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Food, Foragers, and Folklore: The Role of Narrative in Human Subsistence

Authors:

Abstract

Narrative is a species-typical, reliably developing, complex cognitive process whose design is unlikely to have emerged by chance. Moreover, the folklore record indicates that narrative content is consistent across widely divergent cultures. I have argued elsewhere that a storyteller may use narrative to manipulate an audience's representations of the social and/or physical environment to serve his or her own fitness ends. However, my subsequent research suggests that such manipulation results from a broader selection pressure which narrative effectively alleviates: information acquisition. By substituting verbal representations for potentially costly first-hand experience, narrative enables an individual to safely and efficiently acquire information pertinent to the pursuit of fitness in local habitats. If this hypothesis is true, narrative should be rich with information useful to the pursuit of fitness. One class of information integral to the accomplishment of this task is foraging knowledge. In this paper, then, I present evidence that foraging peoples use narrative to transmit subsistence information: specifically, I demonstrate how various narrative devices (e.g., setting, description, mimicry, anthropomorphism) are used to communicate foraging knowledge.
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ELSEVIER
Evolution
and Human
Behavior
Evolutiotr
and Human Behaviot
22 (2001)
221
-240
Narrative is a species-1.?ical,
rcliably developing, complex cognitive pmcess
vhose d€sign is
unlikely to have emerged by chance. Moreover the folklore record indicates that narrative
content is
consistent across widely divergent cult res. I have argued elsewhere ahat a stor)teller may use
narrative to manipulate an audienc€'s r€presentanons
of the social and/or
physical envimnment to
seNe
his or her own fitness ends. Howevet my subsequent research
suggests that such manipulalon
results ftom a bmader
selection
pressure which nanative efectively alleliates: infonnation
acquisition.
By substituting v€rbal rcpresentations
for potentially
costly first-hand experience, namtive enables
an
individual to safely and €fiiciently acquire infomntior pertinent to th€ pursuit of fitness in local
habitals. If this hypothesis
is true, nanative should be rich vith information
usetul to the pulsuii of
fitness- One class
of infomation integral to the accomplislment ofthis task is loraging knowledge. In
this paper rhen, I pesent evidence that foraging peoples us€ nanarive to transmit subsistence
information: sp€cificallX I demonstate how various narrative devices (e.9., setting, description,
mimicry, anthropomorphism) aie use{t to conrmunicate
fomging knowledge. @ 2001 Elsevier
Science
Inc. All nshts reserved.
,(errydnds: Cuitunl prcdlction;
Cultu al lEnsmissioo; Folklore; Foraging theory: Hunan
univenalsi Hunter-
gathereB;
lnfomation exchanget Nmtive; Oml
traditioq
Storrlelling; Subsistence slrat%ies
Food,
foragers, and folklore: the role of narrative in
human subsistence
Michelle Scalise Sugiyama
Dlglish Departnekt, Univ.rsib! oI OreEon, Eusene,
OR 97443, USA
Received 2 March 2000; accepted 2 January 2001
1. Introduction
Most likely, the orgalic capacities that allow culture io be stored and transmitted arose
tb.ough the
action of natirral selection.
(Boyd
& Richerson, 1987, p. 66)
F rto;l oddrc\ m.cdl.eJorcgon.-orc8on cdu {M. Scdl. e Su8iyamar.
1090-5138/01/$
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M S rti . rqt)oao r\oluhrn a iua n BrhrJta' 22 12001) 221 2aa M. S.alise !
features that make ii uni
ide{tify the
proper
domai
offers a unique adaptive
While
it is impossible
indicate
that it eme€ed ir
phenomenon
to have d€
situate the emergence of
50,000
and 250,000
year
estimate
is offercd by M
complexity,
language mo
spreading
out of Afiic
Gilgamelh) dates
back <
many anclenl cultures ar
Thomas,
1989). It is thus
arld that the human caf
development
of wdting.'
oral traditions
suggests th
slnnbolic expression,
su(
antler ihat have been fo
30,000
yean (Gamble,
li
in Aushalia may date
ba
ingly certain that red ocl
long as 100,000
years
al
gically
capable of speec
Laitman, 1983
; Lieberme
as these
other representai
can reasonably
situate
th
One of the most strit
described as a "social
ar
1986,
p. 3; Leitch,
198
exchanging
stories
(Kinl
crcss-cultually,
humans l
exchange
(Cosmides
& 'I
I have argued
elsewhere
sentations of fh€
social I
Sugiyama, 1996).
This fi
and deception
are an inl
likely to have
been a re
Whiten, 1988;
Dunbar, 1
audience gains
by liste
manipulation
is merely
(
effective solution: infor
enabling
humans to acqr
Narrative is a cross-cuih]Ial
phenomenon
crying out for explanation. Literate or not,
all
societies
practice
some
lorm of storytelling
(Brown,
l99l; Murdock, 1945). Moreovef
the
capacity for narrative is found universally across individuals rtilri, culh-rles. Although
nanative skill varies
fiom peNon
to person, the ability lo geneiate
and
process
narative is not
limited to the exceptionally intelligent, nor is any formal instruction necessary
for the
acquisition of this faculty. Studies of Westem children indicate that storytelling ability
is
reliably developing:
the ability to tell stories
emerges between the ages of 2% and 3 (Sutton-
Smith, 1986,
p. 69; see also Brown
& Huitig, 1983; Mancuso,
1986),
and
children as
young
as 30 months can
distirguish between
narative and nonnarmtive uses of language
(Olson,
1997). If narative
were a cultural invention,
one would expect to find evidence ofits having
spread by contact and ofits being
extemely elaborated in some cultures
and absent in others.
This is not the case. Although
subject matter is often borrowed
ftom other cultures, the
practice
of storytelling
itself emcrges independently
among even the mosl isolated
peoples.
Additionally, narrative
is highly elaborated across
all human cultures including the most
technologically simple
societies
- as
would be expected if it were
"an ancient and central
part
of human
life" (Cosmides
& Tooby,
1992,
p. 164). Morcover nanative content exhibits
thematic consistencies
across widely
divergent cultures. Studies ol worldwide variants
ol
specific
folktales
(e.g.,
"Cinderella")
and the classification of lolktales by subject
matter
(i.e.,
motifs)
have demonstrated
that certain topics occur cross-cultlrally: cosmoiogy,
topogaphy,
animal chamcteristics
and behavior,
plani
characteristics, birtb,/death,
and a wide array of
topics ihat may be loosely categorized as "human
social behavior" for example, sex,
marriage, rcligion,
prosciptions,
deccption, and violence
(Aane,
l96l; Cox, 1893; Edmunds
& Dundes, 1983;
El-Shamy, 1995; Thompson, 1957;
waterman, i987). Finally, narative rs a
highly complex
psychological
process,
depending
for its opemtion upon the integration
of
numerous
cognitive mechanisrns
(e.g.,
cause-and cflect reasoning,
theory
ofmind,
language,
spatial reasoning).
In sum, the narrative
laculty meets many of the standards of "special
design":
it is species typical,
reliably developing, and exhibits
a degree ofcomplexity
thal is
unlikely
to have arisen by chance
(williams,
1966). lfnanative
were an adaptation, howcvet,
we would expect it to selve
aD adaptive function
- not necessarily in the modem
industrialized
world, but certainly in the hunler-gatherer conditions under which
it emerged.
Although
recently several
important works
(e. g.,
Carroll,
I
994; Storey,
I
996)
have examined
literahrre
as the
prcduct
ola psyche
designed by natural selection,
no
study
has been
made
of
ihe selection
pressurc(s) to which nanative may be a response
or the task
rt may have
performed in our hunting-and-gathering
past.
At fiIsl glance,
Biesele's
(1993)
important wolk on Jd'hoansi folklore
may
appear to be
an
exception
to this rule. She argues
that the oral traditions offomging
peoples are
"adapiive"
in
that they
ftnction as a mcars ofexchanging
information useful
to a foraging
exrstence and
as
a mears
of inculcating social norms
(by condoning or condenming
the behavior of story
characters).
lt is not clear ftom her discussion, however,
exactly
whai she
means
by
"adaptive"
(she
does not discuss
narntive relative to the
criteria
for adaptation)
or where
the
adaptiveness
oinarrative lies
(in stor)'telling
itselfor in artistic
exprcsslon
1n
geneml)
For
example,
although she discusses certain
characteristics of narrative
that
make it memorable
(e.g.,
conflict,
agonistic tono, sequential events),
she
does
not probe
the adaptive
logic
underlying
the memorableness of these features, nor does
she
attempt
to identify
those
004
221-244
nation. Literate or not, all
ock 1945).
