both in cases where he stays for a time in the adult male unit of his natal group and in cases where he transfers to another group. Thus a son of the highest matriline of the female group is very likely to become a high-ranking male in the male group that he Joins. An example of this arrangement is shown in Figure 2.2. Here we see three hypothetical matrilines, with line A highest in rank, followed by line B and then line C. The male offspring of these units then assume ranks (1, 2, 3, and so on, with 1 the highest in rank) within the new group to which they migrate.
In an early study of rhesus monkeys, one researcher (Loy 1972, cited in Fox 1975: 16) found that 95.6 percent of the time he could successfully predict the dominance relationships that juvenile males would assume in the male linear hierarchy based on the matriline rank of their mothers. In many of these species the influence of the natal matriline on the rank of the male decreases as the male grows older, and attributes such as size and strength become more important (Walters and Seyfarth 1987: 312). In this type of multimale, multifemale system there is clearly no "alliance" in Fox's sense of the term. In contrast to one-male groups, the multimale, multifemale primates do not engage in long-term association of mates. Instead, most of their mating involves a brief encounter between male and female. And unlike one-male groups, these multimale, multifemale primates exhibit what Fox calls "descent." To a considerable extent they behave differentially toward one another based not only on their immediate kinship connections (mother-child and sibling bonds) but also on their positions within lines of matrikin (i.e., on relationships based on descent over the generations). In short, Fox saw among primates the rudimentary elements of true human kinship systems. Some primates exhibit "alliance," others "descent"; but the two patterns never occur together in the same primate system. If we were to take the alliance pattern of the hamadryas baboons and somehow combine it with the descent pattern of the multimale groups, we would have the full basis of human kinship. This, according to Fox, is exactly what our hominid ancestors did at some point. Lars Rodseth and his colleagues (1991) take a somewhat different view. After comparing the social organization of a wide range of primates, including humans, in terms of the distribution in groups of males and females, kin and nonkin, they have concluded that humans are distinctive among primates in that both sexes maintain lifelong relationships with consanguineal kin-regardless of which sex leaves its natal group or whether both sexes do so. Among other primates, by contrast, only one sex (the one that stays put and does not disperse) maintains these lifelong ties with kin. According to Rodseth et al., it was this unique development among humans that allowed humans to link up and ally with other groups of nonkin. By maintaining ties with a dispersed son or daughter, humans could forge ties with the group to which the child moved. Thus a uniquely human trait, and ' one significant to our social organization, is the ability to maintain social relationships with others even when they are absent from us for prolonged periods. Using data on hamadryas baboons (e.g., from Abegglen 1984), Rodseth et a]. also make a case for Fox's "alliance" and "descent" already combined in one system. Not only do these baboons in their one-male units exhibit "alliance," just as Fox described, but the males of these units are loosely organized into troops or clans" and, above those, into bands. There is evidence that hamadryas male baboons organize into clans and bands on the basis of common kinship through males. Hence we see an arrangement whereby the overall social organization (clans, bands) follows a "descent" pattern, yet within the structure there are distinct breeding units that follow an "alliance" pattern. Fox (1991) later agreed that if this is the case, the hamadryas baboons are an exception to his earlier generalization about primates.
We will return to some of these
ideas about primate kinship in the next section; but, first, let's consider
primate "gender." Are there important or consistent behavioral differences
between females and males (i.e., beyond the obvious differences in reproduction
and infant care)? One interesting study of chimpanzees of the Ivory Coast's Tai
forest showed that females are considerably more efficient than males at nut
cracking, using stone and wooden hammers (Boesch and Boesch 1981, 1990): Females
work with persistence, whereas males are easily distracted by social
The other males continued to beat up their victim without pause, using fists and feet. Goliath ... soon gave up and lay quite still. Faben took one of his arms and dragged him about 8 meters over the ground. Satan dragged him back again. Faben leaped onto Goliath and repeatedly stamped on him as he lay stretched out, face down.... With very rapid movements jomeo began to drum with his hands on Goliath's shoulder blades while Faben sat on the old male's back, took one of his legs and, with his one good arm, tried to twist it around and around. (Goodall 1986: 508-509)
Eventually all of the males in the loser group were dead, along with some of the females; other females joined the winning group. Goodall and others interpreted this process by saying that it was a case of one subgroup splitting off from a larger group, that aggression and territoriality emerged as part of the process, and that chimpanzees are normally territorial and aggressively hostile to outsiders. Based on studies of nonprovisioned chimps, Power (1991) gives a picture of chimp society that radically differs from that of Goodall's (1986) Gombe research. Power suggests that, unlike provisioned Gombe chimps, nonprovisioned chimps do not exhibit a structured mate dominance hierarchy. Instead, they engage in "mutual dependence" relationships. For certain purposes and at certain times a "follower" will defer to a "leader," but in other circumstances this relationship can be reversed. Sometimes, for example, a charismatic individual emerges as a "leader" and takes on many followers. In contrast to the provisioned Gombe chimps, nonprovisioned males do not dominate females, and females can function as "leaders" too. The males do not defend a territory; rather, the groups live in undefended overlapping ranges. Individuals in one group (male or female) may also freely change membership and Join other groups.
