Households and Hegemony: Early Creek Prestige Goods, Symbolic Capital, and Social Power

Households and Hegemony: Early Creek Prestige Goods, Symbolic Capital, and Social Power

Households and Hegemony: Early Creek Prestige Goods, Symbolic Capital, and Social Power

Households and Hegemony: Early Creek Prestige Goods, Symbolic Capital, and Social Power

Synopsis

The long-term significance of the household as a social and economic force-particularly in relation to authority positions or institutions-has remained relatively unexplored in North American archaeology. Households and Hegemony makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the role households played in long-term cultural change after contact with European traders and settlers. Drawing together information from ethnohistoric records and data from one of the largest excavations in Alabama's history (the Fusihatchee Project), Cameron B. Wesson reexamines changes in early Creek culture from before and after contact with Europeans, beginning in the sixteenth century. Casting the household as a multifaceted cultural institution, he contends that important social, economic, and political transformations occurred during this time-changes that redefined the relationship between Creek households and authority. As avenues for exchange with outsiders broadened and diversified, prestige trade goods usually associated with Creek elites became increasingly available to individual households, so that contact with Europeans contributed to empowerment for Creek households and a weakening of traditional chiefly authority. Wesson demonstrates that change within Creek culture in the historic period was shaped by small-scale social units and individual decisions rather than by the effects of larger social and political events. Households and Hegemony enriches our understanding of Creek history and makes a key contribution to comparative archaeological models of cultural change.

Excerpt

The arrival of europeans in southeastern North America in the sixteenth century heralded profound cultural transformations for the indigenous peoples of the region. Prior to European contacts the Southeast was home to a number of geographically expansive and sociopolitically complex Native American societies (Brose 2001). These societies were governed by hereditary chiefly elites who exercised considerable sociopolitical powers, resided in large houses placed atop earthen mounds, controlled the production and exchange of foodstuffs and high-status prestige goods, commanded large armies, expanded their polities both geographically and politically, and enjoyed a variety of additional indulgences (Clayton et al. 1993; Smith and Hally 1992). the most powerful of these elites is thought to have ruled a polity extending over two hundred miles along major river systems in the present states of Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama (DePratter et al. 1983; Hally et al. 1990; Hudson et al. 1985, 1987, 1989; Smith 2000). Within decades of contact with Europeans these same societies are described as disintegrated and politically acephalous (Corkran 1967; DePratter et al. 1983; Mason 1963a, 1963b; Mereness 1916; Smith 1987; Swanton 1928a:279–280). Where precontact elites exercised considerable sociopolitical power, those of the postcontact period are seen as almost completely devoid of centralized authority.

The factors most commonly cited for this decline in indigenous sociopolitical organization are disease (Baker and Kealhofer, eds.

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