Captives: How Stolen People Changed the World

Captives: How Stolen People Changed the World

by Catherine M. Cameron
Captives: How Stolen People Changed the World

Captives: How Stolen People Changed the World

by Catherine M. Cameron


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In Captives: How Stolen People Changed the World archaeologist Catherine M. Cameron provides an eye-opening comparative study of the profound impact that captives of warfare and raiding have had on small- scale societies through time. Cameron provides a new point of orientation for archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, and other scholars by illuminating the impact that captive-taking and enslavement have had on cultural change, with important implications for understanding the past.

Focusing primarily on indigenous societies in the Americas while extending the comparative reach to include Europe, Africa, and Island Southeast Asia, Cameron draws on ethnographic, ethnohistoric, historic, and archaeological data to examine the roles that captives played in small-scale societies. In such societies, captives represented an almost universal social category consisting predominantly of women and children and constituting 10 to 50 percent of the population in a given society. Cameron demonstrates how captives brought with them new technologies, design styles, foodways, religious practices, and more, all of which changed the captor culture.

This book provides a framework that will enable archaeologists to understand the scale and nature of cultural transmission by captives and it will also interest anthropologists, historians, and other scholars who study captive-taking and slavery. Cameron’s exploration of the peculiar amnesia that surrounds memories of captive-taking and enslavement around the world also establishes a connection with unmistakable contemporary relevance. 


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803295766
Publisher: UNP - Nebraska
Publication date: 11/01/2016
Series: Borderlands and Transcultural Studies
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 232
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Catherine M. Cameron is a professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is the author of Chaco and After in the Northern San Juan: Excavations at the Bluff Great House and Invisible Citizens: Captives and Their Consequences.

Read an Excerpt


How Stolen People Changed the World

By Catherine M. Cameron


Copyright © 2016 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8032-9576-6


The Captive in Space, Time, and Mind

An arrow fell behind us. The enemy had followed us and had waited until we entered the shapuno [a large, thatched enclosure]. Other arrows began to fall: tah, tai, tai. ... Meanwhile the tushaua [leader] of the Shamatari [the enemy] had already entered. ... Not even one man of those in the shapuno was standing up. The old Hekurawe was there, dead, with arrows in his body; the Aramamiseteri, too, was lying dead not far away. ... Meanwhile the men began to bring the women prisoners together. They held them firmly by the arms. They were many and they were young. ... Then they [the Shamatari] raised their shout: Au, au, au, with a cavernous voice and we began the journey. We marched and marched.

— Helena Valero's account of her second capture by Yanomamö, quoted in Ettore Biocca, Yanoáma: The Story of Helena Valero, a Girl Kidnapped by Amazonian Indians (1965).

Tuesday 22 April 2014, Nigeria. Terror grips northern Nigeria after "Boko Haram" kidnappings: Last week's kidnapping of 230 schoolgirls in northern Nigeria, which is being blamed on the Islamist group Boko Haram, has plunged the region into chaos. Will the victims ever be seen again? Chibok boarding school in the remote state of Borno was attacked last week by the militant Islamic group, who burnt out the school before abducting its students. ... The official number of missing girls has risen to an estimated 234.

— Jonathan Miller, foreign affairs correspondent, Channel 4 News, London

In every corner of the world and through time people have stolen others, mostly women and children. Helena Valero's account of the attack of one Yanomamö group on another and the seizure of the defeated group's women has played out over and over again for millennia. Media reports a few weeks after the Boko Haram kidnapping followed a common pattern. A Boko Haram leader called the girls his slaves and said he would sell them or give them to his men in marriage (Time Magazine, May 26, 2014, 32). As I read these accounts, I recalled Helena and the hundreds of descriptions of captive taking I discovered in ethnohistorical, ethnographic, and historical studies during the decade in which I researched this book. A nighttime raid, men clubbed to death or shot, women and children hurried into a corner of the settlement by raiders, a long march that many did not survive, and at the end of the march, a new life.

