Archive for the ‘Personal history and Occasional Observations’ Category

Living late into one’s fourth stage of life may be a blessing but it also means having outlived nearly all one’s friends, and in today’s mobile society, being an elderly stranger in a world of strangers. For me, the reality is not ideal but it’s all right. I am neither alone nor lonely, but still, when Lenore, the daughter of a dear friend from the past, remembering my involvement in India, reached out to me, I was pleased. It connected me to pleasant memories. (written of here) Even more pleasing was discovering that Lenore had grown up to become an artist and filmmaker and a passionate environmentalist with a particular passion for saving tigers in the wild, which led her to India.

She emailed me her video of experiences in two of India’s national tiger reserves, plus photographs taken along the way, one of which tells me definitely I will like her. The girls gather close to her, happy and smiling and having fun. Obviously, they and all the individuals shown in the film’s interviews feel they can trust Lenore and her instincts.

Click here for the video  People of the Wild Tiger. It is twenty-some minutes long, easy to watch, as I did, several times, and I was impressed. I was watching a movie in which the central character is an idea, a vision of ourselves as companions and custodians of other creatures in our environment, in this case of the tiger, an idea expressed first in a quotation from the Mahabarata, observed throughout the film in images and actions, and in the denouement expressed again in a most touching and tender connection between tiger and human.

Numbers stated in the video’s initial scenes are worth repeating in print. “Although thousands of tigers are kept in zoos, circuses and as pets, and more than 10,000 are held in cages in Chinese and other Asian tiger farms to be used in traditional medicines, across the world fewer than 3000 tigers live free and wild in their natural habitat.”

Lenore continues from there to tigers in India and into a culture quite different from her own. Change is under way, but until quite recently, the dominate assumption in her American culture, traceable back to Aristotle, has been that we, as humans, are superior to all creatures in nature and may rightfully use them for food, clothing, labor, amusement, whatever we please, as if we ourselves were not part of nature. (I wrote here of communication with animals.) She wrote, “The video features interviews with my contacts in the fields of conservation: naturalists, entrepreneurs and educators who are making heroic efforts to save these seriously endangered animals … I am captivated by the spiritual side of the project. The Indian people’s reverence for animals goes back to prehistoric times, and is very much intact today. Ancient religions are practiced by tribes, and India is also the birthplace of many nature-centered major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism, presenting celebrations almost every day.”

Lenore had been an eco-tourist in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, but the tour to India sparked her “new video mission,” and she became a traveler rather than a tourist, observing and learning without judging. Regarding her visit to Varanasi (Benares to me), kept brief because she saw no connection to the tiger, only temples for elephant and monkey gods, she emailed me, “I included some shots of Varanasi because I am so in love with the light (for photos), the wafting incense and sounds, and the feeling of ancient religions, mostly Hinduism.” She shows a typical narrow Benaresi street, funerary scenes on the ghats, and with people in the background, a pigeon bobbing about in the space in a wall where a stone should have been. As narrator, Lenore speaks of Mother Ganga, of the holy Ganges river dying from human waste and chemical pollution. Many hundreds of towns and cities along the Ganges’ banks pour raw sewage into the river and industries dump in all sorts of waste. Plastic junk collects in and covers the water. In 2014, a government ministry was formed and funds were allocated to have the Ganga clean by 2020, but there is failure at all levels of government. Funds go unused, long-term plans have not been developed and far, far from enough action has been taken.

Lenore’s visits in India took her first to Kerala during the harvest ceremonies, which includes on the fourth day the Pulik kali, a popular folk dance performed by men painted and costumed either as tigers or as hunters and (from what I read) they act out scenes such as a tiger preying on an animal or a tiger being shot in the tiger hunt, the ruling elite’s antique sport. The Puli Kali is great fun for all but it celebrates the past, not the concerns of environmentalists.

I remember tales of the fearsome Bengal Tiger from my childhood. And from an article published in 1924, American Brigadier General William Mitchell reports that tigers posed a major threat in central India, killing 352 people in the villages surrounding the Surguja district in 1923 alone. “Tigers have been known to cause whole districts to be evacuated,” he writes. “There is a record of one beast which so terrorized a community that 13 villages were evacuated and 250 square miles thrown out of cultivation. Another completely stopped work on a public road for many weeks, while it frequently happens that mail-carrying is suspended on account of tiger activities. … …  Tiger-hunting is regarded in India as a royal sport, and he who is successful in bagging this master of the jungle is looked upon as a public benefactor.”

Lenore’s first tiger reserve is in the Biligiriranganatha Swamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary, the BRT Wildlife Sanctuary

Men on their way to hunt for honey

and she fell in there with people who take me back to my anthropological past. They are the Soliga, an ethnic group (under Indian law, a “tribe”) of some 20,000 persons who descend more directly than most other Indians from the original hunter-gatherer Out of Africa migration, c. 70,000 years ago, and are related genetically to the Australian aborigines. They are people who remained through the millennia isolated in their remote, densely forested mountainous area, living in small communities, practicing slash and burn agriculture with ragi, a type of millet, gathering foods from the land, practicing a religion of deities and spirits from nature. They lived peacefully, and except for exchanging items such as honey and bamboo with nearby villagers, probably for clothing and metal tools (the tool for grating coconut had to be a trade item), until 1972 remained essentially invisible to outsiders. It was in that year that the government designated their territory a wildlife preserve, and in 2011 a tiger reserve.

In 1974, members of the community were forced out of the reserve but more recently the government has reassessed Soliga rights to the land. They can no longer be evicted, they may cultivate crops, and they may collect, use and sell forest produce within the Sanctuary. How I would love to have been with Lenore, interviewing and observing. Over the years, working on health care projects in rural areas where development/modernization was happening, it seemed to me that the experts in charge of introducing change should have consulted more with the local people, the true experts on that environment. (I wrote of this for Bali)

The Soliga know their wildlife, which Lenore wonderfully captures in her filming, and they are able and willing to protect their tigers. Here for a note on the Soliga contribution to saving our biodiversity.  Included is the Soliga’s deep knowledge of controlled fire for preserving the forest.

In Lenore’s second tiger reserve, the Ranthambore National Park, she interviewed and filmed the Mogya, another “tribe,” a people who until recently lived isolated in the forests, only marginally in contact with nearby villagers.  A brief history — Before and during the British imperial era, the Ranthambore forest was owned and managed by the Maharajah of Jaipur and held by the Kingdom’s royalty as their private hunting ground (mostly for tigers), taxing the villagers for access to the forest. In 1953, the Rajasthan government acted to protect the forest and in 1955 declared the entire forest the Sawai Madhopur Sanctuary. In 1973, the government of India initiated Project Tiger and the Sanctuary was declared a tiger reserve area. In 1980, with the enlargement of the park, the farmers of more than 12 villages were shifted out of the Sanctuary.

The Mogya also lost their homeland. They had been semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, practicing no farming of any sort. The men tracked and hunted hares, boars, other animals for food and during harvest time moved to the villages to guard the crops and people from wild animals, and perhaps, to work as laborers. After the park was established, the Mogya became totally displaced, living in poverty, without good housing, without schools, in poor health, involved in crimes to earn money, which included poaching tigers for a poaching mafia.

A Mogya man

Which takes me to Lenore’s interview with Divya Khandal. Divya and her husband, Dharmendra Khandal, are examples of India’s wonderful tradition of volunteers and volunteer organizations. She created a women’s cooperative craft enterprise, Dhonk, to teach the Mogya and the villagers, women and young men, job skills and to provide them and their families with an economic alternative both to poaching and to over-grazing. The workers have good pay and good working conditions and are encouraged to become partners in promoting sustainability and protecting the forests. Dhonk shares part of its profits with the Ranthambore NGO Tiger Watch.

