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CHAPTER 1

Friends, Enemies, Strangers, and Traders

A boundary ■ Mutually exclusive territories ■ Non- exclusive land use ■ Friends, enemies, and strangers ■ First contacts ■ Trade and traders ■ Market economies ■ Traditional forms of trade ■ Traditional trade items ■ Who trades what? ■ Tiny nations

A boundary Over much of the world today, citizens of many countries can travel freely. We face no restrictions on travel within our own country. To cross the border into another country, either we arrive unannounced and just show our passport (Plate 34), or else we have to obtain a visa in advance but can then travel without restrictions in that other country. We don’t have to ask permission to travel along roads or on public land. The laws of some countries even guarantee access to some private lands. For instance, in Sweden a land-owner can exclude the public from his fields and gardens but not from his woods. We encounter thousands of strangers every day and think nothing of it. All of these rights we take for granted, without reflecting on how unthinkable they were almost everywhere in the world throughout human history and still are in parts of the world today. I’ll illustrate traditional conditions of land access by my experiences while visiting a mountain village in New Guinea. Those traditional conditions set the stage for understanding war and peace, childhood and old age, dangers, and all the other features of traditional societies that we shall explore in the remainder of this book. I had come to the village in order to survey birds on the ridge rising immediately to the south. On the second day after my arrival, a few villagers offered to guide me along an established trail up to the ridge crest, 37

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where I would pick a campsite for my surveys. The trail climbed through gardens above the village, then entered tall primary forest. After an hour and a half of steep climbing, we passed an abandoned hut in the middle of a small overgrown garden just below the ridge-line, at which the trail of our ascent ended in a T-junction. To the right from the junction, a good trail continued along the ridge-line. Several hundred yards along that trail, I picked out a campsite just north of the ridge-line, i.e., on the side towards my new friends’ mountain village. In the opposite direction, to the south of the trail and ridge-line, the ridge sloped gently downhill through tall forests traversed by a gully in which I could hear from below the sound of a stream. I was delighted to have found such a beautiful and convenient site, at the highest local elevation and thus with the best chance of locating high-altitude bird species, offering easy access to gentle terrain good for bird-watching, as well as a nearby source of water for drinking, cooking, washing, and bathing. And so I proposed to my companions that, on the following day, I move up to the campsite and spend a few nights there along with two men to point out birds and to maintain the camp. My friends nodded in agreement until I came to the mention of just two men staying in camp with me. At that point they shook their heads and insisted that this was a dangerous area, and that my camp had to be protected by many armed men. What a dreadful prospect for a bird-watcher! If there were many people, they would inevitably make noise, talk constantly, and scare birds away. Why, I asked, did I need such a large entourage, and what was so dangerous about this beautiful and innocent-looking forest? The prompt answer: at the base of the ridge’s far side (its south side) were villages of bad people referred to as river people, enemies of my mountain friends. River people killed mountain people mainly by poison and sorcery, not by fighting openly with weapons. But the great-grandfather of one young mountain person had been shot and killed with arrows as he was sleeping in his garden hut some distance from the mountain village. The oldest man present during our conversation recalled seeing, as a child, the great-grandfather’s body with the arrows still in him after he had been brought back to the village, and recalled people crying over the body, and his own fear.

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A BOUNDA RY

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Would we have the “right,” I wondered, to camp on the ridge? The mountain people replied that the ridge-line itself formed the boundary between their own territory on the ridge’s north slope and the territory of the bad river people on the south slope. But the river people claimed some of the mountain people’s land beyond the ridge-line on the north side. Did I remember that abandoned hut and the overgrown garden just below the ridge-line? my friends asked. That hut and garden had been made by the evil river people, as a way of asserting their claim to land on the north side as well as on the south side of the ridge-line. From my previous unpleasant experiences over perceived territorial trespassing in New Guinea, I realized that I had better take this situation seriously. Anyway, regardless of how I might assess the danger myself, the mountain people weren’t going to let me camp on that ridge without a strong escort. They demanded that I be accompanied by 12 men, and I responded with a proposal of 7 men. We ended up “compromising” between 12 and 7: by the time that our camp was established, I counted about 20 men staying in camp, all armed with bows and arrows, and joined by women to do cooking and to fetch water and firewood. Furthermore, I was warned not to step off the ridge-line trail into that nice-looking forest on the gentle south slope. That forest unequivocally belonged to the river people, and it would cause big trouble, really big trouble, if I were caught trespassing there, even if just to watch birds. Also, the mountain women in our camp couldn’t fetch water from the nearby gully on the south slope, because that would constitute not only trespass but also removal of valuable resources, for which a compensation payment would be due if the matter could be settled amicably at all. Instead, the women walked every day all the way back down to the village and carried 20-liter water containers 1,500 vertical feet uphill to our campsite. On my second morning in camp there was some heart-pounding excitement that taught me how territorial relations between mountain people and river people were more complicated than just black-and-white claims of complete mutual exclusion from each other’s land. With one of the mountain men I went back to the trail T-junction and continued left along the ridge-line to clean up an old trail that had become overgrown. My mountain companion didn’t seem worried about our being there, and I figured that, even if river people found us there, they shouldn’t object to