People around the world hope for the recovery of the kidnapped Nigerian girls and as I write this, their eyes are on the spot in the bush where the girls are believed held. For the vast majority of women and children taken captive in the distant past, beyond the reach of historic records, no such hope existed. Not only were captives lost to their families, archaeologists have ignored the importance of their lives. This book brings this invisible class of people out of the shadows and explores the contributions they made to the societies of their captors.

As an archaeologist, I hope this book influences the scholarship of fellow archaeologists (as well as that of scholars in other disciplines), yet this volume is not an archaeological study. Nor is it a study of captives in a single society. It is a cross-cultural investigation of the common patterns and variability in warfare, captive taking, and the captive experience. It is a wide-ranging exploration of ethnohistoric, ethnographic, and historical sources, as well as the occasional archaeological study, that focuses on the lives of captives in small-scale ("nonstate") societies around the world. Because many captives became slaves, the slavery literature is an important component of the study. The broad comparative approach used here follows that of scholars of slavery, including sociologist Orlando Patterson (1982, 2008) and early twentieth-century scholar H. J. Nieboer (1900).

Small-scale societies rely primarily on kinship ties (real or fictive) as the basis for their social and political organization. They mostly fall into the category that archaeologists call "middle range"; in other words, they are not small bands or complex states. Service (1971) called such groups "tribes" (or "segmentary societies") and "chiefdoms." These terms carry outmoded evolutionary and conceptual biases and I employ them primarily when discussing parts of the world where their use is common. My focus on small-scale groups is partial, however. Captive taking operated on a large geographic scale that enmeshed societies of a variety of social levels and structured the complex relationships among them. Furthermore, captive taking did take place in band-level societies and at times I use examples from both band-level and state-level societies to support my points.

Captives typically entered captor settlements as members of a despised enemy group and their captors beat, abused, and mistreated them. They often remained marginal even after their captors married or adopted them. We might ask ourselves, What could these bedraggled, subordinate people contribute to the societies they joined? and Why are they worthy of archaeological interest? This book demonstrates that captives affected the societies they joined in a number of ways. Their presence created or increased social stratification in captor society. In small-scale societies where power derived from control over people, captives increased the power of their captors. Captives affected social boundaries in captor society by allowing captors to contrast themselves with their abject captives. Social boundaries were also strengthened when captives tried to conform to captor social practices in an effort to "fit in" and gain better treatment. My most important point, however, is that captives were a significant mode of cultural transmission and a source of culture change. They brought with them knowledge of new technologies, design styles, foodways, religious practices, and more that transformed captor culture.

I begin with a discussion of the pervasiveness and antiquity of raiding and warfare in small-scale societies, the source of most captives. I review the global scope of captive taking, as well as its selective focus on women and children. The next section defines captives and captors and discusses the scale of captive taking. The cross-cultural methods I use for the study are considered next, including a discussion of the concerns archaeologists have about the use of both analogy and the cross-cultural approach. Finally, I take a brief look at captive taking and slavery in the past and present. We have come a long way from the time when the majority of the world's people suffered in bondage, but the horror of the captive experience is still very real for far too many of today's women, children, and men.

Warfare, Kidnapping, and Captives

Most captive taking has resulted from warfare and raiding. Kidnapping was also common in many times and places, and the isolated herder, garden tender, or child left briefly alone was vulnerable. By proposing that captive taking was an ancient and almost universal practice and most often the result of warfare or raiding, I am, of course, implying that warfare and raiding were common, ancient practices (figure 1). Lawrence Keeley (1996) complained more than twenty years ago that archaeologists "pacified" the human past by ignoring the presence of warfare, especially in small-scale societies. R. Brian Ferguson and Neil Whitehead's War in the Tribal Zone ([1992] 1999) had launched a heated debate among anthropologists concerning the prevalence, frequency, and impact of war in small-scale societies. Ferguson, Whitehead, and many of the contributors to their edited volume argued that contact with Europeans created a "tribal zone" of warfare through the introduction of new trade goods, new diseases, and other factors, including an increasingly active slave trade (e.g., M. Brown and Fernandez [1992] 1999, 185–87). These scholars imply that before European contact, warfare in small-scale societies was uncommon and not particularly lethal. Countering this view of peaceful, precontact small-scale societies, archaeologists pointed to abundant material evidence of warfare in the past, including defensive structures, weapons of war, bodies showing evidence of violent death, and iconography related to warfare (Chacon and Mendoza 2007a, 2007b; J. Haas and Creamer 1993; Keeley 1996; LeBlanc and Register 2003; Lekson 2002; but see R. Ferguson 2013).