Dharmendra is a conservation biologist and works with Tiger Watch. In 2003 he did a survey in Ranthambore park and discovered that more than 18 tigers were missing. Two years later a government study showed 22 tigers missing, so he talked with Mogya men for intelligence on poaching activities, which enabled the police to conduct raids on poachers, recovering guns, traps and tiger flesh, bones, paws, and also led to Tiger Watch funding Dharmendra’s plan for saving the tiger. He enlisted Mogya men who had worked with the poachers to help him and the police destroy the poaching criminal network, then reached out to the community with employment in the park for the men, employment in Dhonk for the women, schools for the children and health facilities for all the family. As a direct result, both a people and the tigers in the park are far safer than before.

The final scenes in Lenore’s video are beautiful.


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In the previous post, “Rice and Slavery in Colonial America,” I wrote a brief paragraph on the Niger Inland Delta, locating it near the fabled Timbuktu, then moved on to the rice plantations of South Carolina. But “inland delta” was a puzzling phrase. A delta in the middle of a country, not at the coast? And on the map, besides this curious delta, the Niger’s course looked strange, coming out of nowhere, turning around in the middle and crossing three climate zones, desert, savanna, tropical forest, twice. And a Neolithic in Africa based on rice rather than the crops (yams, millet, sorghum, bananas, etc.) and animal husbandry of the Bantu expansion?  And the remarkable mud brick/adobe architecture of Timbuktu? I knew of adobe but the grand buildings and the houses in the Niger River Bend are beyond anything I could have imagined. How did all this come about?  So many questions.

First the river that made it all possible —

The Niger has its source in Guinea, in the middle of an irregular crescent of highlands and mountains that stretch from the border with Senegal down to Ivory Coast. The Gambia and the Senegal Rivers flow north and west to the Atlantic, while numerous other rivers, further south, flow westward to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast. The Niger flows northeast to the Bend near Timbuktu, bringing water to the Sahara desert and then, oddly, it turns south. Originally, the upper Niger flowing to the Bend emptied into a lake fed by hills that were, as well, the source of a river flowing south to Nigeria, into the Gulf of Guinea. However, over time, from 4,000 to 1000 BCE, as the Sahara dried into a desert, the lake disappeared and the two rivers joined, becoming one river with a most unusual course.

And the Inland Delta  —

Like the Nile, the Niger floods yearly, beginning in September, peaking in November, finishing in May, all of which floods a huge region where the gradient of the land suddenly decreases, resulting in a land of braided streams, marshes and enormous lakes. It is the Inland Delta, an area extremely productive for both fishing and agriculture.

And the Neolithic –

The Inland Delta gave the world a Neolithic, an agricultural revolution, a transition from the original nomadic hunter-gatherer way of life to growing domesticated crops and keeping domesticated animals, people living settled in a village, making pottery, basketry and (sometimes) cloth. I had never before read evidence of a Neolithic in Africa based on rice.  I briefly defined elsewhere, here, (scroll down to the map of China) the Middle East Neolithic based on wheat and cattle, sheep and goats that began before 9,000 BCE and the two Neolithics in China, one on the Yellow River, based on millet, then wheat, and the other on the Yangtze, based on rice. Pigs and chickens come from China. All three of these Neolithics were followed by the growth of cities, categorized as a Bronze Age and later an Iron Age. I wrote here on the Ages and present a diagram for the history of the technology and of the world growth of population that resulted.

For the Neolithic along the Niger River, the domestication of an indigenous species of rice, unrelated to Asian rice, began at the inland delta circa 1500 BCE. (Here for information on African rice.)

Farming villages based on this rice, and maybe cattle, certainly with fish, eventually supported a growing population that became the base for cities and the medieval kingdoms of the Western Sahel. The Niger Neolithic had pottery and basketry but I find no evidence of a fiber for spinning and weaving. In the Tigris-Euphrates Bronze Age, before linen, the Sumerian people wore skin clothing, pictured here, where I discuss my love of all sorts of cloth. Perhaps it was the same along the Niger. Cloth would have became available early on though trade. I haven’t yet seen paintings, but the terracotta sculptures dating from medieval times are fine art.

The Neolithic everywhere was based on stone tools adapted to farming but in the Middle East and in China the invention of metal tools changed the societies, the first metal being copper, then bronze, a copper-tin alloy. Metal hoes and axes for working the soil, clearing land and cutting wood improved productivity and efficiency. Metal arrow heads and spears for hunting and hooks for fishing further added to the food supply. Population increased. Trade increased in type and volume. Crafts became specialties and people became separated into social classes. Central village grew into cities. Metal weapons influenced warfare and the rise of chiefdoms. In the Fertile Crescent’s river valleys Bronze Age state societies were established by 3000 BCE.

By the 12th century BCE, iron tools were being used in the Middle East. Iron ore is more widespread than copper or tin, enabling more farming areas elsewhere to support denser populations and for more cities and civilization to develop. The technology soon spread throughout the Mediterranean region, to South Asia and further east. It reached Northern Europe by about 500 BCE.

Great Mosque of Djenné

Sub-Saharan West Africa had, and has, few sources of copper and I’ve read of none for tin. However, the working of iron was early in Africa, and the knowledge and skills may well have developed independently rather than by diffusion from the Middle East. It occurred to me that smelting and working iron requires large amounts of charcoal and in the Niger River delta area wood is a scarce resource, which is probably why logs and sun-dried mud, not fired clay, bricks were developed as the construction materials.

Timbuktu Mosque

Moreover, adobe functions well in the environment. The walls absorb heat during the day, keeping the interior cool, and release the heat at night, which can be welcome; nights in the desert are cool, even cold. Adobe walls breathe and they regulate humidity, keeping it in a range that is ideal for storing books. Timbuktu is famous for its Islamic university and today for the ancient texts stored in its adobe walled, termite-free library buildings.

The elements essential for cities and civilization to develop were present along the rivers, especially along the Niger Bend. Here for an article on an important archeological site near an ancient city, Djenné (adopted by UNESCO) that has some of the most famous example of the region’s remarkable architecture.



Archeologists Susan and Roderick McIntosh have determined that the rice-growing Djenné-Djenno town dates from 250 B.C. to 900 A.D. and grew in size as a result of regional and local trade. It can no longer be assumed that complex societies and long distance trade came to this region in the 7th and 8th centuries with the arrival of Arab influence. The archaeological evidence supports that Djenné-Djenno was part of a pre-Arab trans-Saharan trade network. The city’s location in the delta made it a center for trade – for the rice it grew and the Saharan commodities such as salt, gold, copper ornaments and dried fish. Djenné-Djenno would have been in the trade networks of Timbuktu and other large urban centers with traders from North Africa and the Mediterranean and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

This video shows how mud brick buildings are constructed and maintained. (Would that communities in other societies had that level of civic involvement.) Under “Description” is an explanation of the history of the Djenné towns. Photos of the buildings can also be viewed.

Islam and the Great cities —

The camel had been introduced into the Western Sahara in the 3rd century C.E., making possible the growth of trade with Morocco, primarily in salt, gold and slaves (household workers, not the devastating New World plantation slavery). The medieval empires in the region, first the Ghana Empire of Mauritania, 700s C.E. to middle 1200s,

archer 13th-15th century

followed by the larger Mali Empirec. 1230 to 1670, grew and dominated through control of the trade routes and the sources of gold and salt.

During the 9th century, Muslim missionary sects and Muslim Berber and Tuareg merchants introduced Islam into West Africa.  (The Berbers are an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa, primarily inhabiting the Maghreb, the area inland from the Mediterranean, and the Tuareg are a nomadic people of the Sahara.)  Widespread conversion to Islam linked the region’s diverse communities to one another. It brought them a unifying religion, and with using Arabic as a common language, it turned them into literate societies. (as Christianity and Latin had done in Europe) Cities, including Timbuktu, Gao and Kano soon became international centers of Islamic learning.

