Although folk systems have largely disappeared today, they were the dominant type until 3000 B.C.E. Especially before the emergence of industrialization during the early nineteenth century, numerous folk systems functioned throughout the world. Examples include the San, Pygmies, Bergdama, Nuer, Tiv, Igbo, and Kikuyu in Africa; the Aborigines in Australia; the Kalinga, Andaman, and Siane societies in Asia; the Eskimos, Kaska, and Kuwakiutl Indians in North America; and the Ona and Siriono in South America. Most people hunted wild game, gathered berries, dug roots from the ground, herded cattle, fished, cultivated gardens, or practiced subsistence agriculture. No formal government institutions--permanent, differentiated role networks--guided political decision making. In these segmentary, decentralized, equalitarian systems, most policies binding on the whole community occurred in the family setting. Sociopolitical life revolved around relationships in the nuclear and extended family. The political system functioned as the family writ large.
In The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Frederick Engels viewed hunting-gathering folk societies as examples of "primitive communism." Each family lived in a "primitive communistic household," where women held equal rights with men. Based on a minimal division of labor, these folk systems practiced extensive socioeconomic equality. Kinship ties promoted egalitarian solidarity. The community owned basic resources. Production occurred through collective efforts; the producers themselves--hunters, gatherers, fishermen, cultivators--controlled food production and distributed goods to consumers in a fairly equalitarian way. Lacking a state with a powerful bureaucracy, army, or police, the folk system made public decisions through widespread popular participation. In this "primitive natural democracy," all people had the right to participate in public assemblies that formulated binding policies on society. Public opinion, not state coercion, maintained compliance with small group norms. Although admiring the folk system for its equality, communal solidarity, and consensual decision making, Engels acknowledged that its simple, undifferenti-