Hunter Gatherer Research

Where goods are free but knowledge costs

Hunter-gatherer ritual economics in Western Central Africa

Hunter Gatherer Research (2015), 1, (1), 1–27.

Abstract

Forest hunter-gatherers in Western Central Africa participate in an unusual economic system that transacts material production in a very different way to intellectual production. While material goods, such as food, tools or clothing, are generally freely given when demanded, intellectual goods, such as the right to perform specific rituals or to receive certain remedies, are exchanged for goods and money. These hunter-gatherer groups trade certain types of knowledge for material goods with each other, but never trade material goods for other material goods with each other, despite doing so with neighbouring farmers. They simply demand them from one another. The distribution of key aspects of this economic system across linguistic and international frontiers suggests that it is likely to have great antiquity. The hunter-gatherer ritual system is valued for immediately producing goods. This contrasts with cult associations among farming societies in Central and West Africa that focus on ensuring that goods will come in the future.

Where goods are free but knowledge costs

Hunter-gatherer ritual economics in Western Central Africa

Abstract

Forest hunter-gatherers in Western Central Africa participate in an unusual economic system that transacts material production in a very different way to intellectual production. While material goods, such as food, tools or clothing, are generally freely given when demanded, intellectual goods, such as the right to perform specific rituals or to receive certain remedies, are exchanged for goods and money. These hunter-gatherer groups trade certain types of knowledge for material goods with each other, but never trade material goods for other material goods with each other, despite doing so with neighbouring farmers. They simply demand them from one another. The distribution of key aspects of this economic system across linguistic and international frontiers suggests that it is likely to have great antiquity. The hunter-gatherer ritual system is valued for immediately producing goods. This contrasts with cult associations among farming societies in Central and West Africa that focus on ensuring that goods will come in the future.

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Bahuchet, S 1996. Fragments pour une histoire de la Forêt Africaine et de son peuplement: les données linguistiques et culturelles. In Hladik, CM, Hladik, A, Pagezy, H, Linares, OF, Koppert, GJA & Froment, A (eds) L'alimentation en forêt tropicale: interactions bioculturelles et perspectives de développement. Paris: Éditions UNESCO:97-119. Fragments pour une histoire de la Forêt Africaine et de son peuplement: les données linguistiques et culturellesL'alimentation en forêt tropicale: interactions bioculturelles et perspectives de développement97119 Google Scholar

Bahuchet, S 2012. Changing language, remaining Pygmy. Human Biology 84(1):11-43. Changing language, remaining PygmyHuman Biology841143 Google Scholar

Barnard, A 1988. Structure and fluidity in Khoisan religious ideas. Journal of Religion in Africa 18(3):216-236. Structure and fluidity in Khoisan religious ideasJournal of Religion in Africa18216236 Google Scholar

Blurton-Jones, N 1987. Tolerated theft, suggestions about the evolution of sharing, hoarding and scrounging. Social Science Information 26(1):31-54. Tolerated theft, suggestions about the evolution of sharing, hoarding and scroungingSocial Science Information263154 Google Scholar

Bonhomme, J, De Ruyter, M & Moussavou, J 2012. Blurring the lines ritual and relationships between Babongo Pygmies and their neighbours (Gabon). Anthropos 107(2):387-406. Blurring the lines ritual and relationships between Babongo Pygmies and their neighbours (Gabon)Anthropos107387406 Google Scholar

Furniss, S and Joiris, V 2011. A dynamic culture: ritual and musical creation in the Baka context. Before Farming 4(3). A dynamic culture: ritual and musical creation in the Baka contextBefore Farming4 Google Scholar

Joiris, DV 1996. A comparative approach to hunting rituals among the Baka Pygmies. In Kent, S (ed) Cultural Diversity among 20th Century Foragers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press:245-275. A comparative approach to hunting rituals among the Baka PygmiesCultural Diversity among 20th Century Foragers245275 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Gell, A. 1999. The art of anthropology: essays and diagrams. In Hirsch, E (ed) LSE Monongraphs in Social Anthropology. London: Athlone Press. The art of anthropology: essays and diagrams Google Scholar

