09
Dec
10

Book Review: The Law of Primitive Man

The Law of Primitive Man: A Study in Comparative Legal DynamicsThe Law of Primitive Man: A Study in Comparative Legal Dynamics

by E. Adamson Hoebel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a long-standing passion for early man. He is my ancestor. He laid the foundation for what we as Modern Man accomplishes. How did he survive in a feral world where his skin was too thin (unlike the rhino) and his teeth too dull (unlike the sabertooth)? What was his magic tool? To answer these questions, I read the entire Aliso Viejo CA library on prehistoric man. I have a good idea how we made it through the Plio-Pleistocene, evolved from Homo habilis to become the workhorse of the human species–Homo erectus.

Erectus was a man’s man with his thick skull (from being beaten about the head too often, paleoanthropologists speculate) and his advanced tools (Acheulian by then). As I studied his world (he survived longer than any other human species to date), I hoped to find the beginnings of religion, culture, music, why we decorate our bodies with jewelry and paint.

And where did our acceptance of laws come from?

Much has been written about the seeds of religion, music, jewelry, but not the beginnings of jurisprudence. Why do we voluntarily submit ourselves to the subjective rule of another? We allow ourselves to be ostracized jailed. We change our behavior to suit laws that are grounded only in the geography in which we live. I read everything I could find about modern primitive people, but there aren’t many left. Man has civilized most of our globe and few isolated cultural groups remain. In the days of Margaret Meade, anthropologists studied many groups of primitive men–the Bunyoro, the Yanomamo, the Dinka–but within a hundred years, most of the tribes had disappeared.

Possibly the last comprehensive study (to my knowledge, though I am not a trained anthropologist) was done by E. Adamson Hoebel and his ambitious survey of five cultural tribes in The Law of Primitive Man (by ‘primitive’ he means ‘non-literate’ man). He starts with an overview of primitive law, discussing its cultural background, his methods of studying the tribes and the fundamental legal concepts he applied in the study of primitive law. His subjects are the Eskimo, the iFugao, the Comanche/Kiowa/Cheyenne, the Trobriand Islanders and the Ashanti. I knew what I was in for with this treatise when it took Hoebel eleven pages to define law as A social norm is legal if its neglect or infraction is regularly met, in threat or in fact, by the application of physical force by an individual or group possessing the socially recognized privilege of so acting.

Hoebel develops his study via a discussion of each society. As you red my notes, remember that the book was written in 1936.

  • Eskimos lived in groups of about one hundred, which not surprisingly is also the group size paleo-anthropologists speculate that Homo erectus lived. It is considered the right size community for intimate face-to-face interactions, allows for a high degree of uniformity of their culture and language
    • They believe in the supernatural, though admit they don’t understand it and are content to not understand it
    • They have nine postulates that underlie their society, beliefs such as
      o life is hard and the margin of safety small
      o all natural resources are free or common goods
      o unproductive members of society cannot be supported
    • Apprehension of unpredictable misfortune drives Eskimos to believe they are caused by spirits
    • Magic and religion rather than law direct most of their actions
    • Much of Eskimo law is communicated by Hoebel via examples. For example, an irritable foster-father declared to his adopted son that he wished the boy were dead. That the boy was not worth the food he ate. The youth declared he would never eat again. That night he went out naked into the snow, lay down and froze to deat
  • The IFugao have a similar set of postulates, including
    o the bilateral kinship group is the primary social and legal unit, consisting of the dead, the living and the yet-unborn
    o an individual’s responsibility to his kinship group takes precedence over any self-interest
    o the kinship group shall control all basic capital goods and provide protection for its members and punish outside aggression against them
    o Capital goods may be lent at interest
    o A debt never dies
    o Rice is the one good food

By the time I finished reading the legal details of five tribes, their rationale, their unwritten rules, their easy mix of objective and subjective, I had a nascent understanding of how our earliest ancestors might have determined their laws and why. It amazes me how much time and effort Hoebel put into this research, into synthesizing the details, into sifting through the disparate threads of their culture to come to his conclusions. That thought process is arguably as fascinating as his conclusions. On balance, I recommend this book to anyone with a curiosity about our roots and how we’ve ended up where we are today.

View all my reviews

 

Share

About these ads

1 Response to “Book Review: The Law of Primitive Man”



What do you think? Leave a comment and I'll reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


What’s in this blog

Discover the sizzle in science. It's not that stuff that's always for the smart kids. It's the need to know. The passion for understanding. The absolute belief that for every problem, there is a solution. The creative mind seeking truth in a world of mystery. The quest for the Holy Grail.

