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V PREHISTORIC ECONOMY

Density of population, permanence and stability of relations are in great measure dependent on material conditions of existence. At an extremely primitive level, at the very beginning of any kind of civilisation, the struggle for existence was confined to the material, since another was as yet unknown; it was a struggle exclusively for food. The character and possibilities of this struggle depended at the beginning on the same three groups of factors on which they have uniformly depended since, namely on production, on communications and on control of nature, space and time.

Until the end of the nineteenth century prehistoric economy was believed to have been a trichotomy, an immutable sequence of hunting, pastoralism and agriculture. It was assumed at the same time that a certain order occurred in the invention of tools, related to these “economic states”. Attempts to define this inventive order — allegedly everywhere the same — produced a number of many volume works, boldly put together on the meditative principle and, in this branch of knowledge, without value. Each of these attempts may be turned upside down and the meaning remains the same. In different parts of the world the order could differ. Economic trichotomy was called in question in 1896 by E. Hahn in his Die Haustiere und ihre Beziehungen zur Wirtschaft des Menschen (it ,may be noted parenthetically that he deduced instead proto-religious factors in animal-rearing), and may be said to have been overthrown in 1907 when F. Goldstein printed an essay Die soziale Dreistufentheorie in the Zeitschrift für Sozialwissenschaft. On this occasion German science led the way.

Investigation among primitive peoples also shows only too clearly that hunting need not come first. It is possible to pass to hunting from pastoralism and even from agriculture, and also not to have a hunting period in one’s past at all. For example African negroes were never hunters and never engaged in animal-rearing on any scale, but there is no negro country where hoe-agriculture is not practised. On the other hand Indians, the world’s greatest hunters, do not think of keeping cattle. Numerous wild herds take refuge in winter in forests inhabited by Redskins (except on the Brazilian coast), but the Indian draws no conclusions.199 And those Indian peoples who allowed themselves to be persuaded into agriculture did not pass through a previous pastoral stage. Most curious of all that among some tribes the dendrophagous [eating off trees] tradition was lost, so that the Indians of Nebraska learnt about fruit again from missionaries.200

Indians do not want to be herdsmen; Africans on the other hand are largely prevented by the tsetse fly. Thus for example there are no cattle at all in the Lake Rukwa area, among the Wasagara people, among the Wuka, where hens and dogs barely survive. It is not permitted to take a team of horses from the British settlements to the neighbouring “independent” territories, to prevent the reimportation of cattle plague. And what this plague can mean there was shown among the Masai, a pastoral people of proto-Semitic origin, when “dying of hunger on the plains, leaving the weak and the children a prey to fate, they sold themselves into captivity among the neighbouring settled tribes”.201 They were unable to carry on cattle-breeding and had ceased to be dendrophagous. For negro Africa is becoming deforested. Once felled, the forests do not renew themselves, and negroes do not plant trees, while missionary efforts to re-afforest with European seeds have only local importance. “The time will come when the whole of East and Central Africa, following the example of the South, will be without a scrap of real forest”.202 Dendrophagy has been losing ground for long centuries, and with rare exceptions has ceased to exist.

Moreover negroes know nothing of fishing, of which there is a good deal among Indians. Formerly the Canadians relied on it for their existence, and even now it is a favourite occupation of Brazilians.203 But the “purest fishing cultures” are to be found in the fjords of North-West America and at the southernmost limit of humanity, in Terra del Fuego.204 In the Banca Islands, whole tribes live crowded on to boats, not recognising land at all and living exclusively on fish.205

Fishing cannot well be linked with pastoralism or agriculture. One of the first Norwegian settlers in Iceland, Floki (about 900 A.D.) found in his bay such a plentitude of fish that his men, absorbed in fishing, forgot about haymaking and in winter their cattle died.206 Something of the same kind happens to the Yakuts in certain parts of their territories.207

While fishing is found at all levels of civilised development from the most primitive to the highest, a low level of development is characteristic of hunting peoples, because hunting does not permit of any great density of population. Thus transition from dendrophagy to hunting did not benefit any people. It became tantamount to the spiking of civilisation. The pygmies among whom dendrophagy did not die out, but whose chief means of livelihood became hunting, have retreated everywhere before the negroes, withdrawing into marshy forests on plains.208 And the Indians of North America die out in their reservations where nobody disturbs them, because for a growing population they have too little space and too few animals. Hunters need large areas, otherwise they destroy each other.

