Horticultural Societies

Horticultural Societies:

Horticultural societies relied at least in part on raising their own food. These societies emerged around 7000 B.C., and predominated until 3000 B.C. At some point, hunting and gathering groups began to show their own crops. This practice first developed as what is usually called horticulture, in which small gardens are raised by the use of simple hoes or digging instruments. Many people in the world still rely primarily on horticulture for their livelihood.

The shift from hunting and gathering to horticulture has several implications. The shift to horticulture marked the decline of the nomadic way of life and the beginning of settled communities. More permanent communities usually comprised of a larger number of people than the communities of hunting and gathering societies. Large, permanent settlement with developed horticultural techniques eliminated the necessity for masses of people to move from place to place in search of a means of subsistence. The harvesting of crops required steady and continuous work, which made nomadic life impossible.

Horticultural societies were more stratified than hunting and gathering societies. As political units became larger and more important to the horticultural society’s organization, power became an important basis for the establishment of the stratification system. However, the power of those in leadership positions usually was restricted to the ability to make war, conduct affairs with neighboring societies, and the like.

Since there was a greater food surplus in horticultural societies than in hunting and gathering societies, there was a greater potential for economic stratification, but it was too limited.

The Gururumba are a New Guinea tribe of just over a thousand people living in six villages. In each village, there are several gardens, fenced off from one another. Plots are owned by different families within these fenced areas. Everyone, (adults and children) is involved in tending the plots, although men and women are responsible for undertaking different functions. Each family has more than one plot, and cultivates different plants at certain times of the year, thus providing a consistent food supply. The Gururumba culture involves a complicated system of ceremonial gift exchanges that families carry on with one another, through which prestige in the community can be achieved. The people thus have gardens in which they grow crops for their day-to-day needs and other plots on which they cultivate the ‘prestige’ crops. ‘Prestige’ crops are given far more care than those relating to ordinary needs.

The Gururumba also raise pigs which are not kept mainly for food but again as items of gift exchange designed to achieve status in the community. A massive pig feast is held in which hundreds of pigs are killed, cooked, and given as gifts. Among the Gururumba there is more inequality, than in hunting and gathering societies. Chiefs and tribals play a prominent role, and there are substantial differences in the material wealth people possess.

Some horticultural societies tend to be highly egalitarian. Their leaders typically have coercive power over others. Economic inequality does not exist among simple horticulturalists. Access to food, land, and other material resources is available to all. The significant differences in wealth and power are not found. But in comparison to the foraging societies, considerable competition exists and this creates vast prestige differences.

Extreme sex segregation is a striking characteristic of the division of labor in many horticultural societies. It is not uncommon for women and men to lead almost separate lives. An example of this is provided by the Mundurucu of Brazil. Men work continuously in collective groups, clearing new land for gardens. They also hunt in large groups. Women work commonly in the gardens as the primary cultivators, as gatherers, and in the onerous time-consuming task of processing the manoic roots into flour. The work and worlds of men and women are largely separate. Men live in the men’s house where they eat sleep and practice male rituals. Women and children live in separate houses.

The increase in the degree and complexity of stratification accelerated as more advanced forms of horticultural societies developed. Technological advances, such as irrigation systems, the domestication of animals, and the practice of metallurgy laid the ground works for a greater surplus of wealth and ultimately a more sophisticated and complex certification system.

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