Saturday, October 26, 2013

The cagots


 
Holy water font reserved for cagots, church in Saint-Savin, France (source). Why were the cagots segregated?
 

The cagots were a caste of people who used to live on both sides of the Pyrenees in southwestern France and northern Spain. Notwithstanding speculation to the contrary, it is unlikely that they have a single ethnic origin, since their physical appearance is quite variable. Some are tall and fair-skinned; others, short and olive-skinned.

The cagots are usually said to be descended from lepers, this also being the reason given for shunning them. In the oldest historical references, however, they are called crestians, chrestiaàs, or christianus, an indication that they initially were New Christians, i.e., former Muslims or heretics (Arians, Cathars) who had been christened as adults. The term cagot itself is attested in French as meaning “bigot” or “hypocrite”, i.e., someone who talks excessively about God but is ultimately wrong in his religious beliefs. Furthermore, in a petition to the pope in 1514, a community of cagots mentioned that people said they were of Cathar origin (Wikipédia, 2013).

Both explanations may be partly right. Southwestern France went through profound social and economic change in the 12th to 13th centuries (Guerreau and Guy, 1988; see also Cursente, 1998). Previously, rural life was loosely structured and semi-sedentary, being characterized by subsistence farming and pastoralism, relatively equal access to communal land, and equitable land inheritance. This mode of living changed with the shift to a more feudal society, i.e., intensification of food production, creation of villages, restriction of access to land ownership, and introduction of primogeniture. Since the number of private plots was limited, many people became excluded altogether from farming. Such people tended to be those who were already marginal, like New Christians and lepers, or those who could not settle down on a single plot of land, either because they were younger sons with no inheritance or because they were psychologically unsuited for the monotony of sedentary farm life. Over time, these excluded people became a segregated underclass.

The cagots were segregated socially and spatially in various ways. They had to sit in a separate part of the local church and enter by a separate door. They typically lived in their own quarter on the outskirts of town. They were buried in a separate section of the local cemetery, if not in a separate cemetery. Intermarriage with them was rare and highly stigmatized. There may also have been occupational segregation at one time (Wikipédia, 2013).

Although the academic literature describes these forms of segregation at great length, surprisingly little has been written about behavioral differences between cagots and non-cagots. This is partly because many academics choose to leave out information that would put the cagots in a bad light. The main reason, however, is the reluctance of local people, particularly non-cagots, to discuss this issue:

In Lescun, our first questions on the phenomenon produced hesitations and sudden silences from the former mayor, who had been so talkative on other topics. Long hesitations interrupted the flow of the conversation, which then picked up again on generalities and off-topic points. Embarrassment and evasiveness were systematically encountered during interviews on the subject, and it was often only by roundabout ways that we would get information. (Jolly, 2000, p. 206)

Among the many academics who have written about the cagots, Geneviève Jolly seems to be the only one who has broached the issue of behavioral differences:

Occupations

It is often stated that the cagots were confined to certain occupations. Clearly, they did originate among the landless, and there are records of individuals being forbidden to take up farming and livestock raising. On the other hand, some cagots were tenant farmers and even landowning farmers as far back as the 14th century (Jolly, 2000, pp. 199-200). The first census records (19th century) show overrepresentation in some occupations and underrepresentation in others. According to the 1840 census of the village of Lescun, most residents of the cagot quarter were day laborers (60%), followed by craftsmen (18%), farmers and farmworkers (8%), and shepherds (5%). In the rest of the village, most residents were farmers and farmworkers (55%), followed by shepherds (16%), day laborers (10%), and craftsmen (7%) (Jolly, 2000, p. 211).

Alcohol use

The following comment is reported from a Lescun resident about the laborers he had once known in the cagot quarter:

They would drink lots of wine. If there was no longer any, they would no longer work. But they didn’t do much work that way. All of those laborers died before reaching the age of retirement. (Jolly, 2000, p. 208)

House design

Non-cagot houses, no matter how modest, were symmetrical with evenly spaced windows. Cagot houses were very irregular in appearance, even though a disproportionate number of cagots were craftsmen (Jolly, 2000, pp. 210-211).