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our standing on the ridge-line as long as we didn’t stray over to their side. But then we heard voices coming uphill from the south side. Uh-oh! River people!! If they carried on uphill as far as the ridge-line and T-junction, they would see the signs of fresh trail clearance and track us down, we’d be trapped there, they might consider us as violating their territory, and who knew what action they would take. I listened anxiously and tried to follow the movements of the voices and estimate their location. Yes, they were indeed ascending towards the ridge-line from their side. Now, they must be at the T-junction, where they couldn’t fail to notice the signs of our fresh trail. Were they coming after us? I kept following the voices as they seemed to get louder, over the noise of my heart-beats throbbing in my ears. But then the voices didn’t come closer; they were definitely growing fainter. Were they returning towards the south side and the river people’s village? No! They were descending the north side towards our mountain village! Incredible! Was this a war raid? But there seemed to be only two or three voices, and they were talking loudly: hardly what one would expect from a stealthy raiding party. There was nothing to worry about, explained my mountain companion; everything was really OK. We mountain people (he said) acknowledge the right of river people to descend our trail peacefully to our village, and then to walk from there to the coast in order to trade. River people aren’t permitted to get off the trail in order to gather food or cut wood, but just walking on the trail is OK. What’s more, two river men had actually married mountain women and resettled in the mountain village. That is, there wasn’t pure enmity between the two groups, but instead a tense truce. Some things were permitted and other things were forbidden by common consent, while still other things (such as land ownership at the abandoned hut and garden) were still in contention. Two days later, I hadn’t heard voices of river people again nearby. I still hadn’t seen a river person and had no idea what they looked like and how they dressed. But their village was close enough that I once heard the sound of drums in their village coming up from the south watershed at the same time as I could hear faintly the sounds of shouting far below from the mountain village on the north watershed. As my mountain guide and I were walking back towards our campsite, we were making silly jokes with each other about what we would do to a river person if we caught one

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there. Suddenly, just as we turned a corner in the trail and were about to enter our camp, my guide stopped joking, raised his hand to his mouth, and warned me in a hushed voice, “Sh-h-h! River people!” There, in our camp, was a group of our familiar mountain companions, talking with six people whom I had never seen before: three men, two women, and one child. There, at last, I saw the dreaded river people! They were not the dangerous monsters that I had been unconsciously imagining, but instead normal-looking New Guineans, no different from the mountain people who were my hosts. The river child and the two women were completely unintimidating. The three men carried bows and arrows (as did all the mountain men as well) but were wearing T-shirts and not looking as if they were dressed for war. The conversation between the river people and the mountain people seemed friendly and free of tension. It turned out that this group of river people was traveling down to the coast and had made a point of visiting our camp, perhaps just to make sure that their peaceful intent didn’t get misinterpreted and that we didn’t attack them. To the mountain people and the river people, this visit was evidently a normal part of their complex relationship incorporating a broad range of behaviors: rarely, killings by stealth; more often, reputed killings by poison and sorcery; acknowledged reciprocal rights to do some things (such as passing in transit to the coast and making social visits) but not other things (such as gathering food and wood and water while in transit); disagreement about other things (such as that hut and garden) that sometimes flared into violence; and occasional intermarriage at about the same frequency as stealth murders (every couple of generations). All this between two groups of people who looked the same to me, spoke distinct but related languages, understood each other’s language, described each other in terms otherwise reserved for evil subhumans, and viewed each other as their worst enemies.

Mutually exclusive territories In theory, the spatial relations between neighboring traditional societies could encompass a whole spectrum of outcomes, ranging at the one extreme from non-overlapping exclusive territories with definite patrolled

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boundaries and no shared use, to free access of everybody to all land and no recognized territories at the other extreme. Probably no society strictly conforms to either extreme, but some come close to the first extreme. For instance, my mountain friends whom I just described are not far from it: they do have territories with defined boundaries that they patrol, they do assert exclusive claim to resources within their territory, and they permit access by outsiders just for transit and rare intermarriage. Other societies which approach that extreme of exclusive territories include the Dani (Plate 1) of the Baliem Valley of western New Guinea’s Highlands, the Iñupiat (an Inuit group)* of northwest Alaska, northern Japan’s Ainu, the Yolngu (an Aboriginal group of Arnhem Land in Northwest Australia), Shoshone Indians of Owens Valley in California, and Yanomamo Indians of Brazil and Venezuela. For instance, the Dani irrigate and till gardens separated by a garden-less no-man’s land from the gardens of the adjacent Dani group. Each group builds a line of wooden watch-towers up to 30 feet high on its own side of the no-man’s land, with a platform at the top big enough for one man to sit there (Plate 13). For much of each day, men take turns keeping watch from each tower, while companions sit at a tower’s base to protect it and the watchman, who scans the area to look out for stealthily approaching enemies and to give the alert in case of a surprise attack. As another example, Alaska’s Iñupiat (Plate 9) consist of 10 groups with mutually exclusive territories. People from one territory caught trespassing on another territory were routinely killed, unless they proved to be related to the territory-owners who caught them trespassing. The two commonest causes of trespass were hunters crossing a boundary in hot pursuit of reindeer, and seal hunters hunting on an ice shelf that broke off and drifted away from land. In the latter case, if the ice subsequently drifted back to shore and the hunters found themselves landing in another territory, they were killed. To us non-Iñupiat, that seems cruelly unfair: those poor hunters were already taking a big risk to have gone out onto a floating ice shelf, they had the bad luck that their shelf broke off, they were then at risk of * People of Arctic North America refer to themselves as Inuit, and that is the term to be used in this book. The more familiar lay term is Eskimo.

