Saturday, October 23, 2010

Women In One Hunter-Gather Society

The story of Cynthia Ann Parker, kidnapped in 1836 at the age of nine by Comanche raiders in the Midwest. Cynthia Ann lived with her captors for 25 years, married a war chief and had three children. She was re-kidnapped at the age of 34 by Texas Rangers. She never settled into her new life among her white relatives, attempting escape several times to reunite with her Indian family.
"As nomads, they moved constantly. One imagines her on one of these migrations, on horseback, moving slowly across the open grassy plain with hundreds of others, warriors in the vanguard, toward a wide, hazy horizon that would have looked to white men like unalloyed emptiness. There were the long trains of heavily packed mules and horses and the ubiquitous Comanche dogs. There were horses dragging travois that carried the huge tent poles and piled buffalo hides and scored the earth as they went along -- perfectly parallel lines drawn on the prairie, merging and vanishing into the pale-blue Texas sky. All trailed by the enormous horse remuda, the source of their wealth.

Cynthia Ann lived a hard life. Women did all of the brutally hard work, including most of the work that went into moving camp. They did it from dawn till dark, led brief difficult lives, and did not complain about it; they did everything except hunt and fight."
- Empire of the Summer Moon, SC Gwynne
Gwynne: "Note her large, muscular hands and wrists."

Tom Standage in his book, "An Edible History of Humanity," says that hunter gatherers led "a varied, leisurely existence:"
"In effect, hunter-gatherers work two days a week and have five-day weekends."
Was he talking about men in hunter gatherer society?
Photo of Cynthia Ann from Texas Beyond History. Caption:
"Cynthia Ann Parker with daughter, Prairie Flower, circa 1860-1870. Parker, who had been kidnapped by Comanches in 1836, went on to adopt Indian ways, marrying an Indian warrior and bearing two sons, one of whom was future chief Quanah. Photo courtesy Denver Public Library."


Melissa said...

As far as I know from anthropology, the Comanche were not hunter-gatherers, they were nomadic pastoralists. By the 1800s their culture had been significantly altered by contact with settlers. This is an interesting anecdote, but it's a little disheartening to see you use it this way— to imply that it shows HG life was really terrible. If you want to read about actual HG women I suggest you check out the book Nisa.

Bix said...

Gwynne defends his assertion that Comanche were hunter gatherers:

"They were descendants of the primitive hunters who had crossed the land bridge from Asia to America in successive migrations between 11,000 and 5,000 BC, and in the millennia that followed they had scarcely advanced at all.

They grubbed and hunted for a living using stone weapons and tools. They squatted around fires gorging themselves on charred, bloody meat. They fought, reproduced, suffered, and died.

They were in most ways typical hunter gatherers. But even among such peoples, the Comanche had a remarkable simple culture. They had no agriculture and had never felled trees or woven baskets or made pottery or built houses. They had little or no social organization beyond the hunting band."

ElDoubleVee said...

"nomadic pastoralists"!!? Who are you kidding? Have you looked at the terrain where they lived? It wasn't Eden. Hardly anything grows, maybe some scrubs and stunted trees. They had to make their clothes and all of the implements they used for hunting and living. They lived off the buffalo. The men killed it, with no guns, and the women and children butchered it, dried the meat, tanned the hides, and they used most of the animal. Their lives were short, harsh and brutal.

Melissa said...

Re: ElDoubleVee: What!? Nomadic pastoralists doesn't imply anything Edenic?

Bix: In anthropology the Comanche at that point were NOT hunter-gatherers. They violate the entire definition because they had horses, which excludes them. There were before contact with settlers, but in 1830 they were not. The Comanche didn't even exist until the 1700s, they were a breakoff from the Shoshone, who ONCE were hunter-gatherers.

If you would like to read real anthropological studies of hunter-gatherers, I would suggest starting here: Gwynne's book is pop-non-fiction. They are varied peoples and just because one group practices something doesn't mean that all hunter-gatherer women had it bad anyway.

I could make a great argument about how eating grains led to the oppression of women :) It's true that if you look at primitive societies that eat grains, there is more sexual division of labor, of which the most tedious (grain grinding) is done by women.

Melissa said...

Gwynne also seems a bit biased: "They fought, reproduced, suffered, and died." Makes them seem like savage animals even though they had a complex religion and social lives, amongst other things.

Bix said...


"What the horse did not do was change their fundamental natures. Before the arrival of the horse, they were peoples whose lives were based almost entirely of the buffalo. The horse did not change this."

"No true plains tribes fished or practiced agriculture before the horse, and none did so after the horse. Even their limited use of berries and roots went unchanged. They remained relatively primitive, warlike hunters; the horse virtually guaranteed that they would not evolve into more civilized agrarian societies."

Melissa said...

Remind me to NEVER read anything by that author. How could a historian imply that the horse didn't change the culture? It precipitated MASSIVE changes in wealth distribution for example.

And who uses terms like "more civilized" anymore? Did she grow up on Rudyard Kipling?

Steve said...

I know that I am late on this but the horse did not change their "fundamental natures" meaning that they were hunters before the horse and better hunters after the horse. They did not farm are never were required to farm because of their access to game.

A difference of opinion or interpretation is acceptable but you should not eliminate words of the author when forming you opinion.

Gwynne his last name so that makes him a "he"