A Variety of Further Ethnographic Findings

In this chapter I shall discuss, as the title indicates, a number of other subjects that do not directly fall under the banner of previous topics, but that in their turn need to be addressed. These include resource conservation, hg diet, the subject of headmen, specialization and lack of politics, parenting of young, concepts of religion, entitlement and old age as well as old age demographics, life expectancy and warfare. As before, the nature of these topics might appear quite unconventional and counter-intuitive at first glance, but it was the reality of hgs for over a hundred thousand years. Let's look, then, at resource conservation.

          As late as the early sixties, the common perception was that foragers gave no thought to the future, and were totally unconcerned about the impact of today's actions on tomorrow's food collecting. By the late sixties, however, after the "Man the Hunter" conference, hgs were seen to manage their resources through a discernible ethic of active resource conservation (Williams and Hunn 1982; Feit 1973). They managed their resources through a variety of means, including the intentional growing of wild seeds, simple irrigation of wild stands of seeds, and burning to stimulate new plant growth and to intentionally attract game. They might also control their food supply by putting restrictions on hunting which have the effect of providing a closed season, by using vegetable resources with discretion and replanting portions of the root so that the plants regenerate, by extracting only part of the honey from wild bees' nests so that the sites do not become deserted, and many other conscientious techniques of conservation (Woodburn 1980). It is clear that hgs do have considerable concern about the impact of today's actions on tomorrow's resources.

          Moving on, I'd like to go over hg health and wellness. A medical team assigned to study the Hadza concluded that they are in excellent health, much better than most other rural Africans who are agricultural. The Hadza have a much more varied and balanced diet than their agricultural neighbors, who eat maize or rice every day with a bit of meat only occasionally. The Hadza eat a variety of berries, tubers, honey, baobab fruit, and a wide variety of birds and mammals. There is quite likely more variation in the quantity of food consumed by the Hadza than there is among their agricultural neighbors, however, except when the farmers and herders experience famine, which they occasionally do (Marlowe 2010).

          Let's consider the counter-intuitive concept of the "headman." At first glance, the notion seems to contradict the evidence that there are no overt forms of authority in hg societies. Well, it's true that there aren't, and the notion of headmanship is rather different from anything we're used to in the West. When a headman gives a command, he does not do so with any physical means of punishing someone who disobeys. So, if he wants to remain headman, he gives few commands. For us, of course, the political power of rulers depends on their ability to exercise force to expel, exterminate or punish disruptive or disobedient individuals and groups. Among the Eskimo, for example, people will follow an outstanding hunter and defer to him with respect to the knowledge of hunting locations. But otherwise, this leader's opinion carries no more weight than anyone else's. Similarly, among the !Kung, each band has its own leader (most of whom are male). These men may speak out with greater sway, but have no formal authority to command, only to persuade. When Lee asked the !Kung whether they had headmen in the sense of powerful chiefs, they told him, "Of course we have headmen! In fact we are all headmen... each one of us is headman over himself! (Leacock and Lee 1982)"

          Among the Mehinacu of Brazil, headmanship is hard and frustrating work. He is the first one up in the morning, trying to rouse his fellow band members; if something needs to be done, it is the headman who starts doing it -- and it is the headman who works harder at it than anyone else. After a fishing or hunting expedition, he gives away more of the catch than anyone else, and in trading with other groups he is careful not to keep the best items for himself. In doing this, he sets an example not just for hard work but also for generosity (Harris 1989). The headman keeps the peace by conciliation rather than coercion. He must be personally respected, otherwise people will gradually drift away and stop paying attention to him. He is more a spokesman for public opinion than a molder of it (Dentan 1968). Clearly, headmanship is a tough job, and one that has no parallel in our hierarchical and power-driven civilization today.

          Accordingly, the Hadza have no political specialists at all. In fact, there is no role specialization of any kind other than the sexual division of labor (Marlowe 2010). Each Hadza knows how to do everything he or she needs, and does not need to depend on anyone other than herself, especially not someone who purports to have authority over her. Each man can make his own bow and arrows, his poison and his axe. Each man knows how to make fire, how to track game, and how to make pegs to climb baobab trees to get honey. Each woman knows how to make her own digging stick, how to find tubers and dig them up, how to build a house, and how to make clothes, jewelry and baskets or find gourds to use as containers for carrying water or berries. Each adult man and woman also knows which plants to pick to treat different ailments. There are no shamans, witch doctors, or religious roles of any kind (Marlowe 2010).