Hoe Cultures: A Type of Non-Patriarchal Society

Epistemic status: mostly facts, a few speculations.

TW: lots of mentions of violence, abuse, and rape.

There is a tremendous difference, in pre-modern societies, between those that farmed with the plow and those that farmed with the hoe.

If you’re reading this, you live in a plow culture, or are heavily influenced by one. Europe, the Middle East, and most of Asia developed plow cultures. These are characterized by reliance on grains such as wheat and rice, which provide a lot of calories per acre in exchange for a lot of hard physical labor.  They also involve large working livestock, such as horses, donkeys, and oxen.

Hoe cultures, by contrast, arose in certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, southeast Asia, and Oceania.

Hoe agriculture is sometimes called horticulture, because it is more like planting a vegetable garden than farming.  You clear land with a machete and dig it with a hoe.  This works for crops such as bananas, breadfruit, coconuts, taro, yam, calabashes and squashes, beans, and maize.  Horticulturalists also keep domestic animals like chickens, dogs, goats, sheep, and pigs — but never cattle. They may hunt or fish.  They engage in small-scale home production of pottery and cloth.[1]

Hoe agriculture is extremely productive per hour of labor, much more so than preindustrial grain farming, but requires a vast amount of land for a small population. Horticulturists also tend to practice shifting cultivation, clearing new land when the old land is used up, rather than repeatedly plowing the same field — something that is only possible when fertile land is “too cheap to meter.”  Hoe cultures therefore have lots of leisure, but low population density, low technology, and few material objects.[1]

I live with a toddler, so I’ve seen a lot of the Disney movie Moana, which had a lot of consultation with Polynesians to get the culture right. This chipper little song is a pretty nice illustration of hoe culture: you see people digging with hoes, carrying bananas and fish, singing about coconuts and taro root, making pottery and cloth, and you see a pig and a chicken tripping through the action.

Hoe Culture and Gender Roles

Ester Boserup, in her 1970 book Woman’s Role in Economic Development [2], notes that in hoe cultures women do the hoeing, while in plow cultures men do the plowing.

This is because plowing is so physically difficult that men, with greater physical strength, have a comparative advantage at agricultural labor, while they have no such advantage in horticulture.

Men in hoe cultures clear the land (which is physically challenging; machete-ing trees is quite the upper-body workout), hunt, and engage in war. But overall, hour by hour, they spend most of their time in leisure.  (Or in activities that are not directly economically productive, like politics, ritual, or the arts.)

Women in hoe cultures, as in all known human cultures, do most of the childcare.  But hoeing is light enough work that they can take small children into the fields with them and watch them while they plant and weed. Plowing, hunting, and managing large livestock, by contrast, are forms of work too heavy or dangerous to accommodate simultaneous childcare.

The main gender difference between hoe and plow cultures is, then, that women in hoe cultures are economically productive while women in plow cultures are largely not.

This has strong implications for marriage customs.  In a plow culture, a husband supports his wife; in a hoe culture, a wife supports her husband.

Correspondingly, plow cultures tend to have a tradition of dowry (the bride’s parents compensate the groom financially for taking an extra mouth to feed off their hands) while hoe cultures tend to practice bride price (the groom compensates the bride’s family financially for the loss of a working woman) or bride service (the groom labors for the bride’s family, again as compensation for taking her labor.)

Hoe cultures are much more likely to be polygamous than plow cultures.  Since land is basically free, a man in a hoe culture is rich in proportion to how much labor he can accumulate — and labor means women. The more wives, the more labor.  In a plow culture, however, extra labor must come from men, which usually means hired labor, or slaves or serfs.  Additional wives would only mean more mouths to feed.

Because hoe cultures need women for labor, they allow women more autonomy.  Customs like veiling or seclusion (purdah) are infeasible when women work in the fields.  Hoe-culture women can usually divorce their husbands if they pay back the bride-price.

Barren women, widows, and unchaste women or rape victims in pre-modern plow cultures often face severe stigma (and practices like sati and honor killings) which do not occur in hoe cultures. Women everywhere are valued for their reproductive abilities, and men everywhere have an evolutionary incentive to prefer faithful mates; but in a hoe culture, women have economic value aside from reproduction, and thus society can’t afford to kill them as soon as their reproductive value is diminished.

