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The insight into the early history reveals that people had different conditions and styles of life thousands of years ago. They usually lived in small nomadic communities where labor division was based on gender differentiation. Men were involved in hunting, fishing, and foraging, while women gathered plants and berries. Such societies are usually associated with tribes, but they do not have specific political institutions and representatives. The hunter-gatherer societies of the past are different from those at the present times because of evolution, changing environmental conditions, and social development.
However, the main feature common for any hunter-gatherer group implies that its people are highly dependent on the natural conditions of the area. That is why they are supposed to live in harmony with nature by avoiding overexploitation of the lands and overhunting. An in-depth examination of modern hunter-gatherer societies allows understanding their mentality, viewing rights to land and property, and comparing them to modern forms of social organization.
Contemporary Hunter-Gatherer Societies
Before the agricultural revolution, people mostly relied on natural resources and supported their living through foraging, hunting, fishing, and gathering. The concept of farming evolved because of the commercial needs, according to which the lands are processed and contaminated, causing changes in the biosphere. There are almost no places characterized by the pristine natural conditions left on the planet because more and more areas are utilized for industrial purposes.
Expanding cultivation and development also forced people to respond to such changes and become food producers. Meanwhile, the minority has preferred staying within the hunter-gatherer societies and neglecting the revolutionary alterations. That is why there is a variety of such groups in different parts of the world that stick to the thousand-year traditions.
Currently, anthropologists explore hunting and gathering groups in many regions on different continents. Some of the best-known hunter-gatherer societies are the Mbuti of the Ituri Forest in central Africa, the San of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, and the Copper Inuit of the Arctic in North America (Ember, 2014). The Mbuti group inhabits the rainforest on the territory of Congo. It is mainly patrilocal where men usually do hunting in groups with the help of bows and arrows, while women gather fruits, berries, and nuts. The Mbuti people have little social culture and no political organization.
Contrasting to the Mbuti, the San system is matrilocal and comprises small foraging groups. Women are highly respected in this society as San people are more dependent on plants than animals because of the geographic location of the Kalahari Desert. They can also claim ownership, participate in hunting, and take important group decisions. Some other groups in Africa live within rapidly developing countries, which questions the possibility of the coexistence of two different types of social organizations that share the same territory but have divergent belief systems.
Even though the hunter-gatherer societies in Africa sometimes experience droughts and food shortages because of the seasonal climatic conditions, they are not harshly expropriated by the official governments. Meanwhile, the discovery of lands in the Western hemisphere imposed a great risk on the local people. Western countries have never respected the indigenous rights properly, so settlers in the US wiped out much of the Native American population with no consideration of their culture, religion, and the rights to land (Pilling, 2017).
The Copper Inuit is a hunter-gatherer society in North America that has survived till the present times. Compared to the African groups, its representatives possess a variety of modern tools and live in civilized housing units. However, these people are still involved in hunting rather than in gathering because the tundra region is not rich in edible plants and fruits.
The Rights to Land
Analyzing the example of indigenous people in North America, it is evident that their rights to land were neglected by developed social groups. Settlers who came on the territory that is now the US or Canada viewed themselves as conquerors. They processed the lands, grew crops, and produced cotton to benefit the economic development of the country. Obviously, the rights of indigenous people are not respected but usually violated.
The hunter-gatherer groups possess their own views on the rights to land. For instance, they may be involved in warfare in case they are interested in the territory rich in natural resources that could support the living. Generally, hunting and gathering groups are more peaceful than food producers (Ember, 2014). They may also view migration as a common feature of their lifestyle that allows searching for the territories with a wide variety of flora and fauna species.
However, such groups as the Ogiek, living on the territory of Kenya, have gone far beyond the traditional views on the property to land among the hunter-gatherer societies. When the official government intervened in the Mau Forest, the Ogiek people became irritated because the right to their land was neglected. Thus they addressed the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights to regain exclusive control over the Mau Forest (Pilling, 2017). As a result of a long-lasting and exhausting lawsuit, the Ogiek group obtained legal rights to the land, which helped them to keep traditions and practice culture.
