Collaborative lifestyle, women’s inheritance have contributed to our uniqueness as humans – Tamil Nadu

 Should I stay or should I go?
JANAKI LENIN, The Hindu, October 26, 2012

[…] Traditionally, women of these communities — the Nair and Mappila of Kerala, the Khasi and Garo of Meghalaya, and the Nicobarese of the Nicobar Islands — stay at their parents’ home and inherit property. S. Anvar, a chronicler of South Indian Muslim heritage, notes Marakkayar Muslims of coastal Tamil Nadu follow the same system too. Why do some communities allow women to stay at their birth home? Why not others?

If it’s all to do with inheritance, what do nomadic hunter-gatherers do? After all, they have few possessions to bequeath.

The Irula here in Tamil Nadu have been forced to settle down over the years, but they haven’t given up their hunter-gatherer ways entirely. When Kali, an Irula tribal who works with us, got married, he lived with his wife’s family for a while. Then he moved to his mother’s settlement. […]

Like many other tropical foraging communities, Kali and his wife didn’t move away from their parents permanently. I couldn’t find a comparable primate society.

If this is a reflection of the family life of early humans, then the boys-stay-and-girls-leave tradition developed later, when we made the shift from nomadic foraging to animal husbandry and agriculture about 10,000 years ago.

A team of anthropologists led by Kim Hill of Arizona State University says the level of cooperation and group organisation among our hunter-gatherer forebears is the reason for the exceptional success of mankind.

When members of early hunting-and-gathering humans travelled between groups, new ideas and innovations travelled with them and spread to a wide network of people. Such cultural exchanges gave our ancestors an edge over other primates and rival human species.

Although some members of a hunter-gatherer band were related by blood or marriage, several were unrelated to each other. Yet they all cooperated. No other primate appears to collaborate with unrelated individuals in hunting, gathering, and sharing food, and rearing children. This behaviour is unprecedented in the animal world.

By staking ownership of land and accumulating wealth, we changed the dynamics. According to a theory proposed by economist Brishti Guha, women stay home and till the land in societies that are at war. Besides, the Mappila and Marakkayar are maritime tradesmen, while Nicobarese are hunters. In all these cases, women stay with their parents and kin since their husbands are absent for long periods of time. The flip side of the situation is the husbands have no way of ascertaining the paternity of their wives’ children. Rather than invest in a child with whom they may share no genes, they invest in their sisters’ children with whom they definitely share some genetic affinity. Therefore, wealth passes through women in such communities. […]

It seems ironic we established our uniqueness as humans by evolving an exceptional collaborative lifestyle, but in dealing with property and assets, we relapsed into a non-human primate manner of dealing with relationships. […]

Source: The Hindu : Life & Style / Metroplus : Should I stay or should I go?
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Date Visited: Mon Dec 31 2012 18:22:40 GMT+0100 (CET)

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