Chapter 4: Resource unpredictability and development

Chapter 4:
Resource unpredictability and development
Opening vignette highlights Efe social life. Makes important point:
Resource unpredictability is a part of life, they meet that challenge
by changing campsites when resources grow thin and by sharing
what they have.
Shift in past 25 years in developmental research: Middle class
Western pattern was thought to be norm; h-g’s outliners from a
distant mysterious past. Now: H-g’s represent human evolutionary
norm, Westerns a recent aberration from that.
The Efe (Pygmies)
• One of the oldest traditional human
populations, living in Congo Basin.
• Original “pygmy” population thought to
have split about 27,000 ya
• Western: Aka, Baka, Bakola, Biaka;
• Eastern: Efe, Mbuti, Asua, Batwa,
• Males: hunt in groups and alone, using
bow and arrow
• Women: gather mostly in groups with
• Efe variously interact with Lese
agriculturalists whose ancestors moved
into Congo basin about 2000 years ago.
Efe provide work and trade some forest
products (meat and honey) for
garden/farm products.
The Efe
• Hazards for Efe
• infections,
Adaptation to nutritional uncertainty
• Pygmy stature is
thought to be
adaptation to
nutritional stress and
uncertainty. Smaller
stature reduced caloric
demand for metabolism
and growth.
• Babies are very small,
but fat – safeguard
against nutritional
stress in early
• By first birthday, babies
are starting to compete
with older sibs for
parental resources
• 22% infant mortality
rate; on par with 23%
for h-g’s generally
Adaptation to nutritional uncertainty
• Long juvenile slow growth period, 3-11, believed to be
important for development of resources acquisition and
social skills
• Since juveniles are poor at independent resources
gathering, they depend on social environment to acquire
needed resources
• Cooperative, sharing social networks. Sex-role
specialization; Male cooperative hunting; female group
gathering; intra- and inter-group exchange reciprocal
exchange, frequent movement and information-gathering
Adaptation to social uncertainty
• Children’s primary caregivers at risk
for disease, injury, death. Nearly
20% of Efe children have lost a
parent by age 17.
• Kin represent an important source of
extra-parental care
• Efe children are outgoing and
frequently solicit care and resources
from social networks outside of
• Efe social networks are variable.
Camps could be just a few families
near Lese gardens or as many 30 or
more families in deep forest. Camps
could be minutes or hours apart.
Current Study
• Authors’ hypothesis: Ecological uncertainty should have
selected for children who cultivate social relationships
beyond immediate caregivers.
• Sample: 500 Efe from 18 different bands, 51 camps, across
900 k2
• Subjects: 20 4-21month olds; broken into 4 groups: Young
Infants (YI) 4-6 months; Older Infants (OI) 7-11months;
Young Toddlers (YT), 12-15 months; Older Toddlers (OT) 1821 months.
Current Study
• Social resource groupings: family: nuclear and extended
family outside of mother (father, sibs, uncles, aunts,
cousins); clan: more distant relatives; Unrelated Efe: ingroup non-family (most frequently these are women who
have married into the family camp); Lese farmers: outgroup friends/acquaintances
Efe Birth Traditions
Birth: female birth assistants
are first to hold newborn.
Infant passed around both
inside and outside of birth
Mother is often last female
to hold baby an hour or so
after birth.
In the few days immediately
after birth other nursing
moms will nurse baby along
with mom – note the social
nature of birth – it is a
community-wide event not
Similar to khimpie ceremony
among Lohorung Rai
Expanding social network with age
YI: Ave of 9 unique social interactions in 2hr period
OT: Ave of 14 unique social interactions
Wide range: 3-20
General trend: Family contacts highest, clan next,
unrelated Efe last. However, for oldest subjects (OT),
more time spent with clan than with family.
• Among non-relatives: women are more frequent
partners of infants than men
Early Baby handling
• Change partners: Across ages,
babies experienced a change
of partner every 3 mins on
• Effect: From the beginning of
life Efe babies are leaning how
to manage an highly fluid, but
constantly affectionate social
• Babies are almost always in
good moods across partners
(85-94% of the time across
ages), and the public nature of
infant handling almost always
helps to ensure that adults
greet and treat infant warmly.
Rules of baby handling
More experienced adults mentor less experienced
Attend to baby or don’t take baby, no multi-tasking
If too busy, or baby too fussy pass to another (no penalty)
Give baby what he/she asks for (70-75% of all infant requests are granted;
lower rates for YI who often must be refused for safety/danger reasons)
• Gentleness and warmth of adult may be related to judgments of trust on
part of infant
H-g vs modern motherhood
• Highly social nature of infant, child rearing
in Efe typical of h-gs. Authors contend that
there are no examples they know of
among h-g’s where mother alone is
responsible for infant.
• Modern Western condition for mothers
could hardly be more different than that
of hunter-gatherers. Recent survey 46% of
American moms called their birth
experience “traumatic.” “Horrific,”
“degrading” and “barbaric” were also
common adjectives for birth health-care
• Once discharged from hospital moms are
often isolated and quite alone
• “h-g mothers are doing a much better job
of caring for mothers and babies” and are
reaping the rewards of that in far better
adjusted and resilient families.”

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