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In a new study, a team of researchers examined the social composition of raiding parties and their relationship to marriage alliances in an Amazonian tribal society, the Waorani of Ecuador.

The Marriage Lust and Hyper-Violence of Amazonian Lethal Raiding Parties

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A team of archaeological researchers in Ecuador have spent almost two decades examining raiding parties and their relationship to marriage alliances in the Waorani, an Amazonian tribal society, and conclude, “The act of killing another human is a really traumatic act, which causes people to share something in common psychologically that establishes trust and fosters things like friendships.”

But how on Earth did they arrive at this somewhat morbid sounding conclusion?

Why Do People Go to War?

The study was published in the journal  Proceedings of the Royal Society B and attempted to answer, among other things, “why” people go to war when the consequences are so brutal? The scientists’ motivations were to better understand “why” warriors join war parties and how human ability to cooperate is linked “with destructive tendencies.”

Male Huaorani. (Barefoot Expeditions/CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Male Huaorani. (Barefoot Expeditions/ CC BY NC SA 2.0 )

According to an article in ArchaeologyNewsNetwork, the reasons for people deciding to go to war, or to resort to ultra-violence, has traditionally been associated with an individual warrior’s greed to receive rewards, as traditionally within tribal communities the spoils of war go to the victors; and also with “coercion” within a group, for example, fear of punishment or social rejection.

The new study focused on the Waorani, 2000 indigenous Ecuadorians who inhabit the lowlands of the Amazon Rainforest , who practiced “lethal raiding” prior to the intervention of the state. It found: “Waorani are actively joining raids with people who could provide access to ideal marriage partners for themselves as well as their children.” The study also revealed that “subtle coercion from in-laws” influenced people to join in on raids.

What Is a "Lethal Raiding Party?”

Firstly, the term “raiding party” is like a scorpion dressed as a mouse. While it looks harmless, it contains a lethal sting. To ‘raid’, is to commit to willful murder and the demoralization of other humans; to surprise, exhaust and confuse the enemy through pillaging and plundering for sexual, economic, territorial or military motivations. It is always horrid, no matter how it is dressed up.

Shane Macfarlan, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Utah and lead author of the study said: “Arguments have always been about this nice band of brothers - literally brothers, uncles, fathers all fighting side-by-side with one another… But sometimes, kin are not enough. Warfare is about alliance building, relationships with other people where there might be something else to gain by fighting with one another-like marriage partners .”

Man and woman from Huaorani village. Photographed in Ecuador, May 2008. (kate fisher/CC BY 2.0)

Man and woman from Huaorani village. Photographed in Ecuador, May 2008. (kate fisher/ CC BY 2.0 )

This really is a story of ‘love and war’ and the new paper states that the Waorani's ideal marriage partners are bilateral cross cousins - for example a man's mother's brother's daughter or his father's sister's daughter.” And rather than using Tinder, or the old school ‘approach at a bar’ method, the chosen way for the Waorani to make marital alliances “is through Lethal raiding.”

Friends, Family, Lovers and Foes

A raid instigates many social dynamics and once someone had announced one others would become “convince[d] to join him,” according to Macfarlan. “The benefit of making an alliance outside of your direct kin is that it expands your social universe for getting the things that you need, and one of the things that people need in all societies is mating partners,” he added.

Having collected “detailed genealogical information from multiple generations, and cross-referenced the data with existing Waorani genealogies” between 2000 and 2001, co-authors Jim Yost, Pam Erickson of University of Connecticut, and Steve Beckerman of Pennsylvania State University, used marriages and births to form a ‘raid timeline’ from 1917 to 1970, which consisted of “550 raid reports… 49 separate raids that involved 81 people.”

Macfarlan and senior author Stephen Beckerman found that “Although males had plenty of lineal kin to choose from for forming raiding parties, they selectively raided with non-lineal kin. What is more, they also discovered that men “raided more frequently with men who were generically related to them, but from different lineages - the ideal marriage exchange partners.”

The scientists’ paper concludes with saying humans generally maintain "three kinds of relationships: kinship, marriage and friendship” and it is in “friendship” that the scientists noticed “a common feature across cultures.” Friendship creates relationships between people who are neither blood relatives nor mates, which helps us “resolve conflict” within these groups.

Huaroanis. (Kleverenrique/CC BY SA 3.0)

Huaroanis. (Kleverenrique/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Top image: In a new study, a team of researchers examined the social composition of raiding parties and their relationship to marriage alliances in an Amazonian tribal society, the Waorani of Ecuador. Source: Pete Oxford/australscope

By Ashley Cowie

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