Moreover,
the
wit r,? culrures.
Although
rnd process narmtive
Is not
ruction
necessary
lbr the
that stor'4elling
abiliry
is
ages
of 2% and 3 (Sutton-
86), and children as
young
) uses of language
(Olson,
find evidence of its having
Itures and absent in others,
I from other cultures,
the
the most
isolated
peoples.
rles including the most
re "an ancient and central
, narmtive content exhibits
of worldwide variants
of
ales by subject matter
(i.e.,
y: cosmology, topogmphy,
eath, and a wide array of
ior" - for examplc, sex,
961; Cox, 1893; Edmunds
987). Finally,
nanative is a
n upon the integration
of
th€ory
of mind, language,
the standards of "special
egree of complexity that is
re an adaptation,
howeve!
3cessarily in the modem
m under
wbich it emerged.
)rey, 1996) have
examined
no srudy has
been made of
or the task it may have
,lklore
may appear to be an
lpeoples
are
"aalaptive"
in
r fomging
existence and
as
ing the behavior of story
ctly what she means
by
I for adaptation)
or where
expression
ir general).
For
.e that make it memorable
probe the adaptive
logic
attempt to identiq, those
M. S.dlise SuEiydtua / Etulutiob ond Hutuan Behariar 22 e9Al) 221 240
features that make it uniquely well-suited to the function it perforrns.
Finally, she does not
identify
tho
prcper
domain
ofstorytelling
- i.e., a single adaptive
problem
to which narative
oflers a unique adaptive
solution
- but instead
posits
several actual domains.
while it is impossible to pinpoint
the bjrfh
of nanative, a number of lines
of evidence
indicate that it emerged i.l the
Pleistocene,
which would make narrative a
sufficiently
ancient
'
phenomenon
to have
developed through
the process
of natural
selection.
Most scholars
situate
the emergence
of language an obvious
prefequisite
for oral narrative between
50,000 and
250,000
years
ago
(Dunbar,
1996; Pinker, 1995). Perhaps the most reasonable
estimate is offered by Miller (2000, p. 260), who observes
that,
given
its universality
and
compiexity, language most likely emerged by 100,000
years
ago, when Homo sapiens begirr
spreading out of Africa. Although
the oldest
known written narrative
(The Epic of
Gllgamesh) d:ates back only 5000
years (Sanda$,
1972), the written literary traditions of
many
ancient cultures are known to be rooled in long-standing
oral
traditions
(Lord,
l99l;
Thomas,
1989). It is thus reasonable lo assume that oral nanative
preceded
written naraiive
and that the human capacity for narative did not suddenly spring into being with the
de\.elopment ofwriting.
The fact that many nodem fomghg
peoples
have ch and complex
oral traditions suggests that storytelling
predates
the emergence of agriculture. Other forms of
symbolic exprcssion, such as the cave
paintings,
Venus figudnes, and engraved bone and
antler that have been found at various sites throughout Europe, date back apprcximately
3 0,000
years (Gamble,
1983; Jochim, I 98 3
; Mithen, I 99 8; Pfeifer, I 982) and rock
paintings
in Auskalia may date back even farther (Djssaoayake,
2000).
Morcover,
it appears
increas-
ingly certain that red ocfue was being used
in Africa (possibly
for body omamentation)
as
long as 100,000
years
ago
(Knight,
Power, & Watts, 1995). Since
humans
were
physiolo-
gically
capable of speech at the time they began
producing
these artifacts
(Hewes,
1989;
Laitman, 1983; Liebeman, 1989), it is highly
plausible
that storytellirg is at least as ancient
as these other representational forms. Bas€d on these converging lines of evidence, then, we
can reasonably situate the emergence of namtive betwe€n 30,000 and 100,000
years
before
the
prcsent.
One of the most striking
quaUties
of storytelljng is its transactional nah.rre: it has been
d€scribed as a "social
actjon" that necessarily
requires
a teller and an audience
(Bauman,
1986,
p. 3; Leitch, 1986). Indeed,
several
researchers have
observed
that humans erub,
exchanging stories
(Kintsch,
1980;
see
also Michotte, 1963;
Sarbin,
1986).
The fact ftat,
cross-culturally,
humans regularly engage in dris
pleasurable
activiry suggests
that, like social
exchange
(Cosmides
& Toobt 1992), this activify confers a fitness benefit upon
both
parties.
I have argued
elsewhere that storytellers
use narmtive !o manipulate
an audience's rcpre-
sentations of ihe social and
physical
envirctunent to sene their own fitness ends
(Scalise
Sugiyam4
1996). This finding is consistent with studies indicating that social manipolation
and deception
are an inteFal part of life among the higher pimates and thereforc highly
likely to have been a reclllrent feature of the hrnnan evolutionary environment
(Byme &
whnen, 1988; Dunbat 1996; wliten & Byme, 1997). This leaves the
question
of what the
audience
gains
by listening to a story.
My subsequent
research indicates that social
manipulation
is merely
one
facet
of a broader
selection
presslue
to which nanative is an
effective solution:
information
acquisition.
Narrative may function as a virtual realily,
enabling
humans to acquire knowledge useful to the
pusuit of fitness
without undertaking
224 M. S@lise Sugilaha / Ewtution abd Huna, Beharbr 22 Q1At) 221 240
the risks
and costs
of first hand
experience.
As Benjamin
(1969,
p 87) observes'
"The
stor]'teller
takes
\that he tells ftom experience
- his own or that reported
by others And he
in tum makes
it ihe experienc€
of those who are listening
to his tale " On this poinl, several
anthropologists
have observed
that ,storytelling tends io be the province of -older,
more
tnowlidgeable
and expedenced
grcup
membem
Biesele
(1993, pp 19 20)' for example,
observes-that
"it is thi combination
of the general verbal ability perfected over a long life
$.ith the details
ofth€ early
times
usually
lolown only to the old which produces a successful
Ju/'hoan storyteller.
It is knowledge,
not secret
knowledge,
but a large collection of items
which are
public but take a long time to accumulate,
which makes
for good
stoD4elling"
(see
also
wilberl 1975,
p. 8).
Nanative may thus be chaFcierized
as a simulation
of experience
- a set
of representa-
tions of the human physical, social, and mental envjronment lrom which conclusions
about the real worlal
may be dmwn. The interactions
of story characters'
for example,
can
be
seen as mod€ls of the human
social
environment
that enable
an individual io obsefle local
consequences
of a $.ide
variety of actions
(e.g.,
incest,
marital
infidelity,
homicide)
These
models
can be used
both
to acquire
information
and
to refine
knowledge
beforc
putting it into
achral
practice. Humphrey's
discussion
of fhe function ol play and dreaming
illDstrates
lhe
adaptive
advantage
of such
psychological simulation:
The ability
to do
psychology is a biologicallv
adaptive
trait in human
beings:
in the course
ot
evolution
the besr
psychologists have
proved lo be the best survivors
We caD now ad'l
aDotherpremise:
the best
psychologists are
likelv to
have been
those witb
the widestrange
of
personai expenence.
A ;triking conclusion
follows lf psvcholosv
neans survival
and
experience
rneans
psychology, rhen experience
means survival So the extension
of inner
experience
should
irself be
a biologicallv
adaptive
lrait in
human beings
(Hutnphrev, 1983'
.p.
69)
Although
Humphrey
(1983. p. 71) only refers
to play and dreaming
in his discussion
of
"biotogically
based
mechanisms
for extending
personal exp€rience,"
clearly
narrative
offers
the same
opportunity.
It is important
to note thai both fictional and nonfictional
reprcsentatrons
(or rcpresenta-
tions cont;ining
a mixtwe
of each)
may seme
as models
of experience
For example'
tales
ol
the supematural
(e.g.,
thunder
god,
volcano
goddoss) are often
attempts
to explain
potentially
dang€rous
nafuml
phenomena and
hence
may contain
information
useful to subsistence
and/
or siwival: a myththat contains imaginary
creatures
and impossible
actions may
nevertheless
contain
accumte
geographical, botanical,
or psychological infomation-
For exam?le, story
characrcrs
may bJficiional - even
improbable
- beings' but so long as they exhibii human
psyches, theirinteractions
can be used
as models
ofthe human
social
environment'
enabling
an individual to observe
the consequences
of a wide variety of actions
(e g , incest' marital
infideliry, homicide).