“Matriarchy” is considered a myth by modern anthropologists; there is no known society, present or past, where women ruled. However, there are matrilinear societies, where descent is traced through the mother, and matrilocal societies, where the groom goes to live near the bride and her family.  All matrilinear and matrilocal societies in Africa are hoe cultures (though some hoe cultures are patrilinear and/or patrilocal.)[3]

The Seneca, a Native American people living around Lake Ontario, are a good example of a hoe culture where women enjoyed a great deal of power. [4] Traditionally, they cultivated the Three Sisters: maize, beans, and squash.  The women practiced horticulture, led councils, had rights over all land, and distributed food and household stores within the clan.  Descent was matrilineal, and marriages (which were monogamous) were usually arranged by the mothers. Of the Seneca wife, Henry Dearborn noted wistfully in his journal, “She lives with him from love, for she can obtain her own means of support better than he.”  Living, childrearing, and work organization was communal within a clan (living within a longhouse) and generally organized by elder women.

Hoe and Plow Cultures Today

A 2012 study [5] found that people descended from plow cultures are more likely to agree with the statements “When jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than women” and “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do” than people descended from hoe cultures.

“Traditional plough-use is positively correlated with attitudes reflecting gender inequality and negatively correlated with female labor force participation, female firm ownership, and female participation in politics.”  This remains true after controlling for a variety of societal variables, such as religion, race, climate, per-capita GDP, history of communism, civil war, and others.

Even among immigrants to Europe and the US, history of ancestral plow-use is still strongly linked to female labor force participation and attitudes about gender roles.

Patriarchy Through a Materialist Lens

Friedrich Engels, in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, was the first to argue that patriarchy was a consequence of the rise of (plow) agriculture.  Alesina et al summarize him as follows:

He argued that gender inequality arose due to the intensification of agriculture, which resulted in the emergence of private property, which was monopolized by men. The control of private property allowed men to subjugate women and to introduce exclusive paternity over their children, replacing matriliny with patrilineal descent, making wives even more dependent on husbands and their property. As a consequence, women were no longer active and equal participants in community life.

Hoe societies (and hunter-gatherer societies) have virtually no capital. Land can be used, but not really owned, as its produce is unreliable or non-renewable, and its boundaries are too large to guard. Technology is too primitive for any tool to be much of a capital asset.  This is why they are poor in material culture, and also why they are egalitarian; nobody can accumulate more than his neighbors if there just isn’t any way to accumulate stuff at all.

I find the materialistic approach to explaining culture appealing, even though I’m not a Marxist.  Economic incentives — which can be inferred by observing the concrete facts of how a people makes its living — provide elegant explanations for the customs, traditions, and ideals that emerge in a culture.  We do not have to presume that those who live in other cultures are stupid or fundamentally alien; we can assume they respond to incentives just as we do.  And, when we see the world through a materialist lens, we do not hope to change culture by mere exhortation. Oppression occurs when people see an advantage in oppressing; it is subdued when the advantage disappears, or when the costs become too high.  Individual people can follow their consciences even when it differs from the surrounding pressures of their culture, but when we talk about aggregates and whole populations, we don’t expect personal heroism to shift systems by itself.

A materialist analysis of gender relations would say that women are not going to escape oppression until they are economically independent.  And, even in the developed world, women mostly are not.

Women around the world, including in America, are much more likely to live in poverty than men.  This is because women have lower-paying jobs and struggle to support single-mother households. Women everywhere do most of the childcare, and most women have children at some point in their lives, so an economy that does not allow a woman to support and care for children with her own labor is not an economy that will ever allow most women to be economically independent.

Just working outside the home does not make a woman economically independent. If a family is living in a “two-income trap”[6], in which the wife’s income is just enough to pay for the childcare she does not personally provide, then the wife’s net economic contribution to the family is zero.

Sure, much of the “gender pay gap” disappears after controlling for college major and career choice [7][8]. Men report more interest in making a lot of money and being leaders, while women report more interest in being helpful and working with people rather than things. But a lot of this is probably due to the fact that most women rationally assume that they will take time to raise children, and that their husband will be the primary breadwinner, so they are less likely to make early education and career choices on the basis of earning the most money.

