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V. R. Kabo's book Pre-Agricultural Community presents a comparative ethnographic study of the primitive community of hunters and gatherers developing in different natural-geographic and socio-historical conditions. It deals with the socio-economic structure of hunting and gathering peoples with the aim to define universals testifying to the existence of certain regularities and trends. The social structure of hunters and gatherers in Australia and Tasmania, South-East and South Asia, Central and South Africa, South and North America, offers ample evidence that community is the main cell of a primitive society defining the functioning and development of the whole social structure.
The existence form of a primitive hunting and gathering community is a combination of temporary economic groups consisting of individual families. Moreover, a community distinguishes within itself various one-functional groups differing in sex and age and serving to perform clearly defined economic and other tasks. The main components of a primitive social structure can already be found among the Tasmanians, the most archaic of the societies known to ethnography. These include a community, a family, an economic group and a functional group. A more complex communal structure incorporates two levels formed by a lower and a higher communities (certain Australian tribes, the Veddas and some other peoples). Communal mobility, the balance between introvert and extrovert (concentration and dispersion) tendencies, between a settled and a nomadic life-styles is in fact an adaptation to changing external conditions, to cyclic natural patterns.
The community is first of all a leading production collective of a primitive society seeking to have its structure, composition and relative numbers fully compiled with production requirements. A universal feature of a primitive community is its territoriality, i. e., more or less persistent attachment to a certain territory being economically developed by it, with the upper and lower social formations (families, aggregates of communities, tribes) also tending towards territoriality. The flexible socio-territorial organization of hunters and gatherers is well adapted to the conditions of economic activities. A community is one of the most important structures created by a primitive society to socially adapt itself to a changing ecological environment. It is linked with a certain ecological niche and makes part of a certain ecosystem, or a sociobiocenosis. Depending on local conditions, this system accepts various forms even for a single comparatively small people, for example, the Tasmanians or the Andamanese.
Territoriality is characteristic, though variably, of all the hunting and food-gathering peoples, but its realization differs. Generally, under communalism, all lands are clearly delineated and safeguarded. However, in ecologically complex conditions the borders of communal territories are not so very clear and the territories of neighbouring communities partly coincide. Land and other resources are distributed so as to provide favourable conditions for all neighbouring communities throughout the year. This is facilitated by exchanging resources on a mutual basis. When a drought spells hunger to a community the latter may find means of subsistence on the land of its neighbours with whom they maintain friendly and reciprocal ties, as well as the relations of kinship and matrimony. Mutual assistance is a remarkable feature of communalism, covering both its economic and non-economic spheres.
The size and a relative stability of communities depend on the conditions of production, i. e., in the final count, on a natural environment and hunting technology (for example, bow-hunting Pygmies and net-hunting Pygmies), as well as on the level of territoriality and the nature of relations inside a community.
Under pre-agricultural communalism, all land and its resources, being the main means of production, belong to a community. Communal land ownership in combination with personal ownership of items for individual and family use forms the basis for a primitive socio-economic structure. In certain cases we come across pieces of communal land being conditionally owned by a family. Tribe and two-level communities have a correspondingly hierarchical land ownership. Sometimes, land owners are groups of individuals making up a community. The Australians have clan groups or a clan nucleus of a community recognized as the land owner; Bushmens have a consanguineal land ownership according to which land belongs to a group blood kinsmen or a kin nucleus of a community. However, we should distinguish the land being factual economic property of a whole community and the land being property of a group of people recognized as such by themselves and by the society to which they belong.
The food quest and food distribution predominantly require a collective effort supplemented by individual food obtaining and intrafamily distribution. Distribution depends on an individual or collective effort put into food gathering, and on some other factors - mainly those governing relations inside a community and between communities. It is in fact a reflection of the total of intra-communal and intercommunal relations and links. Equitable (not levelling) food distribution offers only certain advantages to elderly people and experts, bringing about certain social inhomogeneity inherent in a primitive society. It can be seen among the Tasmanians and reaches a relatively well developed state among the Californian Indians. However, a primitive society knows no proprietal and social stratification, yet certain prerequisites for it to appear are taking shape among the Californian Indians. The leading position of males in a primitive society can in no way be regarded as an element of social inequality. Equality, cooperation and collectivism are the strong points of a primitive society. The social status of its members slightly varies, depending mainly on sex, age, experience and personal abilities. Primordial democratism which does not exclude social specialization and resultant differences in the position of groups and individuals is a characteristic feature of a primitive community.