In the course of this debate, archaeologists working in a number of parts of the world took up the study of violence and warfare and evaluated its impact on the societies they investigated (Arkush and Allen 2006; Chacoan and Dye 2007; Chacoan and Mendoza 2007a, 2007b; LeBlanc 1999; LeBlanc and Register 2003; Martin, Harrod, and Pérez 2012; Maschner and Reedy-Maschner 1998). Surprisingly, few of these authors mention one of its most common by-products: the taking of captives. These studies, nevertheless, provide many insights concerning warfare in small-scale societies that are useful for understanding the practice of captive taking (Arkush and Allen 2006; Keeley 1996, 32–33; Guilaine and Zammit 2005; LeBlanc 1999; LeBlanc and Register 2003; Lekson 2002). Tribal-level societies, for example, typically engaged in small-scale raids, while chiefs often maintained groups of high-ranking warriors who undertook much-larger-scale warfare.

The taking of captives, especially women, was not simply a by-product of warfare but often a major objective of raids or war (Golitko and Keeley 2007, 339; Keeley 1996, 86; LeBlanc 2002, 362; LeBlanc and Register 2003, 71; see also R. Ferguson and Whitehead 1999; also raiding for wives, Barnes 1999; Bowser 2008; DeBoer 2008; Jorgensen 1980; McLennan 1865). The ethnohistoric cases discussed in this volume make it clear that prestige and the acquisition of captives are powerful motivators of warfare in small-scale societies. In some cases the taking of captives was one of the most highly valued results of conflict. While R. Ferguson (2006) and others believe that warfare in small-scale societies was conducted only for material gain of land or resources and was undertaken primarily by groups suffering resource stress, other scholars disagree. They argue that the desire for prestige and status, revenge, and access to women were powerful motivations for warfare in small scale-societies and also essential to the success of these societies (Chagnon 1988; Maschner and Reedy-Maschner 1998; see also Bishop and Lytwyn 2007 for band-level societies).

There is no doubt that Western intrusion into small-scale societies increased the incidence of warfare, and especially slave raiding and captive taking. Western demand for labor in agricultural and extractive industries required a large labor force supplied in part by indigenous slaves who had been captured by other, more powerful indigenous groups (Gallay 2002; Thornton [1999] 2003). That any warfare was the consequence of Western contact, however, assumes that the "resulting transformations ... occurred almost instantaneously" (Keeley 1996, 21). While warfare in every society was likely episodic and differed in intensity, it was a common social behavior long before contact in many, perhaps most, small-scale societies (Chacon and Mendoza 2007a, 2007b; LeBlanc and Register 2003). The earliest ethnohistoric accounts should provide useful data for exploring warfare in the past, but ethnohistory is especially important for the study of captive taking because the material evidence for captives in the archaeological record will be far less obvious than that of warfare. Defensive structures and weapons of war are relatively unambiguous, but individuals taken captive may be seamlessly incorporated into captor society, leaving little trace of their origin.

Captives who were the victims of kidnapping, often taken in isolated events involving one or a few people, are even more difficult to see. I do not join Patterson (1982, 115–22) in distinguishing between "genuine prisoners of war" and kidnap victims. He classifies raids made for the specific purpose of taking captives as kidnapping expeditions. I argue that such expeditions have a variety of social and political purposes and I restrict the term kidnapping to small-scale events in which a few captors target one or a few victims (see chapter 4). For some groups, kidnapping was a common method of obtaining captives; for example, the Comanches of the American Southwest frequently stole young Mexican shepherds to tend the vast herds of horses they had also stolen. In some band-level societies, such as the Tutchone of the Upper Yukon of Canada, low population density (less than one person per one hundred square kilometers [thirty-nine square miles]) precluded anything we might call warfare or even organized raiding. Yet even here more powerful families stole or appropriated the women and children of their distant neighbors and enslaved them (Legros 1985).

