Horticulture Adaptations Shifting and Slash/Burn Yanomami
Horticultural Adaptations • Gardening, using tools that require human power • Domesticated plants • Shift in emphasis on role of women in kinship • Sedentism • Increased labor intensity • Surpluses • Social stratification
Horticulture • Horticulture is a second method of subsisting that is technologically rather simple. • literally means “gardening,” and is the label applied to the cultivation of domesticated plants with simple hand tools (hoes, spades, digging sticks and the like), as opposed to cultivation with plows. • Plant domestication seems to have originated in the Middle East about 10,000 years ago, and about 6,000 years ago in the New World. • Once developed, cultivation replaced foraging just about everywhere except Australia and the western coast of North America, and anthropologists often wonder why. • The answer is not obvious because under many conditions foraging can produce a comfortable living with moderate labor inputs; thus, why people would elect to shift to a horticultural mode of subsistence that requires much more labor—and more drudgery kinds of labor—is a legitimate question.
Shifting Cultivation • Many different varieties of plant cultivation have been developed since its origins, and several of those are “horticultural;” • i.e., varieties of gardening that don’t use plows and traction. • Some variants feature cultivation of permanent fields—that is, the same field is used year after year. • However, those occur only in special conditions in which soils are unusually fertile or periodically enriched, and the most common form of horticulture is a type of “shifting field cultivation.” • That is, each field is used for a relatively short time, then allowed to fallow, or recover, for a relatively long time.
Slash & Burn (Swidden) • The most widely practiced sort of shifting field cultivation is a kind called swidden cultivation, or “slash and burn” cultivation. • Although its distribution today is limited to the rain forests of the humid tropics, it once was found in many temperate areas, too—virtually anywhere that extensive standing forest was available. • Several years ago the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimated that 300 million people depended primarily on swidden cultivation for subsistence.
Swidden Technology • Basic swidden technology is simple. • A cutting tool (such as an ax or machete), a digging stick, some means of producing fire, and some standing forest are the main elements. • The cultivator selects a tract of forest large enough to support his family, fells the trees and slashes the brush, allows the cut material to dry, then burns it. • The intention is to burn the cut wood as thoroughly as possible, because the wood ash supplies the nutrients that crops will need. Crops are planted in the cleared area for one-three years, then that field is abandoned for recolonization by forest, as the cultivator clears another tract. • Depending on the environment, reforestation may require from five to twenty years, so a group needs plenty of forest in order to keep the system going. • The practice of shifting fields discourages notions of private property; when a cultivator abandons a field for reforestation, there is no guarantee that he ever will return to that particular parcel to cultivate it once more.
Stability • The stability of the swidden agroecosystem depends on a fairly high ratio of standing forest to human population. • If cultivators have to re-use a tract before the returning forest is mature, less wood ash results from the burn, and the cultivator must clear an even larger field, which shortens the reforestation period even more, and so on. • Further, if re-used too frequently a permanent tropical grassland can replace forest, and perennial grassland is virtually useless for producing crops. • Thus, as human populations become more dense, and forest recovery times become too short, swidden cultivation can lead to a cycle of increased energy loss and environmental degradation. • When swidden regimes are healthy they can produce quite good diets. But because of population increase and more commercial use, many modern swidden systems aren’t healthy.
Horticultural Groups • Swidden populations tend to be relatively sedentary. • The location of villages is shifted periodically in order to keep the population near the forest areas being cultivated at that time; but even so, villages usually remain in each location for several consecutive years. • That sedentary life implies that swiddeners are not obliged to space children in the way that mobile foragers do; thus, swidden populations often show rapid rates of increase.
Settlement • All things equal, populations who depend heavily on swidden would prefer to reside in small, widely distributed hamlets that are scattered throughout the forest. • That arrangement allows easy access to fields, facilitates protection of ripening crops, and encourages rapid return of forest from abandoned fields. • However, there is another feature of swidden populations that frequently overrides considerations of economic efficiency and provides a powerful incentive to nucleate settlement—to settle in large groups and travel longer distances to cultivated fields. • That feature is warfare, because horticulturalists typically are involved in hostilities with neighboring groups and draw together for protection.
Horticulturalists and Warfare • Horticulturalists are groups that are especially likely to exhibit a high frequency of raids, skirmishes, cannibalism, headhunting and other forms of violence and terror. • Much of the violence in tribal societies begins as disputes about women and then escalates into feuds in which revenge is sought. • However, several anthropologists have pointed out that at least some of the terror that is practiced is intended to frighten neighboring groups enough that they will leave, allowing the victors access to the second growth in their cutover fields. • Primary rain forest is very difficult to cut with hand tools; thus, access to second growth saves a lot of labor, and some people think that labor savings are worth fighting about. • Military winners usually destroy the crops and settlements of losers, and try to drive them off to live with relatives located elsewhere. Most of the raids are not especially lethal; but there are occasional reports of entire communities being massacred.
Yanomami, Brazil & Venezuala • The Yanomami live in the Northern Amazon along the Brazil-Venezuela border. • Numbering 19,000 roughly equally divided between the two countries, they are the largest indigenous nation in the Americas that still retains their traditional way of life. • They are one of the most recently contacted peoples, having very little contact with outside society before the 1980's. • Since 1987, the Yanomami have seen about 10% of their entire population - over 2,000 people - decimated by massacres and diseases brought by invaders.
Yanomami • The word Yanomami means "human being". • They live in small villages, grouped by families in one large communal dwelling called a shabono; • this disc-shaped structure with an open-air central plaza is an earthly version of their gods' abode. • They hunt and fish over a wide range and tend gardens (horticulture).