Economist Claudia Goldin believes the main reason for the gender pay gap is the cost of temporal flexibility; women want more work flexibility in order to raise children, and so they are paid less.  Childless men and women have virtually no wage disparity.[9]

Since women who will ever have children (which is most women) are still usually economically dependent on men even in the developed world, and strongly disadvantaged if they don’t have a male provider, is it any wonder that women are still more submissive and agreeable, higher in neuroticism and mood disorders, and subject to greater pressure to appeal sexually?  Their livelihood still depends on finding a mate to support them.

In order to change the economic incentives to make women financially independent, it would have to be no big deal to be a single mother. This probably means an economy whose resources were shifted from luxury towards leisure. Mothers of young children need a lot of time away from economic work; if we “bought” time instead of fancy goods with our high-tech productivity gains, a single mother in a technological economy might be able to support children by herself.  But industrial-age workplaces are not set up to allow employees flexibility, and modern states generally put up heavy barriers to easy, flexible self-employment or ultra-frugal living, through licensing laws, zoning regulations, and quality regulations on goods.

Morality and Religion under Hoe Societies

It’s hard to trust what we read about hoe-culture mores, because these generally aren’t societies that develop writing, and what we read is filtered through the opinions of Western researchers or missionaries. But, as far as I can tell, they are mostly animist and polytheist cultures. There are many “spirits” or “gods”, some friendly and some unfriendly, but none supreme.  Magical practices (“if you do this ritual, you’ll get that outcome”)  seem to be common.

Monotheist and henotheist cultures (one god, or one god above all other gods, usually male) seem to be more of a plow-culture thing, though not all plow cultures follow that pattern.

The presence of goddesses doesn’t correlate that much to the condition of women in a society, contrary to the (now falsified) belief that pre-agrarian societies were matriarchal and goddess-worshipping.

The Code of Handsome Lake is an interesting example of a moral and religious code written by a man from a hoe culture. Handsome Lake was a religious reformer among the Iroquois in the 18th century.  His Code is heavily influenced by Christianity (his account of Hell and of the apocalypse closely follow the New Testament and are not found in earlier Iroquois beliefs) but includes some distinctively Iroquois features.

Notably, he was strongly against spousal and child abuse, and in favor of family harmony, including this touching passage:

“Parents disregard the warnings of their children. When a child says, “Mother, I want you to stop wrongdoing,” the child speaks straight words and the Creator says that the child speaks right and the mother must obey. Furthermore the Creator proclaims that such words from a child are wonderful and that the mother who disregards then takes the wicked part. The mother may reply, “Daughter, stop your noise. I know better than you. I am the older and you are but a child. Think not that you can influence me by your speaking.” Now when you tell this message to your people say that it is wrong to speak to children in such words.”

Are Hoe Societies Good?

They’re not paradise. (Though, note that Adam and Eve were gardeners in Eden.)

As stated before, horticulturalists are poor. People in hoe cultures don’t necessarily have less to eat than their pre-modern agrarian peers, but they have less stuff, and they are much poorer than anyone in industrialized societies.

Polygamy also has distinct disadvantages.  It promotes venereal disease. It also excludes a population of unmarried men from society, which leads to violence and exposes the excluded men to poverty and isolation.

And you can’t replicate hoe societies across the globe even if you wanted to.  Hoe agriculture is so land-intensive that it couldn’t possibly support a population of seven billion.

Furthermore, while women in hoe societies have more autonomy and are subject to less gendered violence than women in pre-modern plow societies, it’s not clear how that compares to women in modern societies with rule of law. Hoe societies are still traditionalist and communitarian. Men’s and women’s spheres are still separate. Life in a hoe society is not going to exactly match a modern feminist’s ideal.  These aren’t WEIRD people, they’re something quite different, for better or for worse, and it’s hard to know exactly how the experience is different just by reading a few papers.

Hoe cultures are interesting not because we should model ourselves after them, but because they are an existence proof that non-patriarchal societies can exist for millennia.  Conservatives can always argue that a new invention hasn’t been proved stable or sustainable. Hoe cultures have been proved incredibly long-lasting.


[1]Braudel, Fernand. Civilization and capitalism, 15th-18th century: The structure of everyday life. Vol. 1. Univ of California Press, 1992.

[2]Boserup, Ester. Woman’s role in economic development. Earthscan, 2007.

