I’m posting this link here for educational purposes under ‘fair use’ provisions of the Copyright Act… I do not own, nor do I claim any copyright in the above video production.
I’m posting this link here for educational purposes under ‘fair use’ provisions of the Copyright Act… I do not own, nor do I claim any copyright in the above video production.
Chapter 4: Images and Ideologies in Totalitarian States
Although the Zulu were not the only South African people to be subordinated to the system of apartheid, they are of central importance to the symbolic analysis of South African history. This is not solely because of the armed resistance they offered the Boers and the British, because for the most part, other South African tribes were subjugated not through force of arms, but rather through the cynical use of concessions, often granted to the Boers or the British in return for their help against the depredations of the Zulu. The Swazi, for example, speak of ‘the documents that killed us’ (H Kuper, 19947: 24).
The defeat of the Zulus under Dingane by the combined forces of the Boers and the British, and later the defeat of Cetshwayo’s armies by the British, are indeed important historical turning points, and must have had a profound psychological impact on South African tribes other than the Zulus themselves, as the symbolic significance of these historical events gradually became embedded in the unconsciousnesses of tribal South Africans. However, there were other symbols, as well as other events and processes which had profound symbolic and emotional impact, which are almost equally important to the analysis of South African history and which became equally embedded in the unconsciousnesses not only of tribal South Africans, but also in the unconsciousnesses of white South Africans. In this chapter I shall demonstrate how these became the symbolic underpinning of the oppressive system of apartheid.
Although it would be impossible, within the short space of this chapter, to analyse all the intricacies and contradictions of the apartheid system, I intend to discuss some of the parallels between the methodologies and symbolism of apartheid, Shaka’s terroristic despotism, and Nazism, as well as some significant differences.
Commenting on totalitarianism generally, Louis Dumont says
“Totalitarianism is a disease of modern society that results from the attempt, in a society where individualism is deeply rooted and predominant, to subordinate it to the primacy of the society as a whole…. the violence of the movement is rooted in this contradiction and that it abides in the very promoters of the movement, torn apart as they are by conflicting forces” (1986: 1598, Original emphasis).
Totalitarianism may indeed be a disease, and it may indeed arise out of the attempted subordination of the individual to the whole but it is not necessarily confined solely to modern societies.
Indeed, given the total atomisation of the individual through the dissolution of kinship ties and primordial loyalties and the total subordination of the individual to the Zulu state discussed in chapter 3, which in turn regulated every aspect of the lives of individuals, who could deny that the Zulu state was a totalitarian state? The atomisation of kinship ties through the organisational structure of the regimental system was in fact more complete even than that achieved by Hitler, who maintained the family system, though it was to some extent divided through the encouragement of the Hitler Youth to spy on their relatives. In fact the ‘sense’ of atomisation in the Nazi system was also achieved more through aesthetic means than through social-structural means, for example the mass rallies at Nuremberg, where the feeling of atomisation was achieved via the relationship of the individual, as one of an immense crowd, to the leader, mediated by architectural and lighting effects, which consciously sought to structure the nature of this perception at the pre-conscious level of ‘primary, primitive aisthesis’ (Smith, 1985: 11-23). Hitler it seems had an intuitive grasp of the principle that if he structured the people’s emotional dispositions first their thoughts and practices would surely follow. Propaganda merely reinforced lessons which had already been ‘learned’ at a much deeper level.
Dumont traces the roots of Nazi totalitarianism to the general intellectual climate of Germany after the defeat of 1918, in which Pan-Germanist sentiment and the rejection both of capitalism and the Marxist form of socialism, with its emphasis on a class struggle, were combined to produce a socialism based on a race struggle which was more in line with what Germany saw as its destiny of conquest, following an ideology derived ultimately from the Arthurian mythology which both inspired and is reflected in Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
Dumont shows how this intellectual movement produced a ‘pseudo-holism’ which due to its supposed transcendence of the holism/individualism dichotomy by means of the subjection of the individual to the needs of the society as a whole, was seen to have a destiny, the promise of development and even a will; and formed the basis on which National Socialism – Nazism – would later be built.
As we have already seen, Adolph Hitler was not simply a psychopathic monomaniac, but rather a product of the intellectual climate of his time, which also contained a strong anti-Semitic element, which Hitler was to intensify in order to integrate the “four primitive [Aryan] racial elements” of Germany (Dumont, 1986: 166) by opposing them all to the Jews, who were to be defined as the single cause behind all of Germany’s social evils and all contemporary enemies – Marxism, capitalism, formal democracy and even Christianity (Dumont, 1986: 162). This is remarkably similar in many respects to the way in which Dingiswayo unified the tribes by focussing the energies of their hatred on the encroaching Boers and British. As Dumont says of Hitler:
“…the popularity of this man would be incomprehensible if he had not been somehow, on some level, representative of the contemporary German and even more broadly of modern man.” (Dumont, 1986: 159, original emphasis).
However, although modern South Africa can also be seen as a totalitarian state – at least in terms of the degree of subordination and control achieved over its non-white population – there are significant differences from the model of totalitarian states as described by Dumont, at both the structural and ideological levels. Under the system of apartheid, the subordination of the individual to the whole is limited to the non-white population, while whites are relatively free to pursue their own individualistic goals. This is the result of the rather unusual situation in South Africa where there are effectively what could be regarded as two political systems operating simultaneously – parliamentary democracy for the Afrikaners and English and a regime of totalitarian domination and exploitation for the non-whites.
Although normal family relationships cannot but be adversely affected by the routine humiliation of midnight raids in non-white areas, arrest without trial, and the use of spies as well as the effects of the ‘canalisation’ of labour (L Kuper, 1965: 64), the family as such has not been subjected to any systematic process of fragmentation.
This, in fact is in line with the government’s promotion of ‘modern tribalism’, and it is principally at this level – the level of the ‘tribe’ (where they had been an empire), that we can properly speak about social fragmentation in the South African context. However, as Leo Kuper points out, apartheid ideology and the creation of the ‘Bantu States’, or ‘Bantustans’, is not simply a process of social fragmentation of the Zulu empire, but rather a mechanism of social integration into white social structures through separation.
“The government’s policy of apartheid (racial separation) considered in its practical implications rather than in its theoretical formulations, is in fact a policy of integration by means of racial stratification. The unequal racial units are to be systematically coordinated into a functioning whole. So-called separation between White and non-White is largely an intellectual device to define the units, their role in the total social system, and their manner of relationship in different spheres, although as between the non-Whites themselves there is an attempt to raise real vertical barriers against unification.” (L Kuper, 1965: 42-43, original emphasis).
Thus the different races – Coloureds, Asiatics and Blacks – are hierarchically ranked and are subjected to different levels of subordination. The aim is to create distance between the various races in order to circumvent the possibility of non-white unity due to the potential political threat inherent in the fact that the non-white races comprise an overwhelming majority of the South African population. It is for this reason also that the division of black Africans inevitably had to be extended to a sub-racial – or tribal – level, as even the unity of black Africans, as envisaged by the Pan-African Congress, would create enough of a majority to pose a serious threat to white hegemony. As Kuper says, the system of Bantu Authorities
“…is essentially an administrative device for harnessing the traditional tribal authorities to the state machine, and for absorbing the chiefs into the state bureaucracy. The potentially disruptive forces of tribal authority, and tribal traditions in conflict with the requirement of a modern industrial state, are thus controlled. Tribalism is integrated into the total social system, and the African majority, which might otherwise threaten and indeed overthrow the established order, is fragmented – at least in theory.” (1965:43).
Thus subordination to the needs of the state in the case of South Africa is not achieved at the level of the individual per se, but rather through the subordination of the racial or tribal groups to which individuals belong, to the centralised bureaucratic control of the state. These racial and tribal groups then, are seen and responded to in a quasi-holistic manner, as ‘wholes’ within themselves whose interactions and interrelationships are then controlled and limited by articulation with the transcendent machinery of the state bureaucracy.
I realise that this does not represent a radical critique of Dumont’s position, as the individual members of these racial and tribal groups are still effectively subordinated to the requirements of society as a whole and that their destiny as individuals is, in fact, constructed for them through the ideology of apartheid in terms of their tribal identity (see Kuper, 1965: 33). This ideology is in fact very similar to Nazi ideology, which also hierarchically ranked different racial groups who were also seen therefore to have separate ‘destinies’. A much more difficult problem of explanation from the Dumontian perspective is the existence of a parliamentary democracy for one privileged section of the society, while the other groups are subjected to a totalitarian regime. Either this is simply breathtaking hypocrisy, or else it is further evidence that all black societies were related to as if they were ‘on the lower rungs’ of the ‘evolutionary ladder’; in other words, as if they were something less than fully human, and sees the actions of chiefs like Shaka against even their own people as evidence of the closeness of black Africans to animals.
As I have already suggested, the system of apartheid can be seen as the extension of the Wolesley Plan of multiple partition by which the subjugation of the Zulus was initially effected. The fuel for the racist system of apartheid is, as Kuper points out (1965: 34), a heightened sense of consciousness of race, shaped by apartheid laws which impose racial separation or else control racial contact in almost every conceivable human relationship. This ‘heightened consciousness of race’ is then further intensified and channelled into antagonistic directions through the construction of unfavourable stereotypes of non-white races, and by policies and ideologies which create or intensify competition between the races. As Kuper says:
“The racial ideology of the dominant group, in one of its most general formulations, rests on the basic incompatibility of the races and the inevitability of conflict between them when in contact. A race must dominate or be dominated; or, to express the theory in less general terms, the non-whites will use their numbers to dominate the whites if given the opportunity. The survival of the White man and his way of life depends therefore on White paramountcy in all areas where they live together (which is to say discrimination against non-Whites in all material respects) or on territorial separation.” (Kuper, 1965: 36).
It is this line of reasoning, which perceives an inevitable conflict between mutually incompatible races, leading to an equally inevitable fear of the domination of whites by non-whites, that underlines the necessity, for Afrikaners, of dividing the different races (and indeed, in the case of the Africans, the different tribes) against each other. As with the Nazis, this is done by means of the revelation to these ideologically separated social groups of their separate and therefore different destinies, which also implies, of course, separate and different interests. The methodology of ‘modern tribalism’, however, is not new. It basically consists of an attempt by the Afrikaner government to rule tribal Africans through their own chief; a method which was practised by the British as early as 1889 (Gluckman, 1970: 147). At that time, rule through the chiefs was both economical and,
“…quite satisfactory for government purposes, even though the chiefs were not wholehearted servants of government” (Gluckman, 1970: 147).
The deconstruction of the Zulu empire had created a ‘power vacuum’ which led to factional fighting. When, in 1891, the chiefs lost their power to try criminal offences, the Zulu had to rely on the Native Commissioner for adjudication in disputes and for protection against wrongdoers, although the cooperation of the chiefs was still necessary for routine administration. Thus the chiefs effectively became incorporated within the lower levels of the state’s bureaucracy. This position was not a comfortable one for the chiefs as the Zulus, in spite of their desire for white tools, goods and education, as well as money to pay taxes, remained nonetheless resentful of their growing dependence on whites.
Perhaps too, they resented having been turned into peasants and wage-labourers and subjected to increasing government controls on their traditional way of life, where once they had been a proud nation of warriors. Walter quotes from Thomas Mofolo’s novel, “Chaka”:
“Even today the Mazulu remember how they were men once, in the time of Chaka, and how the tribes in fear and trembling came to them for protection. And when they think about their lost empire the tears pour down their cheeks and they say: “Kingdoms wax and wane, springs that were once mighty dry away.” (In Walter, 1969: 243).
Although Gluckman’s purpose in this chapter (1970: ch4) is to show that, in the earlier days of white dominion in South Africa at least, there were bonds of cooperation and even friendship which transcended the colour-bar, he nonetheless admits that the attitude of the Zulus towards the government was mainly suspicious and hostile (1970: 153). For this reason the chiefs, even in the South Africa of the 1930s of which Gluckman speaks, were placed in the very difficult position of having to simultaneously represent the wishes of the government to his people, and the wishes and complaints of his people to the government. Thus the relationship of the chiefs to the Native Commissioners and magistrates was to a large extent one of opposition and the Zulus learned to manipulate that opposition to some extent:
“Though in many situations it cannot be done, the Zulu constantly compare Zulu officials and European officers and shift their allegiance according to what is to their own advantage or by what values they are being guided on different occasions.” (Gluckman, 1963: 174).
