2021-12-09

Where none shall hunger

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by Neil Godfrey

Here are a few extracts reminding us that humanity does at times embrace the value of caring for the basic needs of one’s fellows. One political view current in Western societies is that the public purse must dole out less than the poor need to survive lest they become dependent and fail to seek a job and care for themselves. Other societies have had a different perspective. Different ways humans have organized themselves and treated others are addressed in The Dawn of Everything. Below are some extracts from that book as well as others:

Dampier also remarked on other key aspects of Aboriginal life—small-scale societies, close communal living and the habit of sharing all procured food:

They have no houses but lie in the open air without any covering . . . they live in companies of twenty or thirty men, women and children together. Their only food is a small sort of fish, which they get by making wares [weirs or traps] of stone across little coves . . . Every tide brings in the small fish . . . at low-water they seek cockles, mussels and periwinkles. There are very few of these shellfish . . . At their places of abode . . . the old people . . . and tender infants await their return; and what providence has bestowed on them they presently broil on the coals and eat it in common . . . Whether they get little or much, every one has his part . . . 

Two societies could hardly have differed more than Georgian England and Aboriginal Australia. English society was based on the Christian work ethic and the sanctity of private property, whereas Aborigines saw no value in work except the food quest and believed in the sanctity of communal property. Each society tried to make the other change. Aborigines expected Europeans to share their food and other goods; Europeans tried to instil principles of private ownership and regular work into Aborigines. Instead of mingling, they lived uneasily side by side . . . .

Wrasse was the most abundant species in Tasmanian prehistoric deposits until 3500 years ago, when fishing abruptly ceased. Toxic fish are often confined to a small area and toxicity varies seasonally, but it seems that 3500 years ago Tasmanian fishermen suffered such severe poisoning that no Aboriginal Tasmanian ever risked eating fish again. The Aboriginal custom of sharing all food means that a single meal could wipe out a whole band. News of such a calamity would have spread quickly, leading to the universal taboo.

Flood, Josephine. Original Australians. Crows Nest, N.S.W: Allen & Unwin, 2006. pp 5, 57, 72

 

His people were very generous and, hospitable. . . . The value of sharing was impressed upon the missionaries wherever they travelled in south-east Queensland. Gift giving and sharing valued possessions was essential to cement relationships. ‘The worst character they are able to give of a man,’ Reverend Christopher Eipper noted, ‘is that he does bail give it’ meaning ‘he will not share’.

Connors, Libby. Warrior: A Legendary Leader’s Dramatic Life and Violent Death on the Colonial Frontier. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2015. p. 10, citing Colonial Observer, 23 July 1842, p. 347.

 

Moreover, it is really honour which forms the mainspring of their actions. I wish no other proof of it than what this same honour makes them do in a case of extreme necessity, at the hunting season when they are so often exposed to hunger that there is almost no year that someone does not starve to death. Then, if a cabin of hungry people meets another whose provisions are not entirely exhausted, the latter share with the newcomers the little which remains to them without waiting to be asked, although they expose themselves thereby to the same danger of perishing as those whom they help at their own expense so humanely and with such greatness of soul. In Europe, we should find few [people] disposed, in like cases, to a liberality so noble and magnificent.

Latifau, Joseph François. Customs of the American Indians Compared with the Customs of Primitive Times, Volume II. Edited by William N. Fenton and Elizabeth L. Moore. Vol. 49. Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1977 [1724]

 

Although the dialogue of Lahonton with a certain native spokesman have in the past been considered fanciful, more recent scholarly study has come to a different view: that they do indeed reflect the arguments of the Americans Indians.
Sioui, Georges. 1972. ‘A la réflexion des Blancs d’Amérique du Nord et autres étrangers.’ Recherches amérindiennes au Quebec 2 (4–5): 65–8.
—. 1992. For an Amerindian Autohistory: An Essay on the Foundations of a Social Ethic. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
—. 1999. Huron-Wendat. The Heritage of the Circle. Vancouver: British Columbia University Press.”
Steckley, John. 1981 ‘Kandiaronk: a man called Rat.’ In J. Steckley, Untold Tales: Four Seventeenth-Century Hurons. Toronto: Associated Heritage Publishing, pp. 41–52.
—. 2014. The Eighteenth-Century Wyandot: A Clan-Based Study. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.”
Mann, Barbara Alice. “ —. 2001. ‘Are you delusional? Kandiaronk on Christianity.’ In B. A. Mann (ed.), Native American Speakers of the Eastern Woodlands: Selected Speeches and Critical Analysis. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, pp. 35–82.”

