Re: Foragers?

thomas w kavanagh (tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU)
Tue, 19 Mar 1996 11:40:27 -0500

On Tue, 19 Mar 1996, JOHN LANGDON wrote:

> I have not gone back to check my copy of Lee for the context of the quote or for
> the conclusions of the "following discussion." However, the Northwest Coast
> Indians are quite atypical in a number of ways that relate them more to
> agriculturalists. The cultures were based on a reliable annual harvest of
> salmon, which could be dried and stored for future consumption. Their dependence
> on hunted and gathered resources was reduced and they did not have to travel as
> much. The consequences include: high population density, permanent settlement,
> reduced geographical area exploited, opportunities to accumulate material goods.

But as you say, the "atypical ways" which set the NWC peoples apart were
the sociocultural results stemming from the difference in general "scale"
(predictability, absolute and relative size, etc.) of their resources, not
in their mode of production yes? Fisherfolk in less endowed areas (Ona and
Yahgan, for instance) would have been included in Lee's rubric, yes?

As my question went on, what can be said about foragers in other
environments: pre-and post horse Plains, for instance, temperate zone
hardwood forests, etc., with different resource variations.

> Another consequence was their vulnerability to catastrophic "crop" failures and
> subsequent famine. Social correlates include stratification of society with
> increasing inequality of wealth and power, periodic (but not daily) centralized
> redistribution of food and wealth through the potlatch, and warfare.

I am not sure how those "social correlates" follow from "periodic
catastrophes." [I have never really bought the Suttles/Vayda/Piddocke
ecological argument that the potlatch was a "kind of safety valve in a
system of exchange of food and wealth between affines in different
villages, and that this system was adaptive in this environment" (Suttles
and Jonaitis 1990 HNAI Vol 7:85)]

> > How valid is Lee's proposition that "The concept of *mode of production*
> > includes political as well as economic dimensions" if that proposition
> > limits the political dimension to only bands?
> How valid is it to make a contrast in the "mode of production" between foragers
> and agriculturalists, who differ in both political and economic dimensions? The
> same determinants that differentiate foragers and agriculturalists also
> distinguish the coastal Indians from foragers.

This does not really address my question. (Although I must admit I did not
state it as clearly as I could have.) My point was: although Lee included
a political dimension to mode of production, he limited his discussion to
band-foragers. That is fine, and is his prerogative. But is our picture of
foragers skewed by limiting our focus to the band foragers of the refuge
zones? As shown by the NWC case, there can also be tribal and even
chiefdom foragers.