Agriculture may be adopted at a high level of civilised development. It is an error to ascribe to agriculture some basic superiority in this respect, as if a raising of the level of civilisation automatically followed from it. At very low levels the fruits of herbs are collected, which represents the genesis of agriculture. Flour paste and flat cake have been known since the ancient epochs of pre-history, while bread appeared only some two thousand years ago.209 Nor is the agriculturist always settled for good. In warmer lands, cultivation for a single year, or rather for three to four months is known. In difficult years, nomads decide on casual tilling and abandon the ground after the harvest. The Tartars of Southern Russia did not cultivate the same piece of land for longer than two years. Nor does the communal three-strip field “always and necessarily lead to a finally fixed and firmly settled mode of existence”; for example. the Finno-Ugrian tribes round Ula transfer the whole village when the ground is exhausted.210 On the highest level of agricultural development, there are among the Germans specialists who are ever wandering through the world after fresh fields, changing their place of residence every few years; and these are excellent agriculturalists. for whom owners of empty spaces compete. Apparently this profession is also beginning to emerge in Poland.

Let us also discard the widespread belief in three basic levels of civilisation corresponding to three basic agricultural implements. hoe, wooden plough and plough. The introduction of English ploughs to Russian villages achieved nothing. In Africa the hoe suffices to produce several dozen kinds of bananas where the plough would fail. Even the primitive Wakami tribes engage in cultivation of the soil, tilling it a little with a hoe of their own manufacture and channelling water from neighbouring streams. In the Konde territory there is noticeably careful cultivation of the banana, as well as of little maize, sweet potatoes and beans.211 A favourite dish of the Rhodesian Bantus is a maize gruel with unsalted water, known as naima.212

If cultivation with the hoe is to be regarded as something inferior — it nevertheless borders on gardening. It is worth becoming acquainted with accounts of hoe cultivation in China, Japan, even in the southern part of Asia Minor; they reveal miracles of foresight, thrift and at the same time unusual professional intelligence. Are we to refuse the Chinese a high level of civilisation because they have been content until now with the hoe?

In any case among the Slavs, for example, the wooden plough, in the Polish socha, was the oldest tool for tilling: the improved plough called radło is younger and youngest of all the normal plough (at first a wheel). But there might be no wooden plough at all; it did not exist among the southern Slavs, among the Czechs or Slovaks; in Poland all old wooden tilling tools, even ploughs, are called socha; the true wooden plough was known only east of the Vistula.213

It is also a mistake to imagine that corn production was the joyful news of a certain moment in history. In Japan bread-eating was not at all common, even at the end of the nineteenth century, although potatoes were already known.214 Recourse was had to grain only in case of a shortage of other food, in the last resort. Even when the use of grain i.e. the milling, preparing and baking of bread had already been learnt, corn was long a secondary foodstuff, because of the great difficulty of accustoming the human organism to the diet. Corn is a poison to which one must become accustomed.

The northern Yakuts complain of heartburn from flour, while “not long ago large numbers of the southern Yakuts were adversely affected by flour”. Sieroszewski relates that during his twelve years among the Yakuts he did not eat bread for long periods, and that once a “barley loaf, eaten in the absence of other food in large quantities during a journey, acted upon me like poison. Kolyma Cossacs, feeding of necessity on what the post-stages give them, often get terrible pains from bread, so that they fall from their horses”. Yakut dogs cannot be persuaded to eat bread.215 Negroes in the Mkushi basin in Africa also dislike bread.216 And a curious thing happened with grain from the Ukraine brought to the Ussuri country for seed. After a few years it produced poisonous wheat, from which so-called “drunken-bread” resulted.217 Man became accustomed to bread under pressure of necessity.

Thus agriculture alone does not raise man, other factors must operate. No agricultural product and no agricultural implement offer a pledge of higher development, which comes from elsewhere, but may be shared by agriculture. The error lies in taking effect for cause. Moreover the entire prehistory of production explains nothing about the emergence of the various methods of communal life. Let us pass to the second factor in economic development. that is to the question of communications.

Every degree of population density, every kind and degree of wellbeing, every stage of communal life has a necessary minimum of communications, below which it cannot subsist. A degree of communications which does not correspond to the given level must hamper development and in the end may cause not merely stagnation but even retreat.