According to Power, the whole arrangement closely resembles the egalitarian social organization of relatively undisturbed human foragers, such as the well-known !Kung people of the Kalahari Desert. Much has been written about the !Kung's egalitarian socitety (at least as it existed in the 1950s and early 1960s), which stressed informal leadership, a sharing ethic, near gender equality, and low levels of aggression (Lee 1979). Power suggests that both nonprovisioned chimps and relatively undisturbed human foragers like the !Kung of earlier times developed an egalitarian society as an adaptation to a foraging mode of subsistence. Thus, even when the "facts" of chimpanzee behavior are agreed upon, the interpretation of them differs. The debate over chimp (and other primate) aggression is a long-standing one. Authors such as Richard Ardrey (1967) were accused of exaggerating primate aggression in an attempt to justify human aggression and territoriality. But those who, in the 1960s, argued against natural aggression and dominance among chimpanzees were later accused by Fox (1980: 89) of needing "the chimp to prove that our ancestors were promiscuous, egalitarian happy-go-lucky hippies." "Reading into" primates (or, for that matter, human ancestors or the "earliest" human societies) what we want to see is all too tempting. It should be remembered that chimpanzees, though the closest species to ourselves, are nevertheless chimpanzees, not human ancestors. We can learn a great deal about humans, as primates, by examining the range of primate variation; but as Robert Hinde (1987: 33) warns, "Attempting to draw direct parallels between human and nonhuman species is a dangerous pastime."
The term hominoid refers to a classification of primates (Superfamily Hominoidea) that includes apes and humans. Within this class is the category hominid (Family Hominidae), which includes modern humans and their extinct ancestors. As noted earlier, hominids diverged from the rest of the hominoid line about 5 million years ago. Remains of the earliest known hominids, the Australopithecines, have been found in fossils dating from about 2-4 million years ago or possibly earlier, unearthed at such sites as Laetoll in Tanzania and Hardar, Ethiopia. According to some researchers (e.g., Johnson and White 1979), these hominids constitute a single species, Australopithecus afarensis (of which the famous Lucy, discovered at Hardar, was one). Analysis of skeletal material, plus amazing footprints preserved in volcanic ash at Laetoll, shows that A. afarensis walked bipedally but likely were tree climbers as well. Except for their bipedal gait these Australopithecines probably looked a lot like modern chimps. It now appears that several different species of Australopithecines spanned a period of 2 million years or more in east and southern Africa. Experts do not agree on their evolutionary connections; nor do they agree as to which kind of Australopithecine was the ancestor of the next important fossil hominid, Homo habilis (of the genus Homo and the species babilis). The latter appeared around 2 million years ago in east and southern Africa and lived at the same time as some Australopithecines. The brain of H. babilis showed a definite increase in size over Australopithecus. In addition, H. babilis (and possibly also some Australopithecines) constructed stone tools, some of which were undoubtedly used to butcher meat. Both most likely subsisted on plant food and meat, which they either hunted or scavenged, or both. What proportion of their diet consisted of meat, and how and to what extent they hunted, is not known. H. habilis is considered ancestral to H. erectus, who appeared in Africa about 1.5 million years ago and then spread to Asia and Europe. H. erectus showed a further increase in brain size and left evidence of more advanced tools, hunting of large animals, and use of fire. H. erectus lived for about 1 million years, possibly overlapping with archaic H. sapiens, who in turn was ancestral to modern H. sapiens. H. sapiens first appeared 70,000-100,000 years ago.
The fossil record tells us a
great deal about human evolution, but we do not now (and may not ever) know some
fairly major details such as when human language first developed or what sort of
mating systems any of these creatures practiced. Yet research has advanced some
interesting speculations as to what may have happened, and some of these carry
Implications for the development of human kinship and gender. As noted earlier
with regard to kinship, Fox maintained that a uniquely human innovation was to
combine "alliance" with "descent" in one system. How could this process have
come about? Fox's own answer points to one major adaptation: hominid hunting.