Similarly, aoimal
characters
may ialk' metamoryhose,
or perform
other
urulatuml
acts, bDt
information
about
where,
when, and how to find' kill, and,
prccess
them
may correspond
to rcal-world
practice Obviously.
the applicaiion
of quasi-fictional
reprc-
seniations
to real-world
problems rcqrdrcs
that th€ mind be able to distmguLsh
tactual
from
nonfactual
infomation Models
ofthis process, incrcasingly
known
as
decoupled cognition'
have been
developed
by Cosmides
and
Tooby
(2000)
and Leslie
(1987)'
M. Scalise St
Given
that stoies by d(
Kintsch & van Dijk, 1978
& Johnson,
1977; Rume
whom behave
as ifthey p
vehicle for amptrying ps
the extension
of persoDa
foraghg domain as well.
relat€d
knowledge, one v
only social
inlomation b
then, I will (1)
discuss
m
emergence
ol narmtive;
information, in part, thfl
storytelling (e.g., settrng,
acquisitjon of subsistenc(
Befor€ addressing the!
"narrative" and "storlt€
cogritive ability to tell (a!
as a folm of discowse
c
Thomdyke,
1977) tha
langlage,
humans
may h
other speci€s),
or, as a n
Tumer, 1996),
they mit
protonarrative abilities hr
not have
used stories
ar
language.
It is this phen(
2. Information
acquisitj
Ignomnce
and enor are
bebavior
as the distribr
What social or €nvirol
The answer
to this qu(
acquisition. Although th
across all habitats
and c
many of these strategies
:
example, all humans arc
mind and body appear
obvious, of course,
but f
1986; 1990) and other
{
ftuit/meat), as well as th,
species
occupies a wid(
mention the methods
f(
t00D 221 240
59,
p. 8?) observes,
"The
reported by othe$. Ard he
ale." On this
poiDt,
several
3 province
of older,
more
pp. 19-20), for example,
, perfect€d
over a long life
/hich
produces
a successful
a large collection of items
for good
stor).telling
" (see
:nce a sei of representa-
- from which conclusions
acters, for example, can be
individual io observe local
nfidelity, homicide). These
r'ledge before
putting it into
nd dreaming illustrates the
n beings: in the
course of
/ivors. We can now add
) with the widest range of
)gy means suwival and
o tbe extension of inner
eings. (Hunphrey, 1983,
ming ir) his discussior of
)e," clearly narrative oflers
resentatrons (or repr€senta-
ence. For
example, tal€s of
mpts to explain potentially
r useful to subsistence anav
le actions may nevertheless
nation. For example,
story
long as they exhibit human
,cial
environment, enabling
ptions
(e.g.,
inces! marital
norphose,
or perfom other
ind, kill, aDd
process
them
m of quasi-fictional
repre-
to distinguish factual
from
m as decoupled
cognition,
(1987).
M Sculke SuEiana / Evalution an.l Hrt&n Beharior 22 eqAl) 221 240
Given that stodes by definition contain characters
(Black
& Bower, 1980; Kermode, 1981;
Kintsch
& van Dtk, 1978; Labov & Walerzky, 1967; Lehnert, l98l; Mandlet 1984; Mandler
& Johnson, 19?7; Rumelhart, 1975; Schank, 1975; Thomdyke, 1977)
- vitually all of
whom
behave as if they
possess
human
psyches the
proposition
that narmtive
seftes as a
vehicle for ampfirying
psychological
knowledge is not
paticularly
controversial.
However,
the extension of persoDal
experience is useful not only in the social domain but in the
foraghg domain as well. Thus, ifnarrative indeed functions as a means ofacquiring fitness-
related
knowledge, one would expect the oml literature
of foraging
peoples
to contain not
only social infomation but subsistence infomation as well. [n the
remainder ofthis essay,
then,
t will (l) discuss
infbrmation
exchange
as
a possible
selection
pressure
leading to the
emergence
of narative; (2) review evidence that foraging peoples
exchange subsistence
information, in pa4 through narrative; and (3) demonstrate
how key desigr features of
storylelling (e.9., setting, description, mimicry, anthrcpomoryhism)
Iend themselves to the
acquisition of subsistence infomation.
Before addresshg ihese issues, however, I wouid like to note that
I am
using
the terms
"narrative" and "sto44elling" interchangeably in this discussion to refer to the human
cognitive ability to tell (and
by implication create and
process)
stories. I characterize
nanative
as a form of discouse or "oml p€rfomance"
(Tumer,
1985,
p. 7; see also Deese, l98l;
Thomdyke, 1977)
- that is, as a fundamentally v€rbal medium. Pdor to the emergence of
language, humans may have
processed
experience in nonnarrativ€ fonn
(as, presumably,
do
other species), or, as a numb€r of people
have suggested
(e-9.,
Lloyd, 1989; Srorey, 1996;
Tumer, 1996),
they might have processed
experience as "stories."
Regardless of any
protonarrative abilities humans may have had in their preverbal past,
how€ver, they could
not have used stories as a means of exchanging information'
prior to the emergence of
language. It is this
phenomenon the telling of stories that I seek
to understand-
2. Information acquisition as
selection
pressure
Ignoranc€ and enor arc
parr
ofeveryday life. They are as much a part
ofthe context of humar
behavior as the dislribution of resowces or kinship.
(Moore,
1981,
p.
217)
What social or enviro nental factors might have higgered the emergence of stor]4ellirlg?
The answer to this question,
I believe, is the costs involved in first-hand information
'acquisition.
Although the mind contains shategies designed to solve
problems
that
occur
across all hab;tats and cultures
(e-9.,
mate seleciion, kin recognition,
predator
avoidance),
many ofthese strategies require input ftom the local envircnment to be fully operational.
For
example, all hurnans are faced with the task of Iocating healthy, nourishing food, and the
mind and body appear to contain straiegies for accomplishing this. Hunger is the most
obvious, ofcoune, but therc are others, such as disgust
(Rozin
& Fallon, 1987; Rozin et al.
1986; 1990) and other food avenions
(e.g.,
to rocks, sticks, feces, vomi! mucus,
decayed
ftuit/meat), as weil as the suite ofemotions requisite to attacking and killing
an animal. Our
species occupies a wide array of habitats, however, and items that
are edible
- not to
mention the methods for extracting and processing
them vary across
those habitats.
200t) 221
240
in particular
locations:
this
rlf
[. There ar€ a number
of
rd can be costly, inefncient,
bstantial investment of time
on other fitoess-enhancing
'idual could acquire
through
multitud€
of fi tness-related
t fiIst hand
is risky a fact
tren
lKung men were asked
r'ou
go over thore
and look,
ness-rclated
information is
rd predator
avoidance.
One
f time observing animals.
rimals are relatively infre-
lther iaiher than hunt, and
'97; Kelly, 1995;
Shostak,
lany animal encounters are
3rs' experience and acquirc
s essential
to the pusuit of
nids have
be€n
hunt€rs and
r problem
that would have
rg on the savarna
(Kurland
nt biome,
caribou illuskate
lat a given settlem€nt
might
ntil the next
migration. Th€
lrce poinis of migating
I location
of sribou was
, hunting
emup.
Hunting
bands was crucial to the
gmups kept track of the
)vided a communications
emenrs when the
animals
' seasonal migration, th€
drmation was shared,
and
anticipated
the migmtion
lel than first-hand infoma-
is likely to have had fltness
rggest that
conspecifics
are
M. Scalise
Susiraha / Evolution dnd Huftat Behariar 22 QqAU 221-240 227
a recersary source
of subsistence infomation
(Heffley,
1981;Kurland
& Beckerman, 1985;
Moore, l98l).
In support of this suggestion,
quantitative
studies of cultual transmission indicate that
humans leam many
of their survival skills ftom their lellows
(e.9.,
Obmagari & Berkes,
1997). Hewlett and
Cavalli-Sforza
(1986),
for example, selected 50 Aka skills
(divided
into
the categories
of net hunting, other hunting, food gathering,
food prepamtion,
maintenance,
infant care, mating,
sharing, special skills, and dancing and singing) and asked each
person
in
the study
population (N=72) how they had acquired the skill. The average
percentage
of
individuals repoting
that they were self-taught was a remarkably low 0.9%
(p.