That's science.

Read Sizzling Science on Kindle

kindle

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 212 other followers

Share This

Bookmark and Share

Categories

Documents

Books I’m Reading

Great Science Books

Assembling California
Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant
The Forest People
Geology Underfoot in Southern California
The Land's Wild Music: Encounters with Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Terry Tempest William, and James Galvin
My Life with the Chimpanzees
Naked Earth: The New Geophysics
Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are
The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness
Sand Rivers
The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body
The Tree Where Man Was Born
The Wildlife of Southern Africa: A Field Guide to the Animal and Plants of the Region
The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior: An Autobiography


Jacqui's favorite books »
Share book reviews and ratings with Jacqui, and even join a book club on Goodreads.

RSS Fact and Fiction about Early Man

  • The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention January 12, 2014
    author: Guy Deutscher name: Jacqui average rating: 4.18 book published: 2006 rating: 3 read at: date added: 2014/01/12 shelves: early-man, research review: Dr. Deutscher has done a scholarly, thorough discussion on the roots of language, but I believe he started too late in time. I'm of the persuasion that language involves more than the spoken word. I […]
    Guy Deutscher
  • She Who remembers November 3, 2013
    author: Linda Lay Shuler name: Jacqui average rating: 4.17 book published: 1988 rating: 4 read at: date added: 2013/11/03 shelves: early-man review: […]
    Linda Lay Shuler
  • The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness July 25, 2011
    author: Christopher Wills name: Jacqui average rating: 4.14 book published: 1993 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: science, early-man review: In my lifelong effort to understand what makes us human, I long ago arrived at the lynchpin to that discussion: our brain. Even though bipedalism preceded big brains, and we couldn't be who we are […]
    Christopher Wills
  • The Origin Of Humankind July 25, 2011
    author: Richard E. Leakey name: Jacqui average rating: 3.91 book published: 1981 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, history review: If you're interested in man's roots, there are several authors you must read: Birute Galdikas Dian Fosse Donald Johanson GHR Von Koenigsman Glen Isaacs Jared Diamond Ian Tattersell Lev Vygots […]
    Richard E. Leakey
  • Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind July 24, 2011
    author: Donald C. Johanson name: Jacqui average rating: 4.10 book published: 1981 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, science review: I read this book when I was writing a paleo-historic drama of the life of earliest man. My characters were Homo habilines, but they cohabited Africa with Australopithecines, so to understand the co-st […]
    Donald C. Johanson
  • Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe July 24, 2011
    author: Jane Goodall name: Jacqui average rating: 4.26 book published: 1990 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, science review: I have read every book that Jane Goodall wrote. She has an easy-going writing style that shares scientific principals easily with the layman. Probably because when she started, she was little more than a no […]
    Jane Goodall
  • In the Shadow of Man July 24, 2011
    author: Jane Goodall name: Jacqui average rating: 4.32 book published: 1971 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/23 shelves: early-man, science review: I read Jane Goodall's In the Shadow of Man (Houghton Mifflin 1971) years ago as research for a paleo-historic novel I was writing. I needed background on the great apes so I could show them acting appr […]
    Jane Goodall
  • Timewalkers: The Prehistory of Global Colonization January 29, 2011
    author: Clive Gamble name: Jacqui average rating: 3.50 book published: 1993 rating: 4 read at: 2010/02/07 date added: 2011/01/28 shelves: early-man review: It's a difficult question. Why did earliest man leave Africa and migrate to new areas. Mostly, animals evolve suited to their environment and they don't stray far. They may have several areas th […]
    Clive Gamble
  • Gorillas in the Mist January 26, 2011
    author: Dian Fossey name: Jacqui average rating: 4.16 book published: 1983 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/01/25 shelves: early-man review: […]
    Dian Fossey
  • The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body January 26, 2011
    author: Steven Mithen name: Jacqui average rating: 3.76 book published: 2005 rating: 4 read at: 2009/07/28 date added: 2011/01/25 shelves: early-man, reference, research, science review: I have avoided this book in the past because my personal interest extends to an earlier time than Neanderthals, but I shouldn't have. The title is misleading in that he […]
    Steven Mithen
California Yellow Pages
blogarama - the blog directory
Free Blog Directory
wordpress stats
blog search directory
Science Blogs

Vote for Me


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 212 other followers

%d bloggers like this: