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The Economic process in primitive societies

The Economic process in primitive societies – İngilizce ileri düzey okuma parçası (advanced reading)

In our own economic system money gives a universal measure of values, a convenient medium of exchange through which we can buy or sell almost anything, and also a standard by which payments at one time can be expressed as commitments for the future. In a wider sense it allows for the measurement of services against things, and promotes the flow of the economic process. In a primitive society without money we might expect all this to be absent, yet the economic process goes on. There is a recognition of services, and payment is made for them; there are means of absorbing people into the productive process, and values are expressed in quantitative terms, measured by traditional standards.
Let us examine, to begin with, a situation of simple distribution such as occurs when an animal is killed in a hunt. Do the hunters fall on the carcass and cut it to pieces, the largest piece to the strongest man? This is hardly ever the case. The beast is normally divided according to recognized principles. Since the killing of an animal is usually a co-operative activity one might expect to find it portioned out according to the amount of work done by each hunter to obtain it. To some extent this principle is followed, but other people have their rights as well. In many parts of Australia each person in the camp gets a share depending upon his or her relation to the hunters. The worst parts may even be kept by the hunters themselves. In former times, at Alice Springs, according to Palmer, when a kangaroo was killed the hunter had to give the left hind leg to his brother, the tail to his father’s brother’s son, the loins and fat to his father-in-law, the ribs to his mother-in-law, the forelegs to his father’s younger sister, the head to his wife, and he kept for himself the entrails and the blood. In different areas the portions assigned to such kinsfolk differ. When grumbles and fights occur, as they often do, it is not because the basic principles of distribution are questioned, but because it is thought they are not being properly followed. Though the hunter, his wife, and children seem to fare badly, this inequality is corrected by their getting in their turn better portions from kills by other people. The result is a criss-cross set of exchanges always in progress. The net result in the long run is substantially the same to each person, but through this system the principles of kinship obligation and the morality of sharing food have been emphasized.

We see from this that though the principle that a person should get a reward for his labour is not ignored, this principle is caught up into a wider set of codes which recognize that kinship ties, positions, or privilege, and ritual ideas should be supported on an economic basis. As compared with our own society, primitive societies make direct allowance for the dependants upon producers as well as for the immediate producers themselves.

These same principles come out in an even more striking way in the feasts which are such an important part of much primitive life. The people who produce the food, or who own it, deliberately often hand over the best portions to others.
A feast may be the means of repaying the labour of others; of setting the seal on an important event, such as initiation or marriage; or of cementing an alliance between groups. Prestige is usually gained by the giver of the feast, but where personal credit and renown are linked most closely with the expenditure of wealth, the giving of a feast is a step upon the ladder of social status. In the Banks Islands and other parts of Melanesia such feasts are part of the ceremonial of attaining the various ranks of the men’s society, which is an important feature of native life. In Polynesia these graded feasts do not normally occur, but in Tikopia a chief is expected to mark the progress of his reign by a feast every decade or so. The ‘feasts of merit’ of the Nagas of Assam are not so much assertion against social competitors as means of gaining certain recognized ranks in the society.

(From Human Types, by Raymond Firth)

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