[3]Goody, Jack, and Joan Buckley. “Inheritance and women’s labour in Africa.” Africa 43.2 (1973): 108-121.

[4]Jensen, Joan M. “Native American women and agriculture: A Seneca case study.” Sex Roles 3.5 (1977): 423-441.

[5]Alesina, Alberto, Paola Giuliano, and Nathan Nunn. “On the origins of gender roles: Women and the plough.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 128.2 (2013): 469-530.

[6]Warren, Elizabeth, and Amelia Warren Tyagi. The two-income trap: Why middle-class parents are going broke. Basic Books, 2007.

[7]Daymont, Thomas N., and Paul J. Andrisani. “Job preferences, college major, and the gender gap in earnings.” Journal of Human Resources (1984): 408-428.

[8]Zafar, Basit. “College major choice and the gender gap.” Journal of Human Resources 48.3 (2013): 545-595.

[9]Waldfogel, Jane. “Understanding the” family gap” in pay for women with children.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 12.1 (1998): 137-156.


24 thoughts on “Hoe Cultures: A Type of Non-Patriarchal Society

  1. re: “A 2012 study [5] found that people descended from hoe cultures are more likely to agree with the statements ‘When jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than women'”
    It seems like this is backwards? (That is, the study found more gender-unequal roles for plough culture.)

  2. “Women everywhere do most of the childcare, and most women have children at some point in their lives, so an economy that does not allow a woman to support and care for children with her own labor is not an economy that will ever allow most women to be economically independent.”

    I was following up until this point, and I do mostly agree overall (and I’m in favor of structuring society so that all humans are free from economic coercion), but I feel like there are some wild, unstated assumptions here:
    1) Economic independence is only real when you can also support children by yourself.
    – I think this is not true. Raising children is a luxury for any given individual, that happens to be valuable for the species. I would especially note that trying to raise children *by yourself* is incredibly unusual historically. In fact, even just two people being the standard for raising a child seems a historical anomaly.
    2) Because there are more single women with children than single men with children, the above actually only applies to women.
    – This seems to me like it’s making sexist stereotypes *based on our current society, which you are calling sexist*. I’m not categorically against saying “women are more likely to be X, men are more likely to be Y”, but I’m against making an argument about how things ought to be based on data from the flawed present. (Perhaps in a non-patriarchal society, both genders would find themselves single with children with equal frequency.)
    3) The only solution to single women not being able to support themselves and also support children is for them to be richer.
    – That is one obvious solution, but there’s another: Don’t organize society such that children are the full responsibility of a single adult human. (In fact, I’d rather grant that children have the natural right to 2+ caretakers than that adults have the natural right to be sole caretakers of children. Though I say this having only been a child and not a parent.)

    • In this essay I’m taking standard evo-psych pretty much for granted: that people have a strong drive for procreation (it’s not a “luxury”) and that women are, on average, more motivated to raise children than men. (Of course there are exceptions to both trends.) I assume that these things aren’t going to change.

      If I’m wrong about human nature, or if we develop tech to change our bodies and hormones, that makes my argument irrelevant. (Radical feminists of the 70s and 80s tended to preach either *economic* reform or *transhumanist* reform — artificial wombs and the like. Transhumanist reform would definitely work, it’s just probably more remote.)

      Your point about communal childrearing is a good one, and I’m sorry I missed it. I’d say that the big practical ways women with children can be financially independent today are a.) supportive partners, b.) earning money, c.) living frugally so they can have more time, and/or d.) communal childrearing. (I’m doing all of the above.)

  3. Furthermore, while women in hoe societies have more autonomy and are subject to less gendered violence than women in pre-modern plow societies

    How do you know that practices like Sati and honor killings and witch burnings add up to more gendered violence overall, compared to the rapes and murders that result from a less organized society?

    The example that has the most bearing on this conversation, in my opinion, is the U.S. black community before and after welfare. Welfare to single mothers is a replication of the independence offered in hoe cultures.

    In order to change the economic incentives to make women financially independent, it would have to be no big deal to be a single mother.

    It already is a good deal to be a single mother, if your prospects in the labor market aren’t great. Which they aren’t, for black women. Yeah, you get less money than if you were working, but you also don’t have to work! That time is incredibly valuable. If you have a roof over your head, you have food, you have medical care – really, having no job to go to is an incredibly good deal. It becomes less good if you have good prospects for some well paying and rewarding career, but generally, the people taking up this deal have terrible prospects in that regard.