It has been generally accepted that the use of waterways is older than that of roads. But to a primitive man, a river of any size represents the limits of the accessible world. When the Sudan tribes pushed southwards, their journey was halted by the Congo.218 Tribes in the virgin forests of the Amazon basin do not know boats.219 The hollowing out of the most primitive boat requires efficient and strong tools, and the discovery of the hollowed trunk marked an epoch. It is used on the Brazilian rivers, in Eastern Ecuador, in Central Africa, in Rhodesia, and among the Yakuts and Eskimos. Bark, sealskin may be substituted for wood.220 And in Lithuania and Ruthenia have we not travelled in the classical tree-trunk, known affectionately as duszogubka (because sailing in her one may easily lose one’s life). Even today it is still possible to sail in a hollowed-out willow log on the lower Wisłok.221

The discovery of the raft on floats, that is on inflated skins, was a great advance: they are still used on the Euphrates, on the rivers of Bokhara, Turkestan, Darvaz.222 What power river shipping gave is shown by two examples: the Varangians conquered the eastern Slavs because they possessed sail-boats, and later the Muscovites conquered Siberia thanks to their river-craft, despite its primitiveness. For the Siberian peoples had no idea that it was possible to sail on a river. The Yakuts relate how the first boat they ever saw came with the Russians. Rivers could only serve as landmarks to those travelling alongside the water; but there is no water transport at the beginning of any civilisation.

Moreover, water was an element long neglected by man. It may be said in parenthesis that laundry is older than washing of the body. Various Brazilian Indians, Ainos, Algerian Tuaregs never wash. Yakuts who wash do so rarely, and do not take baths at all. Koreans wear snowy garments on bodies which are perpetually dirty.223 And the average Slav countryman cares more for the cleanliness of his clothing than of his body.224

Let us pass to land locomotion. It began with the riding of all domesticated animals, but only the horse and camel offered speed. But the horse became widespread relatively late, and the range of draught cattle is considerably more extensive to this day. The oldest vehicle is the limber, then the tumbrel from which the sledge emerged. Now limbers are known as far as the Philippines, tumbrels in Siam, sledges in Indo-China.225 Thus they are unconnected with a snowy winter. In the mountains of southern Bulgaria and north-east Serbia there are districts where sledges, not carts, are used for farm-work, even in summer.226

The discovery of the wheel marked an epoch.227 At first they were solid. To this day in Anatolia they are solid and convex like the Greek disc, and revolve with the axis. In Mongolia they are “put together out of six pieces of roughly hewn wood, transfixed by large nails”. Until very recent times, wheels with spokes were unknown in Brazil. Let us add that in Manchuria wheels are very low, while in the Amu-Darya basin they are two metres high. The primitive cart had two wheels. It survives now at the southern and northern ends of Slav territory.228 In old German and Dutch drawings, two-wheeled carts are to be seen drawn by a single horse: in Norway four wheels make a luxurious equipage; in Italy and Portugal the two-wheeled cart is used almost exclusively for carrying loads. Throughout Asia and in South America the two-wheeled cart still has no rivals. In Parana carts were not known at all before Poles arrived and so the Cracow type was adopted. In the Brazilian Contestado nobody knows about carts, while the Congo negroes learnt about the wheel only from European arrivals and did not have even wheel-barrows of their own. The inhabitants of Sumatra are in similar plight. In the whole of Tibet there is only one cart, the sacred one used on great feasts to transport the god Matray. The Dalai-Lama has no carriage, but is content with a litter.229 Among the Buryats the cart was unknown until about 1830. Then at Seleginsk in Transbaikal one of the Byestuzhev brothers, exiled as a Decabrist, began to manufacture carts of his own design, with shafts and two wheels, “which are still in use”.230

The more primitive the road and cart, the more numerous the team. In Manchuria five or seven horses or mules draw the cart; in Mesopotamia the so-called carbela is pulled by four horses in a row; in Central Asia the strongest animals, buffaloes and yaks are used for haulage; in Central Africa four donkeys; among the Boers, up to forty cows to a cart; in Brazil a dozen or more oxen; in the Argentine, in Ituzaingo the cart is drawn by eight to twelve mules, horses or steers; in the Paraguayan prairie by six to ten oxen;231 only in Puerto Rico by a modest pair of powerful Andalusian oxen. Even today in Rhodesia they harness six pairs of oxen to four-wheeled carts, and several pairs of mules in towns; three pairs of oxen is an unusual team.232 In Slavonia also, and in Bosnia two to four pairs of oxen are harnessed to one cart.233

Without communications, production is merely the satisfaction of hunger. When the most primitive arba opens the way to the conveyance of goods, exchange of production begins, and from it in time real trade emerges. Societies which achieve good communications quickly turn into differentiated societies. But even very advanced communications do not alter the essential character of a system of communal life, which may remain the same with a six-piece wheel and a locomotive: improved communications merely raise the level of a given civilisation — as do developing production and the inventions required for this. So far in our arguments we have not come upon traces of the causes which bring about the variety of civilisations. We have been moving inside the circle of first beginnings common to all civilisations. What is the position when in the light of these beginnings, we examine the conquest of nature, space and time?