929). For net
hunting, lhe
percentage
of self:-taught iDdividuals was 0.9%, for all othei hunting it was 2.4%.
The highest
percentage
of self-taught
individuals
was in the category of mat:jrg, al3.1yo.
Evidence suggests that, like skills, fitness-related information is conmonly acquired ftom
olhers. Perhaps ihe
most
familiar
example of this
is the universal human
pmctice
of gossip
(Barkoq 1992; Brown, 1991; Dunbar, 1996;
cluckman,
I963), which
may be defined as the
collection, dissemination. and manufacture
of social inaormation. Subsistence information is
exchanged as well: adult males are known to ampli8 their hunting howledge not only by
watching other males but by sharing information and listening to others rccount their
experiences
(e.g.,
Biesele, 1978,
p. 940; Laughlin, 1968,
p. 308; Leacock, 1954,
p. 14;
Nelson, 1969,
p. 374).
On this point, a number of anthropologists and archaeologists have
suggested that
universal,
pattemed
cultural phenomena
(e.9., ritual, art, narrative) may be conceptualized
as means of exchanging irformation relevant to the pursuit of fihess in local habitats
(see
especially Tooby & Devore, 1987,
p. 210t see also Boyd & Richerson, 1985;
Clarke, 1968;
Hamburg, 1967,
p.
423;
Heft'ley, l98l; Kurland & Beckerman, 1985; Moore, 1981;
Quiatt
&
Itani, 1994). The florescence
of art in Upper Paleolithic Europe, for example, has been
explained as a response to sweeping climatic change: specificallt thes€ artifacts are believed
to have bee[ us€d to exchange information requisite to the implementation of novel hunting
shategies necessitated by changes in faunal dispersal
pattems (Corikey,
1978; Gamble, 1980,
1983; Jochim, 1983; Madden, 1983; Mithen, 1990).
Several
panhuman
culhrral
phenom€na
have been €xamined in terms of the evolved design and,/or their informational
qualities:
stylistic variation
(Boyd & Richemon, 1987; Conkey, 1978j Camble, 1983; Scalise
Sugiyama, 1998), ritual and
"mlthmaking"
(d'Aquili
& Laughlin, 1979), folklore archeq/pes
(Fox,
1995), art
(Coe,
1992; Dissanayake, 1992, 2000), and language
(Pinker
1995;
Sperber
& Wilson, 1986). To date, however, little considemtion has been
given to the
possibility that
narrative is an evolved response to specilic information-processing
problems-
3, Narrative design and content as clues
to narrative function
Among the distinctive chamcteristics
of art
the
universality of its subject mafter is perhaps
the
most decisive.
(Amheim,
1988,
p.
65)
In his study of the evolution of language, Pinker
(1995)
:rgues that one of the most
informative
resources is language itself. Folklore, ioo, may be studied as a psychological
22a M. Scalise Sugilana / Evolution and Huhan Behavior 22 (2001)
221 240
atifacl both its design featurcs
and content
may reveal
clues
to its function. Tellingly, the
salient
feahres of storytelling
offer a fairly reliable solution
to ihe constraints on information
acquisition.
Firstly, because
narative processing r€quires
no physical
exertion, it involves
minimal eneryy expenditures.
secondly,
because
narrative
compresses
time (through ellip_
sis), the aualience
gets
more information lor its investnent
- in tems ol time and energy
spent
- than it would through
direct experience
Thirdly, because
narmtive is a rcpresenta_
ti'on of experience,
its participants need not undertake
the physical and social
risks of first-
hand experience.
Storytelling also solves
several
constraints
on information stomge' one of which js the
finite nature o}experience.
It is virtually impossible
for one individual
to accumulat€
through
personal experience
all knowledge
potentially useful
to survival
and reproduction
As Mithen
i1990) points out, information
exchange
efficiently surmounts
this obstacle'
vastly expanding
the effective
knowledge
base
and memory
capacity
of the individual:
The collective
menory of twentv
to thirry adults
in a band
is much richer
in retrievable
knowledge
rhan that
of two or three adults
Among
the G/wi, and
probably olher
groups, the
nention
;f a single
item leads
to a chain
of discussion.
Sufficient
inforrnation
mav be
stored
within
tle mindJ
of a group which,
when used
with newlv
acquied
information,
nav enable
the forager
to cope with the normal
range
of environmental
fluctuations
and the foraging
problems they
Pose.
(P.
75)
Storytelling may also solve the prcblem ol infomation deficits caused by environmental
fluchrations
that occlrr at intewals tolger than
the average
human
lifespan,
in which case
a
group may lack individuals with the fiNthand knowledge
necessary
to survive them The
iransrnission
of stories
and rituals fiom genention to genemtion may provide a means
of
storing
this infomation
(Mithen, 1990,
p.75) Mitien cites Goodale's
(1971)
description
of
Tiwi initiation
ites to illustrate
how this
might work:
In one of these
tritesl
the initiates
are rneticulouslv
ta ght how
to p€pare
vams
in a
ceremony
which
has remain€d
renarkablv
slable
in its panicular
sequence
of events- The
sp€cific
variety of yam is not normallv
eaten bv tbe Tiwi and is poisonous in its
unprepared
state.
The inportanl
point that Goodale
mak€s is tlrat this vam.
and a toxrc
cycai the
prepmaiion
of which
is also taught
in a ceremonv,
are us€d as emergencv
foods
in l-"" o] fu.io". The inftequencv
of famine and the lack of its normal
exploitation
(owing
to ils bitter laste) may prevent human
memory
acting as a adequate infonnation
storage
device
conceming
its preparatjon- Consequently
we find lhis slor€d in ntual
(Mi$en,
1990,
p. 7s)
Another salient
featur€ of stories is that they
are stnkingly
memorable
Sperber
(1985)
notes ihat
although
the story
"Little
Red
RidingHood"
is
much more
complex
than a 2O-digit
number,
the story is much easier
to rcmemb€r.
We can say with relative ceftainty that the
processing
of 2o-digit numbers
was not requisite
to survival
in the environment
of
evolutionary adaptiveness.
This observation
raises
an infiguing question:
If we do not
remember
zo-digit numbers
well because
it was not advantageous
for our anc€stors
to do so,
do we remembei
stories
well because
it was advantageolrs
for oul anceston
to do sot
Finalty, more
than
any other
ancient
cultural
practice
(e g-,
oratory,
visual art,
the
plastic
arts, dance,
music), narrative
appears
well_designed
for comprehensive
simulation of the
M. ftalise I
human habitat
- that is,
of the salient constaints
and the animate alld inar
nanative is highly goal-(
"storiness"
is th€ descril
also Kermode, 1981; Ma
thus bo seen as a means
,
information necessary to
nar:rative may rcadily be
point that the stories of 1
By Westem dramatic sj
much of the time on tl
spot
io the next.
Yet I
tbrough areas that Mar
and
geographical
outk
areas.
(Tonkinson,
19?
Ifnanative is indeed a
would expeci the oml tft
evolution, have been rcl(
case. Folklore motif ind(
employ classifi cation cal
of information: social
n
personal
confl ict, decepti
and the cosmos
(see,
e.g.
The folklore of foraging
Wilbert & Simoneau, I
prcblem points
in livin
adaptation, such as un
camivorc attacks, and cr
1982,
p. I7). Common I
food quest, shadng, fan
blood-vengeance, and th
as "the origin of meat
(Biesele,
1993,
p.
