Wednesday, June 29, 2011



Introduction- Simple societies are those societies which are not only small in size but also their control over the environment is limited and their economies are based on the production of material for the sustenance. With distinct type of socio-political organisations they are quite different from societies where we live in.

Economies in Simple Societies – Based on the mode of production of material goods for sustenance these simple societies can be divided into hunting and gathering, pastoral, shifting cultivation, settled cultivation.

Hunting and Gathering – The hunting and gathering stage relied on hunting animals and gathering roots, fruits and shrubs for their sustenance. These societies differed remarkably on the type of animals they hunt. They keep on moving from one place to another in search of animals, fruits and roots.

Pastoral – These stage is mainly based on the domestication of the animals for their sustenance they keep on moving for the want of water and pastoral.In India, the important pastoral communities include the Toda (The buffalo herders of Nilgiri Hills, Tamil Nadu), the Gujar (cattle and

buffalo herders) and the Bakewal (sheep and goat herders) of Jammu and Kashmir.

Shifting Cultivation – In these type of cultivation after few years the new land is cleared by the farmers for cultivation of crops. A number oftribes practise shifting cultivation such as the Bantu ofequatorial Africa,Garo of Meghalaya, Baiga and Abujhmar Maria of Madhya Pradesli and Saora of Orissa. A number of tribes in Arunachal Pradesh also practise shifting cultivation.

Settled Cultivation - Relatively larger number of simple societies practise settled cultivation, where the

same fields are cultivated year after year. Settled cultivation makes it necessary for the

villages to become permanent settlements. A number of gods and deities rise up all

around tlie villages, investing religious significa~iceto the villages. The institution of

private property also gets more crystallised.

Depending upon the technology, the settled cultivation admits ofa two-fold division:

hoe cultivation and plough cultivation. Many island communities, like the Trobriaiid

Islanders in the Pacific, are hoe cultivators. The Munda, Santhal and Gond in India

are plough cultivators. The hill slopes give rise to yet another type of settled cultivation,

because to cultivate the hill slopes are cut up into terraces. The Nagas in India are

good examples of terrace cultivators.

Systems of Exchange in Simple Societies – The person can not produce all the goods required for the sustenance so the goods are exchanged this is economic nature of exchange. Despite of economic nature goods are exchanged to reduce the conflicts between the groups. One of the purposes of exchanges of goods is to maintain a state of mutual indebtness.

Here are the two classic examples of non economic nature of exchange of goods.

Two Examples

(The Kula Exchange) - Malinowski, in his study of economic activities known as the Kula ring of the Western Pacific region, showed that among the Trobriand Islanders, the members of the Kula ring exchange among themselves ritually and socially valued objects. The system of exchange is regulated in a kind of ring with two directional movements. I11 clockwise direction, the red shell necklaces circulate and in anti-clockwise circulation, the white arm-shells' circulate among the members of the Kula ring. These objects have no commercial value but carry differing prestige value for donors and receipients. The tribals undertake long dangerous sea voyages in search of these objects, which are economically useless. While the Islanders normally haggle and bargain ill their day-today buying and selling of other goods, the objects given and taken in the Kula are never subjected to any bargaining.

The Potlatch Ceremony

Our second example is from the American North-West where, the Kwakiutl (and also,some other tribes of the region) organised large-scale feasts. At such occasions, not only enormous quantities of food were consumed and gifts given to guests, but also many articles (considered valuable by them) were destroyed. The practice of feasts (known as the institution of potlatch) among these people shows how giving away of goods to the extent of physically destroying them was linked with their claims to a higher social status. The more feasts one group organised, the more prestige it received. Further the more a group was invited to such potlatches and the more gifts it received, the more prestige the group gained in the eyes of other groups. These feasts were always organised by agnatic groups, i.e., by those standing in the relationship of brothers to each other. One such group invited other such groups and vied with each other in giving more and more food to eat and more and more gifts to take home and more and more valuables to destroy.

Markets – It is the place where exchange of goods takes place.

Social Organisation in Simple Societies - In order to present an overview of simple societies, their social organisation can be briefly studied in four parts, namely, kinship, marriage, religion and polity.

