Bands, Tribes, Chiefdoms, and States

Pioneers in Anthropology such as Julian Steward developed a useful categorization scheme dividing societies into bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and states based on their organizational characteristics.  This scheme, as with all models, is a reductionist version of the true complexity exhibited in the real world where there are few clear boundaries between social types.  Yet, it is helpful to identify some of the major principles underlying human organization at various stages of population integration.

What are the major characteristics of the following types of societies:

  • Band
  • Tribe
  • Chiefdom
  • State

34 thoughts on “Bands, Tribes, Chiefdoms, and States

  1. Where do societies that integrate small numbers of peoples exist in the modern world? What types of landscapes did they dominate in the recent past?

    • There are groups in New Guniea and the Amazon jungle that live in small numbers. These are native socities that have not been influenced by the modern world as of yet. They live in far off countrysides and jungles. In the recent past these societies were dominant in Africa and North America. The highest form of orginization that many of the cultures achieved here was the tribe form. These landscapes were deprived of substances that made them habitual for a long period of time. Either there weren’t enough resources to support a large and permanent population or there weren’t native plants that could be harvested.

      • There are small tribe based societies in a few remote areas around the world. Tribes like these tend to remain unaffected by external influence even until current times. Surviving in some of the most remote areas of the planet, people of these small tribe like communities tend to lean on hunting and gathering rather than being agriculturally efficient. in the recent past tribes covered North America and Africa following herds of animals and living off of the land.

      • There are still pre-industrialized societies in South America that consist of small populations. For example, i travelled to Peru two summers ago for an adventure/service trip, and was placed in a small society in the mountains just outside the town of Ollantaytambo. The civilians were fed by the farm animals in the area, lived in mud brick houses smaller than our dorm rooms, and religiously lived by their Incan roots. There was no need for currency because they all were interdependent on each other, and the chief of the village made sure the wealth was spread evenly. The small societies that are prevalent in the modern world still exist because of their simplicity and ability to meet the necessary components to survive.

        • Being Peruvian decedent and actually having lived there for a short time period I have recognize that the Charlie is right. In Peru and many parts of Latin America that surround the Amazon are witness of the type of civilization these civilians have to live in. Many of the Inca culture is well kept alive because of these civilization. There concentration is so small, which is good for them to keep the roots pure and well noticeable between them and the outsiders that come to visit and witness there life of living. As Charlie mentioned there simple, humbled, and very open to meet there necessary components to survive.

      • In these remote areas, there appears to be a comfort level with knowing those you live around and with so well. The members typically tend to be related in some form, whether by marriage or blood. This causes less conflict and when conflict does arise it is easily solved. One small issue may be the collision of two separate bands and tensions could increase. This is because they are not adjusted to being with so many people that they are merely acquaintances with. Like Charlie C. stated, these small tribes or bands find it easier to go about life as they know it rather than adapting to modernization. Especially in their environment, because their ways are ones that they know work and keep them alive.

        • In the modern world, there are still societies that integrate small numbers of people that are confined to some of the most remote regions of New Guinea and Amazonia. These bands are the smallest form of society, and typically include 5 to 80 people that could be considered “extended families” because most, or all, of the members are close due to marriage or blood relation. Some of these bands include African Pygmies, San hunter-gatherers, Aboriginal Australians, Eskimos, and Indians. Until the recent past, these societies consisted of nomadic hunter-gatherers and lacked many institutions, including permanent residency, economic specialization, and social stratification.

    • Small, band-like societies exist in extremely isolated areas of the world. Places in Africa seem to be almost frozen in time. Societies that exist purely off the earth have been living with the same tradition from many many years with lithe change. Societies like these are unaffected by technology advancement and are completely detached from anything modern. These societies exist in areas that are unpopulated due to extreme weather conditions, difficult terrain, or distance from modern civilizations. These small types of societies prosper here because they have learned everything about their environment from their ancestors.

    • ared Diamond illustrates that these sparsely populated societies are quite few today, but are geographically located “on remote and ecologically marginal lands outside state control”(273). He also provides a specific example by indicating that these existing bands are virtually located in the most isolated areas of New Guinea and Amazonia (267). Additionally, Diamond states that tribes, the stage exceeding a band, currently inhabit and dominate New Guinea (typically the highlands), Melanesia, and Amazonia (271). Ultimately, these small groups of people conquered landscapes such as massive jungles, deserted highlands, and distance islands.

    • Hunter/Gatherer socities are practically gone from the modern world. The modern complex society dominates the landscape of the planet. This is in contrast to 13,000 years ago when hunter/gathering dominated as the preference of organization for humans. In today’s world there are too many people for this type of strucutre to support. It would be impossible to “hunt” for 7 billion people.

      • I agree with Ashima’s statement that the modern world is too complex and too populated to support a hunter-gatherer society. If I were to go and try to hunt in my town near Tampa, it would be nearly impossible because of how industrialized it is, and it’s just not feasible. Additionally, in today’s society there is the luxury of improved technology for extracting and producing food, so it allows for the production of permanent dwellings.