A search that began with rice and slavery in America lead me to learning something of the ethnic origins of a good number of African Americans. I conclude with an excerpt from “Archeological Findings in the Middle Niger,” an article on modern archeology and Middle Niger history I highly recommend. It is short and a good read.

“Through dating techniques, McIntosh and his team (of archeologists) have determined that the earliest cities of the Middle Niger date back at the latest to the mid-first millennium BC. Evidence from artifacts reveal that some cities were of comparable size to the London and Paris of the time, with enormous populations, sophisticated trade and crafts, and large-scale production of goods.”

“The past is a major part of how the people of Mali see themselves today, and Malians are enormously proud that they were part of the original civilizations of the world,” McIntosh explains. “They are especially proud of having the first city that emphasized democracy and decentralization.”

“Though these findings (of sophisticated iron work) may seem technical, such archaeological data have proven quite important to the inhabitants of West Africa. Unlike the United States, other countries are extremely invested in their prehistory. Of the handful of original civilizations throughout the world, only two were previously known to be in possession of iron. With the Middle Niger serving as the premier example of ancient democratic organization, McIntosh’s findings have instilled the Malians with a tremendous source of national pride.”




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My Indian husband, Ravi, told me long ago, when he was still new to American culture and could contrast it with his own, that the American view of life was different from his, that Americans see an individual’s life as a trajectory that begins in the home as a launching platform, on into school, the job market, marriage and children, gradually rising to the prime of life, followed by decline into old age. Indians, he said, see life in four stages, the ashramas, of student, family, post-family, and a fourth, last stage. At the time we were students, still believing, like young people everywhere, that we would live forever, always young. I thought of ashramas as little more than an interesting cultural concept and went through the first three stages without remembering or being reminded of it. It was in my Sannyasa stage, reexamining our lives together and studying Ravi’s life in India to better understand him that I rediscovered the ashramas. Of course, traditionally, with rare exceptions, the stages are for men. What I write here is an addition to recent modifications that include women, (I discussed in a previous post my thoughts on women in the scheme of things.)

I read that within Hindu philosophy the last stage of life, Sannyasa, is one of renunciation and asceticism. I have already redefined the third stage, Vanaprastha, (forest dweller) to be the time in life when family responsibilities are lessened and one turns to activities in and for the community. I use the modern word, Senior. The second stage, Grihastha (householder), is the central period of adulthood, beginning when the first stage, the Brahmacharya (student), ends. Traditionally the family arranged the boy’s marriage when he was in his late teens, maybe early twenties. Marriage for a girl was linked to her first menstruation, when she was able to have babies. (I discuss a charming, excellent movie, The Householder, here) And here the idea of age grades rather than stages of life and of when and how age grades began changing in our modern society.

The sannyasi, as he entered the final stage of life, was expected to detach himself from material life and spend his time reflecting on the spiritual, on matters more abstract than a specific religion. It seems to me the sannyasi was, and still is, searching for something called the meaning of life. Even though that phrase may sound banal and overused, it is a profound philosophical question to be asked and explored in multiple ways, without a universally accepted answer ever being found. I certainly have not found the meaning of life. I cannot imagine a creator god as an answer to how and why we exist. All I know at this moment for certain is that we are here, must take care of one another and more actively protect our endangered planet from the ravages we inflict upon it.

I do believe the Sannyasa stage of life grows out of our biology and our psychological nature but changes in the specifics with each era and from culture to culture. My era is the Information Age (discussed in my previous post), my culture is middle-class in an advanced post-industrial society, and I’ve acquired a new way to think about being sannyasi. Bill Moyers, a public intellectual now in his mid-eighties, remarked in a PBS television program that when one lives this long and is still in good health the mind becomes one’s university.

My mind has become my university. From my mind I retrieve the experiences, information and ideas that are stored there. The traditional sannyasi delved into his mind as I do into mine. The differences in outcomes are due to the differences in the times in which we live. He had his mind’s acquisitions plus, maybe, a book of sacred learning. Alternatively, I have, because of the computer, both a carrier of the internet and an instrument that makes the act of writing infinitely easier. I have access to the equivalent of hundreds of universities and their libraries. I do not think as fast or remember as well as I once did, but I can turn to the internet for help, some of it simple, such as for spelling or confirming the definition of a word, but also to check out the accuracy of a memory. Information via the internet introduces me to entirely new ideas I use for completing and disciplining my thoughts. The technology allows me be patient with myself, to follow at my own pace any path I choose to take as I wander through my mind full of memories.

I continue to learn. I miss my friends and miss being out in life but that is my past. Fortunately, I loved school, especially the university, both as a student and as a teacher. Now I am both, a teacher to my student self.  I find it exciting and deeply satisfying.

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The fourth stage of life, described here and in following essays, is an idea Ravi, my husband, introduced into the way I see life’s progression.

I am in my fourth stage and write from that perspective but admit to finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on my past. I follow the chaotic American political scene, read and watch the news obsessively, contemplate the future of our democracy. I won’t be around for much of it but still wonder, worry and am curious about the new world we are entering. And it is a new world. I believe we are on the threshold of one of the most fundamental changes ever made in human societies — a change in the basic nature of our relationships with one another, but first —

The Digital Revolution has been with us for a while, having begun in the late 1950s with computers and digital computing. I was approaching my thirties by then, but being in or around a university while living in the States, in Ankara, and in Paris I was an early adopter. In 1983, in a French research institute, I saw one of the first DVDs, tried and failed to get a grant to develop, with a young computer guy, a program on one for a health care application. No one where I applied could imagine the technology I proposed to use. In 1985 I bought my first computer, a Macintosh. Throughout this time I read and was aware of the personal computer’s effects on bureaucracies. It was hollowing out middle management; fewer managers, usually middle-class, were needed for supervising front-line, often working-class, workers. The computer certainly lessened the importance of the secretary, a middle-class job for non-college educated women.

In 1995, Ravi and I retired to a city with three major universities and I used their libraries while writing Tales of Mogadiscio. By 2012, driving to the libraries became too inconvenient for me to manage. Today, without the internet I would go crazy. We have entered the Information Age, an age of societal change brought on by essentially new technologies and comparable in its magnitude to that of the Agricultural Revolution, the Neolithic, some 12,000 years ago, and the Industrial Revolution, from the late 1700s to the mid-1800s, the age when the steam engine expanded our sources of energy beyond human, animal, water and wind. In between were the Bronze Age and cities, when metal tools replaced stone tools, and the Iron Age, when a stronger metal smelted from a more widely available ore came into use.

Each of the Revolutions and Ages resulted from new technologies for producing more food more efficiently, producing more surplus, allowing more people to survive and freeing more of them to produce more goods, manage larger and denser societies, be creative and advance the culture. Of course, the individuals freed to participate in these more complex societal activities were, for better or for worse, male. Despite profound technological, social, and cultural change, women continued in their primordial narrow range of roles. They had babies, raised children, tended to family needs and participated in public activities if and when doing so supported the roles their male family members were playing outside of family life. Until very recently and in only a few societies, the great historical revolutions, agriculture and the civilizations, have not favored women. Women fared far better in hunter-gatherer societies, the sort we lived and evolved in for over tens of thousands of years. The average woman had better health, a longer life expectancy and certainly a higher social status in a hunter-gatherer band than in the Neolithic or any other form of society that followed.

I discovered this reassessment of the original form of human societies when returning to one of my favorite books, a history of what we humans were as hunters-gatherers for tens of thousands of years, of how and why and where agriculture began and how and where our world civilizations developed. The book is Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies, published in 1997, by Jared Diamond, professor of geography and biology. It is encyclopedic in range, brilliant in its basic thesis and fascinating in detailed expositions based on scientific evidence. Additionally, Diamond being a great storyteller, it’s a good read, but written in modules, so I take it in stages, skipping sections and returning to them when some relevant question or idea particularly interests me. A readable summary and discussion of Guns, Germs, and Steel is here.

