From the point of view of people living in “developed” nations it is difficult to describe the factors that are real to members of a hunter-gatherer group. (For our purposes we use the commonly used word “tribe” in discussion.)
First, it is necessary to know that there is no tribal “government,” as we understand the word. There are no police officers to enforce “laws” because there are no laws. There is a foundation culture that defines uniform expectations of thinking, beliefs, and behaviors each child learns from his or her parents and other adults. There being no writing and reading, expectations and knowledge are communicated verbally and by adult example.
From an early age, each child can see and understand that tribal survival is dependent on everyone following the uniform expectations and learning to fulfill their roles. Male and female children learn about their differing roles and what they need to do to support survival, avoiding starvation or annihilation by the “enemy.”
One expectation involves uniform graphic symbols on every article of clothing, hair style, art, weapons, shelters, and so on. “Our” arrows are readily identifiable from “enemy” arrows. Graphic symbols determine if a person is a member of “our” group or is an invader. Generally, invaders are killed because they are seen as coveting and using “our” resources.
Male and female roles are different. Neither role is “easy.” Males are protectors against enemies and providers through hunting. Males are expendable because of life-threatening hazards related to their roles. Because of this, adult male and female populations are out of balance with more females than males. Males often have more than one “wife” so that females’ reproductive capabilities are utilized to maintain tribal population.
Female roles, although different, are as essential to tribal survival as male roles. Females process the game killed by males and are the gatherers and preparers of everything useful in the plants and minerals found on their land. Females bear and initially care for children that are necessary for the continuation of the tribe. Females own the home property; her man may be killed as a protector or hunter; but the brother or another male member of her deceased husband takes over the responsibility of protecting the home and provide game for their survival. He or another male family member of the deceased husband may take her as his wife.
Although females initially care for children, both male and female adults take on the role of educating children, teaching them verbally and though experiential activities to prepare them for their respective adult roles (male and female) in tribal society. They are taught to take pride in their childhood accomplishments in carrying out these roles. A young boy may bring his first meat and rabbit pelt into the home. As he grows older the game will be bigger and more dangerous. Most game killed for food is lean. For survival, killing dangerous bears provides a more balance diet and warmer clothing.
Because the population of a hunter-gatherer tribes is small it is easy for children to understand their respective roles and the importance in learning to fulfil them. As a child begins to fulfill these roles in small ways, he or she receives praise and positive reinforcement for doing the right thing and doing it well. But in beginning to learn and fulfill their roles the children can experience the natural consequences of doing the wrong thing. Some natural consequences can be painful and even life threatening.
© Joseph L. Bass, EdD, June 2020