The Life History of Learning Subsistence Skills among Hadza and BaYaka Foragers from Tanzania and the Republic of Congo

Human Nature 32 (1):16-47 (2021)
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Abstract

Aspects of human life history and cognition, such as our long childhoods and extensive use of teaching, theoretically evolved to facilitate the acquisition of complex tasks. The present paper empirically examines the relationship between subsistence task difficulty and age of acquisition, rates of teaching, and rates of oblique transmission among Hadza and BaYaka foragers from Tanzania and the Republic of Congo. We further examine cross-cultural variation in how and from whom learning occurred. Learning patterns and community perceptions of task difficulty were assessed through interviews. We found no relationship between task difficulty, age of acquisition, and oblique transmission, and a weak but positive relationship between task difficulty and rates of teaching. While same-sex transmission was normative in both societies, tasks ranked as more difficult were more likely to be transmitted by men among the BaYaka, but not among the Hadza, potentially reflecting cross-cultural differences in the sexual division of subsistence and teaching labor. Further, the BaYaka were more likely to report learning via teaching, and less likely to report learning via observation, than the Hadza, possibly owing to differences in socialization practices.

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