Chapter 10 (Page 89)

Activating Women in Arikara Ceramic Production

Christi Mitchell
Honolulu Hawaii




Introduction

   It is necessary for every academic discipline to entertain new additions and innovative revision to its contemporary and past theoretical and methodological axioms. The developing field of Feminist Archaeology is one such addition which has received limited consideration within the discipline as a whole, yet at the same time its appropriateness to the field has spawned dedicated followers and serious intellectual debates. As a fledgling idea, lost somewhere in the debate between systems theory versus contextual approaches, and competing to some extent with other developing concepts such as Marxist and Symbolic Archaeologies, feminist approaches have until now, for the most part, been concerned with identifying areas of research and constructing appropriate and useful methodologies.
   This paper attempts to adopt a feminist perspective and apply it to James Deetz's 1965 monograph, The Dynamics of Social Change in Arikara Ceramics, in hopes of demonstrating how, by asking engendered questions, our reconstructions of past social organizations are forced to change. Also I will illustrate how the androcentric biases and assumptions prevalent in his work have limited and formed his reconstruction of the past.

Women, Ceramics, and Kinship

   James Deetz's aim in the monograph is to demonstrate that the changing social organization of the Arikara is reflected in the association of stylistic attributes found on their ceramics. In this analysis he proposes that, as a result of changing environmental and social conditions, Arikara society evolved from a lineage based descent system with matrilocality to a generationally segmented society with patrilocality; this change, in turn, was responsible for and reflected in a greater stylistic variation in their ceramics. Central to Deetz's theory is the idea that the domestic unit was responsible for ceramic production and that it was the female members of the domestic unit who actually manufactured the ceramics.
   Deetz analyzed the ceramic assemblage from the Medicine Crow Site with three temporal components, each corresponding to a spatial component at the site; 1690-1720, 1720-1750, and 1750-1780. Each sherd was assigned to one of the time periods, based on the spatial context from which it was recovered, and then analyzed in terms of the number and type of the over 152 attributes that were identified. Using a computer Deetz then determined the attribute associations in and between time periods. Although the total number of attributes identified rose over time the number of attributes regularly seen in association decreased over time.
   This data then became the basis for Deetz's assertion that if attributes and styles were shared by women of a domestic unit, then the reduced association of attributes indicated disruption of the domestic organization, and by inference, a change in the social


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organization of the potters. Underlying this argument was Deetz's belief that patterns found in assemblages are reflective of patterns in group behavior, and that in this way patterns of social organization can be exposed. In comparing assemblages much homogeneity in artifact attributes is thought to reflect much interaction within the production unit. Conversely, a limited amount of interaction within or between traditional production units would result in highly variable patterning and less clustering of attributes in assumedly meaningful ways.
   In order for this framework to contribute to meaningful reconstructions of the past, the researcher must ascertain that the group (or production unit) under question is directly and uniquely responsible for the patterns that are revealed in the archaeological record. The group's influence must be unique as well as direct or room is left for numerous outside forces to affect the relationship between material product and manufacturer. Deetz must be able to isolate the one cause and one effect unequivocally.
   It was changing post-marital resident patterns that Deetz believed was the cause of the later phases of Arikara ceramics. "Under matrilocal rule of residence, reinforced by matrilocal descent, one might well expect a larger degree of consistent patterning of design attributes, since the behavior patterns which produce these configurations would be passed from mothers to daughters and preserved by continuous manufacture in the same household" (Deetz 1965: 2).
   A change in this matrilocal social structure could result in a change in ceramic attribute patterning if "this change in any way tended to disrupt the exclusive nature of the shared behavioral patterning existing under a matrilocal rule" (Deetz 1965: 2). In order to support this logic he outlines a number of social and economic indicators which suggest social reorganization and then compares these with the stylistic changes seen in the assemblage.
What, specifically, are the changes in Arikara society? As has already been discussed the association of ceramic attributes decreased over the proto-historic period. Incomplete language schedules compiled in the 18th century show that the Arikara language was evolving from lineage based to generationally based kinship terms, as happened with the Skidi Pawnee nearly a century later. Deetz infers from this that the Arikara villages were once organized by lineages (as indicated by early Crow style kinship terminology) and that the appearance of a generation descent system indicated a change away from a lineage based family group. Concurrently, the size of the Arikara dwellings decreased from a pre-historic range of thirty-six to fifty feet in diameter to one of twenty five to almost forty feet during the proto-historic period. Deetz states that "this reduction in house size strongly suggests some change in the size of the residence group or perhaps even a change in its basic constitution" (Deetz 1965:32). At the same time the size of the villages decreased as reported by explorers such as Gass in 1811 and Tabeau in the late 18th century. This change may be in part due to unsustainable soil and lack of wood, although Trudeau, as noted in Deetz, states that smallpox ravaged the Arikara three times prior to 1795. Deetz states that "there can be little doubt that such a rapid population decline produces some changes in the later residence patterns among the Arikara" (Deetz 1965: 31), yet, surprisingly, he searches further for the catalyst of change. He finds it in one of the activities of the men: trading.
   All of the proto-historic primary sources, (Gass 1811, Lowie 1954, Tabeau and Trudeau ) attributed great importance to trading for the Arikara. Arikara were located at the convergence of the northern gun trade and the southern horse trade, and they traded maize, tobacco and buffalo products. The importance of trading to their local economy by the end of the 18th century is stressed by Deetz. Deetz quotes Murdock as stating that:

