Academic journal article Ethnology

Sharing, Hoarding, and Theft: Exchange and Resistance in Forager-Farmer Relations (1)

Academic journal article Ethnology

Sharing, Hoarding, and Theft: Exchange and Resistance in Forager-Farmer Relations (1)

Article excerpt

South Asian foragers (a.k.a. scheduled tribes and adivasi) have been depicted as passive, primitive, and naive in their relations with surrounding sedentary populations of agriculturalists. Researchers' accounts can inadvertently promote such tribal essentialism when they focus on simple reciprocity and sharing behavior and neglect the range of other strategies that enable foragers to resist assimilation into the underclasses of Hindu society. Recent ethnographic research about exchange patterns among the nomadic Raute of western Nepal indicates that their productive strategy combines spread-net and ax hunting of monkeys, collection of forest vegetables, and barter for grain and other products. Although their internal social relations stress egalitarian sharing, Raute emphasize asymmetrical exchange strategies such as patronage, fictive kinship, and begging from surrounding Hindu agropastoralists. These flexible strategies of interethnic exchange enable the Raute to maintain a degree of ethnic autonomy that has been lost by other South Asian foragers. (Hunter-gatherers, South Asia, exchange theory, forager economics, cultural survival)

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The increase and expansion of settled agriculturists at the expense of nomadic hunter-gatherers over the past dozen millennia is one of the most cherished stories shared by anthropologists. This story, however, places hunter-gatherers in an unduly passive role. One view of this interaction has essentialized hunter-gatherers by focusing primarily on intracultural exchange (e.g., Sahlins 1965; Cashdan 1985; Gould 1982; Hawkes 1993). In the literature on forager exchange, the archetypal hunter-gatherer society practices generalized reciprocity and is characterized by isolation and timelessness (Bird-David 1995:17). Little attention is given to how foragers actively interact with agriculturalists and to the diversity of forager responses to pressures by sedentary societies. By failing to explicate the range and complexity of foragers' political and economic exchange relations, a romanticized image of hunter-gatherers as simple, honest, and sharing develops and makes it difficult to understand their abilities to accommodate, and at the same time resist, the hegemonic ambitions of surrounding sedentary peoples. In more recent literature, the intricacies of intercultural relations have received more attention (Spielmann and Eder 1994; Lukacs 1990; Morris 1982; Gardner 1995; Bahuchet and Guillaume 1982; Endicott 1983; Gordon 1984; Grinker 1990; Headland and Reid 1989; Wilmsen 1989; Cashdan 1986). Bailey and Peacock (1988:91) have noted, for example, that Efe Pygmies of Zaire cannot be understood as an isolated population since "virtually every aspect of Efe existence is affected by and has effects on Walese villager life." This article provides additional evidence that foraging societies cannot be understood isolated from their larger social landscapes; they can only be understood relationally, as cultures that are shaped by their contact with agriculturalists and others.

Forager-farmer relations are not balanced, however; the hegemonic ideals and practices of sedentary farmers necessarily influence everyday practice in forager societies. Foragers are generally too few in number, unable to effectively use the dominant language, and too isolated from urban centers to exert formal political power. Informal forms of resistance thus become more important means of confronting surrounding agricultural populations. Intercultural studies of hunter-gatherers and sedentary cultures depict a host of strategies by hunter-gatherers that are designed to avoid assimilation, including tactics of impression management, alliance building, flexibility, adaptability, negotiation, accommodation of the dominant society's rules, along with such concrete maneuvers as lying and deceit, fleeing, and begging (e.g., Biesele 1989; Gardner 1995; Gordon 1984; Guenther 1986; Myers 1991; Furer-Haimendorf 1982; Prins 1996; Rushforth 1994; Woodburn 1995). …

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