    We see the results of this deal being offered and taken. The black family and by extension black society is torn apart. Men go from woman to woman freely, the ‘soft polygamy’ that was the norm in their past re-emerging. The resulting hyper-charged male competition and violence results in mass incarceration and a singularly unproductive dynamic. A little Africa is reborn in the first world.

    You haven’t yet addressed the point I made in the last post, that agrarian-patriarchy restricts the options of women AND MEN, makes women AND MEN more submissive and restrained. Men don’t use the freedom and ability to mooch off of women to become nice betas. They are encouraged to form loose associations with as many women as possible. Women, in turn, are freer to associate with who they please, but what do they use this freedom to do? They go after the the most aggressive and dominant males. It can’t be a coincidence that the places that produce advanced civilization paid a lot of attention to restricting female choice in this regard.

    Maybe it can go too far, maybe it has gone too far. Maybe that’s behind east asian underperformance relative to their scores, over-rewarding conformity. Certainly it has its hand in the pathologies I outlined earlier. But I am pretty sure that the right amount of restriction on female, and by extension male reproductive freedom has gotta be quite a lot.

    When you say this, what do you mean?

    Obviously, I agree with “survival vs. extinction”

    I mean that if something makes extinction more likely, that makes it bad. I don’t just mean that if something WILL lead to extinction, it is bad, or just that extinction itself is bad. I’m saying that you should not in good conscience avoid something painful that improves the your chances and the chances of those you identify with. For instance, if you believe that banning birth control will make your people proliferate and flourish, you should be in favor of this measure whether it is painful or not, whether it restricts freedom or not.

    We are faced with a series of small choices which in and of themselves matter little, but add up to an all-important vector. What should guide our choices? What principles devour those who hold them? I see the influence of such principles in your writing. You say:

    patriarchy is the root of destructive authoritarianism

    But by destructive you don’t, you can’t really mean destructive, that does not flow from any of your premises or arguments. Instead you mean something like mean, painful, ugly.

    If we have a society that runs on shame and appeasement, especially for women, then women will be hurt.

    So? Is that destructive? It has been spectacularly constructive in actual practice, and you have acknowledged this, or at least the strong possibility.

    Do you care whether people are hurt, or whether they survive? Do you embrace the painless suicide of our era? Is a burn better because it sears the nerves so badly and suddenly that there is no pain, or is it much, much worse?

    • lots and lots of your premises are ones I don’t share….

      Harm to humans is destructive to those humans. Hi, I am not a collectivist. I also don’t serve the interests of my *race*. Sorry, man, that is gross, and I don’t think I need to get into more detail on why.

      Everybody from this neck of the woods wants to cover the comparison with black people on welfare, and I am just not interested, because I think welfare is unsustainable for other reasons. Also because I don’t take for granted all your assumptions about what it’s like to be a black person on welfare, I’m disturbed by your contempt, and I don’t have the time or the inclination to look deeply into the sociology of the present day. (It is *so* much easier to read old-fashioned anthropology.)

      Sorry, I know this isn’t a counter-argument, but this is where my limits are. Can’t cover everything.

      • Harm to humans is destructive to those humans. Hi, I am not a collectivist.

        Possibly also very constructive to others, in a way that produces spectacular civilizations. Why do you mind doing this, from the perspective of the winning side? Are you sure you have no collectivist bones in your body?

        But, you can improve someone by hurting them. You often have to. You can improve yourself by hurting yourself, and you have to do that even more often.

        You haven’t demonstrated that patriarchy, primate dominance patterns, are necessarily destructive to those who are dominated. They are definitely painful. But they are a way of coexisting where coexistence is otherwise impossible, they are a way of uniting where unity is otherwise impossible.

        It is better to be the dominator than the dominated. But what would you be, if you were to be the dominated, and that option was closed off?

        But most often, you can improve your own position, and the position of your confederates, by hurting an outsider. In this way you can create – a family, tribe, an empire. It can be constructive in a positive-sum sense, for humanity, for life. This is what you see with successive conquests and the coinciding advancements.