The initial step was fire, frontier fires the first delimitation of space and the measurement of an area the time needed to circle round it, as may be seen in the customs and surviving traditions of old Iceland. There a new settler was allowed to take as much land as he could manage to “consecrate with fire” in one day: a woman, as much as she could encircle on a summer day from sunrise to sunset with a two-year-old and well-fed heifer.234 The old Polish ujazd indicated the area which could be ridden round in one day. Distance is everywhere measured by time — a day’s travel, two “suns” (among the Indians) — a habit which survives at high levels of civilisation, although dating from its very beginnings.

It is necessary to distinguish between awareness of space and its conquest. Man became aware of space as he wandered after animals, leading a parasitical existence of passive submission to their direction and guidance, but it was the herdsman, camping deliberately of his own will, who began the conquest of space. In the beginnings of civilisation there were nevertheless only rudiments of an active relation of man to space.

Without need born of hunger, this relation might never have become active. On this point we have frightful indications from the hot zones. What worried the saintly Father Beyzym in Madagascar was the “Malagasy, seated on the ground, warming himself in the sun and capable of sitting three, four or five hours completely immobile”.235 Which pales before Captain Lepecki’s example from Central Brazil:

“I only learned how primitive human life can be in the forests of the Contestado. A Caingang (an Indian), when in possession of stores of food, is able, without moving from the spot, to spend a number of days literally in one place, satisfying all his needs, including natural ones, in the space of a square metre. Only hunger obliges him to leave the spot and think of fresh stores.”236

This is the true “state of nature”. Do not let us be surprised that primitive man is in no hurry to move out into space where so many dangers lie in wait for him. Fortune favours those whom animals lead into the world, under the continuing protection of the instinct by which animals know how to choose their paths purposefully. But man was not everywhere able to join herds with females in milk. And nature herself provides no means for the conquest of space, until man gains some measure of control of nature herself. And nature herself is more hindrance than help. So the mastery of space remains closely linked with the subjugation of nature, which however can only be clearly recognised after the beginnings of civilisation have been experienced; at low levels there are few opportunities to catch expressly this connection.

On the other hand, nature provides clear measurements of time and time was long the only measure of distance. The quarters of the moon so force themselves upon the senses that they were noticed and made use of for the measurement of time even on the lowest levels of community life. The negroes of the Congo not only count months from one full moon to the next, but are able to indicate the time of day from the position of the sun in the sky. And so it is everywhere. But the same negroes are unaware of the number of full moons or of rainy seasons they have seen. “They never give themselves the trouble of counting them when it is a question of the age of a child or of their own”.237 Awareness of the year is reached by plain, practical empiricism — for example, the Mongols count how often the grass has grown. A man asked how old he is, replies how many grasses he has.238 Here time and its periods are being counted: which is already a superior level.

If natural phenomena in a given country offer cycles longer than the year, awareness of longer periods also may emerge without intellectual effort, by the most obvious empiricism. In the Brazilian forests live the so-called caboclo, famed among travellers as a mixture of three races, white, red and black, of whom it has been said that “replacement of Indian tribes by the half-civilised caboclo has not advanced the civilisation of those parts one step”. Now they have a cycle reckoning, because nature provides them with it. that is to say, a plant grows there which “flowers once in thirty years and then immediately afterwards dies and withers. Vast areas of forest are then liable to fires during which all undergrowth is burnt up, masses of animals perish and many caboclo plantations are spoiled. The withering of the tacuara is such a great event in the jungle that the elders divide years into periods from one fire to the next. In the forests it is said that this or that happened before the last burning of the tacuara, or the one before that”.239

In all this there is nothing which could not be linked with the beginnings of any civilisation. Differentiation between civilisations, their plurality and manifoldness will only become comprehensible when we begin to examine the relation of man not to food nor the manner of its acquisition, not to nature, space, not even to communications — but to man, the relations between men in their communities.


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