In 2005, the National Geographic Society made a documentary film based on the book. Episode One is available on-line, here. It is about the hunter-gatherer society Diamond lived with. Episode two is here. It is about the Spanish conquest of the Peruvian civilization, informative, enlightening and beautifully photographs but not within my concerns at the moment. Outlines and explanations of the two documentary films are here and here.

Here for an engaging and informative interview with Jared Diamond.

Diamond’s passion for studying birds in all their variety lead him into Papua New Guinea and living in the jungle with the Kaulong, a hunter-gatherer band-level people who knew the environment. He soon realized that as individuals they were essentially no different from people in his own society, obviously equally intelligent and certainly more resourceful. The question then arose of why they are still hunter-gatherers and why his society is more complex, or as Yali, a man in the local government asked him: Why is it you white people developed so much cargo, but we black people had little cargo of our own?” 

Diamond decided to find out why, to discover the causes of societal differences. He begins his book with a history of Homo sapiens hunter-gatherers and why some invented agriculture and others did not, moves on to why some societies with a Neolithic village level of technology, economy, social organization or a Bronze Age/urban level of complexity continued to develop and others ceased changing or went into decline. He argues that the gaps in power and technology between human societies originate primarily in environmental differences, which are amplified by various positive feedback loops. He views Europe, Asia and the Mediterranean area as one continuous landmass with environmental conditions that gave it a number of advantages over other areas of the world and that advances there, such as written languages and dominance in trade, occurred through the influence of geography on societies and cultures.

In accounts of his New Guinea hunters-gatherers, a band-level society of about thirty persons, he covers where and in what context a woman gives birth, how a child is weaned and how children are raised, but mostly he writes of the men’s activities.

I recently watched a television program on the Hadza, a hunter-gatherer people living today in the vast grassland area of Tanzania’s Rift Valley, on land not yet taken over by other people for raising cattle or farming. They are the indigenous people, and except for using steel knives instead of stone tools and wearing clothing, they live much as did their ancestors.

The San

Seeing them took me back to the 1960s when I taught Anthropology 101 and showed my students John Marshall’s 1957 documentary film, The Hunters, of the Kalahari Bushmen, the San people in South Africa. I remember the scenes of San men shooting a giraffe with a poisoned arrow and tracking it down as the poison took effect, then the activities that followed as everyone in the band shared in the eating and celebrating.

The TV program on the Hadza began with a journalist entering their camp with her interpreter, a young man, introducing her to a group of men who were sitting under a tree, doing men’s things, such as making arrows for the hunt, and talking. Diamond and other observers of hunter-gatherer people remark on their continual talking, comparing notes, being social. The journalist chatted with the men, interviewed them and after some time asked, “Where are the women?” They were, of course, taking care of children and out gathering food, picking berries and fruit and using the digging stick to bring up tubers, the band’s basic food. Men hunt and women gather. Both activities require skill and knowledge of the environment, but the men’s side of the culture is more dramatic, less time-consuming, more fun to watch and more likely to be studied and recorded. In this simple band level society there is no social hierarchy; all are equal, but men dominate. For the woman, from her first menstruation until menopause she is likely to be either pregnant or lactating while also caring for a child, and she stays separated from others when and if she ever menstruates. My own pregnancies and having babies (and menstruation) taught me why women are less mobile, mostly do the work compatible with childcare. Besides, men are bigger and stronger. In a very readable account of the Hadza society Michael Finkel wrote “Gender roles are distinct, but for women there is none of the forced subservience knit into many other cultures. … women are frequently the ones who initiate a breakup—woe to the man who proves himself an incompetent hunter or treats his wife poorly. … some of the loudest, brashest members were women. …”

Here for a 7 minute video and here for photos, all of men.

In 1987, after having lived in the New Guinea forest with his friends, Diamond wrote for Discover Magazine a brief, widely read article in which he called the adoption of agriculture “the worst mistake in human history,” a mistake from which we have never recovered. Humans as hunter-gatherers, he wrote, living in bands of around thirty individuals, were more successful, as measured by increase in population and territory, than any other animal ever, but agriculture, the Neolithic Revolution, was the beginning of our taking over the earth.” — through our continual, accelerating population growth.   Archeological evidence shows that band level people had more leisure, were healthier and longer lived than people growing their food and living in villages. Diamond notes that circumstances for women changed with settled village living, and not for the better.

The Neolithic entailed making new sorts of stone tools, growing food that could be stored, domesticating animals, building substantial housing, living in settled village communities of a hundred or more households, making pottery, weaving cloth. In a hunter-gatherer mode of life a woman can manage only a carrying baby and a walking child; pregnancies and births were/are spaced (lactating suppressing ovulation, abstinence and infanticide. A child is not quite human until it proves likely to live and is therefore given a name.) Settled village life made it possible for a woman to have a baby every two years and for children to have a better chance of survival into adulthood. In band level society population increased; with agriculture, the rate of increase increased. The larger community needs a more complex social organization. In the hunter-gatherer band everyone was/is equal (although Diamond does mention that a girl new-born is more likely than a boy new-born to be put to death). In the settled village community one man, a chieftain, from a particular family or lineage ranked above other individuals and families/lineages and became the center of social organization. As the population increased, villages split, sending families out to establish new villages and the founding family usually held a special, often religious role in that village as it grew in population. The number of villages increased and they became a tribal unit. A tribal chieftain could organize men and take military action against other villages/tribes to take for themselves the others’ food/produce and/or to expand into their territory.

During the Bronze Age and onwards, technological innovation continued, societies grew in size and cultures became more complex and diverse, social/political power concentrated in elites who could control and tax the peasantry, craftsmen and traders. All this happened for men. The lives of women remained much the same. They had babies, raised children, tended to family needs and participated in public activities primarily through their family or lineage roles.

Not all women were pleased with their limitations. The Queen of Sweden and Norway, wife of King Charles XIII and II, known for her beauty and vividness, kept a diary, 1738 – 1788.  Since she either miscarried or her children died soon after birth, she was not absorbed in the usual woman’s occupation. She wrote in her diary, “You have to admit, my dear friend, that woman is truly an unhappy creature: while men have their complete freedom, she is always burdened by prejudice and circumstance; you may say that men also have that hindrance, but it is not in equal degree. I am convinced that most women would ask for nothing more than to be transformed to men to escape the unhappy bondage and enjoy their full freedom.”

In my comments here on the Cyrano de Bergerac movies I include Roxane’s words as written by the playwright Edmond Rostand, 1897. Cyrano and Christian moon over Roxane but that does not change her status. She will have to marry some man or be a nun. All she asks for, most eloquently, is some say in her fate. Rostand’s wife, Rosemonde-Étienette Gérard, was a poet and playwright, and it shows.

In my 1970 study of a traditional town in Central Turkey, I decided to record and call attention to the unrecognized, unappreciated women’s contribution to the town economy. It is here in a three-part essay – “Surviving the Patriarch” – Part I is on middle-class Ankara, Part II on women’s work and the traditional family, Part III on the women’s day in the hamam.

As a girl growing up I was certainly aware of my lower status as female but had no mother to enculturate me into the attitudes and behaviors expected of a woman or how to value being female. It was evident to me that my father wanted a son. No one I knew ever questioned standard male/female roles. Everyone accepted that a woman hold a job after high school, then quit it to become a housewife when she married. In the 1940s and ‘50s I heard both middle-class White women and a middle-class Mexican-American woman say they liked having a man dominate them; it made them feel feminine and loved. Which puzzled me. I wonder how many middle-class women today think or feel that way. As a girl I always had a boyfriend, and more than most girls, friends who were boys, always as equals, or so I believed. The rule for girls, a rule respected by nice boys for the sort of girls they might marry, was no sex before marriage, so by teenage we had lots of what was called “necking,” or “petting” but no genital contact.