Kinship - A tribe is, often, spread over a small territory with its language, political and religious organisation. It is usually divided into two or more sections. When divided into only two sections,

each section is called a moiety. But if a tribe is divided into more than two sections, each section is called a phratry. Moieties and phratries are, generally, exogamous groups, that is, members of these groups must find their spouses outside these groups; they cannot marry within. Only in some societies, the moieties are endogamous, that is members of such moieties must marry within the moiety. The Toda are an example of such a group.

Descent - Common descent or origin in simple societies is generally traced through lineages and clans. Lineages are those groups, which reckon common descent from a known ancestor. Clans are the groups of those people, who treat each other as related through common ancestry, even though, it may not be traceable with certainty. In other words, clans have mythical ancestors. Lineages are relatively smaller groups with known ancestors within clans, which are wider groups with presumed common ancestry.

Descent is usually traced through either mother or father. Descent through the mother is called matrilineal or uterine descent. In a matrilineal system of descent, a man does not belong to his father's lineage and clan. He belongs to the same clan and lineage as his mother and his mother's brother. The Nayars of South India are an example.

In patrilineal descent, relationship with males and females of one's group is traced only through males. Most of the students of the course are likely to belong to this form of descent system.

Some people, however, have systems of double descent, that is, both matrilineal and patrilineal groups are recognised, but for different purposes. For example, among the Yako (Forde, 1950), the inheritance of immovable property is regulated through patrilineal descent and that of movable property through matrilineal descent.

Marriage – It is a social recognition of matting among its members. Mostly monogamy ( one person one wife ) is commonly practised. But in few tribal societies Polygamy ( One person with more than one wife at a given point of time. More rare is Polyandry ( One woman with many husbands) The Khasa in Uttar Pradesh and Toda in Tamil Nadu perform polyandry but there is a difference among the two In Khasa Eldest brother marries and all brothers become husband but in Toda tribe the persons need not to be brothers but this raise to the question of paternity of the child which is solved by the ‘Bow and Arrow’ ceremony. When woman becomes pregnant and the person who performs the ‘Bow and Arrow’ ceremony first becomes the father of the Child.

Religion – Due to lack of technology and limited control over the environment makes the simple societies to think the natural calamities are happening due to the supernatural powers which can be categorised as ‘Mana’ the supernatural powers associated with Kings and successful man and other is ‘Taboo’ which is negative supernatural power and if anyone does not observe will have the punishment.

Taboo is used to regulate social activities. Many tribal communities put a taboo mark on their property in the field and the forest to ensure against theft. 'Mana' and 'taboo' are polynesian terms, which

have been incorporated into anthropological/sociological vocabulary. They have generated a theory of causation for the natural happenings.

Religion and Magic - Religion assumes that certain spirits and deities preside over nature. They have to be propitiated, placated and worshipped in order to get their blessings. These spirits may send both blessings and curses. So an element of freedom and an exercise of will are attributed to the spirits and deities. Magic on the other hand, is an impersonal force which can be made to operate provided the magic is performed properly. There is no exercise of will with regard to the impersonal force. Magic must succeed. It can fail only by an improper performance of magic or by the performance of more powerful


Frazer (1 920) believed all magic to be sympathetic, based on the principle of sympathy between cause and effect. He identified two laws governing the operation of magic, the law of similarity and the law of contact. The magic based on the first law he called homoeopathic or imitative magic and the magic based on the second law he called contagious magic. In homoeopathic magic an image ofthe enemy is destroyed in order to destroy the enemy. In contagious magic, magic is played on the separated part ofthe

body ofthe enemy, such as paired nails and hair.

But magic is not always destructive. It is in fact only a symbolic act. Magic is the playing out of an event. It expresses desires in symbolic ways.In brief, religion provides the simple societies with a theory of causation. It builds confidence of nature. The fertility of fields, herds, women, of land and water are

believed to be ensured by religion

Polity – It is used to create order in the society so that it can run smoothly.

Types of Political System--- Cephalous and A cephalous

Cephalous – In cephalous political system there is a recognised head or king. These system is further divided into four sub types shilluk,swazi,ethiopean and muslim emirates of northern Nigeria.

