People living in hunting gathering societies are usually foragers, hunting and gathering wild products of the environment. Men usually hunt and women gather wild fruits. Hunting gathering societies have low population densities; hence, for its inhabitants, a detailed knowledge of the immediate environment is a necessity. A hunting gathering society usually moves according to the seasons; that is, there is a natural tendency for hunting gathering societies to move to areas with relatively abundant resources (Ember, 205).
Other characteristics of hunting and gathering societies are as follows (Ember, 219): 1) egalitarian in orientation, 2) no property rights, 3) non-presence of food surplus, 4) equal sharing of economic resources (for those who participated in certain economic activities), 5) fragility of social bonds, and 6) no differentiation between the sacred and the profane.
Usually, the demand for labor is minimal since the available resources in the immediate environment may also be minimal. Land use is also restricted to outsiders. Because land ownership is communal, all individuals have the right to use land for hunting and gathering wild products.
In addition, trade between hunting and gathering societies may be minimal, probably because food surplus is absent. In the history of cultural evolution, the hunting-gathering mode is regarded by anthropologists as the earliest form of social arrangement (Lee, 177). Now, only a few hunting-gathering societies can be found in Africa and Papua New Guinea. The Mbuti of the Ituri rainforests of Africa is one example of hunting-gathering societies that exists today. The Mbuti are usually short in stature (about 4 feet on the average).
They considered height as the distinguishing factor from other Africans.
The Mbuti usually prioritize hunting over gathering when resources of their immediate environment are scarce. They construct “hunting nets” to facilitate the flow of game meat from the hunting sites to the community. Members of this group also regard wealth as an unnecessary tool for survival. The attitude may be due to the relative scarcity of wild fruits in the vicinity of their community. The Mbuti, like other preliterate societies, has an origin myth. According to Mbuti legend, their tribe descended from the fertility god.
Because men who participated in hunting are contaminated, it is expected that elders and children should carry religious functions. The fertility god expects every individual in the tribe to offer religious sacrifices to hands “where blood never stained. ” Another example of a hunting gathering society is the so-called the “Lese People. ” The Lese are Bantu-speaking tribe who migrated to the rainforests of East Africa during the so-called “great southern migration. ” This group of people lived harmoniously for many centuries with the Mbuti, serving as “affiliate tribe” and sometimes as “gathering partners.
” The Lese People gave the Mbuti tools and weapons which increased the hunting proficiency of the Mbuti tribe. The Mbuti, in return for the tools and weapons, offered some of their resources (like hunting grounds) to the Lese People. In due time, however, the Lese People became engaged in agricultural production (food surplus became available) while their Mbuti “partner” remained in their hunting-gathering way of life.
Ember, Carol. Anthropology. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1995. Lee, Richard. Man as Hunter. London: London Publishing House, 1954.