A Multistage Learning Model for Cultural Transmission: Evidence from Three Indigenous Societies
Based on generational differences and social relations, researchers have hypothesized that the transmission of cultural knowledge occurs through at least three different, not mutually exclusive, paths: (1) parents (vertical), (2) age peers (horizontal), and (3) elders (oblique). Here we contribute to this body of research by presenting three case studies showing evidence of a multistage model of cultural learning in which vertical transmission in childhood loses preeminence toward horizontal and oblique models as subjects’ age. The first case study documents and analyzes Baka children's daily activities (southeast Cameroon) in an attempt to understand (1) how time investments might affect the acquisition of knowledge and (2) the importance of scaffolding on knowledge acquisition. Building on this idea, the second case study explores the transmission of knowledge through the life cycle, documenting the accumulation of knowledge required for collecting wild honey among children and adults from a Jenu Kuruba tribal community in South India. The last case study uses data from the Tsimane’ (Bolivian Amazon) to analyze the correspondence between levels of adult knowledge and the knowledge of (a) the same-sex parent, (b) age peers, and (c) parental cohort. Results from this study suggest that – at adulthood – cultural knowledge is most likely a mix of information gathered from a variety of sources. Overall, the three case studies give evidence to support the multistage learning model for cultural transmission but also emphasize the importance of social learning during childhood, a period during which individuals acquire the baseline knowledge that allow the latter development of complex skills through scaffolding and the integration of information from multiple models.
KeywordsBaka pygmies Childhood Cultural transmission Jenu Kuruba Scaffolding Tsimane’ Amerindians
Research was funded by grants from the Cultural Anthropology Programs, NSF (BCS-0322380 for the Tsimane’ case study and BCS-0726612 for the Jenu Kuruba case study), and the European Research Council, Starting Grant ERC (FP7-261971-LEK), for the case study on the Baka. We thank the Crop Physiology Lab at International Crop Research Institute for the SemiArid Tropics-Patancheru for providing office facilities to Reyes-García. Thanks also go to the Baka, the Jenu Kuruba, and the Tsimane’ for their patience, friendship, and continuous support.
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