Thus, in the 1930s, although the powers of the chief had been radically curtailed, having lost his relatively enormous wealth, and no longer able to levy tribute or labour, he found a new basis for power in leading his people in opposition to the government and to whites (Gluckman, 1963: 156), although this resistance was largely confined to a passive refusal to implement government plans for the reserves.
In 1951, however, this situation was dramatically changed with the implementation of the Bantu Authorities Act. As Kuper points out, acceptance of the Bantu Authorities implied for Africans an acceptance of temporary status in all areas outside the reserves and a renunciation of stable rights in the cities and developed areas, as well as the abandonment of the long-cherished political goal of a broad national unity in place of divisive tribalism (Kuper, 1965: 23-24).
The government’s policy was to create a pyramid of district, tribal, regional and territorial authorities in the African areas. The selection of personnel was effectively controlled by the government; and deposition and banishment were imposed as penalties for opposition. Besides this negative inducement to conformity, chiefs were also given the positive inducement of increased powers, though as Kuper states, these powers
“…are wielded by the direction of an alien group. The chief does not rule his people, with the aid of his council, in the traditional manner. He rules by the indulgence of a foreign government, administering its policies and its laws, and accountable to its bureaucracy. Chiefs are effectively relegated to the lower levels of this bureaucracy, forming the base of the bureaucratic pyramid.” (1965: 23).
This is of course, structurally identical to Shaka’s methodology of allowing the chiefs of tribes who submitted to him voluntarily to maintain their sovereignty whilst replacing those who opposed him with his own favourites. It is also very similar to the Nazi method of ruling occupied France by subordinating the role of the French police and judiciary structures to Nazi authority. But as in France, it was met with resistance wherever possible.
“There is widespread rejection of the Bantu Authority system among the Zulus, and demonstrations against them have been violently suppressed in Zeerust (1957), Sekhukuneland (1958), and Pondoland (1960). The relationship of many tribes to their chiefs has drastically changed where those chiefs have supported the Bantu authorities, and the huts of councillors, headmen and chiefs have been burned, while some pro- government chiefs and headmen have been murdered, or else forced to seek government protection or go into hiding.” (Kuper, 1969: 24).
The government denied that these movements were actually striking against the Bantu Authorities, and laid the blame on ‘outside agitators’, thus introducing the spectre of communism and professional politicians exploiting the masses for their own ends whilst at the same time implying that the people are content until misled by false propaganda (Kuper, 1965: 24).
Effectively this is an attempt by the government to impose its own propagandistic interpretation of black action on blacks themselves. Because of the emotional appeal of tribalism to African chiefs, and the government’s portrayal of Bantu authorities as the African’s “own system”, it is not surprising that some chiefs are persuaded.
The control of Africans by the Bantu Authorities system has been extended and reinforced by the introduction of the Bantu in European Areas Bill (1960), which was finally passed as the Bantu Laws Amendment Act in 1964. This Act is the result of the systematic analysis of African activities in order to subject them to the control of white authorities. Its totalitarian nature is indisputable, offering, as it does, clear evidence of planning for total control over every aspect of African life.
Central to this Act is its control over African mobility, restricting them, except where they are legitimately employed in European areas, to the reserves. It provides powers for residential segregation, as well as segregation in churches, schools, hospitals and places of entertainment with the aim of excluding Africans from inter-racial contact outside the reserves (control within the reserves being already assured by the prohibition of entry into them of outside persons without a permit). It details the type of employment Africans may seek in white areas, and imposes a curfew, and limits the rights of Africans to own property. It also makes provision for the arrest without warrant of idle, undesirable, or ‘redundant’ Africans, and details the manner in which they are to be treated and removed from the area. It is, as Kuper says, an overwhelming structure of oppression (1965: 61).
The main instrument for the application of this law, as well as the central symbol of its oppression, is the Pass – the registration or reference book containing details of identity, permission to reside in the area, employment and tax. As Kuper says:
“In a very real sense, the African is subordinated to his pass, a form of what Georg Simmel classifies as subordination to a thing.” (1965: 61).
Kuper quotes the perceptions of two Africans in relation to their feelings on this subordination to the pass-book. Because of the clarity of the insight of these two men into the nature of this subordination, as well as the intensity of emotion displayed in these two epigraphs, I feel they are worth repeating here in full. The first is by Lewis Nkosi, an African journalist, commenting on the death of two Africans who had been burned to death after they had crept under blazing factory walls in order to rescue their reference books:
“But it is not heroism – and certainly nothing like bravado – that can make a man go to his death in an attempt to save a Pass Book.
The motive is simply FEAR – the realisation of what his life will be worth without a reference book.
For a reference book has ceased to be a mere form of identification. It is interchangeable with the man himself. At times one is forced to the conclusion that the man himself has less dignity, has less claim to official recognition, than the book.
For all I know, when there is a need for a deputation to be sent to the Ministry of Bantu Administration, we could safely collect our reference books and mail them down to Cape Town to represent us…
I do not live apart from my own reference book any more, in fact I have decided I AM THE REFERENCE BOOK!
Whenever I see a police constable looking at me, the lifting of his eyes is at once adequate to make me understand that my right to walk the streets, to be about in a white area, even to confront my white fellow human being with the sheer physical fact of my existence is now being called into question.
And the only answer equally adequate is the production of a reference book.
This at once assures the officer that I am a peaceful man and not a gangster or a ghost.
My reference book has assumed greater importance than I can ever have. It has become my face.
What began as a system purporting to smooth my efforts to make a living and move about with sufficient proof of my claim to the citizenship of this country, has now completely subordinated me.
My life is nothing without a pass. Without it there might even be a doubt whether I was born in this country and not Jamaica.
As long as this is the case, obviously more of us will die in hell-fires in the future, groping for our reference books. Our Souls!” (In Kuper, 1965: 62, original emphasis).
GM Pitje, an African lawyer, writes:
“There is a rancid smell of slavery – chattel slavery – about it. Under the reference book system you are either employed or a vagrant or an idler or an undesirable element. The exceptions are too negligible to prove the general rule. From this fact there flows one element which is part of the single whole, and is in fact the central core of the whole system. The reference book is an instrument for socio-economic regimentation, dragooning and control. It creates a pattern with machine-like efficiency, and brings each and every individual throughout life under the direct eye and vigilance of the state machinery. It is an instrument for economic exploitation, social control and regimentation, forced labour and political persecution. It is more than a badge of inferiority. It is a merciless fetter strangling the life of the Black millions of South Africa. Its general effect is to deny or deprive the Blacks of their human heritage – the right of free movement; the right of choice of work; freedom of speech, freedom of thought; freedom of association; freedom of assembly and other basic rights and freedoms such as the inviolability of the human person. The African as a human is insulted in his personality. He is made a mere Cipher – a cog in a huge, merciless wheel. His humanity is not recognised. The women of South Africa must also bear this mark of Cain throughout their lives. Yea, even children must wear this badge of slavery. One cannot register the birth of one’s child without producing the reference book. The men of South Africa must be hunted down like wild beasts. The reference book haunts them. On a funeral march or in the church of God there is always the danger that the police may break in and demand the production of reference books. This humiliation of a whole people cries out to high heaven for vengeance.” (Kuper, 1965: 63, original emphasis).
Both of these men have perceived, quite accurately, the denial of their very humanity which is implicit in this subordination to the pass book, and the intensity of their feelings of anger towards the system which by its own internal logic necessitated its imposition, is immediately apparent. Their every movement, almost, is subjected to supervision and controlled in directions which can only be of benefit to white South Africans, and which can quite often be disruptive to blacks. A man who has lived in a certain area all his life in almost continuous employment may suddenly, if the police or the government sees fit, be uprooted and moved to a reserve hundreds of miles away as an undesirable element or as ‘redundant’ labour. This is what the government refer to as ‘canalising’ African labour, a word which Kuper quite correctly states is more appropriate for the harnessing of raw power, and indeed this is the way in which African labour – and the African labourer – is both viewed and treated, thereby reducing him to the level of a commodity (Kuper, 1965: 63).
Through the combined effects of the pass laws and ‘modern tribalism’, the government has achieved exactly the same effect as did Shaka’s ‘traffic desert’: rendering his existence impossible except under the control of the state. Moreover, it controls almost every movement, association or attempt at self-expression that he may make within the state. And if he is on a reserve, it may be fenced in, begging the comparison with Nazi concentration camps. Even if it is not fenced in, where is he to go? The poverty of the reserves, which function primarily as huge labour pools, is invisible to whites in their towns and cities, and anyway they see it as not their problem, but rather a matter for the tribal authorities, the chiefs.
I realise that I am not the first to compare modern South Africa to Nazi Germany. In fact the comparison between these two cultures has become something of a cliché. But if it has become a cliché, it is only due to the appropriateness of the analogy. Kuper says:
“It is this denial of self-expression to other racial groups, this determination of their destiny, regardless of their own desires and in the interests of the rulers, this total nature of the planned regulation of the lives of subordinates, which suggests the parallel with National Socialism. And this suggestion is strengthened by the use of terror and the use of extraordinary powers to enforce submission.” (1965: 65).
Ultimately it is terror, and only terror, which enables the pass laws to operate. Yet this terror is reduced to routine in the daily administration of these laws, which provide justifications for confrontation on the streets and for midnight raids in the home, until no African is secure from police aggression at any time, day or night. The routinization of terror does not, however, diminish its efficacy in the least. On the contrary, it becomes embedded in the consciousnesses of the terrorist and the terrorised alike, structuring dispositions and attitudes, producing feelings of superiority and dominating behaviour in the one, and feelings of inferiority and docile submission, or alternatively – and inevitably – of resentment and resistance in the other.
But even this routinization of terror must inevitably be superseded by an ever-increasing armoury of extraordinary powers in its ultimately futile effort to suppress any attempt at resistance, lest people forget why they are submissive (Kuper, 1965: 65-66). Why ‘futile’? Because if suppression generates resistance, then further suppression can only generate further resistance; indeed the worst atrocities committed in the attempt by one section of any culture to suppress and dominate another section of the same society can only serve strengthen resistance by providing not only causes for hatred but also martyrs who invariably become the symbolic foci for further resistance.
It seems that white South Africans have finally learned what Shaka, Dingane, Mpande and Cetshwayo could not teach them: in order to rule a people unwillingly subjected, it is necessary to control their lives totally, and crucial to demonstrate that the state control of their lives extends up to, and includes the decision as to if and when they will be terminated. Or, to put it another way, “You cannot rule the Zulus without killing them.” Inevitably, oppression stimulates resistance. But resistance, and more specifically, the nature of that resistance, was itself problematic for non-white South Africans, and involved dilemmas of choice: firstly, should resistance be within the framework of a non-racist, democratic ideology, or an exclusive African Nationalist ideology? And secondly, should that resistance use violent or non-violent methods?
Africans were divided in their approach to both these questions, although with regard to the latter their hands may have been forced by existential factors entirely unrelated to ideology.
The main political division between Africans was that between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan-African Congress (PAC). The ANC’s constitution was along the lines of the Freedom Charter, which document was the product of the Congress Alliance. This document was aimed at the promotion of inter-racial tolerance, understanding and harmony within a democratic framework. The PAC, on the other hand, was formed via the secession of a nationalist-minded bloc of Africanists from the ANC.
However, the main difference between these two groups was largely at the level of stated ideology only. Even after the secession of the PAC from the ANC, there were still Africanists in the ANC who criticised the secession, not on principle, but on the grounds of expedience, claiming either that the Africanists should have worked for their point of view within the ANC, or else that the assistance of other races was still necessary and that they had ‘let the cat out of the bag’ too soon. As Kuper points out, however, the matter was even more complicated, as Africanism had a strong emotional appeal for Africans even where the intellectual commitment was to a non-racial democracy (Kuper, 1965: 370-371).