Geographic Scope and Scale of Captive taking

Captive taking was so prevalent worldwide that one is tempted to second DeBoer's (2008, 234) "rash" suggestion that the practice was almost primordial (see also Patterson 1982, vii; Taylor 2005). Ethnographic accounts and studies of slavery provide a sense of the geographic prevalence of captive taking. Nieboer's (1900) early cross-cultural study reports slavery on every continent except Europe (he was wrong about Europe) and throughout the Pacific. Slaveholders made up more than one-third of George Murdock's sample of 186 world cultures (Murdock and White 1969) and these groups ranged geographically from northeastern Siberia to New Zealand and from central Uganda in Africa to the Great Plains of North America (Patterson 1982, 350–52). Both Nieboer and Murdock considered only those societies that held slaves, but in many other groups captives were adopted or married into families. Cross-cultural studies of North America document raiding for women in a high proportion of Native American groups (Driver 1966; Jorgensen 1980; both cited in DeBoer 2008). Raiding for women and children is similarly well documented in a large number of small-scale South American societies (Bowser 2008; DeBoer 2011; Morey 1975; Santos-Granero 2009).

The Atlantic slave trade devastated and transformed the small-scale, "decentralized" societies of Africa, but evidence shows that raiding and captive taking were common practices among these groups from at least the first millennium (and likely long before) until well into the twentieth century (MacEachern 2001; R. Reid 2012, 19; Robertshaw and Duncan 2008; see also Lovejoy [1983] 2000; Meillassoux 1983, 1991; Thornton 1998). Warfare and captive taking also occurred throughout Europe prior to the modern era among state-level and small-scale societies, including among the so-called Germanic tribes and the small polities that formed after the fall of the Roman Empire (Bonnassie 1991; Lenski 2008; Patterson 1982, 150–57; Woolf 1997). Vikings raided throughout the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, taking innumerable captives to labor in Scandinavian settlements or to sell to others (Helgason et al. 2000; Karras 1988). Similar maritime raiders were found across island Southeast Asia (Junker 2008; A. Reid 1983; Warren [1981] 1985, 2002).

War captives and slaves were common in ancient state-level societies (10–20 percent of Roman Italy [Lenski, forthcoming], one-third of the population of Greece from the fifth century BCE to the Roman period, 50–70 percent of Korea prior to the seventeenth century, and 15–20 percent of many Islamic states [Patterson 1982]), and ethnohistoric and ethnographic accounts suggest that small-scale societies also included significant numbers of captives. Slaves composed about 10–20 percent of the population of the Northwest Coast of North America, although the number of slaves in any one village varied considerably over time (Ames 2008, 141–42; Donald 1997, 185–90). Chagnon (1992, 106) reports that 12–15 percent of wives among the Yanomamö of Amazonia had been captured in raids. Among six slaveholding societies in "tropical America" (which includes Amazonia, but not the Yanomamö) studied by Santos-Granero (2009), proportions of slaves ranged from 5 to 19 percent of the population, not including servant and tributary groups that made up more than 40 percent of some societies. In Africa, slaves ranged from 1 percent to as high as 50 percent of the population depending on the level of complexity of the group and access to trade routes (Kopytoff and Miers 1977, 60–61). Slaves were equally common in Europe. The Domesday Book census of 1086 CE reported that England's population of slaves ranged from 5 to 25 percent (McDonald and Snooks 1986, 16–17); in Scandinavia the typical twelfth-century farm had three slaves, suggesting a significant slave population (Karras 1988, 78). Similar proportions are found among the maritime chiefdoms of Southeast Asia, ranging from 10 to 30 percent (A. Reid and Brewster 1983, 161–62).


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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
1. The Captive in Space, Time, and Mind,
2. Captive Taking in Global Perspective,
3. The Captive as Social Person,
4. Captives and the Creation of Power,
5. Captives, Social Boundaries, and Ethnogenesis,
6. Captives and Cultural Transmission,
7. Captives in Prehistory,

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