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My Foraging Culture

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Jabrosky, Jan 4, 2013.

  1. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    Unlike some of the other worlds I've talked about here, I've actually managed to get some story written for this concept. Allow me to take a break from it for a moment...

    This story features a culture of foragers (or hunter-gatherers) who don't organize themselves into states, tribes, or even clans. Nor do they have any formalized government or social hierarchy. Instead they live in small, egalitarian bands with fission-fusion social dynamics, which is to say they may split apart or merge together with little difficulty. While this does tend to lead to low population density in any given acre of land, at the same time the flexible social system prevents deep-seated tension from forming between bands. For the most part the different bands tolerate each other and willingly exchange goods and members together; ethnocentrism and tribalism does not exist in the culture.

    Although the bands share with each other egalitarian social structures which value personal autonomy and interpersonal cooperation, beyond that their size, composition, and informal social codes vary. Bands may take on the form of nuclear families, extended families, groups of friends, religious cults, or even occupational guilds. They may consist of all men, all women, all young, all old, or have mixed sexes and ages. For example, my heroine's starting band is a cult of young women who specialize in hunting and focus their spiritual attention on one tyrannosaurian goddess. Of course, some people prefer not to live in any bands at all, instead wandering the world all alone.

    Despite the aforementioned existence of one-gender bands, the culture as a whole does not enforce gender roles. Both men and women may do anything they are able to do. There is a widespread social convention which associates bows and arrows with pregnant and breastfeeding women, but then bows and arrows are commonly used by anyone who can't afford to get too close to prey. Neither sex suffers from sexual repression; although monogamous couples are common, so are polyamorous associations.

    Scattered throughout the world are communal gathering places where different bands may congregate for trade, sexual intercourse, and other social activities. However, no one is obligated to visit any particular gathering place. Usually bands will visit whichever gathering place is most conveniently located for them. Some bands may roam within a certain area while others may wander the world at random. My heroine's huntress society counts among the more randomly moving bands.

    Any thoughts on this?
  2. Nameback

    Nameback Troubadour

    I think it sounds interesting and well thought-out, as far as plausibility and detail are concerned. There is, however, one potential problem I see: where does the conflict come from? If these bands of people aren't going to exhibit tribalism or other sort of hostile in-group/out-group dynamics, then who are they going to fight and why?

    Of course this may not be an issue at all -- perhaps you already have determined that a non-human threat will be the source of conflict in your story, in which case forget everything I said. But, if not, then I think you might have to consider creating at least one band/group that doesn't adhere to the more egalitarian standards of the broader ur-community. Some group of troublemakers, antagonists, etc.

    Or, alternatively, tell the story from the point of view of someone who lives in a group/band that is part of a different ur-community, which borders the habitat of these quasi-egalitarian bands. Surely not everyone in this world belongs to a peaceful, communitarian society. One thing I like to use egalitarian--or otherwise alien but plausible and admirable--societies for is to illustrate a contrast between our modern society and the fictional egalitarian society I am depicting. For this, it is useful to place the protagonist within a society more similar to our own--with all its attendant injustices and conflicts to create drama and tension. Then the opposing model of the egalitarian society gives the hero something to strive for, or perhaps educates the hero on alternative ways of living, or must be protected from extinction by the hero.

    Stories where people exist within unjust, messy, violent, brutal societies tend to be interesting. Drama and tension abound in such settings. If you're going to forgo that source of conflict, then you have to think carefully about it.
    Jabrosky likes this.
  3. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    This is what I'm working with right now. The humans in the story share their world with intelligent Velociraptors who have a much more territorial and competitive culture. The relationship between the two species mirrors the violent competition between spotted hyenas and lions in our world's African savannas. I may also add a second human culture with much less egalitarian and more warlike tendencies than the foragers.

    That said, the forager bands may still have "leader" figures who have earned more prestige than the rest. Those leaders would be elected by popular vote, but people may still compete among themselves for the position.
  4. gethinmorgan

    gethinmorgan Scribe

    I've bought an old anthropology book for much the same reason as you have done here ... (Silberbauer's Hunter and Habitat in the Central Kalahari - if you must know :p ).

    Your setting sounds quite rich in possibilities - personal freedom at the cost of anarchy, (just the perfect 'barbarian' place in need of a nice strong 'Imperial' hand - see conflict). The obvious cost of this anarchic freedom is no leadership or enforcable laws, no police, military, possible problems in caring for children and the elderly, medical care etc. These all imply a hidden cost that the people in your culture wouldn't see, or understand. Grandma too old to walk? 'Well, it was nice knowing you ... bye!'

    The sentient dinosaurs sound cool. Nuff said

    I'm not clear on the geographical landscape though ... mountains and forests, deserts and oasis, wide-expanse savanna, or a mixture of all of the above? This would shape the culture, and must have enough food to find/hunt to allow for smaller bands than clans and tribes ...

    Whatever the answers are, this is a decent culture to build on ... :)
  5. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    I would think issues of enforceable laws, police, and military would only matter in socially and economically stratified societies since the problems they address developed from socioeconomic equality. You have valid points about the limited medical care and problems with caring for society's disabled members though. As fascinating as I find hunter-gatherer cultures, I cannot deny that their way of life contrasts sharply with some of my own values.

    Right now I'm picturing a variety of tropical environments such as rainforests, savannas, wetlands, and some volcanoes.

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