This African racism was the direct result of the hierarchical ranking of the different races under the policies of apartheid, who because of their different positions within the wider society, were perceived to have different rights and degrees of freedom, and therefore different political interests. It was further exacerbated by the necessity of forging the African tribes into a unit, and as Kuper points out, this was particularly difficult without the focus of a hated alien group, as the principle of unification would then be only an abstract ideal, and not a human passion (1965: 369).
That is to say, it is difficult to do away with racism whilst it is still necessary to focus hatred on one particular racial group in order to create the unity necessary to overthrow it. Indeed the situation is more complex even than this. In order for a unity of disparate groups to evolve, it is necessary to have symbols to act as the focus for sentiments of unity; symbols to which all the disparate groups can relate, which express a genuine commonality at the level of experience. Such symbols come readily to hand, but most of them, though intensely appealing to Africans, have little or no appeal to other racial groups. Gluckman mentions Dingaan’s Day, which celebrates the defeat of Dingane on the 16th December, 1838 at Blood River. Although this was a great victory for the whites and a great defeat for the Zulus, as Gluckman says:
“…for the Zulu their kings stand for victories over other tribes, and over British and Boers, which they remember with pride equal to that of the Whites in their traditions.” (1970: 157).
Kuper also mentions National Heroes’ Day, on which the appeal to the spirits of Hintsa, Shaka, Khama, Mzilikazi, Sekhukhuni and Moshoeshoe provides an opportunity for building up the dignity of African history and personality (1965: 378). Political leaders invoke the spirits of the martyrs who died at Sharpeville, Langa, Pondoland, Cato Manor, Zeerust and Sekhukhuneland. Functioning as symbols, the very names of these events became foci for the expression of the grief and pain of the whole black community. The names of these places, these heroes and martyrs thus had a magical potency for the creation of a powerful sense of unity and purpose which was born in a sense of community in the extremities of oppression. But it was an African unity and an African purpose, for these were all African symbols.
But there was, above all, one symbol which had the potential to transcend the barriers of tribal loyalties, because it was the overriding symbol of the oppression of all South African tribes; the Pass Book. Pass laws were seen as a major cause of African suffering and the support of the African masses was generally ensured in any anti-pass campaign. The pass laws restricted freedom of movement, limited the right to seek work, and imposed a curfew, thus laying the foundation for white domination and continuous police surveillance of African life by placing the stamp of official routine on midnight raids and mass arrests, thus giving legal sanction to rule by force (Kuper, 1965: 21). It is therefore hardly surprising that the pass book became simultaneously a symbol of the oppression which itself united the Africans at the level of experience and also a target for the anger and aggression which was fueled by the oppression which the pass laws perpetuated.
On the question of whether violent or non-violent means were to be used to express African grievances in the attempt to achieve a measure of equality, as I have already suggested, their hands may have been forced. In the past the main African political organisations pursued a strategy of non-violent demonstration under the influence of the philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi, utilising a variety of non-violent techniques, such as mass demonstrations, boycotts, civil disobedience and the withholding of labour. Where violence attended these campaigns, it was not by design, but was rather the spontaneous reaction of the masses to the forceful and provocative intervention of the police (Kuper, 1965: 21).
Indeed, the government’s reaction to these non-violent techniques of political persuasion was always to suppress them with violence and terror, thus every peaceful means of effecting change was gradually closed to Africans until violence was seen as the only alternative, and was thus legitimised (Kuper, 1965: 385). This process of the legitimation of violent responses to violent repression is perhaps hardly surprising given the nature of the symbols which formed the focus for African unity, although later Gandhi would in fact prove historically that it is at least possible to effect radical change even in the face of overwhelming violent repression using non-violent means due the ‘moral superiority’ such methods display to a modern audience of global dimensions.
Thus it seems as though, in spite of certain pressures towards a multi-racial unity, and the use of non-violent techniques, the dominant trends in the political objectives of Africans (in 1965, at least) were towards an exclusive African nationalism, and the use of violence was increasingly seen as a legitimate, though regrettable course of action.
Neither is the choice of violence as a means of resistance without its own symbolic dimension, as peaceful means of resistance, such as deputations and petitions may all too readily be interpreted as weakness:
“Like the act of kneeling in prayer before a deity, they imply voluntary submission, prostration before the rulers.” (Kuper, 1965: 20).
On the other hand the violence of mass disturbances is a raw display of power and may evoke an almost immediate response while petitions may easily ‘evaporate’ in bureaucratic channels. For example, the causes of the Cato Manor beer-hall disturbances in June 1959, as interpreted by the Director of the Durban Bantu Administration Department were poverty and inadequate wages. Although this was basically an attempt to shift the focus of the discourse from perceptions social inequality to mere economic inequality, support was later given by the Director, and by the Natal Chamber of Industries, for an increase in wages. The impression that remains, however, is that violence is more effective than non-violence (Kuper, 1965: 20). During spontaneous eruptions of violence, targets are selected on the basis of their availability, and also for their symbolic importance. Kuper says,
“…in general, members of the White group are not likely to be present or vulnerable. Violence thus turns from persons to property. In much the same way that the workers initially attacked the machines, and not the bourgeois conditions of production, so too Africans, in these spontaneous outbursts, are not attacking the system of racial domination or its representatives but the concrete symbols of domination, and indeed any of the accessible works of the White man. They burn the offices of the Bantu Administration, they set on fire buses belonging to the Durban City Corporation, they sometimes settle private scores, and in the process they also destroy churches, schools, and clinics which serve the community.” (Kuper, 1965: 14).
Such spontaneous outbursts of violence are often an embarrassment to African political leaders who, since they must identify with the people, are obliged to give attention to issues which often have little political significance. At the same time they must solve the problem of both rejecting the violence and at the same time interpreting it sympathetically (Kuper, 1965: 22). From this point of view, the increasing tendency of political leaders to focus their campaigns around such central and symbolic issues as the pass laws can be seen as an attempt to give political direction to energies, generated by emotional dispositions (i.e. ‘affective a-priori‘), which might otherwise have been dissipated on matters of little political moment, while at the same time attacking one of the principal mechanisms which allowed the systematic subordination of black South Africans to persist.
I now wish to turn to a brief consideration of the ideologies which gave rise to these three totalitarian regimes and the imagery used to support it.
There was, in fact, very little that could properly be called an ‘ideology’ in Hitler’s Nazi Party, for Hitler mistrusted ideals and ideologies. Nevertheless he recognised that a doctrine of some sort was necessary in order to subject the masses to force; and there was one thing in which he undoubtedly did believe: the “struggle of all against all”. This was the central theme of “Mein Kampf”. Dumont quotes a complete formulation of this doctrine from a speech by Hitler made at Kulabach on the 5th February, 1928:
“The idea of struggle is as old as life itself, for life is only preserved because other living things perish through struggle…. In this struggle the stronger, the more able, win, while the less able, the weak lose. Struggle is the father of all things…. It is not by the principle of humanity that man lives or is able to preserve himself above the animal world, but solely by means of the most brutal struggle.” (Quoted in Dumont, 1986: 171).
But Hitler recognised that the individualism implicit in this formulation, which was anathema to him – would have a potentially disintegrative effect on global society, i.e. the Pan-Germanist movement, which had suffered badly after the defeat of 1918 – and which must therefore be transcended by being bent into the service of the society as a whole. Because the idea of ‘nation’ at the time remained more or less superficial, and deeper associations were connected with the concept of Volk, this had to be the basis of his new global society. However, Hitler had rejected the Marxist form of socialism, and so notions of class which might otherwise have sprung from this concept of Volk were circumvented by making the transition from Volk to ‘die Rasse’ – ‘race’. There was, he said, no class struggle, but a race struggle. Thus as Dumont says,
“…the struggle of all against all forced Hitler to see in race the only valid foundation of global society and virtually the only cause in history. Racism results here from the holistic representation of community disintegrating under the action of individualism.” (1986: 175).
As Dumont also points out, this is a form of Social Darwinism, which is also a very widespread notion of modern individualistic ‘common sense’ (1986: 172 and 175). Yet if this is Social Darwinism, it is also a form of Social Darwinism which was influenced by the intellectual and philosophical climate of Germany at the time – a climate still very much influenced by the writings of Goethe and Nietzche, among others. A few epigraphs from these authors is therefore apposite to a consideration of the ideologies which structured Hitler’s motivations:
“At the bottom of all distinguished races the beast of prey is not to be mistaken, the magnificent blond beast, roaming wantonly in search of prey and victory. It requires from time to time, the discharge of this hidden source of its nature, the animal must again show itself, it must again go back into the wilderness…. The same men who are held in such strict bonds by usage, reverence, custom, gratitude, and still more by mutual watching and jealousy inter pares…, are not much better than wild beasts let loose towards the outside world, where what is unfamiliar, unfamiliar people commence. They there enjoy freedom from all social constraint; ….like exulting monsters, they go back into a condition of innocent conscience of the beast of prey” (Nietzche, ‘Genealogy of Morals’: 11, in T Common, 1901; 102-103).
In this passage, Nietzche describes the qualities he feels to be essential to the ‘superman’ or ubermensch. Above all, he is a warrior, a predator. It is interesting here to note the difference in the attitude of this ‘magnificent blond beast’ towards people of his own kind, i.e. his own ‘race’, which is one of deference, self-command, fidelity, pride and friendship, bound as he is by the bonds of ‘usage, reverence, custom, etc., and that towards ‘the outside world, where what is unfamiliar, unfamiliar people commence’, in which case our ‘magnificent blond beast’ throws off all constraint, and with a completely innocent conscience indulges his true nature as a beast of prey and finds exaltation in slaughter. It is equally interesting to note the manner in which Neitzche structures his audience’s feelings by his choice of words.
Elsewhere Nietzche writes:
“Life is essentially appropriating, injuring and vanquishing what is foreign and weak: it is suppression, severity, obtrusion of its own forms, incorporation and at least, putting it most mildly, exploitation… Even an organisation within which individuals deal with each other on equal terms (it is so in every healthy aristocracy) must, if it is a living and not a dying organisation, act hostilely towards other organisations in all matters wherein the several individuals restrain themselves in their dealing with one another; it must be the embodied Will to Power…. ‘Exploitation’ does not belong to a depraved or an imperfect and primitive state of society; it belongs to the essence of living beings, as a fundamental organic function; it is a consequence of the intrinsic Will to Power, which is just the Will to Life. – Granting that as a theory this is an innovation, as a reality it is the original fact of history.” (F Nietzche, “Beyond Good and Evil”: 259, in T Common, 1901: 103-104).
Dumont explains that in the underlying central theme of Nazi ideology, the struggle of all against all – a notion surely as Nietzchean as it is Darwinian – lies the notion of power, expressed as a value in and for itself (1986: 169). But it is in the Nietzchean formulation, appealing as it does directly and emotionally to the individual’s wilder, less controllable – one cannot help but say ‘animalistic’ – appetites, rather than Darwin’s highly intellectual formulation, I would suggest, that we find the roots of the Nazi obsession with power for its own sake.
Darwin endorsed several social and political assumptions common to the late nineteenth century English gentleman, including the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon, the inevitable triumph of the more ‘intellectual’ and ‘moral’ races over the more ‘degraded’ ones; the negative evolutionary status of the ‘inferior’ races, and the continuing influence of competitive struggle in ‘civilized’ societies (De Lepervanche, 1984:60).
All of these assumptions are indeed conducive to both racism and exploitation, at both class and racial levels. But Darwin also acknowledged the importance of mutual aid and argued that man is impelled by a wish to aid his fellows, and that though this is influenced by praise or blame, it rests on sympathy, which is gained primarily as an instinct, though it may be strengthened by exercise or habit (Darwin, 1922: 934, in De Lepervanche, 1984: 61). This recognition of the importance of sympathy and compassion, I think, would have precluded Darwin from arriving at the same conclusion as Nietzche, that life is power and vice-versa.
If Nietzche provided Hitler with a philosophical basis or justification for racism, exploitation and aggressive imperialism, Goethe provided him with a philosophical justification for absolute dictatorship:
“The absolute stands even above the reasonable. That is why sovereigns often choose to act unreasonably, in order to retain their sense of absolute freedom.” (Goethe, ‘Conversations’, in Walter, 1969:109).