The Rights to Property
The concept of property rights is not common among hunter-gatherer societies for a number of reasons. People in such groups usually use primitive instruments that were common in the Stone and Bronze eras. For instance, they utilize bows and arrows, sharpened stones, or metal sticks in hunting, and almost no tools and instruments in gathering. Furthermore, their mentality is another factor that predicts their views on property rights. Living within favorable natural conditions assures a constant supply of food, water, and all the necessary items. However, in some territories, people may accumulate water to get prepared for dry seasons, stock and freeze fish before it migrates down the river, or collect seasonal fruits.
All these products are kept within a family unit or a particular group and are used when necessary. Such cases are not considered as overhunting or overexploitation of the environment because hunters and gatherers pursue survival ideas but not the gluttonizing ones. On the contrary, they aggregate and utilize resources in accordance with the natural cycles to keep the balance. The hunter-gatherer societies have always been close to nature, so they try to preserve its potential rather than exploit it.
The hunter-gatherer societies are contrasting to the modern forms of social organization. In the context of globalization, their lifestyles are endangered because of the political and economic development of the agricultural and industrial nations (Bankoff & Perry, 2016). Therefore, it is necessary to analyze the conservationist ethics of foragers in order to develop a consensus on how their specific cultural features could be preserved in the modern world.
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Currently, there is almost no hunter-gatherer group that could avoid the influence of other cultures. However, their ethical considerations imply the conservation of their traditions, including religion, language, and lifestyle. As most hunters and gatherers live in small communities in remote geographical areas, they obtain a possibility to preserve their characteristic features. Nevertheless, many of them start using mobile phones, the internet, television, and other technological achievements. That is why many experts predict the total extinction of the hunter-gatherer societies at the end of this century.
The Lessons of the Hunter-Gatherer Societies
Modern people in highly globalized societies prefer completely different lifestyles to those of hunter-gatherers. Currently, a sedentary way of life and consumption of junk food prevails, while physical activity is vanishing. Therefore, foraging people can remind modern people of their roots and teach them the best practices on how to stay in harmony with nature. Most of the hunter-gatherer societies depict that humans are born to stay active and consume healthy food derived from natural resources.
They also describe how herbals and their extracts can be used in healing various health problems. Apart from this, they teach us how to tighten family bonds and develop trust among community members. Even though hunter-gatherer societies were deprived of technological advancements and innovative tools, they remained happy and healthy for centuries. Such facts drive contemporary society members to analyze their values and preferences.
The process of evolution implies that both humans and societies are constantly evolving and adapting to the contemporary environment. At present, there are almost no intact places left on the planet because of intensive globalization, industrialization, and modernization. People utilize all the conveniences and appliances that make their life convenient and allow completing their daily tasks faster. Nevertheless, there are hunter-gatherer societies that preserve their specific cultural features, primarily due to the remote geographical location of their settlements. These people survive owing to hunting, foraging, fishing, and gathering activities.
Living within the natural environment makes many resources easily accessible to them, but they do not abuse this opportunity. On the contrary, they are aimed at keeping the balance and overhunting and overexploitation of lands. Hunter-gatherer societies utilize resources appropriately and manage to live in harmony with nature. Meanwhile, industrialized societies are usually interested in producing more goods and generating more profits, neglecting the principles of sustainability.
Ember, C. R. (2014). Hunter-gatherers (Foragers). HRAF. Web.
Pilling, D. (2017). This land is our land: Kenyan hunter-gatherers and an African dilemma. The Financial Times. Web.
Bankoff, R. J., & Perry, G. H. (2016). Hunter-gatherer genomics: Evolutionary insights and ethical considerations. Current Opinion in Genetics and Development, 41, 1-7. Web.