The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 BlogviewPeter Frost Archive
The Parsis
🔊 Listen RSS
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New ReplyRead More
ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
AgreeDisagreeLOLTroll
These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Troll, or LOL with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used once per hour.
Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
Search Text Case Sensitive  Exact Words  Include Comments
List of Bookmarks

A Parsi woman in traditional costume, painted by Raja Ravi Varma (source)

The Parsis are renowned for achievement in many areas of life—trade, education, philanthropy, and popular culture. Yet they number only about 100,000 in the entire world (Wikipedia, 2013). What qualities made them so successful? The most often-cited ones are their thrift, foresight, skillfulness, and sense of initiative. The Wikipedia entry notes:

While the British saw the other Indians, “as passive, ignorant, irrational, outwardly submissive but inwardly guileful” (Luhrmann 1994, p. 333), the Parsis were seen to have the traits that the colonial authorities tended to ascribe to themselves. Mandelslo (1638) saw them as “diligent”, “conscientious” and “skillful” in their mercantile pursuits.

But why do they have these qualities? Before the British arrived in the early 17th century, the Parsis were living in farming communities in western India, apparently like many other Indians. Centuries earlier they may have been merchants and traders, but by the time the British came there was little in the cultural environment to support a mercantile lifestyle, at least no more than for other Indians in similar communities.

Did these qualities become embedded through gene-culture evolution? This possibility is evoked, in passing, by anthropologists Greg Cochran, John Hardy, and Henry Harpending while discussing the intellectual performance of Ashkenazi Jews:

Since strong selection for IQ seems to be unusual in humans (few populations have had most members performing high-complexity jobs) and since near-total reproductive isolation is also unusual, the Ashkenazim may be the only extant human population with polymorphic frequencies of IQ-boosting disease mutations, although another place to look for a similar phenomenon is in India. In particular, the Parsi are an endogamous group with high levels of economic achievement, a history of long-distance trading, business and management, and who suffer high prevalences of Parkinson disease, breast cancer and tremor disorders, diseases not present in their neighbours. (Cochran et al., 2006)

Parsi-specific neurologic diseases are listed in a screening study:

We designed a questionnaire to rapidly screen a community of 851 people (Parsis living in a colony in Bombay, India) for possible neurologic diseases. […] One hundred and sixty-three people were identified by this questionnaire as possibly having neurologic disease. Neurologists later examined these 163 people and found that 80 of them actually suffered from at least one of the neurologic diseases of interest (positive predictive value = 48 percent). The most common neurologic disorders were peripheral neuropathy (32 cases), essential tremor (13 cases), stroke (12 cases), Parkinson’s disease (six cases), and epilepsy (four cases). (Bharucha et al., 1987)

Although some of these genetic diseases, especially Parkinson’s, greatly reduce life expectancy, mean longevity is actually higher among the Parsis than in most human populations (Ravindran, 2011).
Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending explain the presence of these diseases as a side effect of strong natural selection over a relatively short time scale. Selection was for “rough-and-ready” solutions that came with a cost. Over a longer time scale, and with continuing selection, these bugs would have eventually been ironed out.
The conventional explanation attributes these diseases to a founder effect, i.e., the Parsis are descended from a small group of individuals and are thus more likely to diverge, genetically, from other humans. In short, the smaller the founder group, the less it will genetically represent the source population, and the higher will be the incidence of certain genetic diseases. By way of illustration, if you pick five Smarties from a box of Smarties, they’re much less likely to be a representative cross-section than if you empty out half the box.

But are the Parsis descended from a small founder group? According to tradition, their ancestors fled from Persia to western India when Muslim Arabs invaded their native land in the 7th century. Once settled in India, they had no further contacts with their fellow Persians for several centuries. Meanwhile, they married only amongst themselves and avoided intermarriage with the local Indians.