"...moveable property or wealth, which can be accumulated by men, is a strong factor in the development of patrilocal residence. Such wealth has as its accompaniments an increase in the social stature of men at the expense of that of the women, the introduction of nonsororal polygamy and the disappearance of the matrilocal residence...and a trend to patrilineal inheritance of the new-found riches of men "(Deetz 1965: 33-34).

   Considering the volume of trade that the Arikara undertook, this appears to be a plausible statement. Yet, there are indications that the Arikara were poor traders, who were often taken advantage of by the Sioux, and who were often "put to it when the maize and buffalo failed them" according to Lowie (in Deetz). Thus, it is possible that the accumulation of wealth among the Arikara males was temporally relative and not a major force in changing post-marital patterns. Nonetheless, it seems that there was a shift in the demographics and social organization of the Arikara, which resulted in new residence patterns and generational descent system. By focusing on trade, Deetz creates a world in which the actions of men change the society, while those of women, who are almost unmentioned, are directionless. Their ceramics passively reflect the changes brought about by the men's actions. By examining some of the


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androcentric assumptions that Deetz makes regarding Arikara women and their ceramics it is possible to start clearing away the cobwebs in which this passivity is entangled.
   One of the aims of feminist archaeology is to identify the androcentric biases found in reconstructions of the past. It is important to note that many of the examples of androcentrism in Deetz's study are a result of the androcentric bias found in the primary sources he uses. Yet, this does not relieve Deetz of blame, for he chose to accept these sources as objective and valid, while at the same time he chose to cite selectively the segments of the sources that supported his assumptions regarding the roles and activities of women and men while ignoring other potentially important information. Perhaps Deetz, along with others of his generation, never thought to consider gender as an issue, but now there is no reason to ignore it.
   Considering that Deetz's analysis centers around kinship and residence rules, and that he bases his analysis on the presumed activities of women, Conkey and Spector (1984) thought that "there was reason to believe, given (his) problem orientation that the subject of gender might be explicitly addressed" (1984: 11), rather than relegating the role of gender, and subsequently the role of women, to a passive position in his analysis which is seen in many of Deetz's examples. First of all, Deetz describes women in relation either to men, or their presumed role in ceramic production, or their relative position in a descent system. He quotes and tacitly supports passages by Tabeau that describe women as "slaves," and "property," and states that matrilocal residence was "possessed" by the culture, at once objectifying and depersonalizing Arikara women. Furthermore, the activities of women are accorded low status.
   Deetz stressed trade as the dominant stimulus for change in Arikara society. His analysis of the conditions of trade as presented by Tabeau was that "this commerce had acquired an integral position in the culture and apparently was the basis of the Arikara economy by the end of the eighteenth century" (Deetz 1965:33). Again this suggests that women neither played an important role in the economy of the tribe nor actively engaged in contact with traders or Westerners.
   Whereas considerable attention is given to the trading patterns of men as well as their possession of women, the activities of women, including their food producing economic activities or the processes of ceramic manufacture (in terms of spatial and temporal dimensions) are all but ignored. Deetz's sources do not include women in the count of village inhabitants and Deetz uses these gender specific accounts to show the general decline of population size. In all these ways the lives of the Arikara men are made representative of the Arikara culture.
   The accounts that Deetz cites of active women are used to demonstrate women's connection to the household validating a sequence of residence and kinship term change. The intrinsic, active value of women was as "chief participants in house construction" (Gass, in Deetz), or as chief laborers in the field and home, or as owners and tenders of the gardens, planting, cultivating and harvesting is overlooked. For Deetz each of these activities is used as an indicator of matrilocality. In as much as the women were connected to the land and structures it seems possible that they had some economic and cultural influence in terms of the distribution of the traded produce including maize, beans, squash and pumpkins, as well as influencing the makeup of the family unit. Yet Deetz does not ascribe to them any active influences within the prevailing cultural processes.
   Material in the primary sources hint otherwise. Gass reports that women grew a smoking tobacco, and Tabeau states that "The women...came in a crowd to trade certain trifles, sure of obtaining a few pieces of dried meat into the bargain (Deetz 1965: 73). Although "trifles" is an ambiguous term, this passage indicates that Arikara women were not passive, but took, at least at times, an active role in trading. Arikara women were not as far removed from active contact with Westerners, through trade, as Deetz infers.
   Similarly, Deetz's assertion that the Arikara women were uniquely responsible for ceramic production can be questioned. His theory hinges upon Bunzell's 1920 "discovery" that Pueblo girls learned design elements from their mothers, which then buffets the idea that residence patterns are reflected in the Arikara ceramic assemblage. Deetz then gives us female potters without telling us how we can know that the potters in question are women. Although there are numerous late 18th and early 19th century references to Arikara women involved with ceramic manufacture the sources never preclude men from participation nor do they specifically locate the production unit within the home or lineage. In order to make the connection between ceramic production and residence patterns it must first be shown that ceramic production occurred in domestic isolation and that the potters had unique ownership of stylistic groupings. In Deetz's analysis a limited number of dwellings were excavated which spanned a period of only 90 to 100 years. Although the ceramic styles have been typed according to stylistic variation and apparent temporal distribution, there does not appear to be enough information to link certain design groupings with particular dwelling units within one time period. Ideally, if each