The idea that hominid hunting played a pivotal role in making us human has an
interesting history of its own. Known as the "hunting hypothesis," this line of
thinking was in vogue in the 1960s and 1970s, supported by anthropologists such
as Sherwood Washburn and Chet Lancaster (1968) and popularized by Robert Ardrey
(1976). It held that the earliest hominids (Australopithecines), upon coming out
of the trees, adapted to open country where, to survive, they took up hunting of
large prey. Hunting changed everything. This new "killer ape" developed tools
for hunting. In turn, tool making and use encouraged an increase in the size and
complexity of the brain. Meanwhile, since it was easier to have one's hands and
arms free to use hunting tools, bipedalism was further encouraged. In essence,
then, it was early hominid big-game hunting that turned us into upright,
large-brained, intelligent, tool-using creatures with potential for language and
culture. And it was the males, not the females, who hunted. Males brought back
the precious meat to females with their young. The implication of this scenario
is that males were the prime movers in human evolution, but also that women
became provisioned by and dependent upon men.
In addition, there was insufficient evidence to support the contention that
early hominids hunted with tools. Indeed, it soon became clear from examination
of Australopithecine bones and skulls that these creatures were more likely prey
(e.g., of hyenas) than predators (Brain 1981). And examination of early
Australopithecine (afarensis) skeletons suggested that these creatures were
still at least semi-arboreal. Australopithecus, no longer the mighty "kilter
ape" on the road to becoming "man," was now depicted as a small biped who still
spent time in trees and was hunted successfully by carnivores. At this point,
some revisions of the hunting hypothesis may yet have been possible, but then
another blow was dealt to it - namely, the rise of the "gathering hypothesis."
According to this hypothesis, put forth by female researchers (e.g., Slocum
1974; Tanner, 1981, 1987), the diet of the hominids probably consisted largely
of gathered plant foods.
As the gathering hypothesis took hold, tantalizing speculations about other
human developments emerged. For example, Nancy Tanner claimed that females and
males developed bipedalism for different reasons.
As with the control of sex among non-human primates, the control of mate allocation in Homo is in the hands of the dominant males (at least overtly), and again, they either monopolize or share on their own terms with initiated juniors. But the primary aim by now is not monopoly of intercourse necessarily, although this is expected to correspond roughly with power[;] it is the economic and political control of women (and for women the domestic exploitation of men). (Fox 1980: 152; original emphasis)
Domestic exploitation of men? If
women in this system end up processing food, cooking, and taking on the
considerably larger share of child care, it would seem that they, not the men,
are being domestically exploited. Is Fox suggesting that, to maintain the
vegetable/sex/meat trade, men were "forced" to hang around more in domestic
units (as opposed to spending more time in male-bonded hunting groups)? Or does
he mean that men were conned into "Investing" more heavily in children? (This is
a point to which we will later return.)
But a few more things were going on in this new hominid system.
But the question is, How do we go from male and female exchange of mutually valued products and services to male political and economic control over women? Was meat that important? Advocates of the gathering hypothesis have made a strong case that gathered food was probably just as important as hunted meat. Add to this the fact that women in modern hunting-gathering societies do hunt some small animals and the case for females' desperate need for male-hunted protein becomes a little weaker. Second, what about sex? Fox claims that the evolving hominid males, much like male nonhuman primates, wanted sexual access to females; but nowhere does he mention sex, in and of itself, as a motive for females.