This narrative is incorrect, however, on two points. Although the Parsis have been endogamous for some time, there was at first intermarriage with the local population, essentially between Persian men and Gujarati women. Y-chromosome and mtDNA studies indicate that paternal lineages are largely Persian and maternal lineages largely Gujarati (Qamar et al., 2002; Quintana-Murci et al., 2004).

It’s also questionable whether the Parsis are descended from a single wave of refugees. The Persians ruled Sindh in western India for several centuries before the Islamic conquest, and their traders had probably already become established in ports along India’s west coast. This initial community may have later taken in waves of refugees fleeing the Islamic conquest of Persia (Wikipedia, 2013).

The historical record is clearer when the British arrived in the early 17th century. At that time, the Parsis were living in farming communities across Gujarat, and it was only then that many moved to Bombay to seek opportunities for trade and work with the British East India Company. Their economic ascension was rapid. While in 1700, “fewer than a handful of individuals appear as merchants in any records; by mid-century, Parsis engaged in commerce constituted one of the important commercial groups in Bombay” (White 1991, p. 312).

It’s possible that the Parsis had been merchants several centuries earlier. They may have then been stripped of their mercantile livelihood as punishment for supporting local Hindu rulers when the Muslims overran western India in the 11th to 13th centuries:

For years and years, the Parsis lived in perfect peace and harmony; they increased in number and dispersed in small knots over the whole of Guzarat [Gujarat]. The Mohammedan conquest at first did them harm. They had sided with the Rana against the Sultan of Ahmedabad; after the storming of Sanjan , they had much to suffer from their new rulers, and the Sacred Fire was moved from place to place. (Menant, 1901, p.134)

At present, we simply don’t know enough about Parsi history to understand what social and psychological characteristics may have been favored during the long centuries between the arrival of this community in India and its encounter with the British from the 17th century onward. We might be able to reconstruct this history from genetic data. Indeed, a “Parsi Genome Project” was launched with much fanfare a few years ago, but it now seems to be stalled for lack of funds (Phadnis, 2012).
Whatever eventually happens, such research may become a race against time. You see, the Parsis are dying out. They have long had high rates of late marriage and non-marriage, and both trends have worsened in recent decades. By 1980-82, their total fertility rate was already down to 1.12, i.e., half the replacement rate. By 2000, it was 0.94. The latest data, from 2001-2006, indicate a total fertility rate of 0.88 (Patel, 2011).

That’s even lower than Japan’s fertility rate. And, unlike Japan, the Parsi community cannot afford to lose a few million people. A recent Parsi novel, Family Matters, highlights the growing sense of foreboding:

“Demographics show we’ll be extinct in fifty years. Maybe it’s the best thing. What’s the use of having spineless weaklings walking around, Parsi in name only.”

[…] Extinct, like dinosaurs. They’ll have to study our bones, that’s all.

[..] “If, if, if,” said Dr. Fitter. “If we are meant to die out, nothing will save us.”“Yes,” said Inspector Masalavala. “But it will be a loss to the whole world. When a culture vanishes, humanity is the loser.” (Mistry, 2002, pp. 46, 385, 388)

And when a people vanishes, the loss is even greater. A culture can at least be preserved in books, videos, and the like.

References

Bharucha, N.E., E.P. Bharucha, H.D. Dastur, and B.S. Schoenberg. (1987). Pilot survey of the prevalence of neurologic disorders in the Parsi community of Bombay, Am. J. Prev. Med., 3, 293-299.

Cochran, G., J. Hardy, and H. Harpending. (2006). Natural history of Ashkenazi intelligence, Journal of Biosocial Science, 38, 659-693

Menant, D. (1901). Zoroastrianism and the Parsis, The North American Review, 172, 132-147.http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/25105117

Mistry, R. (2002). Family Matters. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.