In 1951, I read, in English translation, the 1949 book The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. Given my educational background, most of it went over my head but I did remember Beauvoir asking, “What is woman?” She argues that man is considered the default, while woman is considered “The Other … Thus humanity is male and man defines woman as not herself but as relative to him.” She stated what I knew to be true.


In 1960, The Pill came onto the American market. The first reliable, convenient and discreet contraceptive. For the first time in human history a woman could easily, dependably decide if and when she would become pregnant. It was the beginning of a slowly growing revolutionary force.

In my early blog posts I wrote of why, in 1953, not yet 23, I married Ravi. He and I went on to graduate school together. I had two unplanned pregnancies, and as much as I loved my babies, always feared having another. Then the Pill arrived. It transformed my life, and Ravi’s. I had been using the diaphram as our contraceptive. If there had been a third pregnancy and baby, I could not have continued in school, could not have done research or written my M.A. thesis. We could not have lived twice in Somalia as a family. I could not have taught even part-time as a Lecturer in a university. Ravi could not have accepted the position that took him and us to Turkey and eventually to Paris. Another baby, maybe two, would have meant spending my life managing our family on a professor’s modest salary. And Ravi did not want to spend his life as a professor. The Pill saved us. I did not have the academic career I dreamed of, but I did all right.

Other young faculty wives in the 1960s were reading Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. The first chapter of the book concludes by declaring “We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: ‘I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.

In 1957, American women had an average of 3.7 children. Catholic women had an average of 4.5 children. Those numbers began to fall immediately after the introduction of the pill. Today, American women have an average of 1.9 children, an all-time low.

All is not ideal. The rate of unintended pregnancies in the U.S. is higher than the world average, and much higher than that in other industrialized nations. Almost half (49%) of U.S. pregnancies are unintended, more than 3 million per year. In 2001, of the 800,000 teen pregnancies per year, over 80% were unintended.

Jonathan Eig tells the history of The Pill in his 2004 book The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution. The four people who created this revolution were: Margaret Sanger, who believed that women could not enjoy sex or freedom until they could control when and whether they got pregnant; scientist Gregory Pincus, who was fired from Harvard for experimenting with in-vitro fertilization and bragging about it to the mainstream press; John Rock, who was a Catholic OB-GYN and worked with Pincus to conduct tests of the pill on women; and Katharine McCormick, who funded much of the research. Women’s control over when and how many children they have is indeed revolutionary.

I suppose my form of feminism is a concern for how and when a woman becomes a mother. Nothing is more important than being a mother but one must also participate in society as a full individual. How does one manage that?  In 1972, I returned to graduate school at the U. of Chicago into a specialty for the management of family planning programs, followed by the MBA in hospital/healthcare management. All but one of my consultancies were on health care programs but family planning and population concerns were always with me.

On the broader population concerns, demographers have noted the Demographic transition. In the 1800s in Western European advanced industrial societies, urban middle-class families were already having fewer children, even without effective contraception. Poor women still lacked control of when they got pregnant and upper class families could afford as many children as came naturally,  Overall, the fertility rate, roughly the number of births per woman, declined. Nevertheless, since the number of young women in the population was still high and the death rate was decreasing, the population continued to increase.

I remember the women I knew while doing sociological research. In the 1950s it was my friend in the Mexican-American community who was having a baby every two years. In Somalia it was the woman who scolded me for having only two children. What would I do, she asked, when they died, as her children had died? And Savamma, the poor woman in a South Indian town where I was doing a study and my failed attempt to get her into proper care for an abortion. And I think of the poor women in so many countries and refugee camps who do not have contraceptive services available.

The empowerment of women. And the changed circumstance for the family and children. And the complexities for nations and women in every country everywhere, numerous beyond my even listing them. I discussed The Intern, A Movie for Our Time here. Robert de Niro is great. The situation of the young woman and her husband would have been unimaginable a decade or two earlier.

On another aspect of controlling the timing and number of births — I do believe the greatest threat to the earth’s environment is overpopulation. That next.

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It was sometime in the mid-1980s, while visiting friends at the university where Ravi and I had once taught, that I told an anthropologist about important differences I noticed between the various countries where I had been living and working. I attributed the differences to the agricultural base, whether it was wheat-growing or rice-growing. We discussed my observations at some length and he included them in a footnote, crediting me, to an article he was writing for an anthropological journal. I had left academia in 1968, had become an expatriate wife and mother following Ravi from country to country as he followed his career. For myself, I did research projects, went back to school for two years with the kids, and finally, on a consulting basis, did evaluations of primary health care programs in developing countries. For a number of years I lived in Turkey, a wheat-growing country, and did a rural-to-urban migration study while there. In India, broadly, the Northwest is wheat-growing, while the East and South are rice-growing. I had done health care related research projects in both the regions, and of course, had visited Ravi’s family across India, from Bombay, Delhi, Benares, Calcutta, down to Bangalore. In rice-growing Indonesia, I worked in rural and urban contexts with Ministry of Health colleagues across Java, Madura, Sulawesi and Sumatra. (Somalia, where I lived and did research, was a tribal, pastoral nomadic society, like the Arab Bedouins, with yet another, quite different pattern of psychological-cultural characteristics.)

Woodcut by Piero Crescentio

Thrashing wheat in Delhi, at Humayun’s tomb

I told my anthropologist friend how different the wheat villages were from the rice villages and how the differences affected me.When I first lived in Turkey, in 1968, farming was still traditional, not very different from earlier Europe or northern India, rather like peasant farming. Tractors were still rare. The village was a compact settlement of a hundred or so households, sometimes more, surrounded by wheat fields, pasture, fallow land, wooded areas. Travel time from one village to another was considerable. At the center of production was a man with his plow and an ox, mule or horse. (I wrote here on women’s role in the economy of a traditional Turkish town.) Inheritance was from father to son and women were outsiders who married into the family.

Planting rice

plowing the field

I first went to Bali in 1978 and after that, until 1994, to the other islands. As I  crossed Indonesia it was the nature of the farming more than the shape of the villages that caught my attention. Without actually studying the agriculture, it was obvious to me that rice farming is multi-phased and especially complex in the relationships required between farming households within the community. I describe Bali’s farming complex here   The man and his plow and bullock were there but as one part of the work sequence.

Women worked in the planting, weeding, harvesting, and they participated, at least in Bali, in the community’s agricultural decision-making meetings. (a photo of the woman’s blade for harvesting rice is here.) I read that in Java, descent is reckoned from both the father’s and the mother’s family line.

By habit, I view life from a sociological perspective but psychologists also have found differences between people dependent upon one or the other of the two basic food crops. (Maize/corn was the base in native American civilizations and the potato in South America.)  Psychologist Tim Talheim did research in China, on individuals in both the wheat-growing north and the rice-growing south. I found the results fascinating and relevant to my particular interests. Ordinarily, China had not been a culture I read or thought about but last year an archeological discovery having to do with amazing art lead me incidentally into months of acquiring background for understanding Indonesia. The discovery related to the 8,000 terracotta warriors that for millennia have kept watch over the tomb of China’s first emperor. Two of these remarkable statues had been shown in an art museum and I saw them. The Terracotta Army depicts the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, in 210–209 BCE. Based on DNA evidence, archaeologists now think Greek sculptors could have trained the local artists, indicating that the north China civilization, based on millet as its grain, had early-on contact with Indo-European culture via Central Asia and the northern steppe – and with growing wheat. Entirely separately, in South China, by 7500 BCE, rice-based agriculture had developed along the Yangtze River.   Here for a map showing where rice, wheat, corn are grown in China.

migrations of Dai people

It was in the Yangtze River Neolithic based on rice, before the northern Han expansion, that the agricultural people of the S.E. Asia have their origins. They are the Austronesians, named for their language family. Genetic research shows that an ethnic minority in southern China, the Dai, are the people from whom the Indonesians are descended. Most likely their ancestors came from the region around the Tonkin Gulf, the homeland of the Dai, and migrated to Indonesia through the Vietnam corridor. (I previously wrote here, based on linguistic theory, that the indigenous people of Taiwan were the original Austronesians. That now seems unlikely. For Japan’s deep history, see comment five below. )

Tim Talheim and his research team propose that a history of farming wheat makes cultures more independent, while farming rice makes cultures more interdependent, and these agricultural legacies continue to affect people in the modern world. He reports that the northern Chinese seemed more direct, while people in the south were more concerned with harmonious relationships and avoiding conflict. They tested 1162 Han Chinese participants in six sites and found that those in rice-growing southern China were more interdependent and holistic-thinking than respondents in the wheat-growing north. To control for confounds like climate, they tested people from neighboring counties along the rice-wheat border and found differences that were just as large. Individualism is often considered a trait related to modernization but it did not fit the data. The wheat-growing/rice-growing differences persist with urbanization and modernization.

