Today barely 30,000 of the world's population live by hunting and gathering, that's just 0. 003% of the world's population, and are decreasing in numbers, they represent not only our social origins but also account for a huge diversity of different cultural forms. Hunter-gatherer societies typically live in small bands, camps or tribes. The main characteristics of hunter-gatherer societies are illustrated by the name 'hunter-gatherer' which means that they exploit non-domestic food resources. They collect food, either by hunting game or gathering various plant foods, from their immediate environment.
They survive by hunting or gathering only what they can consume at any one time. This reduces the problems associated with the transportation and storage of the produce that they accumulate. This way of life leads to these societies leading, mostly nomadic lives, so as to avoid exhausting the supplies in heir surrounding environments. They also travel to follow the seasons so that there will be an abundance of supplies for them to hunter or gather. These are the main characteristics that are incorporated into these societies but there are also other, more complex features that set these societies apart from the Western World.
One of these is that these societies have no set role of specialisation. The main labour divisions in these societies are made along the lines of age and gender. The age division dictates that the healthy and capable members of the society hunt and gather for the very old and the very young members along with the sick. The gender division dictates that men are the hunters who will go out and hunt game, while the women's' jobs are the gather fruit and vegetables from their surroundings. Some people may see this way of life as hard an difficult to live by, But, as shown by Marshall Sahlins, these societies gather for themselves.
This means that once they have gathered enough for their own consumption, they are free to relax and socialise amongst each other in the society. Hunters and gatherers have by force of circumstance and objectively low standard of living. But taken as their objective, and given their adequate means of production, all the people's material wants usually can easily be satisfied. (Sahlins, 1974) Sahlin makes an interesting discovery, that if all that people want is food, and they can accumulate this in abundance, then they have all they want.
They have not been corrupted by the addictive and competitive traps of modern ideas, such as property ownership and capitalism. He also goes on to explain why these societies are not examples of people living in poverty. The world's most primitive people have few possessions, but they are not poor. Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such it is an invention of civilization. (Sahlins, 1974)
The Kwakiutl, Tlingit and Haida tribes, in North America, are exceptions to one of the main characteristics of hunter-gatherer societies. This is due to the fact that, for part of the year, they are settled during part of the year, during which they rely heavily on fishing for a substantial part of their diet. Hunting also plays a very important part, for the rest of the year, so they have slight differences to the stereotype of hunter-gatherer societies. Where these societies, due to them settling for part of the year, own property and are able to store some of the food that they collect.
Other societies live very tough and difficult lives depending on the surrounding environment and climate. Focusing on hunter-gatherer societies, and the topic of the most popular belief that these societies are struggling to find enough to eat, it has been found that the environment in which they live accommodates a huge variety of very nutritious foods, even allowing a daily intake of 2000 calories. This would take an adult working day of three to five hours to collect prepare and eat, one collectors basket will feed one and half consumers.
This type of food gathering can also encourage idleness, for example the Mbuti tribe spend some of their time foraging in forests just outside modern villages, the women would carry household possessions and the meat for the day in baskets, whilst the men would carry their hunting bows, arrows, nets and spears. Relating to idleness the women would take advantage of their heavy loads and walk slowly, looking on the ground for any type of food, for example mushrooms, fruits, nuts etc; the men with their lighter loads would then hunt for small game and birds.
The Mbuti tribe are forest dwellers and from the forest come all they need, for example food, clothing, shelter ad ways and means to make their 'hunting kit'. in times of desperation, for example when illness occurs, a decision was taken by the tribe to 'awaken the forest' through a ritual named molimo with its music. The way in which the tribe are demonstrating egalitarian roles will be through the rituals. The molimo is a night time ritual undertaken mainly by men, but, the women do also play a leading role and children also participate.
Drawing to the subject of initiation rights, among African tribes such as the Masai of Kenya and the Ndembu of Zambia, young men are turned out into the 'bush' to fend for themselves (and for even more confusion are considered dead). Physical processes take place when the young men are out fending for themselves, for Example the Masai allow their hair to grow long but is shaved when they return alive, their heads are then painted with 'shining ochre' to mark their rebirth into society. The Ndembu have rituals for when the girl's reach puberty or when their breasts begin to form.
They are confined to the camp area and wrapped in a blanket under a tree where the girl must lay motionless for the whole day, as this does happen in the hot country of Zambia it can be uncomfortable, even so the other tribe members perform rituals around her. Other tribes also follow these kinds of tribulations, which may even consist of mutilations of the body, for example following sexual maturity in some tribes circumcision to both male and female genitals may occur. In other tribes, incisions in the face will leave permanent scarring so that they can be recognised as being part of a certain tribe.