Patel, D. (2011). Understanding Parsi population decline in India: A historical perspective, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre, Mumbai.http://zoroastriansnet.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/2011-05-understanding-parsi-population-decline-in-india-nehru-centre.pdf

Phadnis, S. (2012). Avesthagen in a freeze as funds dry up, May 29, The Times of India, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-05-29/india-business/31886941_1_villoo-morawala-patell-salary-avesta-good-earth/2

Qamar, R., Ayub, Q., Mohyuddin, A., Helgason, A., Mazhar, K., Mansoor, A., Zerjal, T., Tyler-Smith, C. et al. (2002). Y-chromosomal DNA variation in Pakistan, American Journal of Human Genetics, 70, 1107–1124.

Quintana-Murci, L., Chaix, R., Wells, R., Spencer, B., Doron M., Sayar, H., Scozzari, R., Rengo, C., Al-Zahery, N. et al. (2004). Where West Meets East: The Complex mtDNA Landscape of the Southwest and Central Asian Corridor, American Journal of Human Genetics, 74, 827–845.

Ravindran, N. (2011). The art of longevity, April 5, India Todayhttp://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/reasons-why-parsis-live-longer-than-indians/1/134703.html

White, D. (1991). From Crisis to Community Definition:The Dynamics of Eighteenth-Century Parsi Philanthropy, Modern Asian Studies, 25, 303–320
Wikipedia. (2013). Parsi http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsi

(Republished from Evo and Proud by permission of author or representative)
 
Hide 22 CommentsLeave a Comment
22 Comments to "The Parsis"
Commenters to Ignore...to FollowEndorsed Only
Trim Comments?
    []
  1. Dahlia says:

    Agnostic at Akinokure.blogspot.com had a couple of posts comparing the Parsis with the Jews (and Chinese).
    He called them the anti-Jews and anti-Chinese.
    I had read "World on Fire" by Amy Chua, and, being provincial (from the rural South and married young to someone even younger) and knowing only a few Jews personally, most of whom were Christian converts, I believed that anti-Semitism was groundless and inspired by jealousy.

    What Agnostic had to say presented a huge paradigm shift to my thinking and I tend to believe him, but I'm not all the way there, yet. I guess I can believe that peoples can vary in sociopathy/empathy, but how bad can a people be?

    It is tangentially related to the discussion there, and may provide some insight. This is part of his introduction:

    **They also came to their high status gradually through greater intelligence and industriousness, not through force. And they have been living in their host society for hundreds of years — plenty of time for the seeds of envy and rioting to have been sown.

    And yet, there has been no history of pogroms against the Parsis. If anything, they're seen as more of a national treasure, not that Indians worship them or anything. All the ingredients for an explosion of ethnic hatred and rioting would seem to have been present for centuries, so what gives?

    The general consensus by native Indians and by European observers, for at least the last several hundred years, is that the Parsis are incredibly charitable, preferring to spread around their wealth. (See some representative quotes in their Wikipedia entry.) They themselves emphasize this aspect of their community in the phrase "Parsi, thy name is charity."**

    http://akinokure.blogspot.com/2012/04/why-are-parsi-elites-welcomed-while.html

    http://akinokure.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-scandal-free-parsis-as-anti-jews.html

  2. JayMan says: • Website

    Well, in my latest blog post, I said that "it’s not like low fertility rates are, in and of themselves, any cause for alarm." I should have added "unless you're the Parsis"… ;)

  3. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The Parsis were fortunate that they avoided characterization as sinister by their host country's majority religion. That same good fortune did not extend to European or Middle Eastern Jews, who were accused of murdering Jesus and resisting Mohammed in the Christian and Muslim holy books. The Parsis also benefit from being few in number. The host populations have no reason to worry that they will be numerically overtaken by Parsis.

  4. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Bit of a shame.

  5. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    That same good fortune did not extend to European … Jews

    Bear in mind that not all mercantile niches are equal.

    Medieval banksters with high interest rates, who are owned by act as de facto tax collectors for the king, are the same thing as other kind of merchants not necessarily.

