Foraging societies are social groups that
acquire food through hunting, gathering and fishing exclusively. The main
features of foraging societies include a nomadic or semisedentary lifestyle,
social groups are being focused in bands, an egalitarian society as well as a
sexual division of labour. The origins of these features are debated among anthropologists.

A nomadic or semisedentary lifestyle as
a feature of foraging societies can result from limited resources. Kelly (1995)
identifies nomadism with negating risk; by staying in one area and depleting
resources the risk of locating little or no food each day increases.1
With this, when food has become below certain standards or in low supply, a
band will move. This can be seen with the Rautes in Nepal, who will migrate to
another area once their main source of food, Macaque Monkeys, become scarce, as
identified by Fortier (2009).2
This presents nomadism as inevitable due to finite resources and little means
for foragers to store food. Though, it must be mentioned that the Rautes will
also relocate if relations with local farmers become strained. Avoidance of sedentary
populations, keen to keep foragers off their territory and away from their own
resources, presents another reason for a nomadic lifestyle. Indeed, Turnbull
(1982) indicates that Mbuti foragers remain mobile partly as to prevent farming
villages from knowing their location.3
Mbuti bands, smaller than the population of the villages, can avoid open
conflict and ensuring continuation of the band. This also occurs to prevent
rival bands from conflict. Although, the lack of fixed resources may also
account for foraging societies to be nomadic. This is seen with Spencer (1959)
indicating that the Iñupiat Nunamiut groups from Alaska must
remain on the move to keep near the migratory Caribou.4

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Forager societies that instead retain a semisedentary
lifestyle are typically found among coastal regions or areas home to large fish
stocks in climates unsuited to a large amount of plant life. With this, groups
do not and cannot travel frequently, with both enough resources found year-round
along the coast and a lack of skill to hunt or gather inland. This can be seen
with societies of the Iñupiat known as the Tareumiut, who are the coastal
counterpart to the inland Nunamiut. The Tareumiut tend to stay by the coast for
most of the year, partaking in fishing and hunting, although they do usually
conduct lengthy fishing and hunting trips inland during the summer.5
With this, forager societies that practise a semisedentary lifestyle do so because
there is little enough risk of running out of local resources, though the
migration of fish or poor seasonal harvests may warrant inland expeditions at
certain parts of the year. Indeed, Lourandos (1997) states that Australian Aborigines
in Coastal New South Wales may have previously remained along the coast for
most of the year, owing to the plentiful resources, before adopting a more
nomadic lifestyle inland during the harsher winter.6
Overall, a nomadic or semisedentary lifestyle that is salient in foraging
societies can be accounted to both a focus on the cultivation of resources as
well as an attempt to limit interaction with other foragers or farming
societies.

Another salient feature of forager
societies is the band. This is a social grouping of several families and an
example of this includes the Mbuti, whose bands are made up of seven to between
twenty to thirty families.7
Its cause is of much debate among anthropologists. Steward (1955) argued that the
environment the society found itself within was accountable for the nature of
bands.8
With this, areas with scattered resources would require extensive knowledge of
a territory and the inheritance of this knowledge to descendants. This leads to
the formation of patrilineal bands, with several families living in the same
group as they share ancestors and the knowledge of the local area they
provided. Alongside this Steward states that ‘the possibility is small that
several independent families which have no traceable connection will develop in
any band’,9
therefore suggesting patrilineal descent accounts for the band. Steward
provides the example of Australian Aborigines, whose male members inherited and
controlled the territory the band.10
Secondly, Steward describes large composite bands made up of multilineage
groups existing in environments that required large cooperation with hunting,
citing bands that lived on the American Plains such as the Shoshone.

However, Service (1962) disagrees with
this idea, instead suggesting that bands were not patrilineal but instead
patrilocal, with the formation of bands not related to the environment but an
‘inevitable’ process of social organisation due to technological developments.11
Service argues that bands are patrilocal and inevitable for two reasons.
Firstly, foraging societies recognise membership of a band by residence over
linage. Secondly, the practise of exogamy.12
The origin of exogamy, and therefore what accounts for patrilocal bands, is the
desire to retain political alliances and extend kinship to other bands. With
this, the function of exogamy is to ‘widen the network of kinship relations’,13
helping to prevent conflict and accounting for the feature of bands in foraging
societies. This can be seen with the Haida along the American Northwest. This
group is divided into two moieties, with individuals marrying someone of the
opposite moiety.14 This enforced exogamy allows
for different bands to contain both moieties and strengthen kinship between
bands, helping Haida bands to ensure good relations and the exchange of goods.
Combined with the focus on membership by residence instead of lineage,
Service’s theory of the origin of the band is related to ensuring social
interaction and improving relations between rival lineages.