Quoting from the National Geographic article –  “To see if these agricultural differences led to contrasting psychological traits, Talhelm’s team recruited 1,162 Han Chinese students from around the country and showed them sets of three objects, such as a train, a bus, and tracks. When asked to pair two of them together, volunteers from rice-growing regions were more likely to choose holistic pairings based on relationships (train and tracks), while those from wheat-growing areas chose analytic pairings based on abstract similarities (train and bus).”

From a New York Times article, social psychologist Hazel Rose Markus asked people arriving at San Francisco International Airport to fill out a survey and offered them a handful of pens to use, for example, four orange and one green; those of European descent more often chose the one pen that stood out, while the Asians more often chose the one more like the others.

For another study, this time in Starbucks.

I wonder how Ravi would have chosen. His family was both north Indian and south Indian. Oddly, for example, for him a proper Indian main meal included both wheat chapattis and rice. In making a pair from the bus, train and tracks set I agonized over my choice. I am from a wheat culture but as a professional woman felt more at ease in rice culture countries, in cultures where even in the traditional sectors of the society women participated in public life. I will reflect more on this as I write about my experiences in Indonesia. One aspect that immediately comes to mind is my American habit of smiling at people in public and how this affected me, as a woman, in the various countries where I lived and worked. I describe that here.

Addendum — I wrote here of my first experience, other than Bali, in a paddy rice village and remarked on ways in which it was different from with the wheat societies I grew up in. My working in public health shaped much of how I understood each culture I came to know.


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Two years and some months ago I began a conversation with myself about an idea Ravi, my brilliant, charming husband, had presented to me when we were first married and he was still a graduate student newly arrived from Bombay. It had to do with a difference he had discovered on how Indians and Americans imagine the course of one’s life. He said Americans picture life as being on a trajectory beginning in childhood, rising to a peak in middle age, then declining into old age, and he contrasted this with the Indian view of a life lived in four stages. I set down here what he told me, with photos of him. (A photo of me in my fifties is here.) A traditional statement on the four stages of Vedic life, of Student, Householder, Post family and Sannyasa, is here.

Over time and with some thought, I developed a version of the stages of life model that made sense to me: The first stage is for learning; one is a student. The second is for family and work, the third dedicated to the community, and in the fourth stage one turns inward for reflection and peace of mind. I discussed the four stages here, elaborated it further here, and explored the psychological aspects of being in the fourth stage of life here.

When Ravi and I entered what he would have considered our third stage of life, at age sixty-five, we returned to the U.S. and moved into a house down the road from his brother. I explain, here, in considering where an expatriate goes to retire, why we went to this place and not elsewhere, but once having decided, I again launched into the time consuming process of setting up house and home for us. We were coming from twenty years lived in Paris where Ravi had been an haute fonctionnaire in an international organization and from where I had worked on a consulting basis with UNICEF, WHO and other international organizations in the planning and evaluation of rural primary health care projects in Turkey, India, Indonesia and once in the States. Not only had we returned to live in a medium size American city, it is a Southern city and I am a Midwesterner. Regional differences in America are not as pronounced as in other countries, but they are nevertheless real and I felt them. Ravi and I began our third stage of life, what Americans call retirees or senior citizens, while settling into a non-home place. After more than twenty years here it is still not quite home, but in the fourth stage of life maybe that no longer matters.

For more than a decade, until Ravi slide into his prolonged dementia, described here, I was active with various citizen groups concerned with community affairs, but while caring for him became disconnected from them. Currently, nice people invite me to join one or another senior citizens group and I decline. Invariably, I am at least a decade older than even the oldest of their members. I tell them my age and explain that although I am healthy, I am not a senior citizen, which I consider the third stage of life. I am elderly, in my fourth stage of life, and have already lived five years beyond my life expectancy. Generally, an explanation fails to interest them, so I let it be. Besides, I now think I should modify my version of the fourth stage of life.

I’ve been thinking, too, that I might anglicize “stages of life,” return to my anthropology days and use the idea of age grades, a universal in societies at all times and everywhere, one of the two basic principles for classifying individuals, the other being gender. In every society, one is either male or female and of a particular age grade, either a child or an adult or an elder, and this held until recently when, in the 1940s, Americans acquired a new, additional age grade. Adolescence, the transitional phase from child to adult, was transformed into “teenage” and a person of that age became a “teenager.” I was in my teens at time, totally unaware of being anything other than a high school student. My girlfriends and I were not  “Bobby Soxers” mad for Frank Sinatra, the forerunners of girls going crazy over the Beatles and other pop singers, but by the time I became an adult the teenage phenomenon was universally recognized. In their film on the history of youth, Matt Wolf and Jon Savage begin with “teenager” being an American invention, a way of viewing adolescence as a definable period of life with its own characteristics and not simply an early phase of adulthood.

In an email to a young friend, a woman in her early thirties, I mentioned that “teenager” had been invented when I was in my teens and she responded that for her generation it is the “twenty-something” and the notion of quarter-life crises. She had read and was fascinated by the book by Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now.”

My friend wrote that it would be interesting to delve into the sociological and psychological/physiological underpinnings allowing the advent of both age grades, and I agree. I was mother to three teenagers and remember vividly what that meant, as well as watching Ravi cope with being father to teenage boys when he himself had never experienced adolescence as an age grade. In those years, in the late 1970s into the ’80s, the neurological sciences had not yet revealed to us that during the teen and early twenty years the brain is changing, developing and not yet mature. I should have guessed it, though, simply from anthropological studies. In many societies, adolescent boys (but not girls) are given free rein to behave in ways not acceptable for either child or adult.

I also have memories from a study I did in the 1950s of a Mexican-American community and from living and working in the 1960s and onward in Mogadiscio, Ankara and across India. I observed changing perceptions of adolescence, of adolescents being considered as young adults, then because of social and economic change, and growing knowledge of the adolescent brain, the gradual introduction of a new age grade into society. But this is too complex to discuss here. I’ll return to it later.

Traditionally, all societies had three age grades: child, adult, elder, but I once read, long ago, in a study of traditional Eskimo life, of a family and their dog sled on the move, father controlling the dogs, mother and grandmother walking alongside, two small children riding. Finally, grandmother could not keep the pace and they stopped, built a small igloo for her to lie in until her final days while the family, in mourning, continued on in their search for food. In extreme circumstances, survival is not for the elderly.

In more settled communities, however, and throughout history, a number of individuals lived on into old age, preserving and transmitting knowledge through the generations. I wrote in the previous essays about ancestor worship and the leverage that gives elders in the family and the community. Here and here for life expectancy rates when estimating how many old people were around in different eras.

