In studying hunter-gatherer groups in the Philippines and the Republic of Congo, senior researcher Andrea Migliano found eerie similarities in how foraging groups use multi-level social constructions to survive. This ability to cooperate with others through food sharing and reciprocity is not only uniquely human but may be the secret to our evolutionary success.
Researchers spent many months immersed in the Agta village in the Philippines and the Mbendjele village in the Republic of Congo to determine how “social structure relates to economic and social domain.” Migliano explains, “sharing and cooperation is crucial to survival, so [tribe members] evolved mechanisms to cooperate with unrelated individuals." These food sharing and reciprocity rules are also related to social organization within the tribe. Researchers found that both communities, though on different continents, participate in a similar three-tiered social system.
This social system is defined by which relatives and nonrelatives a household shares their food with. First, a family would share the day’s finding amongst the immediate household (about 5 to 6 people); next, the food was shared with 3 or 4 other closely related households. The remaining food was then shared with the rest of the camp.
Such food sharing among hunter-gatherer groups is essential since a single hunter only returns with meat about 75 percent of the time. This multilevel system ensures that relationships the tribe members require to make up for any shortfalls in a foraging society. Researchers feel that this system may be the basis for all human social organization.
Hunter-gatherer groups are also highly nomadic (moving about every 10 days), so it is not uncommon for the distribution of villagers to change fairly often. With so many newcomers and a dire need for survival, hunter-gatherer groups have created a social structure that regulates “social rules, friendship and kinship ties, and the spread of social norms, promoting a more efficient sharing and cooperation,” says Migliano. This comradery promotes trade between tribes and diminishes violence such as theft, murder, and war.
Our ability to get along easily with acquaintances and even strangers is a quality that is uniquely human; and, though hunter-gatherer groups are not completely identical to past forging groups, they certainly give anthropologists an idea of how humans used to live and how we continued to grow. Today, humans use these cooperative and collaborative skills to create IPhones, computers, and other new gadgets. Sharing food, then tools, then ideas, lead us to develop new technologies and evolve into the modern cultures of the day.
- Dyble et al. Networks of Food Sharing Reveal the Functional Significance of Multilevel Sociality in Two Hunter-Gatherer Groups. Current Biology, 2016 DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2016.05.064
- Cell Press. "What hunter-gatherers can tell us about fundamental human social networks." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 July 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160721142526...>.
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