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death from drowning or being carried out to sea, now they had the great good fortune to drift back to shore after all, they had no intentions of trespassing but were just carried innocently and passively by an ocean current—yet they were still killed just at the moment of their salvation from drowning or drifting to sea. But those were the rules of Iñupiaq life. Nevertheless, Iñupiaq territorial exclusivity wasn’t complete: outsiders occasionally were given permission to visit one’s territory for a specific purpose such as a summer trade fair, or to transit one’s territory for another specific purpose such as visiting or raiding a distant group living beyond the farther side of the transited territory. When we collect the examples of societies (like my mountain friends, the Dani, and the Iñupiat) lying towards that extreme of mutually exclusive defended territories, we discover that that outcome arises under a combination of four conditions. First, defended territories require a population sufficiently large and dense that some people can be spared to devote time specifically to patrolling boundaries, so that the population doesn’t have to rely just on everyone casually keeping out an eye for trespassers while in the course of normal foraging. Second, exclusive territories require a productive, stable, predictable environment within which the territory-owners can count on usually finding most or all of their necessary resources, such that they rarely or never need to go outside their territory. Third, the territory must contain some valuable fixed resources or capital improvements worth defending and dying for, such as productive gardens, groves of fruit trees, or fishing weirs or irrigation ditches requiring much effort to build and maintain. Finally, group membership must be rather constant, and neighboring groups must be largely distinct, with little migration between groups—the main exception being movements of unmarried young people (more often women than men) leaving their natal group in order to marry into another group. We can observe how those four conditions are satisfied by the groups I’ve just mentioned as approaching the extreme of exclusive territories and defended boundaries. My New Guinea mountain friends have a significant investment in their year-round gardens, pigs, and forests, which traditionally gave them everything that they needed. Clearing forests and developing gardens are laborious for them, and are even more so for western New

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Guinea’s Dani, who dig and maintain elaborate systems of ditches to irrigate and drain their gardens. The Iñupiat and Ainu occupy rich year-round territories with abundant marine resources of salt-water fish, seals, whales, and seabirds, fresh-water fisheries and waterfowl, and inland areas with terrestrial mammals to hunt. Arnhem Land’s Yolngu similarly lived in dense populations made possible by the combination of  productive coastal and inland resources. Owens Valley’s Shoshone Indians were hunter-gatherers living at relatively high densities in an area with ample water that let them irrigate land to increase its yields of edible wild grass seeds, and that provided storable harvests of pine nuts. Those food stores, pine groves, and irrigation systems were worth defending, and there were enough Owens Valley Shoshones to defend them. Finally, Yanomamo Indians maintain plantations of peach palm and plantain trees that produce their staple foods for many years and are also worth defending. In areas with especially large and dense populations, such as those of the Dani and the Sudan’s Nuer, not only are there separate groups each with its own territory, but those territorial groups are further organized into hierarchies of three or more levels. Those hierarchies remind us of the hierarchical organization of land, people, and political control familiar to us in our modern state societies, starting with individual house plots, and ranging up through cities, counties, and states to the national government. For instance, the Nuer (Plate 7), numbering 200,000 people in an area of 30,000 square miles, are divided into tribes of 7,000 to 42,000 people each, each tribe divided and subdivided into primary and secondary and tertiary subtribes, down to villages of 50 to 700 people and separated by 5 to 20 miles. The smaller and hierarchically lower the unit, the fewer are the disputes about boundaries and other matters, the stronger are the pressures that relatives and friends bring to bear on disputants to settle disputes quickly and without violence, and the more limited is any fighting that does occur. For instance, the Nuer observe few restrictions in their treatment of neighboring Dinka tribes: they regularly raid the Dinka, steal Dinka livestock, kill Dinka men, and take home some Dinka women and children as captives while killing the others. But Nuer hostilities against other Nuer tribes consist only of sporadic cattle raids, killing of just a few men, and no killing or kidnapping of women and children.

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The World Until Yesterday, Jared Diamond