Furthermore, the composite bands Steward
recognised are described by Service as occurring thanks to interaction with
colonising powers forcing the abandonment of a patrilocal band. Owen (1965)
supports Service, providing the example of the Seri. This group is composed of
composite bands in the interior of Sonora, yet previously had lived along the
now colonised coast in four to six linguistically distinct patrilocal bands,
practising exogamy.15
This aligns with Service’s theory, with colonial interaction accounting for
composite bands in foraging societies. Altogether, bands in foraging societies can
be accounted to both human interaction, the environment and the practise of
exogamy.

Williams (1968), however, argue against
the theories proposed by Steward and Service, proposing instead the lineage-band.16
This is where members of a band hold the same lineage yet still practise
exogamy to an extent. With this, bands would contain different sub-lineages.
Therefore, the relations between members of the band is what accounts for its
feature among foraging societies, with shared common ancestors between leading
members of the band. Williams further states that moieties that Service argues regarding
patrilocal bands are not the focus for bands, with marriage for the aborigines
of Australia less so about avoiding close relatives and moieties and more so
about the ‘reciprocal rights and obligations’17
of political, land-owning bands. The band as a salient feature can therefore be
accounted to a shared lineage, though unlike Steward’s argument is unrelated to
the inheritance of knowledge and territory.

The sexual division of labour is another
salient feature of foraging societies. The division can be seen with the
collection of food as well as other responsibilities. The archer hunters of the
Mbuti, for example, hunt with parties made up exclusively of men whilst
gathering is conducted ‘almost exclusively’ by women.18
Furthermore, the Iñupiat treat children differently depending on gender, with male
adolescents receiving less food as to prepare them for long hunts when they are
adults while female adolescents remain with their mother longer.19
Indeed, the origin of this is also debated among anthropologists. Kelly regards
the fact that child-rearing and large-game hunting are mutually exclusive, with
child-rearing often falling to the women on the account of them providing
breast milk.20 This means that the men must
partake in hunting large-game whilst women forage, which can be done whilst child-rearing.
This can be seen with the Ainu, whose women do hunt small animals, although
this was done within the context of the domestic space, with this small-scale
not incompatible with child-rearing. The Ainu themselves consider this hunting
as part of the women’s gathering.21

However, Kelly’s theory does not account
for women lacking children, such as postmenstrual women. Hill (1988) argues that
childless women may forage due to the lack of skill for hunting, with them
having not focused on hunting to the same extent of the men.22
Hawkes (1991) sees the male focus on hunting as to be politically motivated. For
instance, men from the Ache partake in hunting as it is seen as riskier and
less successful then gathering. This can mean successful Ache men can increase
their popularity and gain favours through the sharing of this rare and
difficult to obtain food.23
Hawkes also provides the example of the Hadza of Tanzania whose males hunt yet
must share out the food they secure among the whole band.24
 With this, if a man was able to secure
food for everyone, his popularity and political influence would benefit. This also
explains why the men of a band do not partake in gathering to the same extent as
the women, as it is harder for an individual gatherer to acquire enough food to
singlehandedly share it among the band. This overall presents the causes for
the sexual division of labour, with child-rearing preventing women from
partaking in hunting to a large extent, whilst men can hunt more as the rewards
for doing so are greater than foraging even considering risk, with both the
band and the individual benefitting. Indeed, among the !Kung it was noted by
Lee (1979) that the men worked longer than women, as they were not burdened
with childcare.25 Also, men hunt to the
extent they do because women do gather food, allowing for a steady source of
food even if hunts fail.

The egalitarian nature of foraging
societies could also be described as a salient feature. An example of this
would be the !Kung. Lee (1982) identifies that the !Kung lack any form of
leadership, with members of the band able to ‘persuade but not command’,
reflecting an egalitarian society.26
Bohem (1999) considers the cause for the egalitarian features of foraging
societies to originate from the development of language and the ability to hunt
large game.27 Hunting large game
requires cooperation from multiple hunters, with more complex language allowing
for the sharing of their ideas, leading to greater cooperation. Bands therefore
became more egalitarian, as everyone’s opinion is heard due to the need to hunt
successfully. The net hunters of the Mbuti, who lack any form of political
leadership, are an example of this, with respect and influence only gained
through the skill of a hunter.28
This can be accounted to their cooperative hunting technique, as hunting with
nets requires the use of a large portion of the band and therefore the sharing
of ideas, as opposed to the leadership of one hunter, which would prove
ineffective.