23). B
litemture, /,ia1'l)oi 1go, re
attack." This corespom
gatherer
ancestor and tl
social
scientists:
The ubiquiry of Cindl
recuning tensions in t
children throughout h
widowed. If the survn
became
problematic.
i
000 22t-240
its frnction. Tellingl, the
constraints
on information
ysical exertion,
it irvolves
resses time (through ellip-
L terms of time and energy
re
narative is a reprcsenta-
al and social
risks of {irsF
)mge, one of which is the
dual to accumulate tkough
ld reproduction. As Mithen
obstacle, vastly expanding
lual:
uch richer in r€tri€vable
robably other groups,
the
rformation may be stored
infomation, may enable
uations and the foraging
, caused by environmental
n lifespan, in which case a
sary to survive them. The
l may provide a means of
lale's
(1971)
description
of
v to prepare yams in a
s€quence of events- The
urd is poisonous
in its
t this yam, and a toxic
ls€d as emersency foods
' its normal exploitation
a adequatg information
rd this stored in ritual.
remorable. Sperber
(1985)
ore complex than a 20-digit
r relative cefiainty that the
in the environment of
g question:
If we do not
for our ancestors
to do so,
lI ancestoN to do so?
rtory, Yisual art, th€ plastic
)hensive
simulation
of the
M. S.alise Sugitaha / Evolution ahrl Hunan Behaior 22 eA01) 221 240 229
human habitat
- that is, for the
creation ofa "diegetic
world" (Leitch,
1986,
p. 4) made up
ofthe salient conshaints
on
human fiiness:
people,
events and
phenomena,
time, topography,
and the animate and inanimate
objects
that occupy it- Furthermore, unlike other art foms,
nanaiive is highly
goal-oriented.
lndeed, Black and Bowei
(i980) argue that the essence
of
"storiness"
is the description
ofproblems
and ofcharacters'
plans
for
solving
problems (see
also Kennode, 1981; Mandler, 1984,
pp.
50 53; Mandler & Johnson, 1977). Nanative can
thus be s€en as a means ofsimulating certain fihess
goals
and obstacles and
providing
local
infomation necessary to pursue
and/or
surmount
them. On this point, it is noteworthy that
narrative may readily be tailorcd to meet the
specific
information needs
oflocal
habitats a
point
that the stories
of the
Dreamtime
illustrate nicely:
By
Westem
dramatic standards, these myths lack excitement and tension, dwelling as they do
much ofthe time on the naming of
places
and the movenents of ancestral beings from one
spot to the next. Yet because
many tell ofjoumeys covering hund.eds of miLes of dese(
through
areas that
Mardudjam in many cases have not seen, lhey broaden the cosmological
and geographical
outlook of thc Aborigines ,nd give them a feeling that they know those
arcas.
(Tonkinson,
1978, p. 89)
If narrative is indeed
an inlormation exchange system designed to ampl:ry experience, one
would expect the oral tradition to comprise
domains of information that, throughout human
evolution, have
been
relevant to survival
and/or reproduction. This indeed appears to be
the
case. Folklore motif indexes
(used
by folklorists to classiry fok tales by their
plot
contents)
employ classification categories that consistently correspond to adaptively rclevant domains
of information: social relations
(e.9.,
kinship, marriage, sex, social status, morality, inier-
personal
conflici, deception), animal behavior and characteristics,
plants, geogmphy,
\"r'eather,
and the cosmos
(see,
e.g., Aame, 196l; EI-Shamy, 1995; Thompson, 1957; Waterman, 1987).
The folklore of fomging
peoples
exhibits a similar
pattem
(Tumbuu,
1965; Wilbert, 1975;
Wilbert
& Simoneau, 1990). The tales of Ju/'hoansi foragers, for example,
"deal with
problem points in living, which must always hav€ characterised
the hunting gathenng
adaptation, such as uncontrollable lveather, difficulty in procuring game, danger fiom
camivore aftacks, and correct rclations with in-laws"
(Biesele,
1993,
p. 13; see
also Fock,
1982,
p. l7). Cornmon
Ju,/'hoansi folklore themes include
"problems
ofmarriage
and
sex,
the
lood quest,
shadng, family relationships, the division of labour, birth and deatll murder,
blood vengeance, and the creation oflhe present
world order"
(Biesele,
1993,
p. l7), as well
as "the origin of meat animals... and thl] balance of power between m€n and women"
(Biesele,
t993,
p. 23). Biesele
(1978,
p. 923) also rcports that a key metaphor in lKung oral
literature, /irfiroi 1go, rcfers to "a constellation of ideas relating to avoidance of camlvore
attack." This corespondence between fihress
problems
consistently faced by oul hunter-
gatherer
ancestoN and the recurent themes ofworld folklore has b€en noted by evolutionary
social scientists:
The ubiqoiqr
of Cinderella
stories
(e-g.,
Cox. 1893)
is
surely a rcflection of cenain basic,
recuning tensions in buman sociery Women must
often
have
been
forsaken vith dependent
children
throughout human history, and
botb fa$ers
and
motbers
were
oilen prenaturely
widowed- Ifthe survi\,or
wished to forge a new marital
career, then the fate
ofthe children
became
problen1alic. (Daly & Wilson, 1988, p. 85)
0at) 2.t I 24t)
s: as
Bieselc
(1993, p.23)
nay seem,
it is nevertheless
al living." This correspon-
those
enduring
themes
and
:d ard classified" might be
lodules" (Fox, 1995,
pp.
, providing
evidence
thal
ss-related information.
For
lKung men werc asked to
8, italics added) found
that
I themselves and recounl
$ .Jr'as
thal the
pa icipanL,
I about observations and
ew to them." Finding little
Jones and Konner
(p. 344,
,f infomation is indirect,
rosed to dircct lecturing."
che tales,
"one
oannot help
cn of them are frequently
the economic life, material
I it is important 10 note the
ache themselves to convey
is often
worth
noting what
hat it does not tend to be
her, it appears that this
ar episodes and events of
., 1990,
p. 74). Onc of the
d lists and lecturcs on the
itation, anthropomorphism,
rlating
the
envjronm€nt in
world and dre real world
dividuals are thus able
to
and reproduclion in their
e.
Biesele
(1993)
mentions
ne animal
names. This
list,
y of "The
Branding
ofthc
from nonforaging
societies
le catalogue
ofships
in the
ly, memory
research
shows
ts rccall the
list (Miucr &
M. Scalse Sugifana / Etolutian and H ian Rehaiar 22 (200t) 221 240 231
Mithen's (1990)
reconstuction
of Pieistocene
cognition
neally
complements
these obser-
vations by indircclly suggesting severai
ways in which nanative may be used to acquire,
storc,
and transmit
useful foraging
infomation. He argues that "rihrals which involve the
mimicry ofan animalwhich is to be
hunted... may have a role in recalling
infbrmation about
that sp€cies
and increasing
the receptivity of the forager to signs of that animal when
fbraging" 0). 79).
The telling olani al tales, which often jnvolves
imitation and./or
detailed
description ofthe animal(s) featured in the story may serve a similar function, rcacquainting
the experienced
and fhmiliarizing the uninitiated
with an animal's important habits and
characteristics. On this
poirt, the "seminars"
conducted by Blurton-Jones and
Konner
(1976)
among the lKung arc particularly
revealing. At lines, these discussions took the ibrm of
narative, featuring
"lengthy. detailed, and very gripping. . . descripiions of what they had
secr" k). 330), which many of thc participants
relished. One man. fbr example, described
how a Ieopard kills its prcy:
the leopad sees
the aDnnal and. scniconccaled, crawls s1o$'ly tolvard il urtil it is lying
dovn four to five
ynrds
alvay; then it springs and
grabs
lhe
prey
al the thrca! ils anns over
the
victim's
shouldcrs.tnd
legs around its waist. Then winding its tail around
the
back
legs
of tfie aninral
(they
say thc leopard's lail is very
strong), the leopard bites
the prey in the
rhru:rr.
rD.
rl0)
Significantly,
imilations lon1] a iarge
part
ofthese descriptions, and are
accurate in sound and
very convincing
(Blurlon Joncs & Konner, 1976, p.330). One ofthe seminar
participants
"imitated thc sound of kudu fighting and described
this as something to listen for when
stalking
them for a kill," a stmtegy whose eflectiveness
was
corroborated
by another lKung,
who "describcd
how he came across
two Lkudul
males with their homs interlocked,
pushing
at each other, and
then added that he shot them, they separated and died" (Blurton Jones &
Konner, 1976,
p. 330). Yanomamd storytellers, too, make frequent usc of mimicry in therr
narratives
(Wilbet & Shoneau. i990).
Even tales that are not overtly descriptive or imitat;vc may convey useful animal
infbrmation. Mithen (1990) argues that many Upper Paleolithic cave
paintings and bone
carvings
can be seen as rcprcsentations of cnvironmental cues foragers utilize to locate and
lrack prey. In a similar fashion, etiological tales may call attention to an animal's impoftant
physical or behavioml characteristics. For example, a Yanomamij story thnt describes
"How the Monkeys Got Their Colors" provides information useful in identirying four
difTercnr spccics
Being cold, Howler Monkey rubbed himself all over
with
annatto and then he climbed
into
the trees. Spider Montey was also cold. He crushed charcoal and
then
rubbed
hinself a
ovcr He
painted
himselfall black and then he too clinbed up into the trees. Th€ capuchin
monkey did the same,
painling
himselfall black
ard climbnrg tuto the trees- whiic Monke,
rubbed hinself with
wood
ash
all over and so he tro climbed uD inlo the irees.
