Groups of hunters can still be found in Canada, North America, South America, Africa, India, South East Asia, and Australia.

 

Hunter-Gatherers

hunters and gatherersWhere do these people still live? Pretty much all over the World. There are groups of hunters in Canada (Cree, Dene, Inuit, Naskapi, Montagnais, Chipeweyan), North America (Ute, Paiute), South America (Guayaki-Ache), Africa (Mbuti, Dorobo, !kung, G/Wi, Baswara et al), India (Mal-Pantaram), South East Asia (Montagnards, Negritos), and Australia (Yirrkala, Pitjantjatara).

Mainly they live in remote areas. The land isn't always suitable for agriculture, or it is too remote to access easily. Increasingly however this land has come under threat, as mineral resources have been discovered, or some other commercial purpose has been found for their lands, such as the construction of an oil pipeline, clearing to make way for plantations, or the building of a dam for a hydro-electric scheme.

Up until a few decades ago, hunting people were regarded by governments as reminders of a ‘primitive’ past. More recently however,  opinions have changed.  As people across the world are becoming increasingly environmentally aware, they are less likely to support new schemes for the industrialisation of land that has unitl now been untouched by modern society.  In recent years, there have been many public protests in support of the maintenance of hunter-gatherers' way of life

And their simpler life has some real advantages over our modern, technologically and economically-driven society. For example, it is seldom necessary to work for more than two or three hours a day to ensure that everyone will have enough to eat. The rest of the time can be spent playing games, talking, sleeping, relaxing or exchanging gifts. Gift exchange is very important to hunters and gatherers and will be explained below.

Few hunting people have leaders. They may have a person within the group, male or female, who is valued above the others for their skills as an orator, a negotiator, a hunter or a healer. This person is not regarded as a leader, but more as a spokesperson for the group, or as the chairman of any discussions. Often their power amounts to little more than persuasion.

If you took us out of our normal lives and expected us to live like hunter-gatherers, most of us would now struggle to cope. Hunter-gatherers do not plant crops. They do not keep cattle. They do not own land, although groups tends to have their own hunting ground. For food, they depend on their knowledge of the environment.

Men and women tend to have different roles, but all help in the daily task of finding food.  For example, among the !kung San Bushmen of southern Africa, men provide about 44% of all foods, women 56%. Men tend to be the hunters, although women are also involved in the killing of smaller animals. Women tend to spend their time gathering vegetable foods which are growing in the area around the group’s camp. Men also gather, and they often need to if they haven't managed to find any game when hunting.

To us, this would be a really dangerous situation to us. If you can’t find food, you starve, then you die. But their way of life has survived for thousands of years, and generations live to teach their children how to forage and find food.

Theirs is more a community of sharing.  Those who have food give to those who haven’t any. They do this freely, knowing that if they are unlucky in their search for food tomorrow, next week, next month or next year, there will be people around who will have food and who will remember acts of generosity and repay them when there is need.

As groups are dependent on naturally occurring resources of food, they have to be very mobile. There is no point in trying to build up large stocks of food or possessions. In harsh climates such as the Kalahari Desert, it is unlikely that any store of food would last long before being ruined by the heat. Besides, food and possessions are heavy, and have to be carried from camp to camp by the owner. So their 'stuff' tends to be of practical use to the owner. Bows and arrows, axes and cooking pots are  typical.  In their way of life, TVs, consoles and iPods are pointless!  Wealth has very little meaning to hunters and gatherers.

But for people who don't care about getting more 'stuff', they spend a lot of time exchanging gifts with each other. In the !Kung, gifts are exchanged in special arrangements between partners, known as hxaro. Each person will have a number of hxaro partners who are drawn from their immediate family, from other members of their own band, from neighbouring bands and even from more distant bands, sometimes up to 200 miles away. These partners give each other gifts, but not at random.

Once a gift has been given, the giver will wait until he or she receives a gift in return. This return of gift may not be given for several months, but there is an understanding between partners of the debt owed to the giver by the receiver.

Read More: Spreading the Risk

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