Listen to part of a lecture in a history class.
M: Today, we’re going to talk about what spices meant to medieval Europeans, what symbolic value they had. Most of you never give much thought to the salt and pepper in the cafeteria, or the supermarket, or a restaurant, am I right? They’re inexpensive, readily available … pretty boring you might say… both of them. We tend to think of salt and pepper as a pair, but they actually have very dissimilar histories—different journeys that led them to end up on our dinner tables.
First, let’s look at salt. In moderation, it is an essential part of a healthy diet, but it’s so common nowadays, we wouldn’t consider it valuable. The attitude was different in, say, some kingdoms of Africa that maintained ancient salt trading routes across the Sahara desert—some of which still exist today. Of course, people need some in their diet, but it was valuable mostly because it was one of the few substances known to keep foods from spoiling quickly. Our word salary comes from the Roman practice of paying soldiers partly in salt rather than entirely in money. But, um, back to my point, trying to lay out some symbolism for you here. While medieval Europeans would have considered salt a very necessary substance, they also considered it very mundane, nothing special, sort of like how we see it today.
Now, pepper was the exact opposite. Medieval Furopeans developed quite a powerful taste for pepper and other spices, like cinnamon, and, uh, nutmeg. Sure, you could use pepper, or nutmeg, or cinnamon to season your food, but. uh, they’re not essential to the diet like salt. Some people believe that these spices were important for preserving food, or even flavoring food that was no longer fresh Well, that’s not such a good explanation for the popularity of these spices, as medieval Europeans already had salt and plenty of native herbs to flavor or preserve food. Does anyone have any ideas why pepper and other spices might have been so popular? How about you, Diane?
W: Maybe they taste better?
M: Sort of… you’re headed in the right direction. I mean, uh, they were more desirable and taste may have been one factor. But something that’s strange, or different, or exotic might be more interesting, right? And so it was with pepper and other such spices like cinnamon, ginger, uh, cardamom
W: Uh. sorry professor, but how exactly could pepper be exotic?
M: Good question See. they didn’t call this time period the Dark Ages for nothing! Travel and commerce across long distances were dangerous and rare. Your, uh, average European was generally not in contact with anyone outside his or her local worid, say within a 10-mile radius or so. except through the Church, but than a whole different issue that we’re going to bypass for the moment. Uh, now where was I? Oh yes, so pepper came mainly from India and cinnamon from Ceylon—what we now call Sri Lanka—but very few medieval Europeans had the slightest idea where they came from. All they knew was that merchants could buy spices from Arabs in Egypt. Where the Arabs got them from was a mystery.
W: So, the spices were valuable just because they came from far away?
M: Yes. nght… but even more than that, and this is what I want you to get out of our discussion today, because spices were rare—pretty much only purchased by the upper classes, nobility, not by the masses—there’s no way you’d find pepper on a table in a medieval university dining hall, and if you did you wouldn’t take it for granted, you’d feel pretty special eating it. Because they came from so far off . .. well, the disconnected Europeans weren’t quite sure where a lot of them came from . . . spices were actually thought to have their origins in Paradise.
W: Uh. so . . . people actually believed spices came from heaven?
M: Well, not exactly what we think of as heaven today. In the worldview of medieval Europeans, Paradise was some physical place on Earth, someplace far off and unknown, but real. Thatt what gave exotic spiccs their symbolic value. Salt like salt today, was available to all .. a very democratic item, you might say Pepper, cinnamon, and so on were reserved exclusively for the aristocrats, kings, queens, ruling nobility. Spices were more than useful. They set the rulers apart from their subjects and suggested that they, uh, the higher classes, were closer to Paradise than the commoners.
Listen to part of a lecture in an anthropology class.
W: Afternoon all! Let’s begin, shall we? So. this morning we’re going to talk about kinship and descent. We know that all societies face similar questions of how to faahtate economic cooperation between men and women, how to provide a proper setting for raising children, and how to regulate reproductive activity. Over time, the results of these choices form patterns of family organization, um, what anthropologists call “kinship structures.”
Today, we’re going to look at one type of kinship structure—the descent group. Now, a descent group is any publicly recognized social entity in which being a lineal descendant of a particular real or mythical ancestor is a criterion for membership. Um, m other words, people with claim a direct Ineal —as m following a line—a lineal relationship to an ancestor. That ancestor could be a mythical individual or maybe even a known historical individual.
Now. what’s important here to understand membership structure is that to belong to this descent group-in some cases called an extended family, but we’ll get to that in a minute-an individual would have to demonstrate a connection to the founding ancestor, and that connection would have to be publicly recognized; that is, the descent group would have to recognize whether or not the individual, well, belongs. So, as you can see, we’re talking about group formation here, and for many societies, kinship organizations— “families” in everyday language—are an extremely important social institution, hm, perhaps the most important group an individual may belong to.
- back to my point, descent groups . . . this specific type of family organization includes several, if not many, generations, and will also branch outward. You might have guessed that we’re talking about extended families here, not just the immediate family. Left say you live with your mother and father, a sister, and a grandmother-your mother’s mother. This would be your household. Now, when we talk about an extended family, we’re talking about something far larger: that would be all the individuals you can trace as relatives Now then, here’s where descent groups get interesting. Anthropologists study the rules descent groups use to decide membership. Where do you draw that line between who are your relatives and who aren’t and what are the consequences?
I want to talk about two specific patterns for tracing membership in descent groups: matrilineal descent and patrilineal descent. There are others as well, but we’ll just focus on these two for today. Both matrilineal and patrilineal descent trace membership along one line, either the mother’s line, matrilineal, or the father line, patrilineal … one line only. And this has implications for . . . wl, for where a son or daughter Sves, when he or she gets married, what family name a child will take, how inheritance is transferred from one generation to another, among other things. These things vary from society to society, so let’s just look at the more general patterns that show up in these two cases.
Patrilineal descent is the more widespread of the two systems. Rural society in, uh, traditional China, for example, was strongly pauilineal. Typically, extended families were tile basic unit for economic cooperation, with households often indudng efcleriy parents, a son. the sons wife and the son’s children. Often the son’s brother and his wife and children were members of the household as well. A father was responsible for disciplining his children, and his children were also expected to treat their father brothers with respect and obedience. Families were organized into descent groups called tsu, but these groups are sometimes referred to as “clans” in the literature. Although a daughter moved to the household of her husband’s famify, she remained in her father’s tsu. Her children, however, would belong to their father’s tsu. The function of the tsu was to assist members economically. Members would come together to share costs and labor for weddings, ancestral feasts, and funerals Rural China was a hugely agrarian society . . . that’s agricultural, right? Wei, we often find patrilineal descent in societies with extensive agriculture.
OK, then. Matrilineal descent, on the other hand, is typically found in pastoral or horticuftural societies … that’s smaller-scale Of gardervscale farming of crops. The Hopi of the American Southwest, for instance, are divided into a number of dans based on strict matrilineal descent. At birth, each individual is assigned to membership in his or her mother’s dan. Members of the clan are expected to support each other. In village life, these dans break into smaller sub clans. Of lineages, each headed by a senior woman, although she shares leadership with her brother or her mother’s brother. It is the woman, however, who acts as the. Well, mediator of disputes within the dan, with her brother or unde acting as her advisor. Traditionally, clans owned complex housing structures and shared land. A husband would live with his wife in her dan structure and farm his wife’s dan’s land. His wife’s brother would discipline their children, and if a man was seen as an unsatisfactory husband, his wife could simply divorce him by placing his belongings outside the door. Now, how do you like that?