In Shilluk headship is more ritual and symbolic than substantial.

In swazi and ethiopean the kingship shows a divine authority with slight variation. Not to obey the king is not only the breach of political obligation but also of religious obligations. The only difference between the two system is in the first system the authority of king is delegated to its kinsmen and in second the authority is delegated to non kinsmen.

In all the three subtypes the king is from the lineage of the same tribal society, but in the fourth system the that is muslim emirates of north Nigeria does not belongs to the same tribal society.

A cephalous- In this political there is no single recognised head or king. These system is further divided into four subtypes. The (i) Central African Bushmen, (ii) Yako ofNigeria, (iii) Masai of east Africa, and

(iv) Nuer of Sudan may be taken to represent these four subtypes. Bushmen are hunting and gathering people, constantly moving from one place to another in search of roots, fruits and tubers or in search of game animal. They are fragmented into small bands. Whatever disputes that arise within and between families are resolved by the elders of the band. The second subtype consists of autonomous villages with their councils. Among the Yako the village councils contribute to the maintenance of order. Membership of the village council is based on a number of criteria such as genealogical position, economic

success and qualities of leadership. The third subtype of which Masai herders are an example is quite widespread in east Africa. The transition from childhood to manhood is not an unnoticed and uneventful phenomenon among the simple societies. Most of them give ritual recognition to this phenomenon. Among the Masai, the children undergoing this transition are initiated into the youngest age-set. In course oftime the youngest age-set becomes the eldest age-set and then it has to take on the responsibility of maintaining law and order. So in this third subtype the maintenance of order is the responsibility of the

age-sets. The fourth subtype is also quite widespread and Nuer tribe of Sudan is an example of

this subtype. Order is maintained in such societies by balanced opposition. The Nuer are divided into agnatic descent groups, the lineages. Members of a lineage are obliged to help other on occasions ofdispute. Hence a dispute between two individuals belonging to two different lineages soon becomes adispute between two lineages. Each lineage organises itself into a fighting group to support its member. But when the two persons in dispute belong to the same lineage, then the conflict is confined to this particular lineage and nobody outside this group is involved in this dispute.

Colonial Impact on Simple Societies - Colonialism imposed its imprint on all aspects of tribal life since the 18th century.Economic, political, social and cultural aspects of the simple societies came to be

directly and indirectly, influenced by colonial rule. It has however to be noted that all tribal societies under colonial rule did not experience the same level of disorganisation in their social systems. In some the disrupting influence was much more severe than in others. We shall now examine the impact of colonialism in the economic, political, social and cultural aspects of simple societies.

Economic integration with the capitalist system took three main forms: one, by supplying the traditional products to the international commercial network through a series of local and provincial agencies; two, through the introduction of new crops at the inducement and coercion of the colonial capitalists; and three, by joining willingly or under pressure, the industrial wage labour. The impact of economic integration was most in the third and least in the first.

Supply of Traditional Products- In the first category come the hunting and gathering, pastoral and agricultural communities that sold their traditional products to the agents ofthe capitalist market.

This initiated a new system of exchange and influenced to a certain extent, their traditional systems of exchange and exchange obligations. But the impact was limited to only certain areas of their social life. Cash got introduced to their system and they could purchase with it certain new items of consumption but this did not bring about a restructuring of economic relations in these simple societies.

Introduction of New Crops - In this a new agricultural cycle had to be followed bringing about considerable change in the domestic organisation of production. Most important consequence was the impact of fluctuations of the international price with regard to the cash crops grown by these communities. Tobacco and sugarcane, were some of the crops grown by the tribal communities specially for the world market. In many cases they had to replace food crops by cash crops and hence were forced to buy food from the market. Tribes in West Africa, for instance the Yorubas, were drawn

into the international capitalist market through this second type of integration. But this type of integration did not result in geographical dislocation.