To conclude, foraging societies most
salient features are often the result of a combination of social relations, cultural
norms and environmental factors. Kelly (1995) sums up the origins of these
features stating that ‘although human decisions are often made in an ecological
framework, they are also made within historical and cultural constraints’.29
The most salient features, that of nomadism, the band, sexual division of
labour and egalitarianism, present this. Of course, whilst these are salient
features of foraging societies, they are not universal. The Native American groups
of the Northwest Coast practised slavery, forming a social class below ordinary
people and used to show off an individual’s wealth, presenting a
non-egalitarian society.30
The net hunters of the Mbuti also show no sexual division of labour regarding
hunting, with the women and children typically partaking in the hunt.31
However, these outliers still conform to other salient features. Overall, whilst
no two foraging society are exactly the same, these salient features do exist
throughout the majority, with the consideration of the environment, social necessities
 and the needs of both the individual
forager and that of their group often accounting for these features.

1 Kelly,
R. (1995), The Lifeways of
Hunter-Gatherers: The Foraging Spectrum, Washington, DC: Smithsonian
Institution Press, p. 126

2 Fortier,
J. (2009), Kings of the Forest: The
Cultural Resilience of Himalayan Hunter-Gatherers, Honolulu: University of
Hawaii Press, p. 36

3 Turnbull,
C. (1982), The Ritualization of potential conflict between the sexes among the
Mbuti, Politics and History in Band
Societies, New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 149

4 Spencer, R. (1959), The North Alaskan Eskimo; a study in ecology
and society, Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, p. 25

5
Ibid. p. 129

6 Lourandos,
H. (1997), Continent of Hunter-Gatherers:
New Perspectives in Australian Prehistory, Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, p. 59

7 Turnbull,
C. (1965), The Mbuti Pygmies: an ethnographic survey. Anthropological papers of the AMNH, 50, (3), p. 244

8
Steward, J. (1955), Theory of Culture
Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution, Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, pp. 328-329

9 Ibid.
p. 126

10
Ibid. p. 131

11 Kelly,
R. (1995), The Lifeways of
Hunter-Gatherers: The Foraging Spectrum, Washington, DC: Smithsonian
Institution Press, p. 8

12 Service,
E. (1968) Forms of Kinship, in Man in
Adaptation: The Cultural Present, Chicago: Aldine, p. 144

13
Ibid. p. 145

14 Drucker,
P. (1955), Indians of the Northwest Coast,
New York: The Natural History Press, p. 109

15 Owen,
R. (1965), The Patrilocal Band: A Linguistically and Culturally Hybrid Social
Unit, American Anthropologist, 67, (3),
p. 683

16 Williams,
B. (1968), The Birhor of India and some comments on Band Organization, Man the Hunter, Chicago: Aldine, p. 127

17
Ibid. p. 202

18 Turnbull,
C. (1965), The Mbuti Pygmies: an ethnographic survey. Anthropological papers of the AMNH, 50, (3), p. 174

19 Spencer,
R. (1959), The North Alaskan Eskimo; a
study in ecology and society, Washington, DC: US Government Printing
Office, pp. 237-238

20 Kelly,
R. (1995), The Lifeways of
Hunter-Gatherers: The Foraging Spectrum, Washington, DC: Smithsonian
Institution Press, p. 224

21 Sjöberg,
K. (1993), The Return of the Ainu:
Cultural Mobilization and the Practice of Ethnicity in Japan, Amsterdam:
Harwood Academic Publishers, p. 52

22 Bird,
R. and Codding, B. (2015), The Sexual Division of Labor, Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral sciences, Hoboken: John
Wiley & Sons, p. 5

23 Hawkes,
K. (1991), Showing Off Tests of an Hypothesis About Men’s Foraging Goals, Ethology and Sociobiology, 12, (1), pp.
49-50

24 Bird,
R. and Codding, B. (2015), The Sexual Division of Labor, Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral sciences, Hoboken: John
Wiley & Sons, p. 6

25 Lee,
R. (1979), The !Kung San: Men, Women and
Work in a Foraging Society, New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 280

26 Hurlich,
S. and Lee, R. (1982), From foragers to fighters: South Africa’s militarization
of the Namibian San, Politics and History
in Band Societies, New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 332

27 Bohem,
C. (1999), Hierarchy in the Forest: The
Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
p. 214

28 Turnbull,
C. (1965), The Mbuti Pygmies: an ethnographic survey. Anthropological papers of the AMNH, 50, (3), p. 274

29 Kelly,
R. (1995), The Lifeways of
Hunter-Gatherers: The Foraging Spectrum, Washington, DC: Smithsonian
Institution Press, p. 23

30 Drucker,
P. (1955), Indians of the Northwest Coast,
New York: The Natural History Press, p. 130

Turnbull, C. (1965), The Mbuti Pygmies: an
ethnographic survey. Anthropological
papers of the AMNH, 50, (3), p. 202

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