Civilized and Primitive Societies

Illustrate the differences between what we refer to as `civilized` societies and those which are underdeveloped` or ` primitive.`In order to avoid stereotyping, support every general point with at least three specific examples.

Civilization in a general sense is a complex form of society that involves the formation of states, subsistence from agriculture, and settlements in cities.  Members of civilization follow an organized social division, where some work as laborers, while others function as rulers.  In the normative sense, there are what we call civilized society and primitive society.  The former is considered to be more complex and refined compared to the latter.  Civilized people must have refinement in manners, and become part of economic development and modernity.  The primitive cultures lack a written form of language, no technology, and live in small numbers.   The differences between a primitive society from a civilized society can be measured through their means of subsistence, how they settle, types of government, social hierarchy, economic patterns, religion, and literacy.

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Primitive cultures have already subsisted on agriculture as a means of living.  They stored grains, built mud houses, and hunted wild animals for food.  These, however, were done using crude instruments like spears and sticks.  Their organizations were simple.  The Koori in New South Wales, the Murri in Queensland, and the Palawah in Tasmania are three samples of Australian primitive cultures that used the traditional methods of division and sharing of resources as part of communal social cohesion.  They used native plants and animals for food, medicine, and lifestyle.  Members of each group have their parts in gathering resources to be shared among them.  It was not in their nature to have more than what they needed.  They have hunters to catch prey for meat that will again be shared among the members of the tribe.

Comparing to civilized societies, farmers in the United States and other similar societies, use technological advancements in tilling the land.  Mechanical equipment has been developed to aid the farmer in planting and harvesting.  In a civilized society, not everyone is part of the food-production process.  Some have nothing to do with it at all.  Also, in modern societies, an individual is permitted to acquire more than what he needs as long as he could pay for it.  Because of the size of civilized societies, members tend to fend for those who belong to their families without regard for others.

Settlement Patterns

Primitive societies were either nomadic or settled farmers.  Those that remained mobile were normally small in number and they made camps where they were near food and water supplies.  They moved from place to place in search of food and game.  Some, however, were considered semi-settlers, like the Australian primitive groups mentioned above who have their villages.  The abundance of wildlife and food supply in areas like Murray, Australia, made the primitive groups stay semi-permanently in the area.  For some, like the Aetas of the Philippines, are believed to have come from Papua New Guinea because of their physical resemblance.  This group is said to have traveled to Asia when the continents were connected by land bridges.

Members of civilized societies have their roots in one community or another.  These settlements are called cities or towns with fortified defenses and roads. They don’t just go from one place or another as their fancies take them.  They generally go to cities to earn a living and seek their fortunes.  A civilized individual generally settles in one place for a lifetime.  Others go to other places to earn a living, but some eventually go back to what they call home.  Centuries ago, expeditions were launched using modern ships and technology to spread culture to what the civilized world called the primitives or the barbarians.  In areas reached by civilized people, primitive cultures were made to adopt norms and cultures dissimilar to their own.

Political Organization

The primitive societies that were small in number had informal leaders, often selected based on strength and capacity to lead the group in fighting and hunting.  In bigger groups, tribal chiefs and councils were the rulers and leaders.  In much bigger groups, being chief or king was hereditary.  Selection and governance were not very complex.  Among the primitive Mayan cultures, nepotism prevailed in the ruling class.  The king was succeeded to his position by his son.  But being king of a Mayan tribe was not as easy as being king of England.  A Mayan king-imminent must take a captive in war to be killed as an offering when he succeeds to the throne.  In civilized societies, like England, it is Prince Charles’ birthright to be king when Queen Elizabeth steps down from the throne.  Prince Charles killing a captive to be king is unthinkable in English society.

Also, in modern societies, political organizations are plentiful and forms of government are complex.  Some civilized societies practice democracy, while others follow communism or some other type of governance.  In a democratic nation like the United States, the country’s leader is chosen through a voting process.  Candidates have to seek votes during the campaign period.  No bloody wars happen, but word wars could ensure.  The civilized politician uses other means to defeat the enemy.