        I also don’t serve the interests of my *race*

        I’m interested in things from an evolutionary perspective, and evolution selects on the basis of individuals and their close relatives, not on the basis of race. A mutation that helps your race, or your species at your own expense will not be selected for. Your race typically forms the substrate within which you conquer or are conquered, it is not a united being like a multi-cellular organism or an ant colony, or to some extent a family.

        I don’t take for granted all your assumptions about what it’s like to be a black person on welfare

        Why do you think they are mere assumptions? Far from being cryptic, this part of society is quite loud and transparent. They aren’t an uncontacted Amazonian tribe. I’m also not making guesses about the fascinating internal life of other races, though such data can be collected and has been collected (for example here, 198-202 http://biculturalism.ucr.edu/pdfs/Schmitt%20et%20al_JCCP2007.pdf). I’m talking about what is happening, what incentives are being followed, not what it feels like.

        Sorry, man, that is gross, and I don’t think I need to get into more detail on why.

        I wouldn’t say you should ‘serve the interests of your race,’ but often conflicts develop along racial lines (just as they do along religious or national lines) and when they do you would be well served to take a good hard look at the options before you. What does it mean to denigrate and hold national service in contempt when another country is menacing yours? I don’t agree with Richard Spencer and Jared Taylor that races can be thought of as an extended family with collective evolutionary interests, but when the cry arises ‘Kill the Gueyavites!’ and you’re a Gueyavite, there is something deeply dysfunctional about going ‘Ew, I would never serve the interests of Gueya, that tribal stuff is so gross!’

        Beyond shared traits, which don’t count for that much – one can make common cause with a dog, stomach bacteria, or a tasty plant, and one often does – there isn’t anything significant about racial groups that doesn’t apply to any other obvious and salient grouping of peoples. Nevertheless such groupings can and do become incredibly important on occasion, and we could be headed in that direction. When that happens, you are betraying yourself by not reacting appropriately. Which could mean joining with your fellow Gueyavites, or running, or disassociating yourself from Gueya (this is often tried and works much less often) or whatever. But there’s nothing ‘ew’ about the first option when it will work, when it improves the chances of the individuals in a group.

        The case that you should join some racially oriented advocacy group is fairly weak at this point, IMO. But the case that you should not actively sabotage and countersignal any attempt to respond to outgroup aggression in any meaningful way, is in my view ironclad. If there is no tit for tat response to other races vigorously organizing and pushing for their own interests along racial lines, there’s no natural place where that pushing will stop.

      • It’s not just in a welfare state that women become sole caretakers and men practice sexual profligacy and financial irresponsibility. That’s common in sub-Saharan Africa as well. I find it odd that this article completely ignores that situation.

        That said, I don’t appreciate financial restriction on women as a solution. There are cultures — such as hunter-gatherer cultures — where women still provide more than half their children’s caloric intake, and society can take care of the rest if necessary, but men are also driven to contribute to their family and, for the most part, practice monogamy. I think we need to dig deeper on why these differences exist.

    • This post doesn’t have any numbers in it. I think that a more numerically grounded post would evince a different view on many of the discussed points.

      • For the avoidance of doubt, my comment about lack of numbers is aimed at ilkarnal not at the OP. I will at this point disengage.

      • What numbers are you looking for, exactly? These sorts of requests or criticisms should probably be pretty specific, and ideally proffer some data or claims of their own that support the notion that something important is being overlooked. You can look into homicide rates in hunter-gatherer and horticultural societies, and the rates in populations that are recent descendants of such systems, and compare them to homicide rates in countries that have populations descended from ‘patriarchal-authoritarian’ grain farmers.


        Rape statistics are harder because of definitional ambiguity and problems with reporting:


        But statistics aren’t the only way of judging these things. You can know that a country is a spectacularly rapeful place without recording statistics, just by looking at how well law and order is maintained generally.