This article on life expectancy in the Middle Ages is equally fascinating.  It gives the age and the cause of death of adult members of the royal family of Wales in the 1100s and 1200s CE. Considering only those individuals who lived into adulthood, who survived the high death rates for infants and children, the median life expectancy for women was 42/43 years, and for men, 48/49 years. Six of the twenty lived to 50 years and beyond, two of them into their 60s and one woman into her 70s. By contrast, for ordinary people living in the villages, archeological evidence from their cemeteries shows no one living past 45.

What can I say about childhood as an age grade?  In my urban lifestyle, childhood is the time for learning, for enculturation, for play, and school attendance ideally beginning early, at age four or five years, and continuing into adulthood, for girls equally for boys. In other cultures, at least in the past, children begin by age six actually working for the family and the community. By puberty they are being initiated into their adult roles. An excellent description of childhood in preindustrial Europe is here. At that time, and until the era of modern medicine, about one third of the population would ordinarily have been under the age of 14.

Religious ceremonies mark the individual’s transition from child to adult. I am familiar with the Christian First Communion.

In literature the phase, Coming of Age, is used to designate the social rituals and often the personally significant experiences that mark a young person’s transition from childhood to becoming an adult. We have the coming-of-age story, the bildungsroman novel, and the coming of age movies.

Adulthood is the central and longest age grade. For men, adult activities vary enormously. They are what we know and read about as history. For women, until very recently, adulthood meant children and maintaining the family. In societies before or outside of modern economies, from menarche to menopause the typical adult woman was either pregnant or lactating, which are states during which she did not menstruate. If menstruating, she was confined for days each month in a woman’s hut. When cloth became available a woman could make a pad to catch the blood rather than go into hiding with a few other women. I came of age in a time and a place where commercially made napkins were available to use during menstruation and available toilet facilities allowed a woman to participate in public social life. I was free and tried to ignore the snide remarks boys made about a woman who annoyed them “being on the rag.” Here for a video of bright and active girls discussing how they manage menstruation in their modernizing lifestyle.

Despite all sorts of change in technology, the economy, the social system in countries around the world, urban and rural, until very recently, the lives of women remained essentially unchanged, limited to family roles – marriage, giving birth, rearing children, preparing food, keeping the home, engaged in outside work only when compatible with those fundamental responsibilities. In the private realm of life, in the home, in the women’s world, traditional life continued. Outside the home, in the public realm of men, life evolved and changed while women raised the children, instilling in them the traditional attitudes and values they would carry into adulthood. Thus, fundamental aspects of the culture persists through the centuries, even millennia, despite larger societal changes, and this has to intrigue anyone who reads history. One of my favorite examples of the persistence of culture is of Roman soldiers reporting on the women of Gaul spending so much time and trouble on their appearance. It’s the same impression I had of French women, and of the importance of their femininity, two thousand year after the soldiers had left Gaul. Or of Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s writing about democracy in the young country, America, and how his descriptions of American culture are recognizably American, even today. ….

However, a technology invented and distributed in the 1960s is changing much of that, making possible one of the most profound changes in human history. The reliable contraceptive has made possible the opening of non-family roles to women, of women participating more fully in public life. I was in my early thirties when the Pill came on the market. I felt it was a revolution in the making, and it is happening. It seems, for example, that Twenty-something is mostly about women in their twenties. What I read on-line is about a lifestyle concerned with work, clothing and appearance, dating, thinking about when to marry and have a child. All this is another matter, one to be explored in a separate essay.

Is Senior an American age grade? Perhaps. It generally means age 65 plus. If so, I’ve gone through it. I’m an elder in my fourth stage of life, creaky, slower, less sure-footed, more easily tired, but still relatively healthy. I count my blessings from having come of age when America was entering its most prosperous period ever and when medical science had advanced sufficiently to give me advantages over women barely a generation older than I. When, for example, my son was six years old and had strep throat the doctor prescribed an antibiotic and the illness was cured. For a friend some twenty years older than I, antibiotics were unavailable when her son at that age was similarly sick and she had to keep her active, lively boy quiet, out of school and in bed for months to ensure he would not develop rheumatic fever and a consequent damaged heart.  Wherever we lived, in the different countries, I could immediately identify the medical facilities and personnel we just might need. Dentistry improved enormously during my lifetime, especially through periodontal care, and I still have my teeth. When I was in my early twenties, older women told me that each baby costs the mother one tooth, or more.

So I continue on with life and expect I will eventually move into its last stage – fragility — when what I want, what we all want, is an ideal and totally unachievable ending to life on this earth, to fall apart all at once, as in an old poem, “The One-Hoss Shay” that I discuss here.

Years ago, being practical and to protect my children from the expense and trouble of caring for me, I took out insurance for palliative care at the end of life.  I read articles, as here, about how I will think and feel at that time, in that situation. I wrote here of Ravi’s ending, of the romantic love that took us into marriage, of how that love continued. I am in tears as I recall his last moments but he was at peace and that comforts me.


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For weeks I’ve been reading and learning Indonesian history, discovering all sorts of intriguing things — then last week an article reminded me of something that interested me decades ago and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I simply had to follow through and find out what new had happened.

The article is “Discoveries May Rewrite History of China’s Terra-Cotta Warriors.”

terracotta-army-china-inspired-greek-art_1-770x437“The 8,000 terracotta warriors that have kept watch over the tomb of China’s first emperor for more than 2,000 years were the result of outside influence, new evidence suggests. Based on DNA remains found on the site, archaeologists think ancient Greek sculptors could have been on hand to train local artists – a find that could overturn centuries-old assumptions about contact between the East and the West before Marco Polo.”

The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the Emperor in 210–209 BCE.

Terracotta Warriors Group, Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, CaliforniaThousands of clay soldiers stand in trench-like underground corridors, positioned according to rank, each soldier a unique individual with his own facial features, expression, hairstyle, the higher ranking of them outfitted with full bronze battle gear. Weapons (swords, daggers, spears, arrowheads) are included. Originally the statues were brightly colored but when exposed to air the paint and lacquer flaked off.

terracotta-warrior-knellingterracotta-warriors-portraitI once saw two of the terracotta soldiers. It was in 1988 and I had gone to the Cleveland Museum of Art specifically to see its collection of Indian paintings, unaware of the exhibition being held, “The Quest for Eternity: Chinese Ceramic Sculptures from the People’s Republic of China.” As I remember, the two statues were placed high, on display, maybe near the entrance, and walking by them, looking up, I was stunned by their presence. A friend had been waiting for me. She came over and hurried us on. Oddly, I can still see the statues in my mind’s eye, but not the paintings. Later, thinking of them and being outside the States, I somehow thought the terracotta army was from the Shang Dynasty and read a bit about it as background, all of which I’ve forgotten. An image of the soldiers returns as I read of them again, and with new information, they are even more interesting.



bactria-and-gandhara-mapThe evidence for Greek artists having participated in creating the statues especially interests me. I knew of  Gandhara art, but this wonderful Greek-influenced statuary was much later, in the first and second centuries CE., too late for the terracotta statues.  Besides, I wondered why a civilization sophisticated enough to produce the terracotta marvels would need input from a far distant culture and one less advanced than itself. Curiosity would not stop nagging at me so I finally decided that with this question, plus the importance of Chinese influence on Indonesia and its culture, I really should take the time to learn something of China and Chinese history.

rivers-of-china-mapWhere to begin? I make sense of ancient civilizations by thinking in anthropological terms, beginning with the basic era, the Neolithic. It is a period of people living in villages, cultivating fields of a staple, usually a grain, with the hoe, raising domesticated animals, using stone tools, making pottery and weaving cloth. For China, the earliest known Neolithic was along the Yellow River c. 8500 BCE., based on millet and the pig. Silk was being produced by 5000 BCE.

By 7500 BCE a rice-based Neolithic had developed on the Yangtze River, but that is another part of China. I will return to it when writing about the origins of Indonesian culture.