Social Hierarchy

The existence of formalized social strata in present societies is rare.  There are delineations but they’re often defined by wealth and political status.  These differences are subtle and unwritten but they nevertheless exist.  For instance, poor people are not legally bound not to marry above their stations but social norms could hinder a union with a person belonging to a materially abundant family.  In other civilized cultures, social hierarchies were based on birthright.

 In India’s caste system, a baby born to slave parents will also be a slave when he grows up.  However, slave systems all around the world are continually being abolished.  In Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, a member of the royal family will always have privileges that an ordinary Arabian won’t have.

In primitive cultures, particularly in bands and tribes, this social hierarchy existed but was not as pronounced.  While a chief holds the highest office, an ordinary tribe member could win his daughter’s hand if he is deemed worthy through a fair contest of strength among the daughter’s suitors.  Smaller groups have no slaves.  Everyone has his own assigned tasks.  In bigger groups where there are kings and queens, slaves served their masters, and soldiers fight for the entire clan.

Economic Patterns

Primitive cultures follow simple economic models.  The farm, hunt, gather and distribute to each clan member depending on needs.  Tribes and bands sometimes trade with one another to obtain other goods that are unique to particular tribes.  These exchanges are crude and do not follow defined rules and principles.  Say, for example, one community in Korea would trade animal skin for salt from another tribe.

In modern societies, the production and distribution of resources follow more complicated mediums.  There are centralized governments that facilitate production and distribution and create laws to govern trade exchanges.  Hundreds of laws cover trading from grains to metals to crude products.  Two people normally trade using currencies.  To obtain goods from a different state, the usual currency for goods exchange is not enough.  There are permits or licenses to be obtained and taxes to be paid.  Taxes are also part of civilized communities.  Because there are services and facilities, such as roads and bridges, that are available to everyone, the funds for maintenance of these infrastructures are made by exacting taxes from people’s earnings.  The nearest form to taxation in primitive cultures was the payment of tributes to kings or rulers.


Religion is one of the easiest ways to differentiate a civilized society from that of a primitive one.  A society that is considered underdeveloped worships idols and nature.  These societies have shamans or religious elders to lead rituals of praise, healing, and petitions.  They have idols made of wood or stones, which the people believe could protect them from enemies and droughts, and could provide them with food and clothing.  They perform dances as a way of praising their deities and offer blood sacrifices, animals or humans, to appease their gods.  The Cherokee religion was based on balance.  The Cherokee believe in atoning for sin to restore the balance of the world that has been upset by wrongdoing.

In civilized societies, religious groups are organized and hierarchical.  In the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, the Papacy is the highest form of office, followed by Cardinals, Bishops, and Priests.  Idolatry is not part of modern religious practices.  Mass takes the place of rituals.  Instead of worshipping nature and countless other deities, modern religions believe in one true God, who holds power over all living and non-living things.  Christians believe in Jesus as the Son of God, while Muslims believe that Allah is God.  Other forms of organized religions include the Jewish, Buddhist, or Protestants.  The civilized man had used religion as a means of befriending or conquering primitive or undeveloped cultures.  Ferdinand Magellan used Catholicism to spread Spanish rule to the Asia Pacific.


The primitive peoples had a way of writing but they differed from the civilized world’s writing system.  They used symbols to represent a word or an event.  In modern societies, a system was developed to formalize writing for recording events and communicating.  The English Alphabet was developed and used by most countries.  The Japanese people have developed the Katakana, Hiragana, and Kanji writing systems.  There are also Arabic letters as well as Chinese characters for writing.  But the use of all these writing systems follows well-defined rules that could be passed on from one generation to another.


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Civilized and Primitive Societies. (2016, Sep 30). Retrieved from