Of course, Wagner’s operas provided Hitler not only with a role-model in the hero Parsifal, but also with a whole heroic mythology, ready-made and easily accessible to the average German; and because of the peculiarly powerful manner in which music can stir the emotions, ‘The Ring Cycle’ provided him with an emotional context within which to frame the notions of patriotism, heroism and glory with which he would so infuse the German people.
Certainly, both Nazi Germany and the Zulu empire were totalitarian regimes governed by an absolute ruler. Modern South Africa however differs from the other two in this respect: There is no single, absolute ruler, as the government is, in theory at least, elected democratically (but then, so was Hitler!) by the white elite. This is a peculiar synthesis of democracy and totalitarianism, which effectively, due to the part the white ‘democratic’ section plays in legislation, and its virtually total commitment to the policy of apartheid, relates the whole white sector to the non-whites within a structure of totalitarian domination, which is no less absolute in spite of its ‘democratic’ element.
Yet as Leo Kuper points out, unlike Nazi Germany or Zulu despotism, there is no mention of inequality in the South African government’s ideology or its propaganda. Whatever its practice, the government proclaims a policy of creating independent African states in which equality, self-determination and independence may be secured for Africans in carefully defined and regulated linguistic sub-groups (1965: 39).
This hypocritical disparity between what the whites say and what they actually do should not surprise us, however, as Hilda Kuper has shown that white supremacy in South Africa was based on deception anyway, through the manipulation of concessions, as well as other forms of economic domination within a system of ‘legality’ that was incomprehensible to Africans because they involved many concepts which were untranslatable into African languages (H Kuper, 1947: 24-26). And all of this was backed up by the threat of overwhelming military and technological superiority; the Swazi, about whom Hilda Kuper writes, had learned full well from the defeat of the Zulus how futile was resistance to the whites.
One is here reminded of Nazi ideas of the struggle of all against all, in which peace was to be a continuation of war by other means, and ‘legality a way of setting legality at naught’ (Dumont, 1986: 171). Racism is, of course, identical in its practical implications, whatever its ideological origins, but it should be noted here that the origins of Afrikaner racism were not (at least not entirely) based on Social Darwinism, but rather had their roots in the Calvinist religion. Thus Leo Kuper says:
“Racialisation is presented in the somewhat curious altruism of a mission to preserve White civilisation against Black Barbarism, Christian capitalism against atheistic communism and the God-given differences between the races against the miscegenation-lusts of integration. Material self-interest happily coincides with the will of God and the duty of self-preservation.” (L Kuper, 1965: 32).
Thus the racial hierarchy of apartheid was born in the religious hierarchy of Calvinism; where due to the self-assumed ‘election’ of the Calvinists themselves, the perception of difference is automatically taken to imply hierarchy. And it should be noted that this automatic assumption of hierarchy on the basis of perceived difference is common to all three of these ideologies. I have yet to consider the Zulu ideology (i.e. the Zulu religious system) and compare it with the ideologies of Nazi Germany and apartheid. For the purposes of this project, it is not necessary to consider the Zulu religious system in its entirety but only those aspects of it which have a bearing on notions of racism, ideas of the struggle of all against all – i.e. ‘Social Darwinism’ and Zulu notions on the nature of good and evil. On the difference between good and evil, the Zulu (in traditional times) were ambivalent; they were aware that some actions bring honour while others bring disgrace, yet they did not take the commission of evil seriously, dismissing it as natural, having been created by ’Nkulu’nkulu, the First Being, Callaway quotes a Zulu informant:
“Just as we married many wives, saying ‘Hau! We cannot deny ourselves as regards the abundance which Unkulunkulu has given us; let us do just what we like.’ And if we wish to enter into sin, we enter into it in his name, and are like people who are still in possession of his word; but we do not really possess it, but do our own will only, doing it in his name; but we have no unity with Unkulunkulu, nor with that which he wished we should do by creating us.” (1870: 24).
Callaway interprets this as being intended to show that the name of ‘Nkulu’nkulu is only ever used as an excuse for evil, and never as an incentive to do good (1870:25). Yet in spite of this, and in spite of their recognition of the concepts of good and evil, there is still a strong perception that what springs from spontaneous desires is natural, and what is natural cannot be evil. Thus the Zulus rationalise their evil, saying:
“O, it is no matter, although they say I have done wrong, but I say Unkulunkulu was unable to create what is evil, and although they say it is evil, it is really good.” (Callaway, 1970: 426).
In essence this attitude (or disposition, if you will) closely resembles one of the main themes expressed in Nietzsche’s “The Will to Power”, which also displays a similar indifference to good and evil. Nietzsche writes:
“There are no moral phenomena, only a moral interpretation of them.” (Quoted in HL Stewart, 1915: 34).
There are also strong similarities between Zulu ideology and Nietzsche’s philosophy on the notion of the struggle of all against all. Callaway quotes another Zulu informant:
“At his origin [Unkulunkulu] said, ‘We will fight and stab each other with spears that the strongest may be manifest who overcomes the other; and he who overcomes the other shall be the great king; and he who is overcome shall be the dependent. And all people shall wait on him who is the king who overcomes the other.” (Callaway, 1870: 44).
Though the language is much less dramatic than that of Nietzche, Goethe and Hitler, this epigraph expresses exactly the same sentiments. The First Being has directed that all men shall fight to prove their superiority over everyone else. This, of course, is the struggle of all against all. The prize for the victorious is the domination of the defeated, who shall then serve the victor. This is another formulation at the ideological level, of a habitus of power, in which power, achieved and exercised for its own sake, is seen as the ultimate value, in and of itself and in which, of course, violence is implicit. Also implicit in this passage is the recognition of the ‘legitimacy’ of exploitation, in that the defeated shall serve the victorious; nothing is said about on what terms.
There remains the question of racism in Zulu ideology. Although Callaway gives an example of one Xhosa’s ‘utter contempt’ for the Hottentots, it is doubtful that this can be regarded as racism according to my definition (see footnote 24), due to their strong cultural and genetic similarity. However there is some evidence in this passage (Callaway, 1970: 65) that the informant’s contempt for the Hottentots derives, at least in part, from their association with Dutch settlers, and this indeed could be regarded as racism. Yet what racism there was among Africans in the early days of white settlement was of a quite unusual nature.
Gluckman describes how, in the earliest days of contact, the ancestors of the Zulus had been afraid of shipwrecked sailors whom they believed to be sea-monsters, and so they were killed immediately. Thus whites were incorporated into Zulu beliefs as monsters before being eliminated (1870: 141). Later they perceived that white men were indeed still just men, yet their differences – technological and cultural, as well as physical – were still awe-inspiring, and an account of these differences was given in terms of the Zulu’s own creation myth. In this myth it is said that black men “came out first from the place whence all nations proceed” (Callaway, 1870: 76), but they did not come out with many things. What they had been given by ‘Nkulu’nkulu included cattle, corn, assegais and picks for digging, as well as fire so they could cook their food and the knowledge of how to mould and bake clay into pots.
“…so we came out possessed of what sufficed us, we thinking that we possessed all things, that we did not know. We lived boasting that we possessed all things.” (Callaway, 1870: 77).
But when the white men came, the Zulus were amazed at all the things they knew. They were clothed in linen, and used oxen to pull wagons in which they carried all their possessions. They were very wise and did many things of which the Zulu had never dreamed.
“That, then, made us wonder exceedingly. We saw that, in fact, we black men came out without a single thing; we came out naked; we left everything behind, because we came out first. But as for the white men, we saw that they had scraped out the last bit of wisdom…. we saw that we came out in a hurry; but they waited for all things, that they might not leave any behind. So in truth they came out with them; therefore we honour them, saying, “It is they who came out possessed of all things from the Great Spirit; it is they who came out possessed of all goodness; we came out possessed of the folly of utter ignorance.” Now it is as if they were becoming our fathers…. Now they tell us all things, which we too might have known had we waited: it is because we did not wait that we are now children in comparison of them.
Therefore, as to their victory over us, they were not victorious by armies; they were victorious by sitting still – they sitting still and we too sitting still; we were overcome by their works, which make us wonder and say ‘These white men who can do such things, it is not proper that we should think of contending with them’, as, if because their works conquer us, they would conquer us also by weapons.” (Callaway 1870: 78-80).
This story is remarkable for several reasons: Firstly there is an explicit hierarchical valuation of white culture as being superior to that of Africans on the basis of their greater knowledge – i.e. technology – which is perhaps identical to, and indeed may possibly even derive from the whites’ own reasoning on the subject. This represents a peculiarly inverted form of racism, where one social group, for whatever reason, gives itself a negative valuation in comparison to another.
Secondly, because of this technological superiority, there is an implicit recognition of the inevitability of either voluntary submission, or ultimate defeat.
Thirdly, even as early as 1870, there is a clear recognition of the way in which the superior technology of the white men leads to a paternalistic relationship between the two groups which reduces the Zulus to the state of helpless children.
Finally, the way in which this myth absorbs white men into Zulu culture, structuring Zulu perceptions of whites as superior beings, seems to some extent to legitimise the paternalistic nature of the relationship between the two groups in the eyes of the Africans themselves, although it is also certain that at this stage there could have been no way of anticipating the extent of the oppression to which they would later be subjected. To many black Africans even, their own suppression by white men may well have seemed perfectly natural. This phenomenon is what another subordinated class of black slaves in a different culture referred to as the ‘Uncle Tom’ syndrome. Thus it can be seen that the similarities between these ideologies, or value-systems, which are enshrined in cosmology, have given rise to social structures and practices which are very similar in many respects. Differences in social structures and practices can also be seen to be reflections of different cosmological values, yet their overriding similarity suggests that such differences as we have discovered are simply ‘variations on a theme’; essentially the paradigm is identical in each case.
For instance, the perceptions of the struggle of all against all, though similar in Zulu and Nazi ideologies, are quite different from the Calvinist view. In both Zulu and Nazi societies, the individualism implicit in their interpretation of the struggle of all against all allowed for the hierarchical stratification of individual statuses within the group, even though these individuals were all more or less seen, and treated as ‘the king’s dogs’, and totally subordinated to the will of the despot – at least until perceptions of the despot’s omnipotence began to change. But because Calvinism incorporated a democratic ideal, the hierarchy of values implicit in the struggle of all against was to some extent suspended within their own group, which thus enabled them to deal with each other more or less as equals. Non-white social groups, on the other hand, due to their ‘atheistic communism’ were automatically relegated to the lower levels of the hierarchy which is implicit in the very notion of ‘election’ and related to in more-or-less the same fashion as the Spartans related to the Helots, or the Athenian citizens to their slaves.
And indeed if we really wish to elaborate a paradigm for what might be referred to as the language of violent expression we can find no better source than Homer’s Illiad, or alternatively the life of Alexander the Great, who modelled his whole life on the imitation of Achilles in the Iliad, in which epic the virtues of the glory and honour which attaches itself to the very violent are uncritically extolled. I am also struck by what seems to be a general fascination by the major classical playwrights eg. Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, for the decline and fall of the house of Atreus and the part played in it by the Greeks’ own law of revenge, which law formed the basis for their code of ‘honour’, and which is also what makes their respective tragedies so inevitable – and we should also remember that it is their inevitability that makes the pitiful records of the dreadful events depicted in these plays truly tragic.
The constantly warring nature of the Greek city-states with their constantly-shifting alliances is also virtually identical to Chagnon’s descriptions of social relations pertaining in and between Yanomamo villages. Needless to say their attitudes towards women are also virtually identical. It is also clear that the Ancient Greeks, as well as the Yanomamo had a ‘concentric’ view of their universe, where the more distance there is between a neighbouring village or city state, the greater the degree of barbarity which is attributed to it, or to put it another way, the lower the degree of that city’s ‘civilization’ or ‘culture’; in a word, the lower it’s degree on the scale of humanity. In an hierarchically- ranked universe, where relatedness is thus seen as an inverse function of distance; and where perceived difference implies hierarchical and social difference, even humanity itself is thus relativised; spatial distance equals hierarchical distance. This again is seen to be the natural concommitant of the ‘struggle of all against all’. Indeed even the Ancient Chinese were well aware of this phenomenon, and what later came to be called ‘the Chinese Concentric View of the Universe’, was first recorded in the Analects of Confucius as early as the seventh century BC.
