Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Violence/Warfare in the Northwest Coast


Ames , Kenneth M.  
Slaves, Chiefs and Labour on the Northern Northwest Coast
World Archaeology, Vol. 33, No. 1, The Archaeology of Slavery (Jun., 2001), pp. 1-17
                In this article, the author discusses the possible ideas behind, and evidence of, slave use in the Northwest coast. There is evidence that slaves were actually quite essential to the economic production of the elite in this area. There seems to have been frequent raids between areas where survivors would be taken to be used as slaves. This seems to have caused a significant shift in gender ratio in villages (namely more free males than females) and so slaves would have to be taken to equalize the gender ratio. This, however, caused an endless cycle of raiding, war and violence.
                While not having any real rights of a free person, these slaves were not necessarily treated poorly. On a day-to-day basis, the lives of slaves did not visibly differ from the lives of commoners. The big differences between a slave and a common, free person are that slaves could be killed or traded for any reason by the household members, slaves could be used by chiefs as bodyguards and warriors to reinforce their position, slaves did not have any specified tasks attached to class or gender, they could and would do whatever task was asked of them, and slaves were often the ones given tasks deemed difficult or unpleasant such as hauling water or collecting firewood.
                Slave labor used by Northwest coast chiefs was mainly used as labor that the chief could reliably control. Through the four points above of the differences between commoners and slaves, it is also shown how the chief could easily control the slave labor in their territory. New slaves could be traded for, or captured in war raids when needed, killed off when not, they provided labor for any task regardless of how unpleasant or dangerous.
                There is also evidence of the violence and warfare that might have led to the capture of these slaves in the skeletal trauma of those believed to be captured war prisoners who may have also been slaves as well as the evidence of fortification of the villages in this area.
                An interesting point in this article is one that I actually stated above, about the use of slaves by chiefs to both increase economic production, as well as assert status. These slaves could be traded or freed in potlatches to gain prestige, they could also be killed both as a show of power, or as a sacrifice in religious ceremonies. It seems the use and abuse of slaves was merely for those in power to assert their power in a cheap way.
de Laguna, Frederica
Atna and Tlingit Shamanism: Witchcraft on the Northwest Coast
Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 24, No. 1 (1987), pp. 84-100
                This article discusses the various types of perceived sorcery in the Northwest coast. Specifically within the Atna and Tlingit groups. What was interesting to me is that early on, those deemed “sorcerors” and “shamans” were not necessarily considered bad or evil, they were people with all too human emotions, the only major difference is that these people were perceived to have abilities that others did not have.
                The Atna dream doctors seem to be the more pacifist of the two types of sorcerors, at least at first. They were often called upon to help heal the sick or wounded. However, there were some Atna dream doctors considered bad as they were believed to send bad luck or even kill people. In addition, Atna dream doctors were often jealous of each other and were constantly having to watch out for rivals trying to “kill” them in the dream/spirit world.
                The Tlingit shamans seemed to be quite a bit more touchy and jealous of each other than their Atna colleagues. They were also viewed more often in a negative light than their Atna colleagues were. With the Tlingit, a witch was considered an evil person who feels compelled to harm others because of the “witch spirit” that possessed them, however this spirit was taken in willingly by repeated violating acts such as vigils to the graveyard while handling human remains. It seems to have been thought by this group that witchcraft was passed on like an infection, person to person, family member to family member. This “infection” could be passed down like a hereditary trait from whoever first dabbled in black magic to become a witch, as well as being passed on to those that a witch bewitches. For once the witch bewitches another, if that person succumbs to the bewitching, they too become a witch.
                If an evil witch was accused or discovered, they would be brought to trial where a shaman from another clan, preferably from another place, would be called in to detect the witch, who would then be tied up- hair, wrists, and ankles drawn painfully tight behind the back- and left without food and water to extract a confession. It was believed that a confession drawn without suffering was ineffective. Once a confession was procured, the witch would be forced to undo all the bad magic they had done, executed, and possibly even have their children executed to remove the potential for a hereditary taint.
                This article was interesting to me as the ways that sorcerors and witches were dealt with in these societies seems oddly reminiscent of the violent, suffering-inducing European ways of dealing with such people

1 comment:

  1. I read the same article about the Tlingit and Atna shamans, although I focused more on the religious aspect than on the violence. I found it interesting that both groups were so similar in their treatment of witches to Europeans as well, including the fact that shamans were both a necessary part of the community AND dangerous. It was also interesting to read about the various powers and limitations that shamans were believed to have.

    de Laguna, Frederica
    Atna and Tlingit Shamanism: Witchcraft on the Northwest Coast
    Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 24, No. 1 (1987), pp. 84-100

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