    The traits needed to be Bernie Madoff are pretty different from the kind of traits that might be selected for by non-finance capitalism / mercantilism.

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Peter,

    Harpending and Cochran recently briefly sketched out the kind of selection pressure which would be needed to raise a population by an SD of IQ.

    It turns out that a survivor fraction of the 25% highest IQ in a society being allowed to breed would, with 0.8 heritability, give a population improvement in IQ of 1SD!

    http://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/against-biology/#comment-11355

    Now, one generation from 100 to 115 is of course a much higher rate of change than likely ever occured in the Ashkenazi Jewish population.

    Now, how would you offspring generation of the top 25% IQ survivors (assuming a gentile mean IQ of 100) would fare compared to Ashkenazi Jews (a population with approx IQ 115 ) in terms of neurological disease prevalence?

    Lower or higher?

    It would seem like you'd think it should be higher since "diseases (are) a side effect of strong natural selection over a relatively short time scale." and this is the shortest of all possible scales.

    However, if that is the case, would you also estimate the parent top 25% (who lets remember are just the top 25% of the gentile population) to have higher or lower prevalence of neurological disease than Ashkenazi Jews?

    If they have a lower prevalence, it seems hard to see how their children could have a higher prevalence…

  7. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    What is the average iq of the Parsis? Is there any study on this subject?
    According to Richard Lynn, according to a comprehensive study on American Jews, the average iq of them would be around 107.

  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The blogger Jason Malloy commented here that http://akinokure.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/why-are-parsi-elites-welcomed-while.html#c525745318442376188 -
    "I do actually have one Parsi IQ study from India. As is the case with other IQ studies within India, it does not reveal a high IQ subgroup.

    One possibility is that there are other important cognitive adaptations that lead to economic success besides general intelligence."

  9. Sean says:

    Maybe Parsis have a strategy like the one Kevin MacDonald has suggested the Jewish community uses: 'MANIPULATE their fertility in an adaptive manner relative to the social context by being able to track the investment patterns of the host society."

    Presumably Parsis would tracking somewhat below the birth-rate of urban upper class Indians to ensure Parsi children had higher investment. That could entail a very low birth-rate indeed. Places at Indian universities are reserved for certain groups, but not for Parsis.

  10. Anon says:

    However, if that is the case, would you also estimate the parent top 25% (who lets remember are just the top 25% of the gentile population) to have higher or lower prevalence of neurological disease than Ashkenazi Jews?

    If they have a lower prevalence, it seems hard to see how their children could have a higher prevalence…

    Have you considered pleotropy?

  11. ''The blogger Jason Malloy commented here that http://akinokure.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/why-are-parsi-elites-welcomed-while.html#c525745318442376188 -
    "I do actually have one Parsi IQ study from India. As is the case with other IQ studies within India, it does not reveal a high IQ subgroup.''

    But as would be the average?
    Yes, I've read this text, thanks for the reply.
    I've read that the average iq of them would be around 115-120. Honestly, I think a very high value and unlikely. I believe that there aren't people with IQ above 110. The smartest people in the world would have an average IQ around 105-110. If the average genotypic IQ of India would be around 90, I would suggest that the average IQ of the Indian elite would be around 100-105 (below the average iq of Western elites that would be above 110) while parsi also would present this average, maybe around 105.
    I also think that there is some specific genes in this region of the world that favors an increase in mathematical intelligence. It would be a remnant of the old intelligence that produced the ancient civilizations? Interesting that among Ashkenazi Jews beyond, Armenians, Greeks and Lebanese also exhibit financial elites.
    Perhaps the long history of civilizations can explain the maintenance of some mathematical intelligence, especially among the elites, after all, the Parsis were not an elite lived in Iran when pre Muslim rule, i think.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  12. Anonymous, one generation threshold selection (more typical or artificial selection) is quite a different thing to the multi-generation selection differentials that are expected to be at work. The neurological burden would be lower from one generation of threshold selection, as the exponential growth in allele frequency of a previously disadvantageous allele has not had time to operate. It is also likely to be the case that selection in a population with a small effective population size is more likely to throw up these sorts of conditions as some of them will already be at a higher frequency by chance.