It may be objected that I have not offered a critique of the Nietzchean form of these very ancient ideas, which we have elsewhere referred to as ‘Social Darwinism’ which has been found to be the very foundation-stone of these oppressive and totalitarian regimes. However, such a critique lies beyond the scope of this paper, and perhaps it contains one anyway, at least implicitly. In any case, Nietzche was critiqued as long ago as 1915 – a very appropriate time – by HL Stewart, and since then both Social Darwinism and racism have been critiqued innumerable times within the history of anthropology. For those who care to look, two of the more recent critiques are given by Marie De Lepervanche (1984), and Claude Levi-Strauss (1985). The latter critique is particularly interesting, as it demonstrates that, while Social-Darwinism leads to racism, his review of some of the more recent techniques in the derivative field of population genetics may actually have something valuable to contribute towards inter-cultural understanding and goodwill, though he ends on a pessimistic note for reasons not related to this field.
De Lepervanche’s critique is quite worrying, as it is basically a critique of a modern resurgence of Social Darwinism in the form of what can only be described as the pseudo-science of socio-biology. In it she points out that socio-biologists, in order to promulgate their beliefs, ignore the findings of more recent anthropologists and seek uncritically to reassert the authority of ‘the Ancients’ like Rousseau and Voltaire (De Lepervanche, 1984: 70-71). What is worrying here is that some people, for reasons of their own – perhaps the ‘Will to Power’ – seem to see only that which is suitable for their own ends and simply choose not to believe, or even to acknowledge anything which refutes what they want to believe. It is this sort of wilful blindness which – like Nietzche, who refused to admit even the possibility of any genuine altruism in human nature – permits the generation and growth of such horrors as those analysed in this paper to continue, even in these supposedly more enlightened times. I am reminded of a passage from the Marquis De Sade’s ‘chef-d’oeuvre’, “Justine”:
“…he is like unto those perverse writers whose corruption is so dangerous, so active, that their single aim is, by causing their appalling doctrines to be printed, to immortalise the sum of their crimes after their own lives are at an end; they themselves can do no more, but their accursed writings will instigate the commission of crimes, and they carry this sweet idea with them to their graves: it comforts them for the obligation, enjoined by death, to relinquish the doing of evil.” (De Sade, in R Seaver and A Wainhouse, 1965: 611).
Although De Sade is undoubtedly here pointing at himself, with his tongue placed firmly in his cheek, this passage seems nonetheless both accurate and appropriate in the context of any discussion of Social Darwinists, both ancient and modern, and seems to me to be especially apt to a discussion of Nietzsche, the more so because of De Sade’s philosophical similarities to Nietzche and Goethe and the manner in which he anticipates to a very large degree, the writings of the Social Darwinists.
I hope to have shown how systems of meaningful values, held by a variety of different societies and enshrined in their respective cosmologies, engage in a dialectical relationship with the material conditions of their existence and are mediated by practice, which they also help to shape in the same process. Because of the dialectical nature of this relationship, changes in the material conditions of existence will effect corresponding changes in cosmological or ideological values and these too will also be reflected in social practice.
I do not intend to impute a primacy to any of these three ‘facets of experience’, as they are all, in any case, a-priori to the existence of the individual members of any given society. Neither do I wish to imply that these three facets of experience are, in any real sense, separate, or indeed, separable from each other, existing as they do in such a close inter-relationship that any change in one implies ipso facto corresponding changes in the other two. Together they form one mutually articulated nexus that is best described by the word praxis (Friedman, 1987: 97), which forms the basis of ontological reality.
They may, however, be seen as refractions of each other which operate on, and ‘reflect’, different levels, or aspects, of experience. Although I have separated them conceptually for the purposes of analysis, I have attempted throughout to emphasise their dialectical interrelatedness. Jonathan Friedman says:
“Because the conditions of our existence, our social relations, and even the constitutions of ourselves as subjects, are structured and transformed in the very flow of events that is our praxis and even more, the process of social reproduction in which our praxis participates, [then] the continuity in history is not that of events, but of relations and it is a continuity that is not easily susceptible to a past/present dichotomy. Events are, by definition, discontinuities, as opposed to the processes of social reproduction, which are, by definition continuous.” (1987: 97).
Thus, in chapters 3 and 4, I have attempted to analyse the continuities of those relationships in South African history which have led to the development of its present social structure. These relationships are not merely relationships between people or social groups, but also relationships between the various social groups and those symbolic forms which comprise the essential constitutive elements of the ‘sense of identity’ of their members.
Such a strongly united sense of group identity was only possible as it existed in opposition to the dominant (i.e. white) social group. This unity in opposition, and the racism it implies, is itself a function of the imposition of the apartheid stratification of races wherein the perception of racial and cultural difference is automatically taken to imply hierarchy.
Of course I shouldn’t have to point out that this is a non-sequitur in any case; perceived difference does not necessarily imply hierarchy, but where it is seen to do so, stratification occurs along a continuum with ‘humanity’, at one pole, and ‘barbarism’ or perhaps even ‘animality’ at the other. As Levi-Strauss says:
“Sometimes each culture calls itself the only genuine and worthwhile culture; it ignores the others and even denies that they are cultures. Most of the peoples that we term ‘primitive’ give themselves a name that signifies “The True Ones”, “The Good Ones”, or even quite simply “The Human Beings”, and apply to other peoples a name that denies their humanity – for example, ‘earth monkeys’ or ‘louse eggs’.” (1985: 7).
It is for this reason that a Huron captured by the Iroquois must be socialised before being incorporated into the group. And if he is to be physically incorporated into the group by being eaten, then he is both ‘cooked’ and ‘socialised’. It is only this process of socialisation that makes him ‘human’ enough to become part of the group, whether by social, or by physical incorporation within the group.
Thus there is implied in the very concept of hierarchy itself, a relativisation of ‘humanity’, and a corresponding implicit relative denial of the humanity of the ‘lower orders’ on the scale. This may be differently structured, and the denial of humanity may be more or less complete in different contexts, depending on how the scale is calibrated and where the values are fixed between the ‘human’ and the ‘non-human’ or ‘sub-human’. Nevertheless, the implication is the same: in hierarchical societies, some people are perceived as being more human than others, depending on how they are placed within the hierarchy, and this relative denial of a common humanity is the source of much, if not all violence.
When an hierarchical stratification is imposed which places some people closer to ‘animals’ than to human beings on this scale of values this is taken to justify domination, deprivation, exploitation and any other form of oppressive treatment, all of which are usually justified by the perceived necessity of ‘keeping the ‘lower classes’ in their place’. Further violence from all sides potentially escalating up to mass murder and even genocide, then becomes almost inevitable as the oppressed struggle not only for survival, but also for the recognition of their very humanity.
Indeed, in such a stratified universe, violence is already constantly present; the denial of a common humanity is itself a form of violence and requires constant maintenance through systematically repeated rituals of degradation (usually achieved through the means of ‘normal’ social process), which are inescapably both violent and humiliating.
Moreover, the ‘commoditisation’ of those whose common humanity is thus denied is a usual, if not invariable, concomitant to that denial. Human beings are thus reduced to little more than ‘beasts of burden’. Indeed in some cases, beasts of burden are treated much more humanely than human beings belonging to the lower classes or castes, who are usually considered much less valuable and thus infinitely more expendable.
Among the Yanomamo, for example, we have seen that the perceived difference between the sexes results in women being seen as a ‘scarce resource’ and so they are thus reduced to the status of a commodity, which may be bargained for and fought over, used as a medium of exchange in order to cement political alliances, and even stolen. Whether or not Yanomamo women actually recognise that they are thus commoditised, and whether or not they struggle against the oppression which – recognised or not – they certainly suffer, they are the axes around which the whole Yanomamo system of reciprocal violence pivots.
In South Africa too, this process of dehumanisation and commoditisation is indeed keenly felt and the resentment it causes increases the likelihood of violence being seen as the only effective means of resistance to the oppressive system. This violence is then further intensified as the dominant group expands its already extensive armoury of controls in order to suppress any and all resistance. Escalation becomes increasingly inevitable.
The central importance of hierarchy is also evident in the Aztec context, though here it is inverted, as the sacrificial victim must be transformed into a god before being sacrificed. This does not invalidate my argument about the centrality of hierarchy to the social production of violence, but merely suggests that the higher end of the scale of values should be extended to include godhood at the top; and on the other end of the scale, below animality, we should perhaps include demons. We also observed in the Aztec context the hierarchical ranking of other cultures who were thus designated as ‘enemies’ and therefore as sources for sacrificial victims, as well as the hierarchy implicit in the ranking of the varying degrees of initiation in the various Aztec warrior and religious cults. As I have shown, the perceived need for human sacrifice was itself the principle on which the Aztec empire was founded, and the primary purpose of warfare was to provide victims for sacrifice.
In all of the societies examined, perceptions of difference at the ideational level i.e. cosmological expressions of a stratified reality, were taken to validate the hierarchical stratification which formed the basis for the generation of a wide variety of violent social practices, each form with its own rituals and its own particular meanings, articulated within eloquent, if unspoken languages, which as I have shown, function as strategies of social reproduction. It should also be noted that as strategies of social reproduction their success is quite limited as they contain within themselves the seeds of their own downfall in the form of the inevitability of resistance against oppression and domination.
Violence then, is apparently so prevalent a form of social interaction that this study has barely ‘scratched the surface’. It would therefore be both premature and presumptuous to draw any hard and fast conclusions about it. Nonetheless, in all of the societies analysed in this study, certain themes do seem to recur, which would therefore seem to suggest that further study of these themes is necessary, as is the construction of a more complete taxonomy of violent practices and their culturally specific meanings, especially within modern contexts, including domestic violence and modern pseudo-tribalism. Indeed, never has the need been so urgent, especially now that there is even the threat posed to global safety (not to mention global sanity) by the re-emergence of Nazism with neo-Nazi movements currently emerging in many countries now, including the USA, the UK, Australia, and even Germany.
The ideology of the ‘struggle of all against all’ still apparently has a strong attraction for certain types of individual, appealing as it does to all of those appetites which ironically are socially considered in most, if not all cultures, to be ‘base’ and ‘animalistic’, at least at the level of overt ideology. Another aspect of violence worthy of further study is the role of hypocrisy, which is an invariable concommitant to expressions of violence committed within or by the Judeo-Christian societies. Such is the nature of those who attempt to claim superiority over the ‘weak’ on the basis of their own strength; where ‘weakness’ apparently includes anyone who exhibits what is (also ironically) considered by many so-called ‘primitive’ cultures to be the greatest of all human virtues: compassion.
Once we realize that Hitler was not unique and that history is actually full of ‘heroes’ like him, two questions must be posed:
“What is it about our modern western, post-industrial, capitalist, colonial-imperialist societies which causes such horrors to occur again and again, and more or less periodically?”
“What is it about our cosmology, and our own epistemology which causes so much violence within and between countries which, though they profess to be Christian countries and supposedly devoted to the so-called ‘Prince of Peace’, have nonetheless been responsible for more death and destruction during the twentieth century alone than all other belief-systems combined for the whole of the rest of recorded history?”
Moreover we must remember that the violence of the twentieth century has differed only in scale from that of earlier centuries, and not at all in terms of murderous intent.
That is to say, the only thing that changes is that wars inevitably get bigger and more destructive in scale as technology makes it possible to kill more and more people ever more quickly. The logical outcome of technological ‘progress’ is, quite literally, MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction; the official United States government policy during the ‘Cold War’.
As the countries of the world now become increasingly economically interdependent it becomes increasingly urgent to find the answers to these questions. But I also believe that it is only in that increasing interdependence that we find the best hope for the future of the human race. However, even that would appear to depend very much on our learning to live with each other as equals, and to treat each other on genuinely equal terms.
