Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Violence/Warfare in Southeast

Salisbury, Neal
The Indians' Old World: Native Americans and the Coming of Europeans
 The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 53, No. 3, (Jul., 1996), pp. 435-458
    In this article, the reasons and results of European contact in Native American society are discussed. This article discusses causes and effects all over pre-historic and historic America, but I will be focusing more on the discussion of the Southeastern part of the nation.
    In the Southeast, there appears to have been both heavy social stratification, as shown by the sacrificing of individuals to serve a high-ranking individual in the afterlife, as well as an almost constantly shifting of the centers of power. This shows both violence and instability within the region that prevented any one power center from becoming too powerful. This pattern of power gain and decline is known as “cycling.” This instability led to entire communities shifting, including shifts westward into the Plains area where there would be massacres, likely over straining resources in the area. These shifts were often in response to both ecological and political pressures.
    Because of this, by the time European settlers came to North America, “the continent’s demographic and political map were in a constant state of flux.” (p.16) Much of this was due to the collapse of power centers. This decline in local power centers at the time of settlement led to an easy opening for Europeans to become the new power center, and they were significantly harder to attempt to take down as a power center, thus they managed to hold onto the power that the past centers did not. The ability of the Europeans to hold power was also made significantly easier by the survivors of the initial contact to band together and put power into the hands of a single chief or chiefdom. Because of this constant warring between native groups in the region, European take-over in the area was relatively simple. By the end of the 18th century, European domination led to a world from which Native Americans used to have a hold of their own lives, to a world in which Native Americans had no certain place in society and were pushed to the peripheries.

Gibson, Jon L.
Aboriginal Warfare in the Protohistoric Southeast: An Alternative Perspective
American Antiquity, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Jan., 1974), pp. 130-133
    This article is a brief criticism of the hypothesis that the primary initiating factor in warfare in the aboriginal southeast was competition for prime agricultural land. The counter-hypothesis to this is focused more on social factors than economic factors. This article uses the Lower Mississippi Valley chiefdom structure as its focus for evidence.
Within this chiefdom society, while villages might get burned to what would be arable farmland during raids, this land was often not used by the plunderers. Instead, the survivors of the village that was raided would often be taken as slaves and the raiders would simply return to their own lands. It is believed by some that the actual motivating factor behind these raids was not land, but the prestige of overpowering another village. Another prestige related motive involves the ranking systems within the societies of the area. In these societies, one’s own status goes down the more distantly one is related to the great chiefs. However, one can gain prestige in war, as well as gain a higher status if others that are more closely related to the great chiefs are eliminated, or if one’s own close relative takes up the position of a great chief. The position of the great chief could be largely attained through merit gaining deeds in battle. If one’s current status had sunk too low, one could potentially gain it back through battle and raids. This also helped to keep social equilibrium as it then gave people outside of the current “royal” family a way to gain status, therefore keeping anyone from getting too powerful for too long.
With the leaving of land in plundered villages, while taking survivors as slaves, combined with the social structure of societies in the area. These factors seem to indicate that the idea of raids in the Lower Mississippi Valley to be purely to gain more arable land is false.


  1. The article by Gibson sounds rather interesting. The thought that they went on raids to gain prestige is thought provoking, at least tome. Is it possible, I wonder, to actually displace the great chief by raiding? Or would that not have been a viable thing? I knew war held a lot of the social status gains for many different cultures, but for most of those I do not think that it is possible to overthrow the chief through raiding. Still, it's a question that sprang to mind. Especially when you mention the fact that the great chief's position was attained through deeds done in battle.

    1. To your question, from what I understood of the article, it is possible to unsurp a chief from his post, but it seemed more likely that one would simply make their own position higher because as people that were related to the chief died, one's own status could increase if there was no one to fill that "slot." I just don't think that people seemed to purposely unsurp the chief by raids very often, but it seems possible. At least from what I understood, I could be completely wrong on this !

  2. The article by Salisbury echos something that I read in my article by Pavao-Zuckerman. Salisbury states that there were many shifts in power, leading to shifts in community structure and lifestyle. By the time Europeans came to the Southeast, the region was in a state of instability and flux. Europeans contributed to this rapid change by introducing native peoples to new resources such as pigs and chickens (Pavao-Zuckerman 2000). Furthermore, the European demand for leather lead to an increase in native deer hunting, which reiterates your point about over straining resources. All of these changes contribute to the instability seen in the Southeast during this time. It is not surprising that the Europeans were able to overtake Southeastern native peoples when they were in such a state of upheaval.

    Pavao-Zuckerman, Barnet.
    2000 Vertebrate Subsistence in the Mississippian-Historic Tradition. Southeastern Archaeology 19: 135-144.