Lahontan on the other hand urges Adario to become a European, to which Adario says, “How could I watch the Needy suffer, without giving them all I have? . . . “

Brandon, William. New Worlds for Old: Reports from the New World and Their Effect on the Development of Social Thought in Europe, 1500-1800. Athens, Ohio : Ohio University Press, 1986. http://archive.org/details/newworldsforoldr0000bran. p. 91

With all these vices, they are exceedingly vainglorious: they think they are better, more valiant and more ingenious than the French; and, what is difficult to believe, richer than we are. They consider themselves, I say, braver than we are, boasting that they have killed Basques and Malouins, and that they do a great deal of harm to the ships, and that no one has ever resented it, insinuating that it was from a lack of courage. They consider themselves better than the French ; ‘ ‘ For, ’ ’ they say, ‘ ‘ you are always fighting and quarreling among yourselves; we live peaceably. You are envious and are all the time slandering each other; [32] you are thieves and deceivers ; you are covetous, and are neither generous nor kind ; as for us, if we have a morsel of bread we share it with our neighbor. ’ ’

Letter from Father Biard, to Reverend Father Christopher Baltazar, Provincial of France, at Paris, In The Jesuit relations and allied documents : travels and explorations of the Jesuit missionaries in New France, 1610-1791. https://archive.org/details/cihm_07535/page/n7/mode/2up

Much like Biard’s Mi’kmaq, the Wendat were particularly offended by the French lack of generosity to one another: ‘They reciprocate hospitality and give such assistance to one another that the necessities of all are provided for without there being any indigent beggar in their towns and villages; and they considered it a very bad thing when they heard it said that there were in France a great many of these needy beggars, and thought that this was for lack of charity in us, and blamed us for it severely.

. . .

Do you seriously imagine, he says, that I would be happy to live like one of the inhabitants of Paris, to take two hours every morning just to put on my shirt and make-up, to bow and scrape before every obnoxious galoot I meet on the street who happened to have been born with an inheritance? Do you really imagine I could carry a purse full of coins and not immediately hand them over to people who are hungry. . . .”

. . .

Wealthy men – and it should be noted that all these societies were decidedly patriarchal – were typically seen as providers for poorer dependants, improvident folk and foolish drifters, by virtue of their own self-discipline and labour and that of their wives.

. . .

There are a number of things worth noting here. One is that it makes clear that some people were indeed considered wealthy. Wendat society was not ‘economically egalitarian’ in that sense. However, there was a difference between what we’d consider economic resources – like land, which was owned by families, worked by women, and whose products were largely disposed of by women’s collectives – and the kind of ‘wealth’ being referred to here, such as wampum (a word applied to strings and belts of beads, manufactured from the shells of Long Island’s quahog clam) or other treasures, which largely existed for political purposes. Wealthy Wendat men hoarded such precious things largely to be able to give them away on dramatic occasions like these.

Excerpts From: David Graeber. “The Dawn of Everything.” Apple Books.

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The first Mesopotamian City:

Uruk: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/3D-Visualisation-of-the-city-of-Uruk-3000-BC_fig1_280134491

It is often hard to determine exactly who these temple labourers were, or even what sort of people were being organized in this way, allotted meals and having their outputs inventoried – were they permanently attached to the temple, or just ordinary citizens fulfilling their annual corvée duty? – but the presence of children in the lists suggests at least some may have lived there. If so, then this was most likely because they had nowhere else to go. If later Sumerian temples are anything to go by, this workforce will have comprised a whole assortment of the urban needy: widows, orphans and others rendered vulnerable by debt, crime, conflict, poverty, disease or disability, who found in the temple a place of refuge and support.

Excerpt From: David Graeber. “The Dawn of Everything.” Apple Books.

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Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.


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