Globalisation may well be inevitable; the thrust towards this particular goal has been an historical constant ever since Alexander the Great first dreamed of uniting the world, but how it happens will determine whether or not the human species survives.
If the process of economic globalisation merely creates further hierarchical divisions, or merely serves to broaden existing social cleavages between or within countries, classes, races or individuals, then wars will continue, and the ‘Armageddon’ or ‘Apocalypse’ which is prophesied in the Book of the Revelation of St John the Divine in the Christian Bible will indeed be an unavoidable reality. Such an apocalypse is simply the ultimate logical outcome of militaristic expansionism, as even the ancient Hebrew prophets understood very well. Though I realize I have barely ‘scratched the surface’ of the study of violence, I hope to have at least indicated some of the general directions which future studies may take. More importantly, I hope the human species has enough of a future left to make them; frankly I do not feel terribly optimistic on this subject.
The above dissertation, minus minor edits and additions, was completed in 1989 and presented to the University of Adelaide in South Australia in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Honours Degree of Bachelor of Arts. It received a IIA pass – an ‘upper second’ and the following critique, which I reproduce here in full; after which I shall address any major issues raised by it.
“I greatly enjoyed reading this interesting thesis. To begin with the topic, the social production and reproduction of violence, was well chosen, for though ethnographic data is plentiful enough, understanding is as yet rudimentary. By combining a comparative perspective by looking at the cultural construction of violence in a wide variety of ethnographic and historical settings with a theoretical paradigm derived mainly from the writings of Pierre Bourdieu, Rowlands has, in my opinion succeeded in making an original and substantial contribution to our understanding of this unfortunately ubiquitous feature of the human condition. Though I was initially somewhat put off by what I felt to be an unnecessarily ponderous and largely irrelevant opening discussion of such philosophically contentious issues as aesthetics, beauty and truth and their inter-relations, I also found the way in which he used Bourdieu’s concept of habitus as a means of locating violence in a historically constituted cultural context to be relevant and useful.
I would also have found the discussion of aesthetics altogether more palatable if the nature of its link with violence had been made clearer from the start. And indeed, if there is any one substantial criticism that I would make of the thesis it is that he should have returned in his concluding chapter to more explicitly discuss this relationship. Whilst his detailed analysis of the ethnographic case material makes abundantly clear the way in which violence is in each instance deeply enmeshed in such meaningful cultural contexts as cosmology, mythology, ritual and even political practice, I still remain unclear at the end of the thesis just what, if anything was meant by the aesthetics of violence, other than the assertion that it is always located in an emotive and meaningful cultural and social context – in a word, in a habitus.
But let me reiterate. I found his substantive analysis and his use of the ethnographic data in the main body of the thesis to be executed in a competent and at times illuminating manner. It was no mean feat to gain a firm grip of the distinctive cultural idioms associated with institutionalised violence in such diverse contexts as the Iroquois, Aztec, and the Zulus in 20th century South Africa and in Nazi Germany.”
I am a somewhat surprised at having been criticized for ‘an unnecessarily long and ponderous’ phenomenological analysis of the aesthetic experience, especially in view of numerous requests from my supervisors to “…define exactly what it is that you mean by the word ‘aesthetic’” which I received at the commencement of my ‘honours’ course. Of course I could have just referred those who failed to understand to a dictionary, but to do so would be just a little facetious, I suppose; and in any case it is true that I am not using the word in its common, or taken-for-granted sense, but rather in a unique sense and as a theoretical and analytical tool. However, this in itself, I would have thought, not only warrants but actually requires the detailed phenomenological analysis of aesthetic experience in order to demonstrate its utility as such and how I intend to use it.
In case I have somehow failed to make it clear, I have used the phenomenology of aesthetic experience as a tool with which to analyse the inner nature of violence precisely because the phenomenological relationships between the ‘artist’, the aesthetic object, and his ‘audience’, are identical to those relationships which pertain between the violent actor and his victims (the ‘object’!), and their ‘audience’; those onlookers who accord power and respect, often admiration and even adulation – to the strongest of bullies and the most tyrannical of rulers.
This is even implied in E V Walters’ analysis of what he refers to as ‘The Process of Terror’ (EV Walter, 1969: Ch 1). The relationships Walter describes as being involved in the process of terror are identical to the relationships between the artist, the aesthetic object and his audience, because the phenomenological nature of aesthetic experience is identical to, and indeed even paradigmatic of the phenomenology of the human experience of living itself, comprising as it does the organic process of the ‘internalisation of externality and the externalisation of internality’. Thus indeed, experience itself is essentially aesthetic in its nature since nothing at all can be experienced without the senses functioning as a medium.
The successfully violent person thus stands in the same relation to his victim as the artist does to the aesthetic object. This does not mean however, that the actions of a mass murderer are in any real sense of the word ‘art’, or that the violent person is in any real sense of the word an ‘artist’; quite the contrary; his actions are destructive rather than being truly creative, although they often masquerade as such. Thus the Romans built roads and walled cities in order to facilitate their slaughter, subjugation and exploitation of indigenous populations and then justified their actions by the fact that they had built roads and walled cities; and that in so doing they had ‘civilized’ the ‘barbarian’ natives, whose culture they had all but completely destroyed!
The only other major criticism in this (unsigned) critique seems to be the critic’s inability to understand ‘exactly what, after all is meant by the ‘aesthetics of violence’. At first I could not help but think that my critic was being deliberately obtuse; had I written all 6,000 words of my first chapter for nothing? But fortunately I can see the cause of my critic’s confusion; he says
“I still remain unclear at the end of the thesis just what, if anything was meant by ‘the aesthetics of violence’, other than the assertion that it is always located in an emotive and meaningful cultural and social context – in a word, in a habitus.’
It is not that aesthetics (of violence or anything else!) are ‘located’ in an emotive and meaningful cultural and social context; rather it is that same ‘emotive and meaningful cultural and social context’ which actually constitutes the very stuff of which those individual, or culturally and socially specific sets of values and a-priori predispositions which I refer to as ‘aesthetics’ (of violence or whatever…) are comprised.
They are thus not ‘located in’ a habitus; they are consubstantial with it. Thus, while the phenomenology of aesthetic experience in the abstract gives us a clue to the inner nature of violence in the abstract, those particular ‘sets’ of ‘a-priori’ dispositions, or ‘tastes’, which emerge from particular historical and cultural contexts and the violent actions and meanings to which they give rise, are consubstantial with, and thus actually comprise those particular, or culturally specific, ‘aesthetics’ (of violence, or whatever!) It should not require pointing out that one could just as easily cultivate an ‘aesthetic of peace’, or ‘harmony’, following the example of many Buddhist countries).
It should not need saying, but I shall say it anyway: If our society, or our world, has a problem with violence, it is quite simply because we actively cultivate a taste for it, just as the Romans did with their circuses, in order to breed a ‘warrior race’. These circuses ended up undermining Rome both morally and economically, whilst simultaneously giving rise to a ‘climate of violence’ which, it may be argued, paved the way for the rise to power of the Caesars and that they, and the tastes to which they and their circuses pandered, played a central part in the fall of the Roman Empire. Indeed the empire itself can be (and by many contemporary Romans was) seen as a ‘fall’ from the Republic, which, again following the Ancient Greeks, most Romans (before the Caesars) thought to be a superior form of government to either monarchy or dictatorship; a title they were reluctant to grant even to the great Gaius Julius Caesar.
When Rome, thinking herself the whole world, fell, it was thought to be the end of the world. Thus began a period of several centuries that we still refer to as ‘The Dark Ages’.
This time the threat is most certainly to the whole world and it is much more real, and much more immediate. It should also perhaps be pointed out that the history of Rome was itself nothing new; the Romans were simply copying the Ancient Greeks, whom they admired and emulated in everything, from their tendency towards monotheism within an essentially polytheistic culture, to their creation of a ‘democratic’ republic, to the eventual corruption of that republic when they became ambitious and started to build ‘empires’ and to endow their rulers with ‘divinity’. And of course the Greeks themselves were simply imitating the Egyptians and Persians before them.
And guess who we, in our modern, western post-industrialist capitalist colonial-imperialist societies and cultures, copy…
The greatest question facing humanity at present is whether or not we will persist in using a methodology which has not worked in the past two and a half millennia at least, or will we finally try a new and different means to global unification. One thing is certain: unless we start to do things differently the biblical prophecies of a final conflict in which the whole world (or at least, the whole human world) is destroyed will inevitably come true.
Unless we can find some basis for the true unification of the human species, Armageddon is inevitable… Even if it weren’t, humanity is still likely to be wiped out by the innumerable global environmental and social problems which face the world today, which cannot possibly be solved without global cooperation and which may also all be traced back to our modern modus vivendi.
PH Hare and EH Madden, 1975: “Causing, Perceiving and Believing; An Explanation of the Philosophy of CJ Ducasse”, Boston USA
M Dufrenne, 1973: “The Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience.” Northwestern University Press USA
P Bourdieu, 1972: “Outline of a Theory of Practice.” Cambridge University Press, UK
P Bourdieu, 1984: “Distinction.” Routledge and Keegan Paul, London, UK
Fernandez J, 1987: “Persuasions and Performances.” Indiana University Press USA
P Reeves-Sanday, 1986: “Mythical Chartering and Transformation.” Cambridge University Press
J Friedman, 1987: “History and Theory, XXVI” University of Chicago Press, USA
MT Taussig, 1987: “Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man.” University of Chicago Press
MT Taussig, 1980: “The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America.” University of North Carolina Press, USA
EV Walter, 1969: “Terror and Resistance: A Study of Political Resistance” Oxford University Press, UK
EA Walker, 1957: “A History of Southern Africa” London UK, 3rd edition
AT Bryant, 1929: “Oldentimes in Zululand and Natal” London UK
SF Nadel, 1942: “A Black Byzantium” Oxford University Press, UK
EE Evans-Pritchard, 1948: “The Divine Kingship of the Shilluk of the Nilotic Sudan” Cambridge University Press, UK
HF Fynn, 1950: “The Diary of Henry Francis Fynn” Pietermaritzburg
The Rev. Canon, MD Callaway, 1870: “The Religious System of the Amazulu” London UK (1884 ed.)
H Kuper, 1947: “An African Aristocracy” New York USA, (1980)
L Dumont, 1986: “Essays on Individualism” University of Chicago Press, USA
T Smith 1985: “A State of Seeing, Unsighted: Notes on the Visual in Nazi War Culture” in War/Masculinity, Sydney, NSW (1989 ed.)
M Gluckman, 1970: “Custom and Conflict in Africa” Oxford, UK
M Gluckman, 1963: “Order and Rebellion in Tribal Africa” London UK
C Levi-Strauss, 1985: “The View From Afar” Oxford UK
T Common, 1901: “Nietzche, Critic, Philosopher, Poet and Prophet” London UK
HL Stewart, 1915: “Nietzche and the Ideals of Modern Germany” London UK
R Seaver and A Wainhouse, 1965: “The Marquis de Sade: The Complete Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom and Other Writings” New York, USA
This extra section has been added as a means of completing what I had initially intended to write but was unable to during my honours years, largely as a result of my reluctant engagement in then-current university politics when I was unanimously elected ‘Student Representative’ for the 1988 ‘honours’ anthropology students in spite of my protests and pleas to the contrary; during the same year the Arts Faculty and the Adelaide University Council, in their infinite wisdom, decided to disestablish the Anthropology Dept.
Chapter 2: Ideologically Articulated Aesthetics of Violence
Although one possible interpretation of Bourdieu’s concept of habitus might be taken to imply that these ‘structuring structures’ which give rise to the principles of their own generation as well as to objective social structures and practices, reproduce exactly the previously existing social structures and practices of a society, in fact this is not the case. If it were so, then no society would ever change, yet it is quite apparent that they do – over greater or lesser periods of time, and more or less dramatically. In short, if the habitus were immutable, then so would be the structures and practices they generate, yet this is clearly not the case. This potential misinterpretation of Bourdieu is the result of too static a view of the societies involved. One needs to consider not only the habitus and their corresponding social structures and practices within a given society, but also the relationships between the various habitus and how these affect each other; as well as how they may be affected by the introduction of new or alien habitus into the already existing network of habitus, which will inevitably modify, and itself be modified by that existing network – at least to some extent. The network of habitus which govern the principle of the generation of social practices is therefore dynamic rather than static.
