Tuesday 26 November 2019

Australian Aborigine life 100-plus years ago

In commenting at another blog recently, I dug-out and re-read a couple of interesting posts from 2011 about Australian Aborigine life at the time of the first detailed records.

I had a long-standing interest in hunter-gatherers, and thought I knew the anthropology pretty well; but this information surprised me.

I expected the Aborigines to be similar to the Southern African hunter gatherers such as the Kung San or the Hadza. But I should have been prepared for Aborigines to be unique, since it is believed that they were genetically separated from other humans some 50,000 years ago - or about 2,000 generations. This would make them likely to be more different from other humans than any other group.

One difference is that the Aborigines have a 'totemic' religion - relatively fixed in beliefs (within constraints of oral transmission), with something like priests and handed down as accurately as possible between generations.

Whereas most similar 'immediate return', low technology hunter-gatherers, rather than a fluid, (part-time) shaman-led animistic spirituality.

Another difference was that Aborigines had larger 'bands' than the usual immediate-return hunter-gatherers - my theory was that this was because their totemic religion sustained a higher level of cooperation beyond the extended family. Interesting; because most totemic religions are found in more complex (socially-stratified and specialised), sedentary, early agriculture societies - or those with rich food resources available without being nomadic - such as the totem-pole-making Pacific Northwest American Indians - who had resources of shell-fish to gather.

Anyway, the - rather unpleasant - surprises I had about Aborigine life are detailed and referenced below.

Treatment of girls and women:

Infanticide and euthanasia:


James Higham said...

One never ceases to learn. Depends on which tribe too. Some were more aggressive than others.

dearieme said...

Have you read much by Windschuttle on Australian history?

When we lived in Oz it became obvious to me that a lot of Ozzie history was essentially faked in hopes of making it sound as exciting as American history (the Hollywood version), and as dramatic as, let us say, the Marxist account of imperialism. In his areas of interest he does a wonderful job of confirming my instincts, the sure sign of a sound scholar.

As for the poor old Abos: dear God! As far as I could see different people had, over the course of a couple of centuries, tried all sorts of policies to rescue them from their plight. To little avail. Ever helpful, I was always prepared to suggest improvements to Australian life. But with that one topic taboo - Ozzies can be rather thin-skinned and it would have been foul to joke or tease on that subject.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - I have read a bit of and about KS. The way he was treated/ regarded says a lot about the modern evil pathology of thinking.

The plight. Well, I can't see anything 'working' short of a complete separation (and let them get on with it) that seems unimaginable.

But Aborigine numbers, and their proportion of the population, are increasing rapidly - despite everything - so from a Darwinian persepctive they are doing a lot better than the subfertile European-descended whites; and the AAs may prevail in the end.

Crosbie said...

The social structure of Australian Aborigines may be different from that of other hunter-gatherers due to the relative lack of predation (predation of humans, by other predatory animals)

Bruce Charlton said...

@C - Maybe, although I would have predicted that predation increases group size - as with antelopes, wildebeest etc.

As with animals; it may be nothing more than the concentration of food in the environment. The *maximum* group size is set by the amount of food that can be obtained each day - and maybe this is greater in Australia than in Africa?

Among our closest relatives, the chimps, this is seen in that the bonobos have much bigger groups than common chimpanzees; and this is said to be due to the bonobos not having to compete with gorillas and therefore having access to food on the forest floor (shoots etc) as well as fruit in the trees. By contrast, orangs live in an jungle environment where food is so thinly dispersed that they cannot form groups but remain mainly solitary; mother and baby are the largest 'group' that can be sustained.