Undergoing practises such as these are compulsory and determination in not doing so may lead to being disowned or even killed. The reasoning for these initiation practices is meant to demonstrate the readiness of child to enter the adult world to illustrate their status. Showing the divide in the male to females in certain tribes, education is involved also in the initiation period. The boy's may be taken into the 'men's hut' to be shown ritual objects or taught tribal law, which must be kept secret from the women and girls.
The girls are not left out though, they may be taught certain obscure elements of female life, in which the boys and men may take no part in. In many societies, the transitioning young are considered as immune to social sanctions and therefore my engage in all sorts of outrageous, anti-social behaviour. Some tribes have special huts in which the youths can experiment with adult activities. Therefore there is a division between genders but it also works out to be equal due to the fact that they are separated and taught different aspects of tribal adult life.
The hunter-gatherer societies are part of a group that is known as 'pre-modern societies'. There are two other forms of how communities live outside modern ideas and they have normally been categorized, by anthropologists, according to the ways in which food is produced. These other two forms are called 'Pastoralists' and 'Agriculturalists'. Agriculturalists turned to the development of agriculture and horticulture preferring a more sedentary life-style, and a long-term investment in the land. This, in turn, could support a larger population.
Anthropologists have argued that this would lead to a greater division of labour and that specialisation would become feasible, along with the fact that a complex political system could be sustained. This in turn would free up people from the needs of survival to rule, fight, judge etc. This would lead to people living in different social groups and, therefore, directly lead to a society running on non-egalitarian ideas. The pastoral societies also hunt and gather but also keep a herd of animals, for example cattle, camels, horses.
The herds supply the tribes with milk, meat and transport. This way of living also means that move around so that they have sufficient grazing for their herds, so come are considered nomadic. Other may also be considered to be 'Transhumant' which means that they move between fixed places that they visit at the same times each year so that they know the land that they are visiting. Evidence of this form of living can be found in central Asia where the tribes use large tents called Yurts. Some of these tribes now own properties in local villages which they inhabit during part of the year.
Some habits are hard to drop though and it is possible to witness some of the people living in Yurts, at some times of the year, even in their back yards, away from the desert. Pastoralists' animals are very important to their survival, as they produce most of the Pastoralists requirements, including food and clothing. They are also aesthetically pleasing to them and are company to each individual tribes member, as with members of the Nuer and Dinka tribes. Pastoralists are also known to create relations with neighbours for borrowing land etc. For example one tribesman may exchange some cheese for grazing rights of his neighbours land.
There is a good example of this way of living which is apparent in the Sarkatsani tribe. John Campbell also illustrates for us the issues of trust amongst this tribe and where their trust lies, and reasons for this. Sarkatsani are deeply concerned about three things; sheep, children (particularly sons), and honour. It is a common feature of many pastoral peoples with simple material cultures that they are highly dependant on their physical environment and that the care of herds, the structure of the community, and its social values, form a coherent pattern of activities and sentiments which present few inconsistencies. Campbell, 1964) Pastoralist societies, though, are another example of societies that can lead to inequality, due to the ability of being able to sell the produce fro their animals. This is because, unlike hunter-gatherers who only hunt what they wih to consume, Pastoralists' animals may produce more food, clothes etc than they need to consume. With the ability to sell produce comes the issues of status and therefore this is another example of a non-egalitarian society.
Focusing on hunter-gatherer societies, and the topic of the most popular belief that these societies are struggling to find enough to eat, it has been found that the environment in which they live accommodates a huge variety of very nutritious foods, even allowing a daily intake of 2000 calories. This would take an adult working day of three to five hours to collect prepare and eat, one collectors basket will feed one and half consumers.
This type of food gathering can also encourage idleness, for example the Mbuti tribe spend some of their time foraging in forests just outside modern villages, the women carry household possessions and the meat for the day in baskets, whilst the men carry their hunting bows, arrows, nets and spears. Relating to idleness the women would take advantage of their heavy loads and walk slowly, looking on the ground for any type of food, for example mushrooms, fruits, nuts etc; the men with their lighter loads would then hunt for small game and birds.
Apart from the divisions of labour, through age and gender, these societies have no social seperation amongst individuals and so therefore, after looking at the three main groups; hunter-gatherers, Pastoralists and agriculturalists, that only the hunter-gatherers can be considered to be egalitarian, whereas the other two groups are not as they have been drawn into western traps and therefore have developed social classes.