Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Apr 11 09:38:38 MDT 2001

Mark Jones:
>"The Welsh are given neither to gluttony nor to drunkenness. They
>spend little on food or clothes. Their sole interest in life consists
>of caring for their horses and keeping their weapons in good order,
>their sole preoccupation the defence of their fatherland and the
>seizing of booty."

From: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/indian/blackfoot.htm

The Blackfoot use of the horse and the gun showed that they were happy to
make use of more advanced transportation and weaponry when they became
available. Since bison hunting required a horse for the pursuit of the prey
and as a means to bring it back to camp, the horse became the most visible
sign of wealth in the Blackfoot tribes. The more horses a man owned, the
higher up on the social ladder he became. Horses were given as wedding
presents. Blackfoot "warfare" mostly consisted of raiding other tribes and
seizing their horses. Ewers observes that "the objective of the horse raid
was neither to kill enemies nor to take scalps but to capture horses." And,
"Like the WWII Commando raid, it was a stealthy operation in which the
little attacking group tried to take the enemy by complete surprise, to
strike quickly and quietly, in darkness or at dawn, achieve its limited
objective, and be off before the enemy learned of its loss."

Although the rifle was used in these attacks, the preferred weapon was the
bow and arrow. A flintlock was difficult to reload on a galloping horse.
The loading process was formidable. You had to dismount from the horse,
measure two fingers of gunpowder from a bison horn into the barrel, lift
the barrel to your mouth where the bullets were stored for convenience,
spit a bullet into the barrel, give the stock a couple of sharp blows to
settle the charge, lift the gun and then fire. The other advantage of a bow
and arrow was that it made no sounds and would not frighten game away.
Finally, when a group hunted the bison, it was impossible to determine
which animal had been shot by which hunter. An arrow could be marked
distinctively however and help to identify whose kill it was.

The correct relationship between the European colonizers and the Blackfoot
would have been to make such tools available and allow the Indians to
decide for themselves whether it was useful or not. This would mean, for
example, that if the 19th century Blackfoot decided to hunt with a
repeating rifle, it was their freedom to do so. By the same token, the
Innuit or Macah of today are entitled to use whatever weapons they feel
appropriate for seal or whale-hunting. This should not be dictated to them.

It would be a mistake to view Blackfoot society as idyllic. There were
terrible hardships when the weather was severe and hunting was poor.
Starvation could ensue. Woman's work was hard also and much of the day was
spent in finishing rawhide, a highly valued but tough job. When the
colonizers decided that the Blackfoot would be better off as farmers or
ranchers, they found that no amount of logic could persuade the Indian.
Instead it took violence to change the Indian's mind. What explains the
devotion to hunting?

The best explanation is that all the goods of life could be procured in a
successful hunt. After a bison was transformed into food, shelter and
clothing, there was very little else that had to be done. Time could be
spent at leisure. This, of course, is the approach to life that is strictly
forbidden under capitalism, where work-and-spend is the order of the day.
The very best explanation of the ethos of the hunting societies is given by
Marshall Sahlins in the first chapter of "Stone Age Economics," titled "The
Original Affluent Society":

"The hunter, one is tempted to say, is 'uneconomic man.' At least as
concerns nonsubsistence goods, he is the reverse of that standard
caricature immortalized in any General Principles of Economics, page one.
His wants are scarce and his means (in relation) plentiful. Consequently he
is 'comparatively free of material pressures,' has 'no sense of
possession,' shows 'an undeveloped sense of property,' is 'completely
indifferent to any material pressures,' manifests a 'lack of interest' in
developing his technological equipment.

"In this relation of hunters to worldly goods there is a neat and important
point. From the internal perspective of the economy, it seems wrong to say
that wants are 'restricted,' desires 'restrained,' or even that the notion
of wealth is 'limited.' Such phrasings imply in advance an Economic Man and
a struggle of the hunter against his own worse nature, which is finally
then subdued by a cultural vow of poverty. The words imply the renunciation
of an acquisitiveness that in reality was never developed, a suppression of
desires that were never broached. Economic Man is a bourgeois
construction-as Marcel Mauss said, 'not behind us, but before, like the
moral man.' It is not that hunters and gatherers have curbed their
materialistic 'impulses'; they simply never made an institution of them.
'Moreover if it is a great blessing to be free from a great evil, our
[Montagnais] Savages are happy; for the two tyrants who provide hell and
torture for many of our Europeans, do not reign in their great forests,--I
mean ambition and avarice . . . as they are contented with a mere living,
not one of them gives himself to the Devil to acquire wealth.'

"We are inclined to think of hunters and gatherers as poor because they
don't have anything; perhaps better to think of them for that reason as
free. 'Their extremely limited material possessions relieve them of all
cares with regard to daily necessities and permit them to enjoy life.'"

Louis Proyect
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