        “Cannibalism has been reported in several recent African conflicts, including the Second Congo War, and the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. A UN human rights expert reported in July 2007 that sexual atrocities against Congolese women go “far beyond rape” and include sexual slavery, forced incest, and cannibalism.[116] This may be done in desperation, as during peacetime cannibalism is much less frequent;[117] at other times, it is consciously directed at certain groups believed to be relatively helpless, such as Congo Pygmies, even considered subhuman by some other Congolese.[118] It is also reported by some that witch doctors sometimes use the body parts of children in their medicine.[119] In the 1970s the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was reputed to practice cannibalism.[120][121]”

        My view on this subject is not based on a few wikipedia articles. Horticultural and hunter-gatherer societies are very violent. It’s important not to reduce them to that, there’s a lot more to people than how much raping and murder they do, and we really do need to get away from this modern little-horrified-girl morality. But if you are going to run that way, you wanna favor the societies with ‘patriarchal’ law and order. People don’t turn into angels when you set them free. I think we need more of an emphasis on morality that isn’t harm/care, things have gone too far in that direction and made a society of milquetoast wimps. Don’t mistake me for some ‘white man’s burden’ evangelizing weenie. I’m just saying that if you’re going to judge by this yardstick, don’t walk from your horticultural and hunter-gatherer roots – run. Tasty as those roots may be.

  4. Something I hadn’t thought or read about before! Excellent layout of arguments/thoughts and lots of effort on the references. Thank you. I really love this blog.

  5. > If a family is living in a “two-income trap”[6], in which the wife’s income is just enough to pay for the childcare she does not personally provide, then the wife’s net economic contribution to the family is zero.

    The net contribution is still the childcare, yes?

  6. I find the materialistic approach to explaining culture appealing, even though I’m not a Marxist. Economic incentives — which can be inferred by observing the concrete facts of how a people makes its living — provide elegant explanations for the customs, traditions, and ideals that emerge in a culture. We do not have to presume that those who live in other cultures are stupid or fundamentally alien; we can assume they respond to incentives just as we do.

    There’s something bugging me here. The situation you describe doesn’t seem to be individuals responding to incentives. Like, the cultures you discuss still seem to be laying out roles for people that it is assumed they will follow whether it’s in their individual interest or not. The cultures are in a sense responding to incentives, in that they way they lay out these roles is compatible with the underlying material conditions, but they’re still laying out roles, and that still seems to be what the individuals are responding to rather than their own material incentives. So it doesn’t look like you can explain this purely in terms of people responding to incentives; you have to add some assumptions about human nature and formation of culture. Do I have that right?

  7. Thanks – interesting post.
    Agriculture was a big change for the human race, and sometimes not for the better. In the skeleton record we see a height decrease of several inches when populations start doing it, mostly due to malnutrition. You also see skeletons affected by pellagra, rickets, etc. Benjamin Franklin wrote letters about how whenever white man spent time living the lifestyle of Native Americans, it was very difficult to persuade him to return to civilization.
    Plough culture seems bigger on property rights, and “owning” stuff, which makes sense considering the capital investment necessary for cattle, grainaries, and irrigation. Plough culture also seems bigger on delayed gratification: anthropologists have long known that hunter-gatherer tribes are fairly oblivious to the concept of saving money – if you give them some, they spend it. Or they give it away to their family.
    Maybe hoe culture’s appearance of social egalitarianism is just an epiphenomenon, stemming from a relaxed attitude to property. They don’t believe in “owning” women because they aren’t huge believers in “owning” anything.

  8. Interesting article, but:
    – “in a hoe culture, a wife supports her husband.”
    – Men “spend most of their time in leisure”
    – “Hoe cultures are much more likely to be polygamous than plow cultures.”

    This looks like a Paradise for men, not for women!

    Do you know any real cases of women to voluntarily abandon civilized society to live in hoe cultures? I can give you a case of a man (white, cis-hetero and macho) who was really tempted to abandon civilized world with its responsibilities to live for a year in the hoe culture of Easter Island:

    Easter Island! The imagination stops in its ascending flight to turn somersaults at the very
    thought: “Over there, having a white ‘boyfriend’ is an honor”; “Work? Ha! the women do everything
    — you just eat, sleep and keep them content.”
    This marvellous place where the weather is perfect,
    the women are perfect, the food perfect, the work perfect (in its beatific nonexistence). What does it
    matter if we stay there a year; who cares about studying, work, family, etc. In a shop window a giant
    crayfish winks at us, and from his bed of lettuce his whole body tells us, “I’m from Easter Island,
    where the weather is perfect, the women are perfect…” (Che Guevara, “The Motorcycle Diaries”)

    Unfortunately for the future of Cuba, the ship for Easter Island had already sailed when young (and not yet communist) Che Guevara and his companion reached the port – otherwise the history may have been different…

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