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household was matrilocally oriented and produced its own "brand" of ceramic this would be reflected by a decisive grouping of ceramic variations per household, possibly accompanied spatially by a kiln or other implement of manufacture.
   There are two other points to consider about Deetz's assertions/assumptions regarding domestic ceramic manufacture. The first and perhaps most obvious question is why, if girls learned their ceramic skills (along with the particular attribute grouping) from their mothers before marriage, would these skills and decorative traits not be carried with them after marriage, regardless of the post-marital residence? This point would seem particularly relevant in a society which was undergoing a shift from a matrilocal lineage system to a patrilocal generational system. By "holding on" to her natal design attributes the female potter would be able to "hold on" to and express her heritage in a descent group that differed from the one she resided in. It does not seem necessary for the potter to have had continual residence in her natal residence once the skills and attribute groupings had been learned.
   The second point to consider is whether the groups producing ceramics were connected to the domestic sphere at all. Plog reminds us that "other archaeologists have proposed that the patterns [of ceramics] may represent the location of 'ad hoc' work groups of neighbors rather than residence groups" (1980:11-12). These groups could also be age groups, or secret society-type units. Each group could own and use a certain set of design elements as expressions of group entity or purpose. Over time, as contact with traders increased and the population decreased, the expressions of these "ad hoc" potters could become more varied as these groups disbanded. One more possibility is that ceramic manufacture was limited to specialists and contained spiritual or ritual symbolism. These potters may not necessarily have been related, but as with keepers of sacred medicine, chose to learn the skill. Here too it would be possible for the change in attribute grouping to correspond with the increased association with Europeans and the radical decrease in population. Although each of these scenarios is a possible reconstruction of the past based on the information Deetz presents, they are not fully considered due to Deetz's rigid, preformed assumptions regarding who makes the ceramics and where ceramics are produced. Most basic to Deetz's analysis is his devotion to the unstated master of social organization, the sexual division of labor. This concept is inherent in his assumptions and as such precludes a serious consideration of the role of gender in ceramic manufacture (as well as in cultural change in general).
   There are scenarios that suggest possible alternative readings of the information presented in the Arikara ceramic assemblage, scenarios that activate the Arikara women. In general, the most obvious ones can be found in an examination of the economic roles of women. Lowie, Gass and Tabeau each indicated that women's economic activities involved raising maize, squash, beans and tobacco, as well as processing pemmican. It is not unreasonable to consider women involved with trade at some level (either directly, by entering the transaction, or simply by being present at the trading markets), and that this brought them more and more frequently in contact with other nations or traders.
   Two possible explanations open up, then, for the diminished association of stylistic attributes. The attributes found on the ceramics may have reflected the turbulent, and less cohesive nature of Arikara society; new ideas and contacts influenced and broke down the old culture that was perhaps carefully symbolized on the ceramics. It is almost certain that the potters did not create their wares in domestic or cultural isolation, unaffected by the changes in the social organization, and contact with European cultures. That three smallpox epidemics nearly decimated the Arikara population attests to the far-reaching effects of contact.
   The choice of certain attributes could be thought of as an expression of the potters' relative position within any group structure. Deetz suggests that attribute choice reflects a change in post-marital residence patterns. I believe that it reflects in an increased amount of trade and contact between groups and that ceramic artistry was an active form of communication (and a particularly important one if we are to believe that women were potters, and held the same status as slaves). Rather than being passive recipients of cultural change via descent group reorganization along generational lines and changing post-marital residence rules as Deetz suggests), the potters (be they male or female) may have taken an active role in communicating and sharing strategies between the groups in contact with each other or simply expressing pervasive change through their decorative art. Whereas a high frequency of associated attributes may have reflected a community cohesiveness, a low frequency could indicate a shift in the belief system to a more individualistic oriented consciousness, inspired by the materialistic concepts that were being introduced by traders such as Tabeau. The attributes chosen for decoration probably reflected personal choice on the part of the potter and in such a time of change, understandably would reflect confusion rather than cohesion, and thus, discontinuities in patterns of design associations.