Marriage

Because of the rule of primogeniture among non-cagots, only the eldest son could inherit the family home and plot of land. Younger sons would often remain single and take care of older household members. The sole way for a younger son to get his own land would be to marry into a family that only had daughters. In that case, however, he would lose his ostaus—his family name:

Not only will he theoretically not inherit any land, but he will not even be able to pass on his name to any children he may have. As a son-in-law, he will take the name of the home he marries into, and if he creates a new home, a new name will be given to him. (Jolly, 2000, p. 215)

None of these restrictions applied to cagots, who encouraged all of their children to marry and have families of their own.

Geographic mobility

Cagots moved around much more than did non-cagots. Most of them were not bound to a plot of land, and they usually had to seek marriage partners outside their local community:

The cagots seemed to be not tied economically and socially to one community, as were the landowners whose entire strategy rested on defending the integrity of a privately owned collective inheritance. Their [the cagots’] area of concern went beyond the framework of the community, as shown by their geographical movements, the larger areas covered by their mate-seeking, and their associations for defense of their interests. (Jolly, 2000, p. 218)

Conclusion

These differences in behavior clearly arose from different conditions of life. Nonetheless, conditions of life can favor certain personality traits within a population to the detriment of others, particularly traits that involve restraint, time orientation, and monotony avoidance. People with the right behavioral mix will survive longer and reproduce more than those who don’t. Thus, with each generation, certain latent abilities and predispositions will spread at the expense of others. This is the logic of gene-culture co-evolution.

If, for instance, a younger son in a non-cagot family could not tolerate staying celibate until a bride with a plot of land became available, he would marry a girl with no land. With few means to support a family, his psychological traits would be flushed out of the gene pool. There was thus strong selection for sexual restraint and future time orientation. Attachment to a single plot of land also selected for individuals with less monotony avoidance. Such selection would have been much weaker in the cagot community. 

This point bears repeating. The non-cagots were the ones who became more and more different over time. The cagots remained the same. In short, the cagots preserved a behavioral and psychological profile that was normal for everyone until land inheritance became strictly rationed from the 12th to 13th centuries onward. Such a scenario runs counter to the discrimination paradigm, which holds that the excluded group is the one that becomes more and more deviant.


References 

Cursente, B. (1998). La question des “cagots” du Béarn. Proposition d’une nouvelle piste de recherche, Les Cahiers du Centre de Recherches Historiques, 21
http://ccrh.revues.org/2521

Guerreau, A. and Y. Guy. (1988). Les Cagots du Béarn. Recherches sur le développement inégal au sein du système féodal européen, Minerve: Paris.

Jolly, G. (2000). Les cagots des Pyrénées : une ségrégation attestée, une mobilité mal connue, Le Monde alpin et rhodanien, 28, 197-222. 

Wikipédia (2013). Cagots
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cagots

20 comments:

Glossy said...

Younger sons would often remain single and take care of older household members.

Or they went to one of Spain's or France's American colonies.

Fascinating post, by the way.

Glossy said...

The Wikipedia states that the Cagots existed in western France, from Brittany to the Pyrenees, and in northern Spain. One of Europe's edges plus a mountain range. Those could have served as refuge areas for disappearing, archaic peoples. The Basques and Celts retained their languages, but for some reason these guys didn't. The fact that they show up in the written record around 1000 AD doesn't necessarily mean that they're that modern. Little is known about the Dark Ages, hence the name.

Or your theory could be true, or it could have been something else. I wish someone did a DNA study. There appear to be old Cagot cemeteries.

Sean said...

