Different Sources of Variation in Marriage and Mating Systems in the !Kung San Hunter-Gatherer and the Yanomamo Horticulturalist Societies

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  • Topic: Marriage, Consanguinity, Monogamy
  • Pages : 5 (1927 words )
  • Download(s) : 136
  • Published : March 25, 2013
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Marriage is a fundamental practice that influences village dynamics and political processes in many societies in past and present human cultures. Not only is marriage a process that supports human kinship systems, it allows for alliances and reciprocity systems between groups that create variation in human social organization (Walker et al. 2011). This paper explores the sources of variation in marriage and mating systems in two very different societies, the !Kung San and the Yanomamo, in terms of the vastly different environments each of them inhabit. The !Kung San, a traditional nomadic hunter-gatherer society, reside in the Dobe area on the edge of the Kalahari desert of Botswana (Shostak 1981, p.7). Due to the demanding environment of the desert, the San live in mobile groups of approximately ten to thirty individuals in semi-permanent villages (Shostak 1981, p.7). These highly mobile villages enable people to move to access resources, such as a variety of nuts, bulbs and fruits, of which women contribute approximately 60% to 80% of the total, as well as hunting game, which is primarily attained by men (Shostak 1981, p.11-13). The Yanomamo, a horticultural society, live in the Amazonian tropical rainforest of Venezuela and Brazil, where they are settled in villages of approximately forty to fifty people, and tend to gardens of endemic plant species (Chagnon 2009, p.1, 5). The Yanomamo rely heavily on the plant species they procure from these cultivated plants that make up approximately 80% to 90% of their diet, although men go hunting daily for meat from a variety of game animals (Changnon 2009, p.5, 63). These differences in the environment cause changes to marriage and mating systems, thus causing variation in social organization.

The village dynamics in Yanomamo society are largely determined by kinship, descent, and marriage arrangements made within and between villages by older male kin (Chagnon 2009, p.7, 121). The giving and receiving of marriageable women is an important way for alliances to be formed between villages especially in Yanomamo society, as warfare is common (Chagnon 2009, p.7, 121-122). Marriage arrangements are preferred between bilateral first cousins, specifically between men and their Mother’s Brother’s Daughters (MBD) and their Father’s Sister’s Daughters (FZD), as shown between Kaobawa and his oldest wife, Bahimi, who was his MBD (Chagnon 2009, p.141, 145). Most people in modern day industrialist societies would be repulsed at the thought of marrying their cousins. This repulsion is caused by a number of factors, including known evidence in industrial societies that cross-cousin marriages cause an increase in the chance of offspring being affected by deleterious traits, due to increased homozygosity, which results in a decreased fitness of inbred individuals (Hamilton 1964; Bittles 2010). This is evident in many taboos and laws against the marriage between first cousins (Gibbons 1993; Van Der Berghe 1983). So why are consanguineous unions favored in the Yanomamo if they decrease fitness? It may be favored in the Yanomamo as inbreeding increases the amount of kinship relatedness between all individuals over time, thus increasing their inclusive fitness by passing on more of their genetic material to subsequent generations (Changnon 2009, p.151; Hughes 1980). In the Yanomamo, where the rate of infant mortality is high, inbreeding results in more genetic material of the parents being passed on to subsequent generations if the progeny survive and reproduce, outweighing the cost of offspring being affected by deleterious traits (Chagnon 2009,p.2).

This form of marriage and mating system is advantageous in Yanomamo society due to the shortage of non-related partners caused by sex-ratio imbalance and polygyny (Levi-Strauss 1969). Sex-ratio imbalance is very common among the Yanomamo due to selective female infanticide, caused by a preference for male kin as superiors in society (Chagnon...
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