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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Book Review: The Continuum Concept

*If you are interested in this subject (how hunter-gatherers parent) I recommend Hunter-Gather Childhoods: Evolutionary, Developmental and Cultural Perspectives. http://www.amazon.com/Hunter-Gatherer-Childhoods-Evolutionary-Developmental-Perspectives/dp/0202307492/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1356892287&sr=1-1&keywords=hunters+and+gatherers+childhood

Book Review: The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost by Jean Liedloff

This book is mostly lame. It is an uneducated woman ranting about what she thinks a tribe of Native Americans think about raising babies. Then she rants about her assumptions that all native peoples were parented exactly like this tribe and this tribe is full of happy babies and all babies would be happier if they were parented this way and there would be world peace, etc. It's a pretty ridiculous book mostly full of emotionally charged and guilt-ridden lectures about things she thinks that have a lot more to do with her own issues than the reality of hunter-gatherer childhoods and lives.

That being said, I found her anecdotes about the Yequana fascinating. Here are almost all of them since most of her book was not actually about the natives:

"One Yequana boy I knew came to me clinging to his mother and screaming at the top of his lungs from a toothache. He was about ten years old and so unfailingly self-reliant and helpful that I had supposed him to be highly disciplined. To my civilized view, he seemed a master of keeping his feelings to himself, and I therefore expected that in the present situation he would be making a terrific effort not to cry or to let his companions see him in such a state. But it was clear that he was making no attempt to suppress his reaction to the pain or his need for the primordial comfort of his mother's arms. No one fussed but everyone understood. A few of his playmates stood by to watch me extract the tooth. They did not have any difficulty in accepting his sudden departure from their gallant ranks into infantile dependence upon his mother; there was no hint of mockery from them, none of shame from him. His mother was there, quietly available, while he submitted to the extraction. He flinched and shrieked even louder several times when I touched the tooth, but he never pulled away or looked angry at me for causing the pain. When at last I worked the tooth free of the gum and stopped the hole with gauze, he was white in the face and went to his hammock exhausted. In less than an hour he reappeared alone, the color back in his cheeks and his equanimity restored. He said nothing, but smiled and poked about nearby for a few minutes to show me he was well, then wandered off to join the other boys."

"Another time it was a man of about twenty: I was doing my best to excise the beginnings of gangrene from his toe by flashlight. The pain must have been excruciating. While offering no resistance to my scraping the wound with his hunting knife, he wept without any sign of restraint on his wife's lap. She, like the little boy's mother, was completely relaxed, not putting herself in her husband's place at all, but serenely accessible, as he buried his face in her body when the pain was greatest or rolled his head from side to side om her lap as he sobbed. The eventual presence of about half the village at the scene did not appear to affect his reaction either toward self-control or dramatization."

"I was present at the first moments of one little girl's working life. She was about two years old. I had seen her with the women and girls, playing as they grated manioc in a trough. Now she was taking a piece of manioc from the pile and rubbing it against the grater of a girl near her. The chunk was too big; she dropped it several times trying to draw it across the rough board. An affectionate smile and a smaller piece of manioc came form her neighbor, and her mother, ready for the inevitable impulse to show itself, handed her a tiny grating board of her own. The little girl had seen the women grating as long as she could remember and immediately rubbed the nubbin up and down her board like the others. She lost interest in less than a minute and ran off, leaving her little grater in the trough and no noticeable inroads on the manioc. No one made her feel her gesture was funny or a "surprise"; the women did, indeed, expect it sooner or later, as they are all familiar with the fact that children do join in the culture, though their approach and pace are dictated by individual forces within themselves. That the end result will be social, cooperative and entirely voluntary is not in question."

"Caretaking, like assistance, is by request only. Feeding to nourish the body and cuddling to nourish the soul are neither proffered nor withheld, but are always available, simply and gracefully, as a matter of course.... Ideally, giving the child an example, or lead, to follow is not done expressly to influence him, but means doing what one has to do normally: not giving special attention to the child but creating the atmosphere of minding one's own business by way of priority, only noticing the child when he requires it and then no more than is useful."

"A Yequana tot would not dream of straying from his mother on a forest trail, for she does not look behind to see whether he is following, she does not suggest there is a choice to be made, or that it is her job to keep them together; she only slows her pace to one he can maintain. Knowing this, the babe will cry out if he cannot keep up for one reason or another."

"It is clear that they [young children] are imitative, cooperative and inclined to preserve the individual and the species, but they also include the specifics as knowing how to care for infants and having the ability to do so. To give the profound maternal urge in little girls no quarter, to channel it off to dolls when there are real infants about, is among other things a serious disservice to the children of the little girl when she grows up. Even before she can understand the instructions from her own mother, a little girl behaves instinctively toward infants int he precise manner required by infants since time immemorial. When she is old enough to consider alternative methods, she is already a long-standing expert in baby care and does not feel there is any advantage in thinking about it. She foes on throughout her childhood taking care of babies whenever she can, in her own family or among her neighbors, and by the time she marries. not only has nothing to discuss with the Doctor Spocks, but also has two strong arms and a repertoire of positions and movements with which babies can be held...."

"The notion of ownership of other persons is absent among the Yequana. The idea that this is "my child" does not exist. Deciding what another person should do, no matter what his age, is outside the Yequana vocabulary of behaviors. There is great interest in what everyone does, but no impulse to influence--let alone coerce--anyone. A child's will is his motive force. There is no slavery--for how else can one describe imposing one's will on another and coercion by threat or punishment?"

[An outsider child was adjusting to the village.] "Sometimes after he started walking, he hit other children. Interestingly, the other children regarded him without emotion; the idea of aggressiveness was so foreign to them that they took it as though they had been struck by a tree branch or from some other natural cause; they never dreamed of striking back, and went on about their games without even excluding Wididi."

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