An entirely different picture is presented by Sarah Hrdy (1981), who sees female primates as sexually motivated and assertive and female strategies for sex and reproduction as important in human evolution. In her view, females evolved an interest in promiscuous sex so that many males would presume that they could have "fathered" a female's child. Multiple male care for, or at least lack of harm to, her offspring would result, thus enhancing the fitness of both her offspring and herself. Hrdy and others have also seen the human female's loss of physical signs of ovulation in this light: Concealed ovulation was naturally selected since it helped to decrease paternity certainty. Hrdy argues that paternity uncertainty was an advantage for evolving hominid women, but that as human society developed, males devised ways to increase paternity certainty (through seclusion of women, chastity belts, and so on). Thus women lost their autonomy, otherwise at a high level among primate females, as a result of male success in increasing paternity certainty. But Hrdy does not discuss the transititon: How and why did the male strategy come to supersede the female strategy? Each of these two theories connects human kinship with male ascendancy over females. For Fox, it is the marriage tie that became important since males acquired a monopoly over allocation of females in marital alliances. But for Hrdy, it was descent, specifically the father-child bond, that became important since males, to increase their fitness, had to figure out ways to promote paternity certainty as they increased their parental investment. Fox claims that male parental investment was something females wanted and got, whereas Hrdy insists that this investment was in the males' own interest. Interestingly, both theories suggest that females emerged as slightly cunning and deceitful. According to Fox's theory, the females likely gave males only the "appearance" of monopoly over mate allocation while presumably playing some role in this allocation themselves. It is almost as though the women discussed it all beforehand and decided to keep their little secret to themselves. According to Hrdy's theory, however, females were far from consciously deceitful; natural selection merely hid their ovulation for them. But still they emerged with a secret that worked to their advantage over males, and their success hinged on the males being fooled.
Before leaving this topic, we should note yet another way in which human hunting has been linked to the origins of human gender inequality. Marvin Harris (1993) argues that male hunting of large game gave men the edge over women not because they brought back valued protein from the hunt but because men thereby gained familiarity with and monopoly over the manufacture and use of weapons. Males became the specialized hunters because of the superior strength of their arms, chests, and shoulders, enabling them to better master the use of spears, heavy clubs, and bows and arrows. Then, of course, males became even more specialized as warriors fighting against other human groups. But the original impetus for male dominance proceeded from the fact that males were not only stronger than females but more skilled in weapon use, which in turn gave them more authority and more power in public decision making. Harris then goes on to trace how different kinds, or stages, of human warfare affected gender in very different ways. He explains that, as state systems and social classes developed, warfare was eventually taken over by professionals, and inequalities between men and women become a matter of their relative contributions to economic production.
Incest and Exogamy
In the last section we saw that nonhuman primates engage in regular patterns of mating, whereas humans have institutionalized marriages. From a certain point of view we could say that the basic difference between nonhuman and human primates is not so much behavioral as related to the fact that humans have invented rules and institutions within which to set and regulate their behavior. We can carry this point further by noting two other distinctive features of human kinship. First, whereas nonhuman primates exhibit "Incest avoidance," most human societies have an "Incest taboo." And, second, many nonhuman primates engage in "dispersal" of one sex at adolescence, whereas humans invented "exogamy," the rule whereby one must marry outside a certain group. We will consider each of these concepts in turn. The human incest taboo is a ban on sexual relations between primary kin: mother-son, father-daughter, and brother-sister (Fox 1989: 31). Some societies include other relatives in their own category of "incestuous " but what we find common to nearly all societies is the ban on sex union, between primary kin. The incest taboo is not, however, universal among humans. It is well known that royal families of ancient Egypt, Peru (Inca), and Hawaii allowed or encouraged brother-sister marriages (and thus mating), and that in Egypt some royal father-daughter marriages occurred as well. For decades, anthropologists have been interested in explaining why human societies have an incest taboo, why it is nearly universal, and why people in so many societies regard incest with horror and disgust. Claude Levi-Strauss (1969) saw the taboo as a key to what it meant to be human rather than "animal." With this taboo humans marked themselves off as being part of human "culture" as opposed to animal "nature." And in terms of kinship systems the taboo is important because if it did not exist (and if people regularly practiced incest), we wouldn't need even kinship systems to regulate human reproduction. Instead, as Fox (1989: 54) put it, a "mother-children group could settle down to a cosy little inbreeding arrangement and be totally self-sufficient for purposes of reproduction." In short, we would not need kinship rules by which to recruit new members to groups; each group would just incestuously "grow its own." Although the incest taboo is a central element of human kinship systems, Fox (1989, 1980) and others have convincingly shown that many previous theorists were mistaken when they tried to locate the origin of human kinship systems in the emergence of nonincestuous human mating. The idea was that, having banned incest and so having separated themselves from the animals, humans then had to define other rules of mating and of allocating children to social groups. But it is now known that most mammals in the wild exhibit patterns of incest avoidance (Brown 1991). Studies of primates, for instance, show that although some incestuous matings take place, these are very rare. Indeed, among many primates and other wild mammals, patterns of dispersal of the young ensure that most breeding will not occur between close genetic kin. Thus, rules aside, and specifically in terms of behavior, humans are not unique in incest avoidance. Over the past century, many theories sprang up to explain the human incest taboo. Most were not very satisfactory, and even today debates continue over the issue (Brown 1991: 128). The two most popular theories were those originally proposed by Edward Westermarck (1891) and Sigmund Freud (1 91 8). Westermarck proposed that persons raised together, or persons living closely together from early childhood, develop a natural aversion to having sexual relations with one another. He had brother-sister relations in mind, but the same line of thinking applied to parent-child relations as well, accounting for the aversion to sexual relations between childrearers and children. Since it is usually the case that parents raise children, and siblings live together in childhood, an incest avoidance results between primary kin. In Westermarck's view, this natural incest aversion was a human instinct that evolved or was naturally selected to prevent the harmful effects of close inbreeding. Only later was a taboo developed to discourage any aberrant tendencies. According to Freud (who focused more on parent-child incest), humans unconsciously do wish to commit incest, but this desire is repressed. His idea was that repression is triggered by guilt. Ridiculous as it might seem today, what Freud proposed was that at some time in the remote past there existed a human "primal horde" headed by a father who kept, all to himself, a group of women with whom he mated. His sons, wanting access to the females, killed him (not unlike Indian langurs); but then, since they had been raised to respect and obey their father, they felt guilty and so "tabooed" their own access to the women (their mothers and sisters). Humans since then have somehow inherited all this trauma and continue to "live it out." Of course, later Freudians found it necessary to dispense with this idea of the "primal horde" as a prehistorical event, but they retained the notions of unconscious desire, guilt, and repression to account for an incest taboo. These two theories of Westermarck and Freud were at odds. One maintained that humans normally do not want to commit incest, so we need a taboo for the few misfits who do. The other held that humans really do want to commit incest, but that this impulse immediately triggers guilt and repression, leading to a taboo that expresses and confirms that very human psycho-familial process. Both theories have been criticized, but of the two, Westermarck's has perhaps held up a little better. The idea of an aversion to sex between children raised together received support from studies of the Israeli kibbutzim (communal villages), where male and female infants are detached from their parents and raised together through adolescence. According to these studies, children raised together showed no sexual interest in one another upon reaching adulthood and, though free to do so, did not marry one another (Shepher 1983). Additional support for Westermarck has come from studies of a Chinese custom called "minor marriages," whereby parents adopt a female child to raise as the future bride of their son. The girl and boy are raised together and, later, are forced to marry. These marriages were found to be considerably less fertile, less happy, and far more prone to divorce than regular, or "major," Chinese marriages (Wolf 1970; Wolf and Huang 1980). A lot of the theorizing about the incest taboo entails the implicit or explicit assumption that close inbreeding is biologically or genetically disadvantageous. But just how detrimental would inbreeding be? On the one hand, within a small group whose gene pool contains largely "good" genes, close inbreeding over time would not be harmful and might even be advantageous. On the other hand, close inbreeding would be disadvantageous to sexually reproducing organisms who live in a changing environment, since loss of genetic variation, and thus loss of flexibility in adaptation, would result. A biological "motive" for either incest avoidance or the incest taboo is still being debated. Now, what about exogamy? How and why did humans develop exogamous rules? These rules are common in many kinds of societies and are presumed to have been very important in the development of human culture; yet kin group exogamy is not considered a human universal (see Chapter 6). Another important point, and one that has been stressed repeatedly (Fox 1980, 1989; Brown 1991), is that exogamy and the incest taboo are different, though related. The incest taboo has to do with restrictions on sexual relations, whereas exogamy has to do with restrictions on marriage. Fox (1989: 54) was quite right when he wrote: "While every teenager knows these [sex and marriage] are different, many anthropologists get them confused." Some anthropologists tried to explain exogamy by calling it an "extension of the incest taboo"; others tried to explain the incest taboo by saying that it forced people to "marry out." But these attempts only muddled the problem further. The incest taboo and exogamy are related in the sense that if a society bans sex between two people, it would be rather stupid to allow them to marry. The reverse, however, does not hold. A society can forbid people to marry one another but still allow them to have sexual relations. Indeed, some societies specify categories of people whom one is forbidden to marry but with whom one may have sex. Exogamy, unlike the incest taboo, is rather easy to explain: It helps foster peaceable relationships between groups. We saw earlier that, according to Fox's theory, evolving hominids (or, rather, male hominids) found that power over mate allocation was politically advantageous, in that by allocating mates one could acquire useful in-law relatives. It is but a small step from this arrangement to a rule of exogamy, which guaranteed that a group of people would use marriage to make connections with other groups. If a group forbids marriage within itself, it is forced to acquire spouses from other groups; and when that happens, harmonious relationships between the groups are promoted by the fact of their interdependency for spouses. This interdependency was undoubtedly important to early humans, who were now armed with lethal weapons, as groups expanded, moved about, and bumped into one another, possibly competing for resources. An anthropologist of the last century, Sir Edward B. Tylor (1889: 267), put it succinctly: "Again and again in the world's history, savage tribes must have had before them the simple practical alternative between marrying out or being killed-out." Recall the chimpanzees at Gombe, who (regardless of what really caused their problem) were unable to capitalize on this uniquely human invention when faced with territorial dispute. Or, for a human example, consider the bitter war between Muslims and Serbs in the former Yugoslavia. Outsiders have been unable to end this conflict. But it might stop if the Muslims and Serbs merely instituted one simple rule: All Muslim males could marry only Serbian women, and all Muslim women could take only Serbian husbands. Conflict would likely cease, then, not just because young people of enemy groups would be forced to intermarry but also because, over time, all the people in the predominantly Serbian areas would have sisters, daughters, and grandchildren among the Muslims, and all the people in the Muslim areas would have sisters, daughters, and grandchildren among the Serbians. Unfortunately, these two groups are unlikely to adopt such a marriage rule, so deep is the discord between them; but the example certainly shows how a rule of intermarriage could help deter intergroup conflict. The rule of exogamy prescribes marriage outside a certain group. But there may be many groups into which marriage is permitted; or, as in the hypothetical Serbian-Muslim example above, it may be that two groups are directly exchanging spouses, so that the people of group A must not only marry outside group A but also marry into group B. The potentials for deterring conflict or for forming strong alliances are of course greater in cases where groups systematically exchange spouses. Marriages can be used, then, to deter hostilities or, more positively, to form and cement alliances between groups. Western European history is full of examples of political alliances formed through marriages between royal families. Of course, peace or long-lasting political alliance through intermarriage is not always guaranteed (as European history also shows), but the rule of exogamy can increase its likelihood.
From the world of primates we have seen that humans are not unique in terms of either avoiding incest or making kinship connections a core feature of their social behavior. Kinship among primates goes far beyond a strong and enduring mother-child bond. The social life of many primate species entails the structure (if not the concept) of descent. In other species we see a rudimentary kind of mate assignment that results in relatively long-term and stable associations between adult males and females. But the special human development, according to Fox (1975, 1980), was to combine "descent" with adult male-female "alliances" in one system.
Rodseth et al. (1991) have added insights to the anthropological discussions of exogamy. They rightfully argue that a simple rule of exogamy does not necessarily lead to intergroup alliances. They also point out that an "exogamous" mating pattern is not unique to humans, given evidence that adult female hamadryas baboons also transfer out to new "clans" and "bands." What is unique to humans, they emphasize (along with Fox 1989), is a system where membership in one descent group determines the other group or groups into which one may or may not marry, and where a systematic exchange of spouses may be used to form long-term intergroup alliances. In their view, this system was made possible by the uniquely human ability to maintain ties with dispersing children.
This system of mate allocation
resulted in a new category of kin: in-laws. We presume that, at some point,
descent group exogamy became significant and served as a mechanism by which
groups could relate to one another in potentially nonhostile ways. We have also
seen that male dominance over females is evident in some, though by no means
all, primate groups. Finally, we have noted that female nonhuman primates
exhibit an autonomy over their own lives beyond that found in many, if not most,
human societies. What happened next? The answer is not clear, as we do not know
what kinds of kinship organization were experienced by early human
hunting-gathering groups. Various authors have tried to show that the original
human mode was monogamy or polygyny, or that the first human societies were
matriarchal, patriarchal, or egalitarian; but all such theories run up against
the same problem that we saw before with chimps-namely, that of reading into human origins what one wants to see. Studies of modern hunter-gatherers show
variation in kinship systems. What we do know is that human kinship became
extremely important as a framework of social structure and that it became
tightly interwoven with economic relationships, politics, and religion. With the
advent of pastoralism (livestock herding) and food production, kinship likely
became even more complex, since it would have been used to define rights over
new kinds of productive property and to transmit these rights to subsequent
generations (Keesing 1975). It was at this stage that the "kinship corporations"
discussed in the last chapter became so important. In the next three chapters,
we shall examine interrelationships between human kinship systems and gender in
societies with patrilinea , matrilineal, and cognatic descent.