  13. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Have you considered pleotropy?

    Not sure we're talking about pleiotropy, but I guess we're talking heterozygote advantage in the first generation being shed in the second – i.e. the first generation are heterozygotes for a particular allele, which advantages them for IQ, but not homozygotes because that's bad for their IQ / health, whereas in the second generation, because the alleles are combining a random way, there are more homozygotes for the allele, with the neurological disease.

    That's plausible.

    It is also likely to be the case that selection in a population with a small effective population size is more likely to throw up these sorts of conditions as some of them will already be at a higher frequency by chance.

    Lemniscate: This part of your comment sounds plausible, although Harpending and Cochran seemed skeptical that drift had any role to play at all in the neurological story (even small amounts of drift compounded by selection). I can't quite tell whether the first part of your comment is gibberish or not. It sounds like it.

  14. Might be gibberish; I was just running on intuition and not on calculation. Is it not the case that alleles with a heterozygote fitness advantage take multiple generations of natural selection to reach equilibrium frequency? One generation of threshold selection may not take the deleterious minor allele to this equilibrium frequency.

    One could argue that, even if an allele was at a very low frequency in an outbred population, it only takes a small selective advantage to give it a good chance of beginning its rise in frequency. However, allele frequency will rise faster under selection in an inbred population where the allele starts out at a higher frequency. The problems of the homozygotes will therefore become prevalent from fewer generations of selection.

  15. Dahlia,

    Like the Jews, the Parsis were victims of persecution — not by the Hindus, but by the Muslims (who ruled most of India until the British arrived). Fear of the Muslims may have made the Parsis feel more solidarity with the Hindu population.

    Jayman,

    The Parsis have very little manoeuvring room. They'll have to act fast if they wish to survive …

    Anon,

    It's my impression that the top 25% have more psychological problems of one sort or another. Many seem to be semi-autistic and others tend to obsess over minor things. The same could be said for the bottom 25%. This is incidentally why people have trouble believing that mean IQ is only 80 or so in sub-Saharan Africa. A mean IQ of 80 isn't at all the same thing when it comes from the centre of the bell curve.

    Parsi demographics are even worse than I had initially thought:

    "With 60 per cent of the population aged above 60, 800-900 deaths a year, and only 150-200 births, Mumbai’s Parsi population is rapidly declining."

    "In Mumbai about 40 per cent of Parsis have opted for inter-cast marriages, while 15 per cent of Parsi couples are divorced."

    http://www.business-standard.com/article/beyond-business/a-house-for-rohinton-112070700012_1.html

  16. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    ''Like the Jews, the Parsis were victims of persecution — not by the Hindus, but by the Muslims (who ruled most of India until the British arrived). Fear of the Muslims may have made the Parsis feel more solidarity with the Hindu population.''

    Peter Frost,
    the term victim may not be employed under the same prism for both historical contexts. The Jews have been'' victims'' of'' persecution'', according to his own actions in relation to the host societies.

  17. Hardly says:

    Dahlia: That seems a possible reason, but the vastly more likely reason is that indian society is fractured into hundreds of castes, some castes are naturally more wealthy and successful than the others. It is not common for a bunch of less fortunate castes to come together to persecute a successful caste. That is simply not how indian society has worked for millennia. The Jews perform just as much philanthropy in the US these days.
    Bania and Brahmin hindu castes are equally successful, far more numerous than parsis, and contribute next to nothing in charity. But no one has cared so far (at least before socialist ideas crept into the body politic).

