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Social structure, cultural kinship, and cooperation among the Lamalera whale hunters of Indonesia

Colloquium with Michael Alvard, Texas A&M University Department of Anthropology

Monday, November 08, 2010
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Haines Hall 352
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA 90095

The human ability to form large, coordinated groups is among our most impressive social adaptation. Larger groups facilitate synergistic economies of scale for cooperative breeding, economic tasks like group hunting, and success in conflict with other groups. In many organisms, genetic relationships provide the structure for sociality to evolve via the process of kin selection, and this is the case, to a certain extent, for humans. But assortment by genetic affiliation is not the only mechanism that can bring like-minded people together.  Affinity based on symbolically mediated and socially constructed identity or cultural kinship structures much of human sociality.
This talk will examine how genetic kinship and various kinds of cultural kinship—affinal, descent, moiety—structure the network of cooperating whale hunters in the village of Lamalera, Indonesia. The people of Lamalera are among the last subsistence whale hunters on the planet.  The village of 1,200 people rely largely on the sperm whales, other marine mammals, manta and other rays that the community’s men cooperatively hunt from a fleet of traditional, 11m long, whaling vessels called téna.
Using data from 853 hunts, network analyses show that each mechanism of assortment produces characteristic networks of different sizes, each more or less conducive to the task of hunting whales.  The results are discussed in the context of the evolution of cooperation and group identity.

Lunch will be provided on a first-come, first-serve basis; we request a $6 donation.

Cost : Free and open to the public.

Sponsor(s): Center for Southeast Asian Studies, UCLA Center for Behavior, Evolution, and Culture

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