Noble savage

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Noble savage is a phrase with several related meanings. In this article, it refers to the politically correct view that various non-European populations before the contact with the Europeans lived in less technologically advanced but peaceful and utopian societies, which were corrupted by the Europeans.


Warfare and violence

The 1996 book War Before Civilization described the existence of extensive warfare and violence in pre-civilization societies. Warfare in such societies likely caused a risk of death due to combat that was far higher than in civilized European countries. Furthermore, it was not uncommon for tribes and sub-tribes to become extinct due to warfare.[1]

The book argued that the warfare was cruel, with captives killed on the spot or tortured, and with mutilation and trophy-taking common. Amerindian scalping had a double purpose: the mutilation would cause harm to the defeated enemy in the after-life, and battle trophies were proof of work well done.[1]

Cannibalism has been documented for Maoris and for some Amerindians, Australoids, and Africans. There is also clear archaeological evidence for prehistoric cannibalism.[1]

The victors commonly burned or sacked anything they could not carry away.[1]

The book argues that in the United States during the nineteenth century, positive views of Amerindians as noble savages were directly proportional to one’s geographic distance from them.[1]

The book found only a few examples of groups that did not make war. Invariably, these were small bands of nomads who lived in very difficult country, far from others. They had very few possessions, and preferred to flee rather than to fight. However, even these societies were not non-violent, with violence taking place within the groups.[1]

See also Amerindians: Historical Amerindian warfare and violence.


Very high rates of infanticide have been stated for prehistoric and hunger-gatherer groups, with some estimates stating up to half of infants being killed.[2][3][4]

Boasian anthropology

"Noble savage" views have been spread by Boasian anthropology, as discussed in the article on this topic.

Chagnon controvery

See the article on the American Anthropological Association on the Chagnon controvery, which is related to less politically correct views on violence among the Amerindian Yanomamö.

Racial differences regarding evolutionary adaptations to more complex societies

See Racial differences regarding evolutionary adaptations to more complex societies.

Social anarchism

"Noble savage" views have been popular in social anarchism. There is even a social anarchist variant called "anarcho-primitivism" which advocates an abandonment of civilization.

Slavery and colonialism

"Noble savage" views may be associated with the false belief that it was Europeans who invented slavery. See the article on this topic.

Western Colonialism may similarly be viewed as having caused many problems. See the article on this topic.

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Ignoble Savages
  2. Harris, Marvin (1977). Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Cultures. NY: Random House.
  3. dsell, Joseph, B. (1986), Some predictions for the Pleistocene based on equilibrium systems among recent hunter gatherers, in Lee, Richard & Irven DeVore, Man the Hunter, Aldine Publishing Co., at 239.
  4. Hoffer, Peter; N.E.H. Hull (1981). Murdering Mothers: Infanticide in England and America, 1558-1803. NY: New York University Press, 3.
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