Foraging societies depend passively on what the environment will provide. They hunt and gather their food and unlike agricultural societies, they do not rear animals for food or plant crops; dogs are the only domesticated animals (O’Neil para. 1-3). Contrary to popular opinion about societies that existed before civilization being primitive, foraging societies are not primitive and demonstrate a high degree of efficiency. This essay shows the advantages that foraging societies possess over agricultural societies.
Foraging societies are not attached permanently to the places they live; in fact they only construct encampments and simple easily to dismantle huts. This is because they mainly move away from an area when the climate changes and resources dwindle. Movement allows them to increase their food reserves and support a larger population than otherwise. Their social setup emphasizes the need for small bands of people in a given area so as to avoid conflict, therefore when the band population grows beyond the optimum, the band splits up and each goes a different way. Splitting up of large population densities becomes less stressful to the carrying capacity of the environment and allows them to care for their aged, senile and disabled. Foragers have minimal possessions and this gives them flexibility to migrate when there are unfavourable environmental changes (Haviland et.al. p. 158). Modern supposedly evolved societies are less stable than forager societies (Fernandez-Armesto p.264) because they encourage high population densities which intensify competition as discussed by Diamond (Jared Diamond). Much of other causes that Diamond identifies as the causes of the fall of societies are avoided in forage communities as has been shown above. For example, he notes that when the elite isolate themselves, they cannot see the urgency to solve environmental problem caused mainly by pollution because they do not feel the impact. Secondly, he points out depletion of resources, climate change and dependence on other communities as other causes of collapse of a society (Jared Diamond).
Forager societies do not have full time leaders, and are considered very democratic. They survive the problems identified by Diamond because their lack of hierarchy allows for fast sharing of information and thus respond faster to changes in environment. Secondly while foragers respect their environment as the source of livelihood, civilisations are “radically modifying the environment” (Fernandez-Armesto p.39) and even with their advanced technology, are less efficient. The lack efficiency explains why in the United States now, only 1% of the population produces food while the rest of the working class work 40-50 hours a week, while in the San community, adults who make up 60% of the population work only 15 hours per week to provide for the whole community. Adults must be 20 to work, yet in modern U.S. young people of 16 years old work. Ethnographer Richard Lee has described foragers as the most leisured of all societies. Their life expectancy is 60 while that of the U.S. prior to modern medicine was 50 (O’Neil para.20).
Disadvantage and Conclusion
Unfortunately foraging societies are unable to defend their hunting sources in the case of epidemics wiping out animals they hunt. The encroachment of industrial societies and agricultural societies in traditional hunting area has also reduced the sources of food for foragers especially calories (O’Neil para.6).
The disadvantages of foraging are only caused by the encroachment of other societies. It should be noted that the simple technology used by foraging societies does not make their life grim. Ethnography has found no reliable evidence to show that foragers have to struggle to survive. Settlements favour rapid increase in population and result to a hierarchy structure of governance that is characterised by elitism, a major source of isolation in communities and a cause for their fall. Mobility and flexibility of foraging communities absolves them from this fall.