(Wilbert
&
Simoneau. 1990.
D.
177)
Etiological
tales may also
provide
bchavioral information. For example,
the story of the
serpent
in Generir based in part
on a lolk explanation ofthe antipathy between snakes
and
humans
(Sandmel.
1976) characterizcs snakes as hannful creatures. Because oftbeir szg
and shape,
their ability to move in virrual silcnce, and thejr ability to strike
with lightning
232 M. Scolise fusiyona / Evolution and Hundn Behaior 22 (2001)
221-240
speed,
snak€s are extremely dilicuh to detect until it is too late. The
story's
portrayal
ofthe
serpent
as cmfty and dangerous
thus conveys a highly useful message: watch
out for snak€s
because
they are hard to spot and
potentially
lethal. In an intercsting variation
on this theme,
the Dreamtime
story
"Why
the Black Snake
Hides," tells ofa highly
venomous and
plentitul
snake
ihat is nevertheless little feared because
of its reclusive nature
(Ellis,
1994).
Anthropomorphism may be used for similar
ends: accoidhg to Mithen
(1990, p.7'7),lherc
is evidence ihat attributing human characteristics to animals leads to highly accurate
prediclions of their behavior. Because
it uses
a preexisting
set of behavioml teminology
(i.e., terms applied to humans), he argues, anthmpomorphism decr€ases the amount ol
information a forager must store and
thus "prevents
ovedoad of mental capacities, releasing
these for other tasks"
(Mithen,
1990,
p.
77). lt cefiainly appears to b€ the case that, as Mithen
ieports, anthropomorphism
is
practiced
by a wide mnge of modem hunter-gatherer societies
in a wide
variety
of ervironments. Biesele
(1993,
p. 21), for example,
reports
of Jlt/'hoansr
folklore that, "All stories wiih animals. . . have
them
acting
much like human
beings,
though
they also already
possess
traits that will charactense
them when fhey become animals." I
have
found the same to be true ofthe Crow
(Lowie,
1922),
Selknam
(Wilberi,
1975), Wliie
Mountain Apache
(Goodwin,
1939),
Tehuelche
(Wilbeft
& Simoneau, 1984), and Yanomamii
(Wilbert
& Sjmoneau,
1990). And these stodes can indeed
provide
useful behavioral
information.
In a Tehuelche tale about "The Fox and the Indians," fo. example, fox, who
is characterized
as
being
"the smartest of them all" (Wilbert
& Simoneau, 1984,
p. 130),
nearly succeeds
in stealing two rhea eggs by rolling them in front of him.
I have
also found, howevet ibat the human characteistics
att
ibuted
to animals are otten
too general
to be of much use in anticipating specific behaviors.
For example,
in another
Tehuelche tale about
"The
Rock and the Fox" (Wilbert
& Simoneau,
1984,
p. 127), the fox,
who in this case is chamcteriz€d as being
mischievous and proud,
mocks a sione by
challenging him to a downhill race.
Altbough it is certainly worth knowing that foxes are
clever, knowing that they are
proud
is of quesiionable
ose
(and
veracity), and neither
piece
of
information sheds light on how a fox might behave
in a
given
sihraiion. Morcovet
the
actions
committed by animal characten are often
human actions: the fox's challenge ofthe rock, for
example, is the act of a human being.
Thus, because the story does not
present
inlbrmation
about the kind ofmiscbieffoxes
get
into, its chamcterization ofthe fox as mischievous does
not enable the Drediction offox behavior
An altemative to Mithen's hypothesis is that anthropomorphism
is used
to cormunicate
both animal and
human behavioral information. This
can be s€en
in yet
another
Tehuelche
story
(Wilbert
& Simoneau,
1984,
p. 128), in which
fox and armadillo
each rope
a mare to
see
who is the strongest.
Armadillo wins the contest
by pulling a mare into
his cave which,
because it has many
twists and tums, causes
the mare
io become tangled
and hang
hersell
The infomation presented
in this story
regading armadillo
burrows is accurate
and
useful in
predicting
a specific
behavior amadillos
do indeed dig bunows with many winding
passages.
The
mare-roping contest,
however, only
makes
sense if we
thint ofthese
characters
as human actors. Neither
foxes nor armadillos
hunt horsesr
nor do they challenge
each other
to contests of strengih.
This asped of the story then, simulates
human
rather
than fox or
armadillo nature specifically,
human
male
intrasexual competition
and the human female
tendency to desire
stengith,
dexterify,
bmvery and saiving in a mate.
M. S.dlb. ,
The interspecies irltere
be used
to convey
subsi
not€d that the presence
k[o\r'n that foragers u!
interactions between sp(
associations.
A strikin€
(Cyn
b
i I dinus lin eatus) 1
"SloaDe!
" ("Father-inJ
oftapirs. In the story An
river upstream, mearderi
Antshrike tauglt us how
fact, the two species bo
1990,
p. 356), and tapirs
1990,
p.
355).
As this last example
i
habitats. Setting
may alsl
i[valuable for undertakir
out htmting when he I
downstream! -Bei
,d sr,
npsheall:,l Bei la shii! ,
Dpslreaml Bei yo shii! I
(Wilbert
& Simoneau, 19
ol the relative
positions
In sum, much seemir
actually
provides
useful
found, how it can be obtr
example, feafurcs a ma,
ftuits, simultaneously
p
Simoneau, 1990,
pp. 19.
to live and what io eat, \
afier he kills them:
He told
the deer to
gc
them. He iold another
eat them-. . . He took I
there, to eat willows
testes for pertume. He
kill him and use his b
In the same tale, OId-M€
the spdng" (p. 27), pr
residence
pattems.
Som
herd of buffalo into rul
animals), descibe hun
strategies, such as the
(
001)
221 240
Ihe
story's
potrayal
of the
isage:
watcb out for snakes
Dg variation on this lheme,
hly venomous and
plentiful
ture
(Ellis,
1994).
Mithen
(1990, p. 77),
rherc
leads
to highly accurate
of behavioral terminology
decreases the amount of
nental capacities,
rcleasing
be the case that,
as
Mithen
x hunter
gatherer
societies
mple, reports of Jrl/'hoansi
like
humaD beings, though
l they
become animals." I
am
(Wilb€rt,
1975), Wlite
:au, 1984),
and Yanomamii
provide
useful behavionl
s," for example,
fox, who
Simoneau, 1984,
p. 130),
Lt of him.
ibuted to animals are often
;. Fo. example, in another
:au, 1984,
p. 127), the fox,
,roud, mocks a stone by
th knowing ihat foxes are
'acity),
and
neither
piece
of
tion. Moieover, the
actions
i challenge
of the rock, for
es not
present
infomation
re
fox as mischievous
does
m is used to communicate
1 in yet another Tehuelche
illo each rope
a mare to
see
rare into his cave which,
' tangled and hang herself.
ys
is accurate and
useful in
ows with many winding
ve
think of these
characters
I they challenge
each other
human
mther than fox or
jon and the human female
1ate.
M. S.alie Swildna / EtuLrtion and Huddn Behariot 22 (2001)
221 214 233
The interspecies interactions ir fhcse tales
point to yet another way in which naftative
may
be used
to convey subsistence information.
Mithen and others
(e.g.,
Laughlin, 1968)
have
noted
that
the
presence
of one
species often
signals the
presence
of another, and it is well
known that foragers use this inlomation to locate
game.
Animal tales often involve
interactions between
species, and may thus convey infbrmation
about useful intempectes
associations.
A striking
example of this is a Yanomamd tale in which the antshrike
(C))mbilainus lineatus) moums lor his father-inlaw the tapir (fuptt- s l€r,'€srrn) by crying
"S,lroaDe!"
("Father-in-lawl"),
a cry which
the Yanomamd claim
is the
"announcing
song"
oftapirs.