  18. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Not related to this post, but an interesting result from a recent study with a very large sample size:

    " Preference for skin colour was even more sexually dimorphic, but the vast majority of women preferred fair skin whereas most men preferred olive skin – this sex difference is in the opposite direction to that expected from sexual selection accounts in which evolution of lighter skin is supposed to be driven primarily by men preferring lighter skinned women [2], [3]. This unexpected finding could reflect a population-specific perceived association between skin colour and race and/or social class; interestingly, there was a significant family environmental influence on women’s skin colour preference but no significant genetic influence on either men or women’s preference."

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0049294

  19. Anon,

    I'll comment on this study in a post. The main problem with it is the use of the term "olive skin" to describe darker shades of complexion. In the UK, the term "olive skin" is almost always used in an ethnic sense, i.e., to describe people of South Asian or Middle Eastern background. It would have been better to have used a more ethnic-neutral term like "tanned complexion".

    Basically, the study found that British women are more endogamous than British men.

  20. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    hardly
    "Bania and Brahmin hindu castes are equally successful, far more numerous than parsis, and contribute next to nothing in charity."

    I think you're missing the critical point which is the Parsis are/were a distinct ethnic group.

    The idea is a distinct ethnic minority who are/were particularly successful kept the peace using charity – a kind of Danegeld – which seems plausible on the face of it.

  21. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    What qualities made them so successful? The most often-cited ones are their thrift, foresight, skillfulness, and sense of initiative. The Wikipedia entry notes:

    While the British saw the other Indians, "as passive, ignorant, irrational, outwardly submissive but inwardly guileful" (Luhrmann 1994, p. 333), the Parsis were seen to have the traits that the colonial authorities tended to ascribe to themselves. Mandelslo (1638) saw them as "diligent", "conscientious" and "skillful" in their mercantile pursuits.

    But why do they have these qualities?
    __________________

    None of this is fact, it is just how the British "saw them" and chose to write India's history.

    Anyway, I'm a non-Parsee Indian with a Parsee Indian partner. The reason they are "dying out" is because they do not accept non-Parsee men into their community via marriage and/or breeding. So all the Parsee chicks dating us non-Parsee men, well, their kids are not considered Parsee.

    I think that will change though when they get down to like a mere 25,000 Parsees.

    "And yet, there has been no history of pogroms against the Parsis. If anything, they're seen as more of a national treasure, not that Indians worship them or anything. All the ingredients for an explosion of ethnic hatred and rioting would seem to have been present for centuries, so what gives?"

    What gives is… Hindu Culture.

    We accept with open arms any and everyone as long as they do not harm us. The Parsees never sought to change or convert us. They never smashed our temples and religious iconography in a fit of sociopathic monotheism.

    They lives beside us in mutual respect for each others' cultural and religious ways, and communal harmony.

    "The Parsis were fortunate that they avoided characterization as sinister by their host country's majority religion. That same good fortune did not extend to European or Middle Eastern Jews, who were accused of murdering Jesus and resisting Mohammed in the Christian and Muslim holy books."

    Hey! Jews (like Parsees and Tibetans and many others) have taken shelter of India and did not experience any persecution.

    Why? What gives?

    Again, Hindu Civilization respects other religions and ways of life as long as they respect us.

    We've long had a community of Indian Jews. Google "History of Cochin Jews" to find out more. Since the formation of Israel, most of them migrated there, but we still have some in the South. And of course now we get A LOT of Israeli tourists.

  22. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Autor Desconhecido

    Western elite 110 and Indian elite 105 are you an idiot? Why do you think that europeans are always better some kind of white propaganda eh? do you know that an Indian girl was found with more iq than Einstein and hawking go search on Google we have same kind of iq get it?

Current Commenter
says:

Leave a Reply - Comments on articles more than two weeks old will be judged much more strictly on quality and tone


 Remember My InformationWhy?
 Email Replies to my Comment
Submitted comments become the property of The Unz Review and may be republished elsewhere at the sole discretion of the latter
Subscribe to This Comment Thread via RSS Subscribe to All Peter Frost Comments via RSS