According to Turchin in War and Peace And War', "peasants could move into the nobility as long as they were willing to take the long view". He says there was overproduction of the elite before the Black Death, and the lower classes were squeezed - "'Ye nobles are like ravening wolves'"

After the Black death the shortage of labour meant labour just moved where the best pay was. The wages of labourers and craftsmen in France more than doubled. So the life of a cagot (being handsomely paid, drinking, and marrying who he liked) was not a bad one in some eras. Moreover the population of France stagnated and declined after the Black Death. I wonder if the cagots did not have more means to support a family than those free peasants with land, who were locked into a lifestyle that may have not have been the best one available. Maybe there were hundreds of years when the cagots increased in number relative to the free peasants with land.

"Sexual restraint and future time orientation". The upper middle class people I know don't seem to have all that strong a sex drive to restrain. "Time orientation" suggests conscious calculation, then choosing the best alternative. But I suspect it's more instinctive than that.

JayMan said...

"Because of the rule of primogeniture among non-cagots, only the eldest son could inherit the family home and plot of land. Younger sons would often remain single and take care of older household members. The sole way for a younger son to get his own land would be to marry into a family that only had daughters. In that case, however, he would lose his ostaus—his family name:
Not only will he theoretically not inherit any land, but he will not even be able to pass on his name to any children he may have. As a son-in-law, he will take the name of the home he marries into, and if he creates a new home, a new name will be given to him. (Jolly, 2000, p. 215)"


Interestingly, according to Emmanuel Todd, the area straddling the French-Spanish border was an area of unequal inheritance (stem families) in between two areas where strict equal inheritance was customary. I wonder if that has anything to do with the Cagots being in that area?

Sean said...

There would be no incentive for younger sons to help on the farm if they knew they were not going to inherit it.

Anonymous said...

There would be no incentive for younger sons to help on the farm if they knew they were not going to inherit it.

Why not? A successful family farm could be a source capital for the younger sons when they had to venture out later on.

Bones and Behaviours said...

The problem with explaining Cagot origins by the rise of feudalism in France and the contemporaneous shift in land use, is that other European countries underwent similar social changes but had no cagot-like pariah caste.

They're just unique to the Atlantic fringe of the continent, and the area they inhabited includes upland areas that, to the best of my knowledge, were unaffected by such a shift in land use.

Anonymous said...

Extra sons wouldn't pay off for landholding peasants under primogeniture, so I have to wonder about the birthrate among prudent peasant landowners.

Sean said...

(cont.) As the selection for behavioural prudence (including in respect of reproduction) is not on the excluded group, and they lack incentive to restrict birthrate, is that why such groups sustain themselves or become more numerous relative to the excluding group, instead of dying out.

Peter Fros_ said...

Glossy,

Yes, colonialism helped resolve this problem by providing younger sons with a place where they could marry and have children of their own.

There still are people who claim to be of wholly cagot parentage. It should be possible to do a DNA study but nothing has been attempted so far. There are two problems:

1. A large number of cagots (living or dead) would have to be sampled, since the cagot population itself seems to have been heterogeneous. And the genetic differences are likely to be statistical.

2. The non-cagot population would likewise have to be sampled (to provide a point of reference).

Sean,

According to Jolly, there was a cagot population boom in the 16th century, apparently because the cagots encouraged all of their children to start families of their own.

In some countries, notably Ireland, it used to be common for some of the younger children to remain single and help out older family members. Kin selection?

Jayman,

Yes, I think you've put your finger on a key factor. Primogeniture was not universal in France prior to the French revolution. It may have arisen in the Pyrenees as a way to preserve caste status, i.e., in order to prevent pauperization and cagotization of a family's descendants.

Bones and Behavior

I suspect the sequence of events was as follows:

1. The Pyrenees became a refuge area for people fleeing the consolidation of Catholic Christianity in Western Europe (i.e., Muslims, Arians and, later, Cathars). In this respect, the Pyrenees may have been analogous to the mountains of Lebanon in the Middle East.

2. In time, Catholicism was imposed throughout the Pyrenees. Non-Catholics became New Christians who could not easily assimilate because they were too numerous and, often, too superficial in their Catholicism. They thus came to form a rural underclass that gradually absorbed other downwardly mobile individuals.