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   Regrettably, Deetz seems to disregard any consideration of the role of personal choice, rejecting the influence of the individual within the ceramic system. Although the role of ceramics as an artistic medium of communication has not been discussed here, at the most basic level if there were not some symbolism or meaning attached to attribute and decoration selection then all Arikara ceramics would be left undecorated and be of virtually the same shape based on function. Attribute selection was a form of communication within and beyond the community, and stylistic change reflected not only shifting community social organization but women's active participation (possibly economic) in social change, intercultural contact, and ceramic technology.
   Another scenario is suggested and immediately discounted by Deetz himself. In the final section of his monograph he presents three possible explanations for the proposed association between ceramic attributes and post-marital residence. The first is that there is "no relationship whatsoever between changes in social organization and changes in ceramic design patterning..." (Deetz 1965: 96). For reasons discussed already, specifically that ceramics would not have been manufactured in total domestic or social isolation, this scenario is probably inaccurate. The second was that "changes in ceramic patterning in late Arikara culture and the accompanying changes in the social organization are in fact mutually interrelated" (Deetz 1965: 96). It has been discussed throughout this paper that Deetz has failed to prove this association by basing his theory on assumptions regarding a strict sexual division of labor, and on the social and economic passiveness of women.
This leaves us to consider Deetz's last suggestion, that "there may be a relationship between ceramic design and social structure in an indirect sense in that some third force was responsible for both changes seen at the Medicine Crow Site" (Deetz 1965: 89). Although he states that "the possibility of a third independent variable influence operating to produce change in social organization and ceramic design can never be completely ruled out due to its intrinsic nature" (Deetz 1965: 56), he further asserts that this would have to be a more powerful force than a change in post-marital residence systems. This then begs the question "what then caused the change in the post-marital system"? He states:

While the Arikara certainly experienced a truly disruptive series of influences on their total cultural pattern during the course of the warfare, epidemics and mobility which mark their existence during the eighteenth century, these pressures cannot be cited as the primary causal factor in effecting the change in ceramic patterning (Deetz 1965: 90).

   James Deetz was clearly searching for a single cause and effect sequence of change: outside forces affected the society, causing domestic reshuffling, which resulted in ceramic variation. His statement that any third "unknown but apparently powerful force" (Deetz 1965:96) indicates again his dedication to a one-force-creates-one-change ideology. Is it too much to suggest that change does not always occur in a linear arrangement? In specifically turbulent times it seems foolish to consider that it is possible to isolate specific cause and effect coordinates, especially in discussions requiring a high level of inference from the archaeological record such as in this case. Thus, the alternate scenario that is being suggested here is that perhaps no single "more powerful third force" is responsible for changes in social organization and ceramic variation, but that a veritable multitude of interrelated forces were at work and that some of these forces, such as epidemics, bypassed completely the consideration of domestic arrangements, affecting directly the individual potter and her/his cultural outlook, and then was reflected in the ceramic assemblage. To require the mediation of change through the post-marital residence system denies the potter, and females in general, active and direct participation in the general culture and requires all of the creative and emotional energy that is put into ceramic design to be directly subservient to the domestic arrangements, or if you will, subservient to the men whom, for Deetz, have gained power through a changing social structure.


References Cited


Conkey, Margaret and Janet Spector
1984 Archaeology and the Study of Gender. In Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory , vol. 7, edited by M. Schiffer, pp. 1-38. Academic Press, Orlando.

Deetz, James
1965 The Dynamics of Stylistic Change in Arikara Ceramics. Illinois Studies in Anthropology No. 4. University of Illinois Press, Urbana.


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Gass, Patrick
1811 Gass' Journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, edited by James K. Hosmer. A. C. McClurg and Co., Chicago.

Lowie, Robert H.
1954 Indians of the Plains. Anthropological Handbook No. 1, American Museum of Natural History. McGraw-Hill, New York.

Plog, Stephen
1980 Stylistic Variation in Prehistoric Ceramics.. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.