In this chapter, I shall attempt to demonstrate how violence is aestheticised and how the resulting habitus, which I call ‘aesthetics of violence’ are articulated in the Iroquois, Aztec and Yanomamo societies. In the following chapters I shall describe how the habitus which are the result of these processes may be transformed over a period of time, depending on various historical factors, eg. in situations of the interaction of two or more cultures, the effect of the introduction of new ideologies, techniques or inventions, and how these effect transformations in cosmological images which in turn produce further transformations in the material conditions of existence.
First, however, we need to discover in what sense it can be said that violent experiences or practices can be said to be aesthetic experiences; in other words, just exactly how is violence aestheticised? The criteria with which this may be determined can be extrapolated from the previous chapter, in which the phenomenology of the aesthetic experience was analysed: For an object, action or experience to be regarded as aesthetic it must be a conscious, critically-controlled attempt at objective self-expression and the object of contemplative attention. To see whether these criteria can apply to violent experiences, we shall first examine Iroquoian ritual torture and cannibalism, then Aztec human sacrifice, and finally the central importance of (milder forms) of violence to the Yanomamo from the upper reaches of the Amazon.
Iroquoian Torture Rituals in the 17th Century:
Peggy Reeves-Sanday provides us with several descriptions of Iroquoian torture rituals, one of which, due to its completeness, is best suited to our purpose (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 139-143). That the victim in this case was Iroquoian and the torturers Huron need not concern us, as they were in any case culturally similar and traditional enemies.
For want of space, I cannot describe the ritual as completely as does Reeves-Sanday, but a description of some of the more salient details will suffice (see Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 139-143).
When escorted into the village, the prisoner was beautifully dressed in a beaver robe with wampum beads draped around his neck and his head to form a crown, but he was in very poor condition. Both hands had been badly damaged and one arm had a deep cut while both arms were badly burned. After he had commanded him to sing, the chief addressed him, saying:
“My nephew, you have good reason to sing, for no-one is doing you any harm; behold yourself now among your kindred and friends.”
Several days later, after more feasting, and having travelled to another village, the chief again spoke to him, suggesting that at first he had intended that the prisoner should live and take the place of the chief’s lost relative in the tribe, but that due to the prisoner’s extremely poor physical condition he had changed his mind and that it would be a greater kindness that he should die. He encouraged the prisoner not to allow himself to be cast down by fear of the tortures. The captive asked how he was to die, and the chief answered,
In preparation for his death the captive made his farewell feast, similar to the feast given by any man who thought he was about to die. Before the feast he addressed his captors, saying:
“My brothers, I am going to die; amuse yourselves boldly around me; I fear neither tortures nor death.” Then he and several of his captors sang and danced while food was given to those who had plates and the rest watched.
The torture began that evening in the house of the war chief, where the war councils were held, after the captain, reminding them of the importance of this act, which was viewed by both the Sun and the War God, encouraged them to do their duty. Torture was the work of the young men alone. The older men were seated on a platform which ran the length of the cabin on both sides. About eleven fires had been lit along the length of the cabin, around which the young men were seated. They were so crowded that there was hardly a passage along the fires where the victim was made to walk. The captain had ordered the young men to only burn his legs at first, so that he might hold out until daybreak, and as he marched up and down the length of the hut, this they did, imitating their victim’s shrieks.
From time to time they allowed him to rest and he was given food and water to revive him. As well as being burned, the bones in his body were broken, his ears were pierced with sticks and his wrists were bound with cords. During all this, the captive bore the pain with patience, whilst for their part, instead of anger or rage on the faces of his tormentors, there seemed to be only gentleness and humanity, and their words expressed only raillery or tokens of goodwill.
Just before dawn the victim was taken outside and made to mount a scaffold six or seven feet high and tied to a tree so that he was free to turn around. Three or four torturers mounted the scaffold with him and, displaying the excess of their cruelty to the sight of the Sun, the torture was intensified until, fearing that he would die otherwise than by the knife, one cut off a foot, another one a hand while a third torturer severed his head from his shoulders. The various body parts were distributed among those to whom they had previously been allotted, while the head was given to one of the captains for whom it had been reserved to make a feast with later, and the trunk was feasted upon the same day.
Throughout the proceedings the captive was referred to by his torturers in kinship terms, and he replied to them similarly. This emphasises, as Reeves-Sanday states, that whether a captive was allowed to live and replace a dead warrior, or whether he was to be tortured and eaten, he was incorporated into his captors’ kinship structures at the level of the person he was replacing.
In order to understand this ritual, it is necessary to understand something of the Iroquoian ontology, and in particular, their attitude towards death. Normally, if someone died the bereaved relatives would be given gifts to console them and they did not feel consoled if given nothing. Also, although the body would be buried, this was only a temporary burial. The body would later be disinterred and the remaining flesh cleaned from its bones, which would then be transported to a tribal burial ground for final reinterment during the Feast of the Dead, which took place every eight to ten years or so. The feast of the dead represented the greatest ritual in the Iroquoian calendar, and symbolised the re-introduction of the souls of the deceased into social communication with the souls of the tribal ancestors.
However, the attitude towards those who died a violent death was quite different, as Reeves-Sanday explains:
“A Huron who died a violent death did not receive the normal burial. If the body was brought back at all, his bones were not removed from the grave and reburied at the Feast of the Dead, as the people believed that those who died in war had no communication in the afterlife with other souls. Thus a kinsman killed in war was lost in more ways than one. The normal procedure for handling grief was unavailable and the social being grafted onto the physical individual was permanently lost, with no gifts to compensate for the loss. The solution to this dilemma seems to have been to find someone who could fill the social and emotional gap, as well as the gap in the afterlife occasioned by the death of a warrior.” (1986: 145).
For these reasons, if a notable person had lost a relative in war, it was customary that he be given an enemy captive to “dry his tears” and to assuage his grief. Sometimes the captive would be allowed to live and take the place of the bereaved person’s dead relative, fulfilling all his social duties and obligations as well as the social role formerly occupied by the person he was replacing. Otherwise he would be tortured and eaten. Either way he would be incorporated, physically or socially, into the dead warrior’s tribe at the level of the deceased. Thus, whether or not the captive was allowed to live, the socio-emotional aspects of grief were worked out:
“The torture ritual emulated the social processes of death and burial. The victim gave a farewell feast as was normal for a man about to die. The chief announced a burial feast to which all would be invited, including members of other villages. There is in all this a gruesome twist for it was the victim’s body that provided the feast and the focus for expending the sadistic fury associated with melancholia.” (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 145-146)
The torture victim dies by fire, whilst being referred to, and referring to his tormentors, in kinship terms. He is thus simultaneously “cooked” and socialised before being physically incorporated into his captors’ group upon his subsequent dismemberment and consumption.
But perhaps the most striking feature of this ritual is the victim’s stoic endurance and acceptance of his fate, which is underlined by his refusal to allow any angry or impatient words to escape his lips, even addressing his captors as ‘brothers’ and encouraging them to ‘amuse themselves boldy’. This is reminiscent of Foucault’s description of the execution of the regicide Damiens, who, though a great swearer all his whole life, refused to utter one swear word or curse during his whole torment, enjoining his executioners to do likewise (Foucault, 1977: 3-15). For Damiens this was obviously a symbolic statement of his true repentance in the sight of the God before whom he was about to stand for judgement, and perhaps there is also something of this in the Iroquoian context.
However, the Iroquoian victim’s stoicism also contains different and culturally specific meanings. As Reeves-Sanday quite rightly points out:
“The ferocity of the torture rituals cannot be separated from the severity of conditions during the 17th century, where death from hunger, disease and warfare became a way of life.” (1986: 149).
Under such harsh conditions it is easy to see that the ability to bear great pain, hardship and suffering stoically and without complaint would have been immensely valuable to a people faced with these possibilities as part of their everyday experience. That such a high value was placed on these qualities is further evidenced by the role of the Evil Twin in the Iroquoian Creation Myth, who, after losing a competition to the Good Twin, was persuaded to help people cope with adversity by endowing them with just such qualities (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 131-133).
The ritual was also watched over by the Sun and the War God, hence its importance to both victim and torturers and hence also the necessity for it to be consciously and critically controlled, so the victim could last until daybreak and die ‘by the knife’, rather than being simply an explosion of destructive rage. Only thus could the victim’s death, after proving his courage and endurance, become meaningful in the sight of himself, his enemies and his gods. And it is only after having proven his courage and endurance that he becomes worthy to be physically incorporated into the group of his captors by being eaten by them, in the act of which the captors also incorporated these highly desired masculine traits (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 146).
Through an understanding of these values and how they structure the ritual, we can see how this ritual becomes a vehicle for modes of objective self-expression on the parts of both the victim and his tormentors and that although the meanings expressed in the ritual are different for the respective participants they are nonetheless expressed within the same a-priori affective categories. Moreover, although the meanings expressed in this ritual are different to the respective participants, they are quite readily appreciable and comprehensible to participants on both sides of this ritual, because in a different context, any participant may potentially play the role of either the torturer or the victim.
That such an event has a wealth of meanings (barely touched upon here) which have their origin in a mythologically chartered system of values clearly shows that such rituals, however violent, are nonetheless the aesthetic expression of a congruent social ideology with which they are articulated.
Aztec Human Sacrifice and Cosmology:
The relationships between aestheticised violence, cosmological and mythological (i.e. ideological) representations and social constructions of reality are even more clearly visible in Reeves-Sanday’s analysis of Aztec human sacrifice. Following Carrasco, Reeves-Sanday calls this nexus of relationships ‘cosmo-magical thinking’, and although she does not describe this in terms of habitus, it is nonetheless clear from her analysis that it does function as such. She describes cosmo-magical thinking as:
“…a mode of thinking that projects models for being onto the cosmos and derives from these models guidelines for ritual action and daily living. The perception of the divine programs human behaviour because only the sacred is real; the purely secular is trivial. Cosmo-magical thinking dramatises the cosmogony by constructing on earth a reduced version of the cosmos, usually in the form of a state capital.” (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 174).
Thus cosmological or mythological ideologies were refracted throughout all of the social and political structures of the Aztec and entailed ramifications which manifested themselves even in the structure of the Aztec city and theory of the body, the effects of which served to reinforce both the socio-political structures and the original ideologies.
The Aztec theory of the body was principally concerned with three major ‘life-centres’, or forces, namely tonalli, teyolia, and ihiyotl, which corresponded to the head, the heart, and the liver respectively:
Tonalli is defined in terms of irradiation, solar heat, astrological destiny, soul and spirit, and established a link between man and the divine will. It was infused into the foetus by the creation gods and was maintained during life, principally in the top of the head and forelock, by exposure to the sun; a principal god.
Teyolia, located in the heart, was defined as the giver of life. It was also the entity which “goes beyond” to the world after death, and could be made divine by receiving divine fire. This infusion of divine fire was experienced by rulers and those who excelled in the fields of divination, art and the imagination, but could be damaged by immoral conduct, ailments due to other sources, or sorcerers.
Ihiyotl (breath) was located in the liver and identified as “night air”. Sinners inadvertently emitted harmful ihiyotl but some sorcerers could emit it voluntarily Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 174-175).
Health was maintained by keeping these three forces in balance, as a disturbance in one could affect the other two and they could also be affected by environmental factors. Through these three forces the body was intimately associated with the spirit world: the head was associated with heaven, the heart with the sun, and the liver with the earth. Thus the supernatural was implicated in the Aztec theory of disease, which was seen as a form of attack by supernatural forces (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 175-176).
Because attendance at the temple schools was compulsory and enforced by both law and the fear of supernatural sanctions, and also because tonalli and teyolia were stronger in some individuals than others, (eg. nobles and priests) this ideology of the body functioned as an instrument of social control. This was also implicit in the belief in the capacity of a man to be infused with divine tonalli and teyolia, becoming thereby an hombre-dios or man-god the most exemplary model of which was Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl who was imitated by later Aztec priests.