3. The process of "medieval encellulement" was much more radical in the Pyrenees because of this pre-existing class difference. Primogeniture, preservation of family estates, and delineation of class lines were used as ways to maintain and accentuate the difference between non-cagots and cagots.

Sean said...

Peter, I dunno. From what I have read, in Ireland at one time the oldest son could not rely on inheriting; the parents could pass him over, whereby helping on the parents farm was tied up with sons (with an eye to inheriting the farm) trying to please the parents, and the less favored sons, well--see here.

Inheritance issues rather than genetic kin selection explains families actual behaviour-- they were often doing things that don't make much sense for genetic kin selection, see here.

The French scenario is a little inefficient for delivering genetic improvement, and, for the parents, getting a good amount of work out their sons. A first born son has a non-genetic biological advantage (birth order) that has nothing to do with his genes, and he gets the farm come what may. The younger son is working for nothing while he stays on the family farm. (Moreover, by my way of thinking, it's uncertain the young son is going to get a farm through marrying--a woman who comes with a farm, would be much sought after and she'd be taking her pick).

Avery said...

A younger son will help with the farm if he has no better means of feeding himself. Which was probably often the case.

Sean said...

Riiight. And is that kin selection if it's in the individual's self interest? Inclusive fitness and kin selection has got out of hand among HBD bloggers. Nineteenth century anthropology attributed all the backwardness of the prototype primitive peoples (ie those in the fringes of the British Isles) to alleged rampant inbreeding in remote villages. I think those estimates should be treated with caution. Martin Nowak says IF doesn't really explain ants. If you look at the Highland clansmans' decisions in life or death matters the most important factor in their allegiance was not one-sided relatedness considerations, it was what benefits they were receiving. The chief played the game by giving his clansman relatives sinecures that conferred generous emoluments, , in return the clansmen would risk their lives for the chief.

In Peter's French scenario; for the eldest son who was going to inherit it was reciprocal as he helped on the farm until he inherited. For a second or third son they were wasting their time. Morover, on small peasant farms there probably would not be enough work for the father and two or three sons so they would not be paying their way ever. Small farm owners would have restricted their birthrate.

Peter Fros_ said...

Sean,

The selection pressure for increased future time orientation and decreased monotony avoidance would apply to all cagots, and not just the younger sons.

Keep in mind that primogeniture simply keeps the family farm intact. It's not a free lunch for the oldest son. If he can't devote his attention to running the farm, he will have to hand it over to another family member or sell it off. In other cases, he will die an untimely death and the estate will pass to the next brother in line.

Sean said...

Now I come to think of it the only person I know from a farming family is a younger son who became an architect, and he has a very methodical and stoic personalty.

Anonymous said...

If, for instance, a younger son in a non-cagot family could not tolerate staying celibate until a bride with a plot of land became available, he would marry a girl with no land. With few means to support a family, his psychological traits would be flushed out of the gene pool.

Or, having sunk to the bottom of the social ladder, he or his descendants might assimilate into the cagot class, having nowhere else to go.

Either way, the genes for "failure" got weeded out in the mainstream population -- but in my scenario, they would not just be preserved, but CONCENTRATED in the cagot.

Sean said...

The font of public policy is for the the pacified upper middle class, while the numerical majority are excluded as 'bigots'. We have met the cagots and they is us.

Simon in London said...

Sean:
"The font of public policy is for the the pacified upper middle class, while the numerical majority are excluded as 'bigots'. We have met the cagots and they is us."

Hmm... belief in the hegemonic cultural Marxist dialectic does seem most prevalent in the most pacified populations, those most descended from Norse Germanics - Yankees and Midwesterners, middle class southern English, north Germans, and Swedes. Someone should research this link.

Sean said...

Anorexia is vastly more prevalent in middle class girls. Those people are hard-wired to do the harder thing. By my way of thinking that goes a long way to explaining why anti-bourgeois ideologies enthrall the intelligentsia.

Le Blue Dude said...

Sean:
I find your statements confusing, could you please clarify?