    • In society today, there is no need for Hunter/Gatherer systems as there are factories, businesses and technology that do these tasks for us easily without as much manual labour. Even in the places that do still employ a lot of manual tasks and hunting, the populations are too big to supply everyone by doing so. Also, there are not as many close-knit areas that will be willing to hunt/gather to provide for others besides immediate family unless there is a reward for them.

      • I agree with Monique, our way of living is very technological that we don’t have the need to go hunting or gathering for necessities like in the old times or like some cultures that do so. Our society is so populated like Meghan said that makes it impossible for us to hunt. Today hunting is something that is not allowed without a license or permission. The closest thing we have to gathering is going to the store and buying things that we need. It might sound silly but thats what our society has changed to after so many years.

    • The present Hunter/Gather societies are extremely limited. What I mean by this is that nowadays there are multiple sanctions around the world that don’t allow people to hunt or gather anywhere they please. A great example of this can be seen in the Amazon Rain forest. The animals and plants that are available in the Amazon are considered rare and if anyone tries to hunt over there, they can be fined or arrested. Hunting/Gathering was essential back then because that was the only way people were able to stay alive. In order to sustain a healthy lifestyle, hunting and gathering was necessary. However, now industries and corporations have taken over the bulk of society.

    • For a hunter gatherer society to work there needs to be enough wild food sources to supply the people. Due to the enormous amount of urbanization that has happened across the world the available land has decreased quite a bit. The United States for instance is far to urbanized to support a hunter gatherer society, taking into account its population. However there are many rural places that can, and do, have hunter gatherer societies.
      In my opinion the biggest problem faced by a hunter gatherer society is the population. That is why these type of societies are typically small from 20 – 80 people.
      Also in the current era there is no real need for hunter gatherer societies because farming has become industrialized.

  2. What new controls on resources are necessary for the integration of larger populations than possible within band structures? Why are people willing to make concessions to leaders of larger political conglomerations?

    • According to the reading people don’t happily consent to a large political system. They are forced to due to or are conquered. People are forced to summit to large political structures because the larger political structure may be depriving them of resources and passing threats. When large populations due combine resource management becomes extremely important. This is where a large political system comes in handy. The various levels of administration and man power makes handling resources much easier than if the political structure was something small such as a band society. Internal conflict resolution also plays a part in managing the resources. Deciding who gets what and implementing these decisions maintains order and survival of a large population.

    • Like Ashima said, most societies were first conquered by a larger political faction, and did not give consent. However, rule by an “upper class” has many benefits including economic redistribution, and the upper class monopolizing force in order to ensure happiness and maintaining public order, meaning there is less violence and fear. Additionally, when there are many members in a society, conflict resolution no longer involves members of kin; there is no longer the issue of relationships interfering with conflicts. However, people had to learn to interact with one another without killing each other, which led to the upper class creating another benefit – shared ideology.

    • Having a large population forces the society to become more complex. The more people there are, it becomes more necessary to add rules and restrictions to keep order. This causes societies to become more complex. In larger populations it requires more resources to support everyone. Leaders naturally start to control the flow of resources so everyone gets their share. This may require people to give up their own resources, but they do this in exchange for protection and the assurance they will have enough to survive. People are willing to conform to these large scale political organizations because they see it as the most prosperous way for them to survive.

    • As Ashima mentioned smaller societies are typically merged into larger populations by coercion or conquest. Once integrated into these centrally governed societies the people depend on adequate and constant production of resources. However, this production and distribution is more complex than the functions of band societies. In fact, Jared Diamond states, “large societies cannot function with band organization (288).” Band organization would simply be unsuccessful in meeting the demand of the masses because it fundamentally consists of personalized and intimate relationships that resolve conflict easily. Due to the “considerations of conflict resolution, decision making, economics, and space” involved in such production it is vital to have an ordered centralized power (288). I think that in ordered systems people typically make concessions without reluctance because either they fear not obtaining the resources they need for survival or they have faith and trust in the guardianship of the center power. The faith and trust coincide with successful complex kleptocracies, the organizational method of larger societies.

  3. How are leaders able to justify an ever growing command over an increasing proportion of surplus goods? What power strategies are employed in this situation? What social institutions are invented or involved in the process?

    • Leaders create religion or ideologies in oder to justify their power and command over goods. They declare themselves as a spokesman to the gods and with time they begun to believe this also. Leaders thus are able to demand tributes and sacrifices because they and their society sees them as performing such an important function. If the gods aren’t happy it may not rain, people may get sick, there may be war, etc… Leaders also justifiy their actions by declaring that these acts were committed in the name of god. The Crusades are a perfect example of this. Leaders also make promises to their people that if the people give them so many things they will return a certain number of those items back. If the annul tribute is distributed in a way that makes the majority of the people happy then the leader will be much praised even if the leader retains much of the tribute for himself and his family.

      • I agree with everything that Ashima said. When a leader said that they were a spokesperson to a god, or that they knew what it wanted, who wouldn’t listen and/or follow them? They would be able to appease the god and allow the society and people to flourish. As long as that leader does what they promise and can make the majority of the population happy, even if it entails lying, then they will remain in power because they have the support of the people.