In the siory,
Antshrike searches
for tapir by following
his trail:
"The
trail followed a
river
upsheam, meandering
along, \tent
past
a hill, skirted it, then tumed back-
That was how
Antshrike taught us
how to follow the
trail
of a tapir"
(Wilbert
& Simoneau,
1990,
p. 307) ln
fact, the two species
both inhabit the
tangled Amazon undergrowth
(wilbert & Simoneau,
1990,
p.
356),
and tapirs are klo$n for their exkemely circuitous
trails
(Wilbert
& Simoneau,
1990. D.355).
As this last
exanple indicates, a story's
sctting may
provide infomation regarding animal
habitats. Setting
may also be used
to convey inlormation about
the lay ofthe land, knowledge
invaluable
for undertaking long
hunting fomys. In one
Yanomamil tale, for example, Ocelot
is
out hunting when he hears
the spirits of the night say,
"The river Kokoi u flows far
downstrean!
Bei w shii!
Bei )'a shii! Bei y sllii! The river Yanacme u has
ils solrlce
upstreaml
,,,,,ei
])d shii! Bei ya shii! Bei yt rlir'i/ The river Bami u has its sources
farther
upstreaml
Beild r/xiil
Bei
ya shii! Bei
))o
srttl The river Ukushibi u flows
in the cent€r!"
(wilbert
& Simoneau,
1990,
p. i72). In the space
ofa few lines, ihis story
informs the listener
of the rclative
positions
of four dvers.
ln sum, much seemingly incidental
description of characteristics, behavior,
and setting
achrally
provides
useful information
regarding where and
when a given
resource can
be
found,
how it can be obtained,
anavor ihe uses to which it can be put. One Yanomamd
tale, for
example,
featurcs a man in the form of a Silver-Beaked
Tanager
picking rashaiike palm
fruits, simultaneously
providing
information about
the bird's habitat and diet (Wilbert
&
Simoneau,
1990,
pp.
194 197). In a Crow tale, Old-Man-Coyote
tells all
the animals where
to live and what to eat,
while the narrator indicates
what Old-Man-Coyote
will do with them
after he kills them:
He told the deer io go to the woods and thickets and to eat rose benies, later he vould eat
them. He told another
kind ofdeer to eat sagebmsh
md grass
3nd live in the hius; he would
eat them... . He took tbe bealer and told him to go to the dvet to live and make his house
there, to eat willows and cottonwoods, and after awhile Old-Man-Coyote would use their
testes for pe.tume. He told the otter to go 1I} the riv€r and live there. after n while he would
kill him and use his blanLet.
(Lowie, 1922,
pp. 26 27)
In the same tale, Old-Man-Coyote
tells the
prairie
chicken
to "stay
here all
year
and dance
in
the spring"
(p. 27), providing information regarding
the aninal's seasonal behavior
and
residence
pattems.
Somc stories, such as the Crow tale in which Old-Man-Coyote
tricks a
herd of buffalo
into running ofl a cliff (after
which he ki1ls and eats one of the injured
animals), describe
hunting strategies
(Lowie, 1922,
p. l9). Others
describe foragmg
strategies,
such as the Crow story
that tells where to find wild strawberries
(Lowie,
1922,
234 M. Scalise Sugilana / Ev.lutioh anll Hthon Behaiot 22 (2001)
221-240
pp. 29 30), or the Yanomamd
story that tells where diferent kinds of honey
can be found:
; The oi honey clung to the top of the tall ttees; the rebome
honey
fled into the earth;
the
yoi
honey
hid in the
hollow
branches"
(Wilb€rt
& Simoneau,
1990'
p. 205)' Stories
may
also
prcvide information rcgardilg indicaiors of edibility or dpeness One Crow story' tor
example,
tells when cherries
are ripe (Lowie, 1922, pp 29-30)' and a Yanornamii
tale
relate; how to telt the difference
between
rasla fruits and mar?akd
ftlits: "After gathering a
few clusters
Tanager
took
a bite
ofone of the iluils and called
down to his
wife: "They're
only nanaka fiuits! They've got no pulp; they're bitter!' . He knew ftat /dsia ftuits werc
difierent: "Real rasha tuuits aren't tike that! The palns on which they grow have spity
hunks!"' (Wilbert
& Simoneau,
1990,
p 194) Stodes
may also contain
infom^tion
regarding
the acquisition and processing
of raw materials:
one Crow story, for example,
de;crib€; what materials
to use
{or making
bows
and arrows'
what to kill buffalo with' and
how
to tan
buffalo
hide
(Lowie,
1922,
pp 29-30).
4. I)iscussion
The ability to construct
and manipulate
valid
models of realitv
provides humans
wilh our
distinctive
a{iaplive advantage.
(Bower & Monow, 1990,
p 48)
Despite
Tooby
and Devore's
(198?, pp 207 208) seminal
observalion
that
two ol the
most s;ljent
differenc€s
between
humans
and other
species
are our highly
elaborated
abilities
to (l) make,
deplot and communicate
cog tjve
models
ofour envircnmen!
and
(2)
create,
maintain,
and t{ansmit
infonnation,
evolutionary
psychology has underestimaled
the
importance
of the arts ir1 human
evolution Researche$
have been
slow to appreciate
these
hi;hly paftemed, cross-cultural
behaviors as stratagems
for generating and transmitting
iniormaiion-rich
models;
many
appear
content,
like Pinker
(1997),
to dismiss
art,
music'
humot fiction,
anal similar
behaviors
as
by-products
of oiher
evolved capacities;
only a
hand{ul
are
seriously
exploring
the
possible adaptive
significance
of these b€haviors
(e g ,
Coe, 1992,
fofhcoming;
Constable,
1997;
Cosmides
& Tooby,
2000;
Dissanayake,
1992'
2000;
Dunbar,
Knight, & Power,
1999;
Miller, 1997, 1998,
2000) This latter
group
is
defineal
by two general research
tends: one
that €nvisions
art behavio^
as
courtship display
and another
that entetains
the possibiliry that they serve other
adaptive
functions
The
former approach
explains
these behaviors
in terms of sexual selection,
the latter in terms
of
natural
s;lection.
It increasingly
appears
that art behavio(
cannot
be fully undertood
without
recourse
to boih approaches.
Mjller's
ingenious
merger ofcostly
signaling,
indicatol
and sexual
selection
theory
may
ultimately
go a long way toward
explaining
many
facets of art behaviot
but it does
nol
appear to explain everything. For example, if creative behaviors functioned solely as
courtship
displays,
we would expect
them to be consisiently directed
at memters
of the
opposite sex of rcpioductive age. ln some foraging culhles, howevet ceftarr songs
ol
saories
are
peformed only in same-sex
goups (Goodwin,
1939;
Wilbert,
1975); rn others,
they are cornmonly
told to mixed audiences,
both male and female' sexually
mature
and
immatrue; in yet others tbey arc told predominantly by postreproductive individuals
M. Scalise Sul
(Biesele, 1993). Miller *
behavior by noffeproduct
frtness of a given individu
close kin; thus, we might
order to increase
the attr
rcquires
us to believe
that
kin in order to make I
question, wllat specific atl
na[ative (along with oth
display
ing " c o
gn
i tio n indj
memory planning,
and cr€
uniquely well-desi$ed fo
and scream by ueating b(
ex.elknce, tten, is Ihe
information. But why wo
its€lf enhance fitness? We
which came first selectic
seems
morc plausible that
tion with the opport
simulation afforals
- aIt(
protean
intelligence.
In support of the runa\r
notes that "sexually matu
ihroughout human histor)
problematic
data souce b(
activities have been largel:
determine whether women
want to or because they
eme4ed not dudng the rcl
but, rather, during its lc
industdalized
societies ma'
In theil hunting-and-gath(
autonomy
and may have
p
tion, pottery, basketry, tex
women in hunter horticr
(Chagnon,
1997; DeBoer,
'rr'e
wish to understand
the
manifest
and utilized in hur
to which they may be a re
A number of tried and t
example,
time-allocation
s
used
to investigate bow !
Pattems
in audience comf
circumstances
that tdgger
\)a
1) 22t 240
rds
of honey can be found:
/ fled
into the earth; the]1]oi
, p. 205).
Storics may also
ess.
One Crow story for
0), and a Yanomamd tale
a liuits:
"After gathering
a
lown to his wife: "They're
orew that ,?s,{d 8:uits werc
rich they grow
have spiny
also contain information
Crow story, for example,
rat ro kill bullalo wifi, and
-ovides
humars with our
bseNation
that two of the
r highly elaborared
abilities
nvironment;
and
(2) create,
/ has underestimated
the
rn slow to ippreciate
these
rnemting and hansmitting
)7), to dismiss aft, music,
3volved capacities; only a
:e of these
behavio$ (e-g..
