“To acquire resources efficiently, foragers must organise themselves to be in the right place at the right time, with the right numbers of people” (Peoples and Bailey, 87). Discuss, using examples, some of the ways in which foragers have achieved this result. Foragers, or hunter-gatherers are defined as groups of people who exploit the wild plants and animals of their territory for food1. However, these people do not try to expand their available resources by farming crops or breeding livestock2.
Despite this, foragers do attempt to acquire resources more efficiently in a number of ways, including razing forests to the ground, creating pasture land for wild animals3. Also foragers in the Dobe area of Botswana, the ! Kung, have a very simple, small scale, self-contained economy of a type that may have been characteristic of early man4. The Dobe region is surrounded by waterless desert and the bushman population therein is largely self-sufficient in terms of subsistence. Extreme isolation and a marginal environment have been largely responsible for the persistence of this people to the present5.
Homo Sapiens has been said to have been in existence for up to 200,000 years, but farming was not practiced until 10,000 years ago6, therefore the existence of the ! Kung before this proves that foraging is a viable survival technique. Compared to other peoples, foragers exercise no control over their environments, and so renders a number of foragers as nomadic peoples. Therefore, although “foragers” is a very broad term, the statement that foragers must be in the right place at the right time to acquire resources efficiently is an accurate analysis of the situations of many hunter-gatherer societies.
Firstly, the bushmen must arrange themselves so that the right number of people are employed to forage efficiently. This division of labour among the foraging peoples, is usually organised relating to their age and gender7, although special knowledge and skills also serve as a basis for assigning tasks8. Among many hunter-gatherer peoples, it is the male populace that perform the hunting tasks and the women who do most of the gathering9. However, despite this, it is not unusual in any of these cultures for either sex to aid the other.
For example, among the BaMbuti of the tropical forest of Zaire, the women and children help the men in the hunting by driving game animals into nets10. Therefore, it is clear to see how the hunter-gatherer societies divide themselves, but not why they do it. In most of the foraging environments, people are necessitated to reside in nomadic groups of below fifty, known as bands11. These bands have a unique form of cultivating kinship. The ! Kung distribute artefacts among themselves mainly in a quite different way, called hxaro12. Hxaro is used to build relationships.
Property is put to work explicitly to develop symmetrical ties of friendship between the people. The average person among the ! Kung has sixteen hxaro partners with whom he or she exchanges personally owned objects such as beads, arrows, clothing or pots, but not food13. All personally owned, non-consumable items can enter the system. Gifts are given, often on request, and are then reciprocated over a delay of weeks or months. A person’s hxaro partners include most of his or her close kin – parents, children, siblings are all eligible as well as more distant kin.
In general hxaro relationships are superimposed on kinship relationships. As in many other societies with instant return systems, kinship, by itself, implies little in the way of commitment14. By giving property to each other as gestures of friendly intent, hxaro exchange partners build up selected kin relationships into more committed ones, some of which will be useful in providing access to groups and to the food resources of groups in areas other than one’s own.
Most personally owned possessions enter into hxaro but people do not come to depend on hxaro for access to the type of goods which are transmitted through it15. Members of these bands usually co-operate in production, and often share the rights to forage and gather in a certain region. The ! Kung of southern Africa illustrate these points about band organisation. The bushman economy lacks trading posts, trade in foodstuffs, wage labour, cash, conversions and markets – the features which are commonly taken to indicate economic interdependence16. Because the !
Kung are hunters and gatherers, without agriculture and domestic animals, and because they don’t amass a surplus of foodstuffs, the relation between local food production and consumption is an immediate one. A diagnostic feature of their subsistence economy is: food is almost always consumed within the boundaries of the local group and within 48 hours of its collection17. Because their habitat is so dry, the availability of water greatly influenced the routine of ! Kung life. In the wet season, November to March, temporary water holes formed, and the band split to exploit this.
However, the rain is so inconsistent that anything between six and forty inches of rain can fall in as little as a month to 5 months18. These characteristics of their physical environment influenced the organisation of the ! Kung, and the way they organise themselves to have the right number of people to forage efficiently. Most foragers are seasonally mobile, and must be to survive in the hostile environment19. None of the earth’s environments offer the same kinds and quantities of resources all year round.
There may be seasonal differences in rainfall, and, outside the tropics, there are often marked differences in temperature. Ordinarily, game animals are available in some places and not in others, at different times of year, as are fruits and nuts. Therefore, in order to survive efficiently, both hunters and gatherers must be in the right place at the right time. The foragers must migrate to where sustenance is both easy to obtain and in abundant supply during a certain time period or season.
A good example of this is with the Hadza people of Tanzania, who survived in an arid and dry region, with marked distinctions between the wet and dry seasonal periods. In rainy months the Hadza moved to the temporary waterholes that opened up, much like the ! Kung, living on the animals and plants in the area20. At another time of year, when seasonal variations render these waterholes dry, the Hadza moved into much larger camps around the much larger and permanent water sources21. Therefore, the hunter-gatherers must be in the right place at the right time for efficient foraging.
Also, to exploit plants and animals effectively and efficiently, most foragers vary the sizes of their living groups, according to the availability of food sources for the tribes according to the variations in seasonal climatic conditions22. Thus it is most efficient for small groups to co-operate in the search for food and water. Whereas, during other seasons, these groups come together in much larger congregations. Therefore, the correct numbers of hunter-gatherers in the right place at the right time is very important for efficient foraging.