One of the fringe bonuses I got out of 20 years in the federal prison system (there were many), was the year I spent as a cellmate with Peter MacDonald, former chief of the Navajo Nation.
Pete led an interesting life: From starting at his grandfather’s knee learning to be a medicine man, forced into a Christian Mission school, being a Marine Code-Talker in WW-II, to Oklahoma University on the G.I. Bill, to Hugh’s Aircraft as a Polaris Missile project manager, and back to his Navajo roots.
I spoke previously of this experience. Here, I’d like to deal with another aspect of my education from celling with Pete.
Among intensive discussions and readings, I studied a variety of Indian lore, including the Iroquois Nation, a confederacy of six tribes in what later became the greater New York area.
Arguably, the Iroquois laws and political composition became influential to some of the Framers of the US Constitution, if not so accredited. Clearly, the Iroquois had a significant level of socio-political organization. I suspect it had a lot to do with the family formation.
DISCLOSURE: One of my special studies over the years (I hold a doctorate in psychology [PsyD]) has been investigations into the family-based origins of humankind. My interpretation of early man—going back some 20,000-plus years—is that males had very little to do with family life and raising children. Modern “savage” tribes support this hypothesis.
The ancient Paleolithic record indicates that adult males apparently formed into their own bonded groups for gaming, hunting, etc. Large game, however, figured very little in the meals of the rest of the family. Over 95% of the diet of the regular families consisted of trapped small game, river and seaside foods, and gathered vegetation. These family sites were almost exclusively women, children and older infirm men.
Anthropologist Dean Snow of Penn State University, and others investigating paleolithic cave drawings in the 30,000-year-old range, now indicate that upwards of 70% of the hand-flutings (painted hand silhouettes) were women.
To me, this and other evidence, supports the idea that early religion was Goddess-fertility-Earth-based. The “superior” (even exclusive) sky-father-fearsome-god had not yet been invented.
I suspect that as humans coalesced into larger formations–probably supported by the development and use of fire in cooking, and greater populations and contact with other nearby groups–men became more attracted to family life. At that point, the battle for family-religion-social control became the assumption of control over women.
Colonials, traders, the military, and especially the Jesuits, interpreted the behaviors and freedoms of the Indians as licentious savagery and godless hedonism. However, my interest wasn’t in learning about the history of European duplicity, genocide and mass theft. That’s already abundantly documented.
The critical differences between the Europeans and the Indians began with the family, and one’s subsequent moral philosophy. Indian males enjoyed a significant measure of personal freedom, and their women had equal socio-political power with the men, if not moreso. I always found it interesting that many colonial servants and slaves (especially women) fled to Indian asylum and adoption, not the other way around.
Of course later, with the incessant predation of the natives by Anglo and other colonial privateers, Indians learned to respond and act in kind. And history, of course, is always written by the conquerer.
Iroquois women and their extended families raised and educated the children. Iroquois society was matrilineal—the families were traced thru the mother’s line.
Iroquois males lived with the wife and her family. Women could divorce lazy, incompetent or abusive husbands simply by deciding he should leave. Throughout marriage, they maintained their own property and each kept their own after divorce, as well as the woman keeping the children.
Women’s elderly councils chose the chief, and had the power to recall him. Clearly, it was they who could choose a proper leader based upon their intimate knowledge from having raised them.
Having been raised almost exclusively by the women, the children tended to be exceptionally curious, adventuresome, and free to engage in “excessive” child-play. Harsh discipline and physical punishment was virtually unheard of.
In practically all familial respects, the Europeans were exactly the opposite. Many males all but enslaved their women (and others), and dominated the raising of the children thru sharp discipline and punishment.
They rationalized their abuse as proper and necessary to raise moral, god-fearing children into self-reliant, successful adults. Reflections of themselves certainly, if not one of the great myths of “civilized” behavior. That vicious cycle continues today.
How much is this dominating the mass perversion of laws and punishment we live in and witness daily? How much of this fuels entrepreneurial wars of opportunity? How much of this is responsible for the largest mass prison system in the world?