2000; Dissanayake, 1992,
000). This lattcr group is
Lavio$ as
courtship display
,r adaptive
functions. The
ction, the latter
in terms of
)e
tully understood
without
rxual selection theory
may
behavior, but if does
not
'iors iirnctioned
solely as
irected at members
of the
however, certain
songs or
Wilbert, 1975);
in others,
nale,
sexually
mahrre
and
sireproductive
individuals
M. Scdlise Suqiynn / Ewlttion an.l Ituman Behariat 22 (2001) 221 240 235
(Bies€le, 1993). Miller would likely counter this objection with his argumenr
that art
behavior
by nonreprcductive
individuals can be seen as vicarious
courtship
display: the
fitness
of a given individual
can be assessed, in paft, by assessing the fitness
of his or her
close
kin; thus, we night expect individuals to advertise
their fihess (via art displays) in
order to incrcasc dre attactiveness
of their kin. The logic of this argument,
howevet
requires Lrs to believ-. that
children lislen to stories even storics told by their irnmediale
kin - in order to make fitness
judgments
about
potential
mates. All of which raises thc
question,
What specific attribute(s)
is(are) being displayed
tbrough story4etting? Whilc oral
narrative
(along with other ad forms) appears to be a selviceable enough vehicle for
displaying
"cognition indicakr's, \vhtch reveal mental
capacities fin perception,
attention,
ncmory plarning. and creativity" (Millef, 1998,
p. ll5), what oral narrative
appea$ to be
uniquely welfdesigned lbr is conveying life experience.
StorytelleN make us laugh, crJ,
and scrcam by crealing
believable characte$ and scenarios;
what storytelling
displays par
ercellence, Ihen, is the ability to nauipulate others through verbal deployment of
information. But why would such an ability be a reliable
cuc of llhless if it did not in
iiself eolance fitness? We are ieft, then, with the chicken-and-cgg problem
of determining
which came fiIst: sclection
for costly signaling or selection
for vcrbal manipuiation?
lt
seems more plausible
that slorytelling was selected as a means
of disseminating infonna,
tion with the oppoflunities lor education, deception,
and manipulalion that such
simulation affbrds
- aftl3r which sto.)'telling skill became a reljable cuc of verbal and
Drctean
intelliqence,
ln suppoft
of the
runaway sexual
selection model oI art behavior,
Miller (2000,
p. 275)
notes that
"sexually
maturc
nules have
produced
almost all of the
pubticly
displayed aft
throughout hunan history."
As hc himself admits,
however, the historicai
record is a
problematic
data source becar.rse,
in most agricultuml
and industrialized societies,
women's
activities have
been largely
controlled by men
(pp.
81 85). As a result, it is impossible
to
determine whether
women in these
societics
produced
less art
than men because they
did not
want to or because they were not allowed to, Moreover,
as notcd above, aft behavrors
emerged rot during the
relatively brief industrial
or agricultunl
phase
ofour species' history
but, rathef during its long hunter-gatherer
phase;
art production
trends in Westem
industrialized societies
may thus be unreliable iDdicators
ofancestral
art
production
pattems.
ln their hunting-and-gathering pasl,
for example, women may have had relatively more
autonomy and may have producedjust
as much
publicly
displayed
alt (i.e.,
body omamenta-
iion, po{1ery,
baskelTy, textiles)
as men did. The ethnographic reco.d
certainly shows that
women in hunter horticulturalist
societies lrequently
omament their practical
creations
(Chagnon,
1997; DeBoer,
1990; Cusinde, 1937;
Sugiyana,
personal
communication). If
we
wish to understand the
function of art
behaviors, then, we must
examine them as they are
manilest and utilized in hunter-horticulturalist
cultures, with
an eye to the
selcction
pressures
to which ihey lnay
be
a response
(see,
e.g-,
Coe, forthcoming)-
A number oftried and true methodologies
would
readily lend themselves
to this task_ For
example, tine-allocation
studies conducted among
hunter horliculturalisi
groups
could be
used to investigate ho\,r, much
time is devoted to storytclling, who tells
thc most sfories,
pattems
in audience
composition, time of day/year that most
storl4elling takes
place,
and
circumslances that trigger
storytelling. Thc runaway
sexual selection
account ofalt beha\ror
236 M. S.alie
Sreirana
/ Evohttion
and
H hak
Eehavinr
22
(2001)
221
244
would
predict a statistically
significant
difference
in the amount
of time each
sex
devotes
to
art activiry;
the informaiion
exchange
account
would predict no significant
difference
Arllitionaily,
as
a number
of studies
(Hewlett
& Cavalli-Sforza,
1986; Ohmagari
& Berkes'
1997)
have
demonstrated,
intervicws
can
be used
effectively
to determine
where
and
how
individuals
in foraging societies
acquire
various
kinds of fitness_related
skills and infoma-
tion. A further avenue of inquiry is quantitative analysis
of hunter horticultunlist narmtive
content,
which can iltuminaG
boih the amounts
and
types of information
that are
transmitted
via nanative.
Finally,
rcverse-engineering
narative
and similar
behavion
(Cosmides &
Tooby,
2000) may shed
more light on lhcir cognitive design
and function than the current
t"nd"*y to ih".u"t..ir" them
as sundry
pemutafions ofa sirgle phenomenon
[e g , "making
specjal';
@issanayake,
1992)
or "courtship
display"
(Miller,
2000)l Taken
collectively'
these
appiouches
iun be used
to situate
nafiativc
in its evolutionary
milieu
by identirying
the
kinds
oi information
hunter
horticulnralist
folklore
is used
to communicate,
developng
a
cross-cultural
age sex profile of hunter
horticulruralist
storytellers
and audiences
and
delineating
the cognitive
mechanisms
ibat distinguish
narrative
processing fiom oiher forms
of ari
proJuction.
Until
w€ do
this, we cannot be
certain
what selection
pressurcs
caused
our
ancesiors
to acquire
the
ability
and d€sire
to craft
verbal
virtual realities
and share
them
with
one
anothcr
around
the camPfirc,
Refcrences
Aam€. A. (196r). me \Pcs oJ the folktdtc:
a clasiftulion dnd bibliosrdPht
Helsinkr: Suonala'nen
Tic.leakatcnir.
Academi.
Scicntidm Fendica
(S.
Thompson.
Tfans 2nd revisior)
Anrheim,
R (11938).
Univesals
in thc aas../r!/ral o/.t clal
and BioloEical
Stru'ftltu'
,/1
(l)' 60 -65 -
B;rkow''J.
(1992).-Bencath
ncw culture
is old psvchologv:
gosip and social stdtlfication
ln: J H Barkow'
L. Cosmldes,
& J. Io.by (Ids). The a.la e.t hDd (pp 9-t36) New York oxford Univ Press
Bauman.
R. (1986).
J1D4.
P.latnance untl
"wit: .onte ual studies
al atal nartuttv''
Cambridge:
Cmbndge
Bcnjanin,
w. (1969).
lll,hlranD'r. New York:
Schocken
Bie;ele,
M. (1973). Srpicnce
rnd scarce
esources:
communication
svstems
of the lKuns
and other
ibrages'
Social
$i.n@ InfDrh@tion,
17, 921 911-
Bicsele.
M. ( i 991). lro'e, 1ike neat: th. lotklore oh.l
f'rdgihg idealog of the Kdlahari Jul?oa' Blooningtonl
hdiana
tini!. Pres
Black,
J. B. & Bower,
G. tl. (1980)
Sbrv underbnding
as
problom+olvinS Poedr' 9'221 250
- -
Bluit;r Jones,
N., & Konner.
M J (19?6)
lKuns
knowledge
of aninal
behalior
ini R B Lee'&I Devore
(Eds.). Ktlahari huhter
sahe,!6 (W 325 i48) Cambridge,
MA: Harard Univ Press
- -
eo*,, d. H., a Naooo*,
O G.
(
1 990) Menhl nodcls
in nanative
comprehension
-S' i'nce'
217
' 44-
44
Boyd,
R., & Richerson.
P J.
(1985)
Ctltttu ,nd the erolltto'aryPro"sr' Cbicago:
Univesitv
ofchicaSo
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