The Industrial Wage Labour - The most disastrous consequences followed from the third type of integration, by entering the industrial labour market. The colonialists developed industries for which they needed cheap labour. A number of inducements were first tried in Africa to lure people into industrial employment. But when they failed, a lot of repressive measures were taken to force the tribal people to work in the mines in the copper belt and in other factories started all over urban Africa. People were forced to pay taxes in cash which was available only in urban-industrial labour and when even these measures failed, physical capture of tribals was resorted to man the hines and the factories.

These repressive measures did not stop at the factory gates but the entire industrial discipline and the conditions of work were very repressive. Plantations in India, Africa and Latin America, employed tribal and non-tribal labour also called indentured labour and subjected them to dehumanising industrial discipline. This kind of integration involved geographical migration, very often leaving the wife, children and old-parents at home in the village. The worker faced problems at both ends of migration, at the

village end as well as at the factory. Imposition of colonial rule disrupted the political order of the tribal communities. The traditional political systems lost their sovereignty and legitimacy. The traditional

political chiefs suddenly found that their rights, authority and power had vanished. They acted now as the representatives of the colonial power and had to behave with their own tribesmen in ways they would not have ever thought of doing in the past. Traditional jurisprudence, traditional measures of the resolution of conflict, all became irrelevant in the new colonial situation. New political institutions, like police, magistrates and jails, came up all over the tribal world. New jurisprudence was imposed on them whose logic they failed to appreciate. New men came to occupy many of these new positions. Though following the principle of indirect rule, the British in 'Africa tried to retain old chiefs in many areas but this

could not be done everywhere. Hence new chiefs were appointed in many communities.

Problems of Colonialism - The new political system had many problems. It was divorced from its relationship with kinship and religion. In the traditional political order as we have examined in an

earlier section, kinship and religion played an important part. The chief was assumed to possess supernatural power because it was retained within one family. With chiefs coming from other families, the religious character of kingship got considerably eroded. Irrelevance of kinship support disintegrated not only the political system, but also, to a great extent, even the kinship system. This is because of the fact that this political role of the kinship system went a long way in giving a sense of unity and solidarity.

Economic and political changes had serious implications for the institutions and processes of social solidarity. In fact the tribals found it hard to accept the cognitive and affective elements of the new industrial culture. They got industrialised but could not internalise the values of industrialism. The lack of industrialism resulted in the high rate of absenteeism and low rate of turn over. The tribals became migrants not only from the village to the urban-industrial complex but also from factory to factory,

from industry to industry. Thus an element of uncertainty and insecurity developed. Colonial imposition resulted also in the disintegration of tribal cultures. Introduction of new market rationality and cash economy moved them over from generalised reciprocity to balanced reciprocity and in many cases to even negative reciprocity. In the new urban-industrial environment they were not in a position to perform their multiple rites and rituals connected with birth, marriage and death. This created psychological deprivation and psychological strains within them. Living in an urbanindustrial environment kept them away from the annual ritual cycle, from the festivals and also from a host of ritual obligations they were supposed to meet at their village home. They suffered from a cultural vacuum at the urban industrial centre. They could not practise their own culture and they could not participate in the cultural activities of the urban-industrial centres. They became alienated not only from their village but also from the industrial culture. In fact they got alienated from themselves. The triblas did not meekly accept the imposition of colonial rule. Researches and studies bear testimony to the fighting spirit of the tribals. In Kenya the Giriamas rose against colonialism in 19 13-14. The cult of Mumbo gripped the Gusii and the Luo in Kenya. The Mau Mau rebellion, again in Kenya, speaks of the tribals' determination to throw away the colonial masters. The cargo cults in Oceania are another expression Simple Societies llndcrstrnding Sociology of the tribal antagonism to colonialism. In India too the tribals rose in violent uprisings against the British and their supporters throughout the nineteenth century. The tribes of Chotanagpur, the Munda, Ho and the Santhal, all rose against the British and the Zamindars in the nineteenth century. In fact the uprisings were so many in the nineteenth century Chotanagpur, that it may easily be called the century of tribal rebellions. T m features stand out very clearly with regard to these tribal uprisings. One, most of

them were violent, to the extent permitted by their primitive tools. Two, they looked for religious support for their success., They were all movements of hope of one kind or another and were all too sure about their success. Needless to say most of them were brutally crushed by the mighty colonial powers.

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