Foraging cultures in Africa

Anthropologists tend to group various ethnicities or communities according to the ways they choose to gain their subsistence - Foraging cultures in Africa introduction. Some of these groups are pastoralists, horticulturists, or foragers. The communities that are grouped together according to such criteria tend to be very similar not only in their survival tactics, but in many other facets of life. Many hunter/gathering cultures, regardless of having glaring geographical differences, remain similar in many ways as well. In fact, such groups tend to live in similar ecosystems even when living across the globe.

Obviously these areas that foragers have chosen to inhabit have dictated their lifestyle. The ! Kung of South Africa and the Aborigines of Australia are two foraging groups that display more similarities than differences in their ways of subsistence and daily life. Numerous similarities exist between the ! Kung and the Aborigines. Both groups rely on the bounty of nature, rather than the domestication of animals or plants. Both groups are semi-nomadic, staying in one place for a season and moving as resources fluctuate. The group sizes of these two cultures usually span from 10 to 50 people depending on food/water levels.

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Both groups have low childbirth rates, practicing birth control or possibly infanticide in order to maintain this. They survive mostly on roots, nuts, green plants, small game, insects and occasionally large game. Both groups only have possessions that they can carry; they rarely keep an excess of food (sometimes they do for short periods of time) or transport non-functional art. They often wear art on their bodies in the form of clothing, jewelry, and painting. There is a loose division of labor among both groups, with both men and women gathering and usually only men hunting.

These groups are considered to be highly affluent in that they have time for leisure. Therefore, their religions are well developed, colorful, and highly animistic. In addition these groups are highly organized and very egalitarian, with leadership and representation spread out among many people. The multitude of similarities between the ! Kung of S. Africa and the Aborigines of Australia can be explained by a number of factors. In extreme desert environments, a nomadic forager lifestyle may be advantageous because the land is relatively infertile and water must be sought out.

In addition, moving around allows resources to regenerate. By staying in small groups, these people can provide for each other and share with less conflict. Child birth rates have to be slow because not only is it hard for a mother to carry around young children while traveling, but providing nourishment and protection would also prove difficult. Keeping possessions or an excess of food would be impractical for a society that must carry everything they have for many miles. These groups have free time because the energy of foraging is directly converted into food; a tactic that is actually quite efficient rather than primitive.

It is also logical that they should both be highly egalitarian, because in such small groups needs and jurisdictions can be carried out directly without the aid of spokesmen or representatives. From the many similarities between the ! Kung and Aboriginal foraging groups, it can be concluded that the way that a group subsists defines many or all aspects of life. In addition, this subsistence is entirely dependent on the environment in which the group lives. All aspects of the foragers’ lives revolve around their land- their love and respect for it.

In extreme environments, groups evolve similar ways to survive and similar philosophies on life and community. Many people consider this form of life to be primitive or as simply a transition to the “advanced” life of commercialism. They even call foragers lazy. These ideas show the contrast of values that foragers have as compared to the values that industrial societies have. However, both the ! Kung and the Aborigines have developed survival tactics highly holistic and sustainable in the desert environment. Hopefully someday we can achieve that level of advancement.

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