The next historic era is the Bronze Age, meaning that within a landscape of farming villages there developed a military ruling elite and a religious elite who lived in cities, often walled cities, in palaces, surrounded by specialists and craftsmen, by servants and laborers while keeping control over the peasants who sustained them with food, goods and labor. The military protected their peasantry from raids and attacks by other rulers, and with the religious elite, served as the ultimate judicial authority. The invention of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, had made possible weapons more effective for warfare and axes and blades stronger and more durable than stone tools for clearing and working the land. Metal-working required new sorts craftsmanship, and since the ores are rarely found together, it created the need for trade and for traders, a new occupation of men, and some women, who ventured out beyond the community, in contact and negotiations with people in other societies.

In China, the smelting of copper was discovered early, c. 5000 BCE, in several Neolithic cultures. Tin ore is relatively rare but small deposits were found along the Yellow River, accessible to Bronze Age civilizations. The earliest was the Xia dynasty. c. 2070 – 1600 BCE, followed by the Shang dynasty, c. 1600 – 1046 BCE, the earliest dynasty for which there is archaeological evidence. The Shang dynasty, a period of small kingdoms, was followed by the Zhou dynasty, c. 1046 – 256 BCE, characterized as a feudal society, meaning one with a military hierarchy in which a ruler or lord offers mounted fighters a fief (medieval beneficium), a unit of land, with its peasants and natural resources included, to control in exchange for a military service. The individual who accepted this land became a vassal, and the man who granted the land become known as his liege or his lord.

qin-shi-huang-di-portraitstate-of-qin-mapQin Shi Huang Di, the man whom the terracotta soldiers were to serve in the afterlife, came to the throne of the kingdom of Qin in 246 BCE at the age of 13. Within 25 years his military forces had conquered all of the other Warring States and unified all of China under the Qin Dynasty. He was the First Emperor of China. During his rule he standardized coins, weights, and measures; interlinked the states with canals and roads; and is credited with building the first version of the Great Wall. He died in 210 BCE.

The Han Dynasty, 206 BCE – 220 CE, followed the Qin Dynasty. It ruled for four centuries and is considered a golden age in Chinese history. China’s majority ethnic group refers to itself as the “Han people” and the Chinese script is referred to as “Han characters

A good article on the Bronze Age with pictures of bronze artifacts is here.

The Iron Age, the era when iron objects were first produced, is a third archeological Age based on technology but less consistently related to a type of social organization.  Iron tool and weapon use began between c.1200 to 600 BCE, depending on the region and on when the knowledge was developed for smelting iron ore, removing impurities, and for steel, regulating the amount of carbon in the alloy. Other Iron Age innovations were the potter’s wheel, the rotary quern for grinding grain, and the wood lathe.

In the Mediterranean region, c. 1300 BCE, iron technology developed during a time of disorder and violence known as the Bronze Age Collapse. Trade routes for tin ore were disrupted and bronzesmiths responded by turning to the more abundant and accessible iron ore. Meteorite iron had been known and used for making swords. As the technology evolved, iron became cheaper, stronger, lighter and forged iron implements eventually superseded cast bronze tools and weapons. For some reason, the process seems to have been slower in China than in Europe. Nevertheless, in the Yellow River region during the Spring and Autumn Period, 722 – 481 BCE, farming was revolutionized by the use of cast iron tools and oxen to pull the plow. The food supply increased and population increase followed. Iron objects, such as handcuffs and collars for slaves or criminals, were found in Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb but the terracotta warriors’ weapons were bronze, not iron.

terracotta-army-china-inspired-greek-art_3The Chariot and four horses fascinates me. I have here a picture and discussion of a similar chariot and charioteer in India being taken into battle by four horses, possibly in the 4th century BCE.

From the Cleveland Museum of Art website —

“Some of the most famous ceramic horses are those found in the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (reigned 221-208 BCE). In three separate pits, more than 7,000 pottery soldiers, horses, and chariots and tens of thousands of bronze weapons (swords, daggers, spears, cross-bow triggers, and arrowheads) were excavated. They would have been brightly painted, though much of the color is now lost. In the center of the chariot, a chariot driver holds the reins in both hands. On either side of him are two chariot soldiers. Standing with their feet placed to balance their weight while the chariot is in motion, one hand holds the side-rail of the chariot the other a weapon. Since the charioteer has both hands on the reins, he cannot protect himself. He wears a special uniform with long-sleeved armor to protect his arms and hands and a high collar to protect his neck.”

From a Shang Dynasty archeological site

“The light chariot, with 18 to 26 spokes per wheel, first appeared, according to the archaeological and inscriptional record, about 1200 BCE. Glistening with bronze, it was initially a prestigious command car used primarily in hunting. The 16 chariot burials found at Xiaotun raise the possibility of some form of Indo-European contact with China, and there is little doubt that the chariot, which probably originated in the Caucasus, entered China via Central Asia and the northern steppe. Animal-headed knives, always associated with chariot burials, are further evidence of a northern connection.”

greco-bactrian-kingldom-200-bce-map-by-talessmanxian-mapIn later centuries, about 200 BCE, other Indo-European contacts, this time Greek artists from the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, today’s Afghanistan, traveling north of the Taklamakan Desert, arrived in Xi’an, Qin Shi Huang’s city, to show his artists the art and science of modeling the human body. Men of Bactria had already led expeditions into Xinjiang, northwestern China. The historian Strabo wrote: “they extended their empire even as far as the Seres (Chinese) and the Phryni.” Several statuettes and representations of Greek soldiers have been found north of the Tien Shan, and are on display in the Xinjiang museum at Urumqi.

Hand of the Maitreya, the future Buddha, Gandhara, 3rd-4th century CE

Hand of the Maitreya, the future Buddha, Gandhara, 3rd-4th century CE

How often in considering the history of this region of the earth we are led back to Alexander the Great. In 330 BCE, with an army of Macedonian and Greek soldiers, he invaded territory in today’s Afghanistan as part of his war against Persia. Greek soldiers settled down in this fertile realm, defeated enemy armies and founded the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. Although cut off from Europe, for three centuries they carried on with Greek culture. Greek was the language of government and the elite. One of their cities, Ain Khanum, excavated in 1970s, showed a complete Greek city with an acropolis, amphitheater, temples, and numerous statues. Their coins are among the most beautiful ever made. The Greeks of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, which included Gandhara, transmitted the art of sculpting human likeness to India, and most likely to Qin.

Quoting Lukas Nickel

Ancient Chinese records tell that 12 giant statues, clad in “foreign robes” “appeared in Lintao” in what was the westernmost part of China. (The word “Lintao” can also mean any place far to the west.) The records do not say how this appearance happened, who brought them there, or who exactly the statues depicted; they do reveal the statues were larger than life and so impressed Qin Shi Huang that he decided to build 12 duplicates in front of his palace by melting down bronze weapons that had been used for war. Thus, we know that he, unlike other ruling elites in China, knew of and favored a foreign mode of sculpture.

In separate pits near his mausoleum were found a few dozen statues of half-naked acrobats and dancers on which the sculptors attempted to render a bone structure, muscles and sinews to depict a person in movement. Further, “This comes close to an understanding of the human body that was employed at the time only in Hellenistic (Greek influenced) Europe and Asia.” Nickel argues that creating this sort of realistic sculpture is not something that a sculptor could learn without some practice, that it took the ancient Greeks centuries to master it, and “The creation of a believable human body preoccupied generations of Greek sculptors. It was a complex artistic and intellectual process that did not happen overnight.”

Researchers salvaged traces of European mitochondrial DNA from skeletons buried near Qin Shi Huang’s tomb, confirming the Greeks were there.

China had no tradition of building life-size figures with realistic details before the construction of Qin Shi Huang’s tomb, and none since then.

I love the 1st and 2nd century art of Gandhara, much of it Buddhist. More on that in another essay.

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