Ng7 Natchez (SCCS 146)

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Ng7 Natchez SCCS46

From: "Network Realism" by Douglas R. White

The "Natchez Paradox" of anthropological textbooks in the 1960s was the subject of the earliest application of network realism to problems of interpreting social organization in ways that contrast strikingly to biases introduced from European and American perspectives on indigenous kinship and social organization. This application, with Murdock and Scaglion as collaborators, built directly on White's methods of process modeling and network analytic models. The "paradox" rested on John Swanton's interpretation of the kinship system of the Natchez people in the historical period. His description of Natchez social organization made it seem illogical, because here was a ruling monarchy with a Sun King and royal lineage, one that had once ruled a larger area, that appeared to be locked into a set of illogical marriage rules. It is well documented that members of the Sun ruling lineage did intermarry only with commoners, but according to Swanton, the honorifics of descent in any degree of remoteness from the royal line would eventually convert everyone to nobility. C. M. W. Hart (1943) pointed out the "problematic nature of this arrangement in that eventually" the commoner population "would shrink to extinction since the marriage of [commoners] to aristocrats would slowly drain the [commoner] population beyond repair. Hart includes tables with this portion of his argument demonstrating the mathematics behind his claim.Based on this discovery, Hart suggests that the French must have missed details of the system. French texts all indicate that the [commoner] population formed the largest class in Natchez society, and always would be in the majority" (AA abstract for Hart 1943). Later commentators purported to "solve" what they took instead to be an actual demographic quandry of "The Natchez Paradox" in ways that denied Hart's view that the French must have missed details of the system. White et al. found ample evidence that Swanton's description was incorrect, that there were French observers who left sources that did correctly describe the kinship system of the royalty, and that there was in fact no "paradox," no demographic quandry, and no illogic to Natchez social organization or their elites.

     1971 Douglas R. White, George P. Murdock, Richard Scaglion, Natchez Class and Rank Reconsidered Ethnology 10:369- 388.

This 1971 reconstruction of how individuals were actually linked historically in the social networks of the Natchez people provides a classic example of how processual and network modeling can reveal and clarify the study of social structure. The famous "Natchez Paradox" was discussed in virtually every introductory Anthropology text up to the publication of this article. See current accounts of the historical Natchez and the bibliography on the Natchez. Descendants of the Natchez today are recognized among the Southeastern American Indian groups and among mixed descendants of English colonists. Among these descendants, in turn, are today's recognized Natchez political leaders. Perhaps only the Encyclopedia Britannica is still remiss in describing Natchez social structure as a four-class system, as in Swanton's reconstruction of 1911. Swanton's reconstruction, however, implied a self-immolating social structure characterized by the Natchez Paradox as explicated in the abstract below. Only traces of this Paradox, compounded from several sources of ethnographic misunderstandings, are alive in urban legend and on the WWW today, such as Bennet's memory of discussions by Adam Przeworski (2004). The abstract that follows, simply because Ethnology publishes articles without abstracts, was written only in 2005.

Abstract Textual analysis, comparative distributional evidence, and prosopographic network methods are used here to solve the Natchez Paradox first posed by C. M. W. Hart in 1943, expressed in mathematical form by Samuel Goldberg in 1958 and summarized, in terms of analytical dilemmas, inconsistencies, and possible 'solutions,' by Jeffrey Brain in 1971. The Natchez Paradox emerged from an ethnographer's reconstruction of four Natchez social classes, three of which -- Sun rulers, Nobles, and Honoreds, as opposed to Commoners -- had been assumed by the historical ethnographer, John Swanton, to be ranked exogamous matri-descent groups. While all nobility married commoners, the children of males would be expected to belong to their mother's group. Swanton concluded from his reading of the contemporaneous historical texts of the 18th century French colonists that the children of men in the Sun, Noble, and Honored classes did not revert to commoner status but only to one level lower in the social hierarchy. The paradox shown by Hart and demonstrated even more strongly by Goldberg in his mathematical model is that given equal reproductive rates of marriages of different types over successive generations, combined with Swanton's hypothetical social rules, the Sun lineage would constitute a stable proportion of the population, the Noble lineages would increase their proportion in each generation, and the Honored lineages would increase proportionally to the proportion in the Noble lineages, thus obliterating the commoner class in relatively few generations.

What we find in our prosopographic counting of individuals mentioned by name in the historically contemporaneous French texts is that the only persons with Honored status who were mentioned in these texts were men, and consequently, without Honored women, there were no Honored lineages and no Honored class. The textual sources are clear that Honored status was a social rank for men, so that Honored matrilines (and their female members) were clearly an invention of Swanton, possibly because he did not base his analysis on mentions of individuals in the French texts, which are numerous, but only on presumed categories. The other probable mistake in inference derives from the fact that while French words in the singular indicate gender, the plural term 'les Honores' applies equally to men in the plural and to both genders in the plural. Swanton overgeneralized, in our view, in drawing the inference that there existed a social class of Honoreds that contained both men and women. Women with that status simply did not exist. Honored, we show, was a term only for male rank, not a designation for social class or for a set of distinct matrilineages.

See also

Lorenz, Karl G. (2000). "The Natchez of Southwest Mississippi", in Bonnie G. McEwan (ed.): Indians of the Greater Southeast: Historical Archaeology and Ethnohistory, Gainesville, FL. pp. 152-158.

Wikipedia:Natchez people