Guyer, J 1993. Wealth in People and self-realization in equatorial Africa. Man, New Series, 28(2):243-265. Wealth in People and self-realization in equatorial Africa Man28243265 Google Scholar

Herskovits, M 1926. The culture areas of Africa. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 3(1):59-77. The culture areas of AfricaAfrica: Journal of the International African Institute35977 Google Scholar

Ichikawa, M 2005. Food sharing and ownership among Central African hunter-gatherers: an evolutionary perspective. In Widlok, T & Tadesse, W (eds) Property and equality. Oxford: Berghan Books:151–164. Food sharing and ownership among Central African hunter-gatherers: an evolutionary perspectiveProperty and equality151164 Google Scholar

Katz, Richard 1982. Boiling energy: community healing among the Kalahari Kung. London: Harvard University Press. Boiling energy: community healing among the Kalahari Kung Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Lewis, J 2003. The hunter's curse. Film in the 'What's going on?' video and documentation tool. London School of Economics. 7 minutes. http://elearning.lse.ac.uk/dart/wgo/wgoLevel1.html. Google Scholar

Lewis, J 2008. Ekila: Blood, bodies and egalitarian societies. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14:297-315. Ekila: Blood, bodies and egalitarian societiesJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute14297315 Google Scholar

Low, C 2015. The role of the body in Kalahari San healing dances. Hunter Gatherer Research 1:27-57. The role of the body in Kalahari San healing dancesHunter Gatherer Research12757 Google Scholar

Kisliuk, M 2001. Seize the dance. BaAka musical life and the ethnography of performance. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Seize the dance. BaAka musical life and the ethnography of performance Google Scholar

Moise, R 2014. Do Pygmies have a history? revisited: The autochthonous tradition in the history of equatorial Africa. In Hewlett, B (ed) Hunter-Gatherers of the CongoBasin. Cultures, Histories and Biology of African Pygmies. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers:85-116. Do Pygmies have a history? Hunter-Gatherers of the CongoBasin. Cultures, Histories and Biology of African Pygmies85116 Google Scholar

Peterson, N 1993. Demand sharing: reciprocity and the pressure for generosity among foragers. American Anthropologist 95(4):860-874. Demand sharing: reciprocity and the pressure for generosity among foragersAmerican Anthropologist95860874 Google Scholar

Röschenthaler, U 2011. Purchasing culture: the dissemination of cult associations in the Cross River region of Cameroon and Nigeria. New Jersey: Africa World Press. Purchasing culture: the dissemination of cult associations in the Cross River region of Cameroon and Nigeria Google Scholar

Tsuru, D 1998. Diversity of spirit ritual performances among the Baka Pygmies in south-eastern Cameroon. African Study Monographs, Supplementary Issue 25:47-84. Diversity of spirit ritual performances among the Baka Pygmies in south-eastern CameroonAfrican Study Monographs, Supplementary Issue254784 Google Scholar

Tsuru, D 2001. Generation and transaction processes in the spirit ritual of the Baka Pygmies in southeast Cameroon. African Study Monographs, Supplementary Issue 27:103-124. Generation and transaction processes in the spirit ritual of the Baka Pygmies in southeast CameroonAfrican Study Monographs, Supplementary Issue27103124 Google Scholar

Vansina, J 1990. Paths in the rainforest. toward a history of political tradition in equatorial Africa. London: James Currey. Paths in the rainforest. toward a history of political tradition in equatorial Africa Google Scholar

Woodburn, J 1982. Egalitarian societies. Man, the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17(3):431-451. Egalitarian societiesMan, the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute17431451 Google Scholar

Woodburn, J 1998. Sharing is not a Form of exchange: an analysis of property sharing in immediate-return hunter-gatherer societies. In Hann, C (ed) Property Relations: Renewing the Anthropological Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press:48-63. Sharing is not a Form of exchange: an analysis of property sharing in immediate-return hunter-gatherer societiesProperty Relations: Renewing the Anthropological Tradition4863 Google Scholar


Details

Author details

Lewis, Jerome