Clanless foragers usually displayed personal and anarchic freedom. In these egalitarian societies, clans often placed all human beings in the lowest social rank of their cosmologies. They were equal below supernatural creatures and spirits.
The growth of clans and lineages of foraging societies provided larger networks of mutual aid. They also aided in the formation of rank societies.
In rank societies, superior lineages often modified their cosmology to attribute their privileges to ancestors. No longer were all men equal.
“We Were Here First”
As these networks grew, some lineages claimed to have privilege over an area they occupied or hunted on because they were there first. This was one of the first steps in creating hierarchical inequality.
Warfare is more common in societies no longer relying on immediate returns leading to the raiding of neighbours for resources or revenge after a neighbour had failed to reciprocate a gift, loan or act of generosity. Raiding parties often returned with slaves.
Although agriculture creates greater opportunities for it, a high abundance of wild-foods can also result in the development of inequality.
The Chumash of California created plank canoes that took 500 man-days of labour to create. With these canoes they could catch larger fish and became the producers and middleman of the shell-trade along the coast. The value of the shells varied from area to area due to variances in supply and demand.
Head chiefs monopolized ownership of the canoes and controlled access to hunting grounds. The group allowed these men to wear items of luxury and to have two to three wives while the ordinary man only had one.
The Nootka of Vancouver Island showed a surprising amount of inequality for a foraging society. In times of abundance, fisherman caught more salmon than could be eaten and the rest was preserved. Surplus food, shell valuables and craft items were all traded with neighbours.
Chiefs inherited their titles and were polygamists, while those with humble births were craftsman, fisherman and hunters. At the bottom of the social structure were slaves. Women and children were often taken as slaves from a debtor’s village and made up most of the slave population.
Because a chief was seen to own the salmon fisheries, fishermen were obligated to pay with portions of their catch or other foodstuffs. Chiefs would pass down their titles through feasts and this was probably the original role of the potlatch. The feasts displayed a chief’s wealth and rank and the food and gifts treated to guests were in exchange for eye-witnesses of the title exchange. They could have also been ‘feasts of merit’; shaming guests with gifts they could not reciprocate.
The gap between rich and poor among Nootka widened through time. Growing amounts of impoverished families were willing to accept subservient roles in wealthy households in exchange for food, shelter and protection while successful families preserved their accumulated resources. Wealth was passed on through luxury items, resources and intellectual property.
Rank and Sex
In these societies, external competition between lineages and individual males is began to emerge. Some lineages were more successful; raiding neighbours and creating a slave ranking. These slaves were mistreated and less likely to reproduce (although rape and sex may have been prevalent, it would be harder for individuals of this rank to secure resources to be successful in bearing offspring). Some individuals were being favoured as chiefs and allowed several wives while ‘ordinary’ men only had one, limiting their offspring potential.
Although sperm competition may have occurred, resources were being accumulated and secured creating inequality among individual males’ reproductive potential.
In part 3 I will turn to accomplishment based societies and combinations.