In a primitive pre-agricultural society, two types of social distribution of labour should be distinguished, that within a community, based on natural sex and age differences, and that between communities, based on the difference in natural and geographic conditions and in cultural traditions. Exchange between individuals (within a community), between communities or tribes combines economic and social tendencies. Among the Australians, the Bushmen and some other peoples there is a recurrent and systematic interexchange of resources between contiguous communities.
A relatively stable internal structure, autonomy and economic autarky of a community, concentration of information links within it result in a language for intra-group communication, in rather specific phenomena in the field of material and spiritual culture, in regarding other collectives and communities as something else and, finally, in self-awareness and self-name. These phenomena form a distinctive borderline between communities which is evident among the Australians, the Bushmen, and other peoples. The tribe at this stage of development is a forming ethno-social entity which is mainly a territorial unity of communities having common ancestors and cultural heritage. Usually, it does not form a single whole either politically or economically. The boundaries of a language and the tribe speaking it do not always coincide. At the same time, the communities forming a tribe are autonomous economic and potestar entities. That is why the community is the main socio-economic cell of society conducive to the development of self-awareness of its members. Other forms of self-identification (tribal, etc.) are believed to be secondary. The man's self-determination in such a society has a clear-cut localized and communal nature. The community being an ethno-social entity bearing the main ethnic properties historically proceeds the tribe in this particular function. Cultural and language traditions of a community are kept by a constant and stable nucleus consisting of people born into the community - a clan nucleus among the Australians and a kinsmen's nucleus among the Bushmen. Being the main socio-economic entity, the hunting and gathering community is historically the earliest ethnic entity, for the ethnogenic factors of a social entity form on a solid and stable social basis.
The peoples dealt with in the book represent various economic and cultural types and are very inhomogeneous as far as their cultural adaptation and social development, including communal evolution, are concerned. This brings forth a remarkable fact that whatever the geographic and historical environment, traditional pre-agricultural communities as instruments for social adaptation have common structural and functional principles. This is a solid foundation of sorts developed by the hunting and gathering community adapting itself over several millennia to a changing world. This foundation enables a poorly equipped society to survive in a threshold environment. The primitive society makes up for inadequate technology using a reliable and functionally flexible social organizations centred around a community.
A movable communal organization, periodically changing population and composition are very advantageous in the conditions of hunting-gathering. It accounts for seasonal changes and the specifics of the available resources and moreover, it releaves socially stressful situations. Both economic groups and communities have a broadly varying size. However, their variability has limits. A very small group is incapable of solving its economic and social problems, while an excessively large group requires more labour to maintain itself and is often the cause of socio-psychological tension developing into open conflicts. The size and composition of a community often depend on the number of adult hunters. However, introvert and extrovert phases resulting from changing ecology have both social and economic meaning. This is amply seen from the big group phase among the Eskimo peoples which is filled with seal hunting and intensive social life. The same is true of the Australians, Bushmen and other hunting and gathering peoples.
The universals and regularities inherent in the pre-agricultural community subject to an ethnographic scrutiny, make it possible to characterize the development stages of this institution which is known only from archaeological evidence. The book presents an attempt to reconstruct communal organization of the Paleolithic epoch for such regions where ancient dwellings and settlements offering an insight into the social life of their builders have been most comprehensively studied.
Socially, a community is an institution closely connected with the economic basis, at the same time communal organization is an intrinsic part of the social structure, changing alongside progressing society. Not unlike other social institutions, the community developed together with the primitive society as such. The historical periodization of the primitive community, as well as the primitive society as a whole, should take into account the total of socio-economic relations in their historical development. This is just the principle used to define historical periods of the primitive community in the book: Archanthropine community (protocommunity) appeared with the society itself; Paleoanthropine community; Neoanthropine community in its two main historically changing forms corresponding to the Late Paleolithic, Mesolithic and sometimes the pre-agricultural Neolithic periods.