    • Leaders are able to justify their raise in the level of control in their community by creating a new social aspect that requires overseeing. Religion is a great example of this because of its relative baseless claims. Religion is used as a way to explain the world around communities, and leaders of the communities are in a unique position to maintain their power position. Claiming that the he himself is the god’s medium is the easiest way for a leader to become involved in the lives of the members of the society. While in this position, the community will be accepting to any ideas or moves at power.

      • I agree with Charlie that religion is a great strategy for controlling communities and justifying ones’ leadership over a population. Religion has already laid out the reasons to obey, and the population at large would normally not go against the religion that has always been.

      • I agree with Charlie here as well. Religion is a main factor in many communities and by stating one is in contact with the god or knows what it wants, the people will follow suit. Religion tends to dictate peoples’ conscious decisions based on what is looked down upon and what is commended. Therefore, a leader whom is in a high position with that tribe’s or chiefdom’s god will be one people will want to follow and be just a worthy.

    • Leaders are able to justify a growing command over an increasing proportion of surplus good over various systems of means of governing. One such system would be the “Big-Man” system. As seen in tribes and chiefdoms, there is one main leader in charge of distributing the surplus and utilizing it for relations with other tribes. As the size of the population may increase, this becomes harder.

    • The leaders gain support from their people and are allowed to keep extra surpluses for themselves without protests from the public by the use of religion. The supernatural beliefs that the bands and tribes long ago believed and saw to be true were just transformed into a named religion which justified the ‘kleptocrats’ keeping the surpluses for personal use. The leader claims to his people that he is the lead communication link between them and the gods and can intercede for them. This is another reason that they can command responsibility over surpluses without arguments or accusations of being unfair. Another way in which these leaders have authority over the surpluses is that they redistribute a certain amount that would make the majority of the population happy and in doing so, no complaints or protests are made against them.

      • I agree with Monique. As she said as the people were happy and witnessed some sort of connection of their ruler to the gods they wouldn’t protest because they believe that the ruler is taking care of them and easing up the gods while they do all the laboring work. The rulers take advantage of it and have the ability to use the surpluses for personal use. There transformation and unique role in religion just gave them the ability to do anything.

    • As supernatural beliefs became a tool used to justify central authority, kleptocracy, justifying the transfer of wealth and maitaining the peace, religion was born. Religion was and continues to be a power strategy within states. Religion helps unconnected people to connect under one common belief which helps maintain peace in a society. Religion also gives people a motive and reason to sacrifice their lives on behalf of others which helps build strong armies as well as a feeling of community. In states religion is powerful because it is an element of society that supports central control through central beliefs. Through economic specialization in states, there were available food surpluses. In chiefdoms, the chief would exercise monopoly and force to get the general public to obey him. In bands and tribes, hunter gathering was more popular so there was no need for relgion as a power strategy.

    • Leaders are able to justify controlling the surplus of resources because people like to know that they are promised goods in case they ever are desperate. This gives them incentive to trust in the leader. Leaders try to offer the best deals to their people in order to keep them happy. This is the most important job of a leader. Leaders promise their people rewards for obeying and supporting them. Also leaders promise success and prosperity for their state in order to gain support. Another way leaders gain a following is by claiming that they have the support of the gods. This will make people think they have a divine right to be in charge and they will even trust the leader more.

    • Leaders are able to utilize their strong charisma in order to instill fear into a society. For example, of one person has X amounts of surplus. The leader tells that person that he should store his surplus into storage so it can help others. The leader can instill fear by telling that person that next month he might not have a surplus, therefore if he gives up his surplus, whenever he doesn’t have any food then he can take it from storage. This is the same system seen in the “Big man” society at Lefkandi. Another way a leader can instill command on surplus, is religion. As my fellow classmates stated, these societies were heavily religious based and the fear of getting any god angry was evident. Therefore the leaders utilized the fear of god in order to take control of the surplus. Fear is the main key to the success of the leaders.

  4. There are four categories to understanding societies: bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and states. They are all different but easily compare to one another. Each has major characteristics of their own. Bands are recognized for being the smallest societies. They only have a few dozen people (between 5 and 80).There is no distinction of classes or leadership. Tribes differ in that they have a “big man.” But he only carries limited power and an outsider would not be able to distinguish this person because his appearance is no different than the rest of the community. In chiefdoms, “people had to learn, for the first time in history, how to encounter strangers regularly without attempting to kill them” (273). The solution to this problem was for one person to have recognizable authority, the chief. Because the chief required servants, unlike bands and tribes, jobs had to be filled by slaves. Chiefdoms also developed a new system called a redistributive economy (example: irrigation systems to help feed everybody). Today, states rule all societies except for Antarctica. Central authority and taxes are more extensive. “Economic specialization is more extreme, to the point where today not even farmers remain self-sufficient” (279). These bigger populations require more labor and public works which call for more slaves. “Over the past 13,000 years the predominant trend in human society has been the replacement of smaller, less complex units by larger, more complex ones” (281).

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