It was, of course, the priests who communicated the wishes of the gods to the people and regulated the frequency and the manner of human sacrifices, offering life-force to the gods in the form of ‘precious eagle-cactus fruit’ (i.e. the heart of a human sacrificial victim, torn still beating from the living body of the victim), or else in the form of drowned, burned or beheaded victims. The manner of sacrifice was evidently determined by the calendar and the nature of the god to whom it was offered. For example, because the second month’s rites emphasised the two major life-centres associated with the heart and the top of the head,
“The victims were brought to the sacrificial stone ‘by the hair of the top of their heads’ where their hearts were torn out to ‘nourish the sun’. This act kept the sun on its daily course, increased the stature of the captor, and conferred godhood on the captive, assuring him of a place in the house of the sun and the joy of accompanying the morning sun on the first part of its daily journey for a period of four years. There was no feeling of hate or cruelty in sacrificial slaughter and the victim willingly accepted death on the sacrificial stone.” (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 176-177).
Thus bodily symbolism was part of an elaborate schema uniting the divine and the human, which were also united in the symbolism of the city, which represented the divine in spatial terms and dramatised the cosmogony. However, apart from nourishing the gods on life-forces this sacrificial ritual also reiterated in symbolic form the legendary image and charter upon which the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) was founded. (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 177).
When the Aztecs, originally tribes of hunters, gatherers and horticulturalists known as the Chichimecas, first entered the Valley of Mexico, they encountered an already-flourishing culture of warring city-states dominated by the Toltec paradigm, upon which the Aztec grafted their own sacred traditions to found the Aztec empire. The migration had been commanded by their once-human leader Huitzilopochtli, who was deified after his death. He had told his people:
“Verily I shall lead you where you must go. I shall appear in the shape of a white eagle and wherever you go you shall go singing. You shall go only where you see me, and when you come to a place where it shall seem good to me that you stay, there I shall alight (come down) and you shall see me there. Therefore in that place you shall build my temple, my house…. Your first task shall be to beautify the quality of the eagle.” (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 177).
On the shores of the present site of Mexico City they came upon the prophesied tableau: an eagle with a snake in its beak was perched upon a cactus in a pool of white water – the colour of sacrifice – and there they built the first shrine to Huitzilopochtli and founded their capital city, Tenochtitlan.
Because of the need to pacify the warring states and because the ‘quality of the eagle’ which it was their first task to beautify, was warfare (the eagle was associated with the sun – the god of war, and the highest military order of the Aztec was known as the ‘Eagle Knights’), the city of Tenochtitlan was founded on the principle of warfare.
But warfare was intimately associated with human sacrifice, because the captives of war provided the victims for these rituals. The principles of sacrifice were also depicted in the Aztec creation myth, wherein order was created – as indeed was mankind – through the auto-sacrifice of the gods, which alone ensured the continued motion of the sun, and which therefore set an example to be followed by men in their human sacrifices (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 179-181). Moreover:
“Because gods must die in behalf of cosmic motion, the human victims were first made into gods; a destiny that many warriors felt was their just reward for living. The primary purpose of warfare was to acquire victims, whose sacrifice invigorated the cosmos by nourishing the insatiable craving of the sun and the earth for blood and hearts.” (1986: 181).
But if the acquisition of sacrificial victims was the primary purpose of warfare, yet warfare had another, equally important, though secondary effect: the establishment of political boundaries by the designation of certain areas as sources for sacrificial victims (Reeves-Sanday, 1986: 190). It is perhaps for this reason that Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl was deposed and banished when he attempted to impose an anti-sacrificial policy, although later priests attempted to emulate him in every thing but this. (1986: 189).
Thus it can be seen that the Aztec universe was both founded and maintained by the dual principals of warfare and human sacrifice, which principles, due to their function as the principle of the generation of social structures and practices through their articulation of cosmological meanings as well as the manner in which they structure social and ritual relations, function as an habitus, or ‘aesthetic’ of violence, perpetuating both themselves and the social system to which they give rise.
Yanomamo Violence and Social Relations:
Napoleon Chagnon describes the Yanomamo as the “Fierce People” because:
“That is the most accurate single phrase that describes them. That is how they conceive themselves to be, and that is how they would like others to think of them.” (1977:1).
Ferocity and a willingness to use violence and intimidation to achieve their ends are seen by this society as desirable traits. Indeed it would not be overstating the case to say that this willingness to use violence is the single most important value in the Yanomamo value-system, and that it structures every aspect of Yanomamo social practices and relationships. That the Yanomamo themselves see violence as the fundamental principle of their being is also demonstrated in their creation myth, in which men (but not women) are formed from the blood of one of the ‘first beings’, Periboriwa (Spirit of the Moon). Chagnon says:
“Because they have their origin in blood, they are fierce and are continuously making war on each other.” (1977: 47-48, original emphasis).
Although Yanomamo warfare proper is the raid, this is only one form of violence in a graded series of aggressive activities, some of which, as Chagnon explains may even be considered the antithesis of war, as they provide opportunities for more or less regulated expressions of hostilities at both the inter-personal and the inter-village levels and represent an alternative to killing (1977: 118). Because the three most innocuous forms of fighting are controlled by strict rules as to how to strike and receive a blow, the contestants can continue to remain on relatively peaceful terns once the contest is settled. A fight may start with a chest-pounding duel for example, and depending on how high tempers are running, may or may not escalate to side-slapping and then to club-fights. If the fight is serious it may escalate to the use of machetes and then axes, but rarely achieves the level of a shooting battle with bows and arrows – the most serious form of Yanomamo aggression other than the nomohoni.
The nomohoni, or ‘treacherous feast’, is the ultimate form of Yanomamo violence, in which either the guests suddenly and without warning set upon their unsuspecting hosts, or vice-versa, although this form of violence is rare. It is largely fear of the possibility of the nomohoni, combined with fear of failure on the part of one’s allies to reciprocate help in warfare, or food, or women, that prevents one group from ever being able to fully trust its allies, and this therefore explains the constantly-shifting nature of Yanomamo alliance patterns.
Village population sizes vary from 40 to 250 inhabitants, with about 75 to 80 being the most usual number. That the size of the village populations is maintained within these limits is itself a function of the state of chronic warfare under which the Yanomamo live. A group of around forty people is the minimum viable size for a village due to the necessity of having at least about fifteen able-bodied men for the purposes of raiding and defence. The upper limit is largely determined by a combination of the intensity of warfare in the area and the level of internal feuding within the village, which after a village reaches a population of about 150 becomes so frequent that peace within the village is only maintained with great difficulty, and unless the intensity of warfare in the area prevents it, fissioning becomes increasingly likely as the only means to keep the peace (Chagnon, 1977: 40).
Because small villages are less viable militarily than larger ones, it is very important to develop alliances with other villages, and these alliances are facilitated by an uneasy process of trading and feasting, with the exchange of women being seen as the final step in the process. Often a strong village will use its own strength and the obvious necessity of a weaker village to form an alliance as an excuse to extort women from the weaker village.
Because of a strong preference to have male children, who will grow up to be hunters and warriors, the Yanomamo practice a significantly larger proportion of female infanticide than male infanticide, with the demographic result that there is a shortage of females; and this shortage is intensified by the practice of polygyny because the available women are unequally distributed. This shortage of women leads to high levels of internal violence within the village, as most fighting is the result of adultery, especially in larger villages where men feel there is a greater chance of getting away with it. However most cases of adultery are discovered and this is the ultimate cause of village fissioning (Chagnon, 1977: 75).
Warfare between villages usually takes the form of raiding and whatever the ostensible reason for the raid, the abduction of women is always seen as a desirable, if secondary goal. While Chagnon says that few raids are initiated solely with the intention of capturing women, and that the usual causes of new hostilities are sorcery, murders, club-fights over women in which someone is badly hurt or killed, or occasionally food theft involving related villages, he also says that the Yanomamo themselves regard fights over women as the primary cause of their wars (1977: 123).
Chagnon says that when he tried to explain to certain Yanomamo his ongoing disagreement with Marvin Harris over the relevance of protein abundance in the genesis of warfare, they laughed and said:
“Even though we like meat, we like women a whole lot more!” (1977: 145-146).
It is ironic indeed that the Yanomamo’s masculinist ideology (which bears a remarkable resemblance to that prevalent in Ancient Greece and indeed, the Ancient World in general), with its preference for male children, leads to the shortage of women which in turn leads to much, if not most Yanomamo violence, both internal and external, and that it is this high level of violence which makes such a masculinist ideology so necessary to survival. Children are socialised into violent or aggressive behaviour very early in their lives. They are encouraged to be “fierce” and are rarely punished for displays of aggression. In fact, they are often rewarded by the laughter and assent of their parents when, in response to a flash of anger, they strike someone with a hand or an object.
It is essential for Yanomamo males to develop a reputation for ferocity, both individually and as villages, for it is strength and ferocity which gives them bargaining power in the formation of alliances and which alone prevents them from being taken advantage of, as the weak are quite consciously and deliberately coerced and manipulated by the strong. Acquiring a reputation for ferocity, then, is the only way in which Yanomamo males may ever achieve a measure of peace, however small. There are strong pressures on both individuals and groups to avenge themselves for any wrongs done either to themselves or to close kinsmen, due to the necessity of maintaining a reputation for ferocity. Anyone suspected of cowardice is liable to be treated with contempt even by their own kin, and is likely to lose their support as well as that of their allies, thereby placing them in a very vulnerable position. Thus the necessity for maintaining one’s reputation for ferocity is perpetuated at the same time as is the violence which demands such a reputation.
Many men habitually beat their wives in order to demonstrate their ferocity and their willingness to use violence in a relatively easy and safe manner, though unless this wife-beating becomes extreme, it is often seen by the women as a sign of a husband’s concern. This wife-beating may also have some impact on marriage strategies, although the disposition of women is ultimately in the hands of local male kinship groups. This is because women rely on their brothers for protection if their husbands become too violent towards them. They therefore do not relish the prospect of being married into a distant village where they would have no-one to protect them.
Chronic warfare and the consequent necessity for inter-village alliances also affect marriage patterns. Because the Yanomamo have a ‘prescriptive’ marriage system which enjoins a man to marry a woman from a certain, specified kinship group (i.e. cross-cousin marriage), this means that the exchange of females between two hitherto unrelated villages in order to stabilise an alliance involves a technical breach of the prescriptive marriage rules. This ‘problem’, however, is overcome by the practice of the headmen of the villages entering into an alliance for the first time calling each other by the kinship term shoriwa (brother-in-law). Initial exchanges of women between the two villages usually involve the children of these men. They therefore stand in a marriageable relationship to each other because the children of brothers-in-law can, by the prescriptive definitions, marry (Chagnon, 1977: 81, footnote 18). Thus this potential problem is overcome by the creation of a fictive kinship between headmen, which inevitably structures subsequent, actual kinship relationships between the villages involved.
We have seen that for the Yanomamo, violence affects every aspect of their lives and social relationships, at both inter-personal and inter-group levels, from marital behaviour and child-rearing practices through demographic patterns to political structures and alliances. Even feasting and trading have their basis in the formation and maintenance of alliances, without which no group could long survive in such an atmosphere, or better, a habitus or an ‘aesthetic’ of violence.
Although each of the ethnographies examined in this chapter contains much more data than I have been able to present here, I hope to have shown how violence is aestheticised, ultimately through its articulation with meaningful systems of values which have their charter in cosmologies and mythologies (surely themselves aesthetic objects!) which represent therefore, the ideological articulation of sensual or emotional (a-prior) pre-dispositions which ultimately emerge from a society’s – or an individual’s relationship with the perceptual reality which surrounds them.
From this it should be evident that changes in the external environment of any given society will inevitably effect corresponding changes in the attitudes (or dispositions) of that society towards its perceptual reality. In other words, changes in the external or objective environment will inevitably cause corresponding changes in the habitus which form the principle of the generation of social structures and practices of that society, and consequently cause changes in the nature of that society itself. We shall examine exactly how this happens in the next chapter.