Respect and Nonviolence among Recently Sedentary Paliyan Foragers

By Gardner, Peter M. | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Respect and Nonviolence among Recently Sedentary Paliyan Foragers


Gardner, Peter M., Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute


Contrary to expectations (e.g. Bender 1978; Draper 1975; Kent 1989; 1990; Rafferty 1985), Paliyan foragers in south India remain relatively nonviolent when becoming sedentary. First, I review fifteen factors which are thought by others to pertain to disputes among foragers. Second, Paliyan beliefs and practices are examined regarding respect for the individual, avoidance of disrespect, and ways of handling of disrespect when it occurs. Third, I compare conflicts and means for managing them in a forest-oriented band and a Paliyan village settled for about 150 years. Settled Paliyans have a slightly lower per capita frequency of episodes of conflict; while their conflicts are more severe, they are rarely serious. Finally, Paliyan data are reviewed with reference to the fifteen causal factors, six of which help explain continued nonviolence. Successful Paliyan peacekeeping may be due in part to both the multiplicity of their safeguards and the prevention of positive feedback. In the long run, however, altered tr eatment of children foreshadows change.

Paliyans on the east slope of south India's southernmost ranges have long foraged for intermittent trade and for subsistence (Gardner 1985; 1993). During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries a few bands became more settled. A comparison is offered of conflicts and conflict management in a forest-oriented band and a Paliyan community estimated locally to have been settled since the early nineteenth century. Contrary to theoretical expectations, the sedentary Paliyans remain relatively nonviolent.

Since mid-century, ethnographers have reported that nomadic and semi-nomadic foragers in Asia, South America and Africa often use mobility as a way of dealing with conflict [1] and Lee and DeVore (1968) noted that this might be the case in all nomadic foraging societies. Ethnographers attached two implicit corollaries to their theory: (a) a shift toward sedentism increases the duration, and usually the number, of interpersonal contacts, thereby increasing the potential for friction; and (b) sedentism can give rise to circumstances, practices and commitments which complicate one's moving away from antagonists. By the 1970s, archaeological interest led to collaborative discussion focused upon clarifying causality. Cases were examined closely (e.g. Bahuchet & Guillaume 1982; Coombs et al. 1982; Draper 1992; Hitchcock 1982; Kent 1989; 1990; 1995; 1996; Knauft 1990; Lee 1979), surveys and overviews were offered (e.g. Bender 1978; Gardner 1991a; Kelly 1995; Rafferty 1985). Besides mobility, a number of factors wer e said to bear on violence among foragers. These will be examined in the first main section of this article.

Despite the analytical attention to foragers' conflict management, accounts of it tend to remain simple. Mobility is still treated by many as if it is the prime instrument for the job, or as if there is a single main functional alternative, such as resort to leaders. Given data which were available thirty years ago, Lee and DeVore concluded that judging from their generally flexible group structure, resolution of conflict by fission may well be a common property of nomadic hunting societies' (1968: 9) and it 'may help to explain how order can be maintained in a society without superordinate means of social control' (1968: 12). Kent, looking at newly settling foragers in Botswana twenty-eight years later, persists in phrasing her description in the same terms, thus:

When a dispersed nomadic mobility pattern is abandoned, the absence of a formal leader becomes a serious liability, threatening the stability of a newly aggregated sedentary community, such as Kutse. A traditional method of resolving disputes without the presence of an arbitrator -- i.e., mobility -- is not feasible in a sedentary context (Kent 1996: 10).

In order to understand how a change in degree of mobility affects the amount and severity of conflict in a given society, there may be no substitute for stepping back and viewing mobility as but one of a repertory of problem-solving mechanisms. …

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