Foraging Tribes: Defining Features

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  • 0:01 Misconception of Tribes
  • 0:51 Foragers
  • 1:36 Foraging Tribes
  • 2:51 Foraging Tribes that Fish
  • 3:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain the distinguishing features of foraging tribes. In doing so, it will highlight bands, egalitarian societies, the nomadic lifestyle, loose political ties, and sodalities.

Misconceptions of Tribes

With most of us growing up in the more Westernized, industrialized world, I'm guessing very few of us can give an accurate definition of the word 'tribe.' Yes, we might be able to give some Hollywood-produced version from some old Western flick, but when it comes down to it, most of us are pretty lost. Digging a bit deeper into our knowledge wells, I'd think it'd be safe to say that very, very few of us could go a step further and define what is meant by a foraging tribe.

To remedy this, today's lesson will focus on the distinguish features of foraging tribes. Breaking this down into amateur language, we'll first cover what is meant by foraging. When we've got that covered, we'll move onto tribes.


For starters, foragers are simply hunter-gatherers who survive on the collection of naturally occurring resources, specifically wild plants and animals. Due to the fact that very few hunting and gathering tribes still exist in pure form, today's lesson will definitely lean on some generalizations.

For starters, most foragers are nomads, people who lack permanent residence who move from place to place in search of food. Due to this huge dependence on what they can find rather than produce from their environment, most foragers tend to live in small communities that are easier to support. However, even these small groups can vary in political organization from bands, or very small, single nomadic communities that are connected by family ties, to the topic of today's lesson: tribes.

Foraging Tribes

Speaking anthropologically, a tribe is a combination of smaller kin or non-kin communities linked by a common culture that usually act as one. Now putting our two terms together, a foraging tribe is a combination of smaller kin or non-kin groups who practice hunting and gathering and share a common culture. With that mouthful, we'll give some more explanation.

Encompassing more than one community, foraging tribes still tend to be relatively small. With their small size, foraging tribes usually do not have a strong central leader and, therefore, the ties between these multi-local communities are not always permanent or formalized. In other words, there is not one head honcho keeping these groups together. Instead, they are usually governed by group consensus.

In fact, most foraging tribes tend to be very egalitarian, treating all persons of the same age and gender as equals. Due to this lack of a strong centralized power, foraging tribes often create sodalities, groups made up of at least one family member from each of the communities within the tribe. This is done in the hopes that this new group will sort of act as glue to hold together the communities.

Foraging Tribes that Fish

All this being said, there is one type of foraging tribe that doesn't always fit the mold. These are foraging tribes that rely heavily on fishing for their survival. According to many social scientists, foraging tribes that rely heavily on fishing tend to be larger than those that don't. They also tend to be more sedentary in their dwelling.

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