In the most primitive human societies available for study how does a “chief” get chosen in that social context ? Greatest warrior? Best hunter? Best singer? Most even tempered? How does the mantle of command get chosen or placed in the most primitive tribal groups?
Isn’t the notion of ‘chief’ mostly a western concept, at least for Native American tribes? American history is full of treaties signed by ‘chiefs’ who weren’t anything of the sort. For primitive tribes who had that sort of notion, it may likely have been a lineal thing, or someone who rose to leadership through wisdom, bravery, etc.
Could be the eldest, a shaman, hereditary title, smartest. Being primitive they probably didn’t have a set of rules written down anywhere.
So … is a group “leader” or headman in a primitive tribal context not an accurate or operative concept? Is it all moment to moment consensus based?
In many primitive groups there isn’t a single “chief,” but different leaders for different tasks. There may be one person, or a group of elders, that settles disputes, chosen for their diplomatic skills and overall respect as people. In time of conflict, a younger man may serve as a war chief, but not have authority over other activities. The shaman or medicine man has authority in the spiritual realm. Leaders in each realm were often chosen by consensus of the group.
Isn’t the question akin to “how do advanced societies pick their leader?” I would think there was quite a variety.
I’m flying off remembered things from Jared Diamond books, here, but “tribes” in the true sense (~100-~5000 people) tend to be large enough to support and revere the elderly. Their head honchos tend to be wise older men. Or rich older men.
“Bands” on the other hand, which is anything up to 100 people and which are nomadic, tend to be headed by the strongest, baddest man in the group.
I once took a college course on “Industrial Psychology” from a real down-to-earth guy that had consulted with various real world industries. He also had an interest in general anthropology in studying how different people think.
His response in this area was that all societies have their jocks, their philosophers, their “rah-rah boys”, their teachers, etc. and behavior is a lot like “advanced societies”, depending on their available technology and resources.
In Great Ape and such societies, the largest a group can be and still be ruled by one creature is about 30. Once you get larger than that, then you have subgroups, etc. Note that the leader of a subgroup can be a female depending on … tons of things.
(Note that 30 is also the maximum class size you want for Elementary-High School.)
So in a very small group, there’s probably one male (for most human groups) that’s in charge. For larger ones, it’s divided up more. Especially by category.
For PNW coastal groups, the head of a whale boat is chosen by the rest of the crew based on whatever characteristics they think will lead to a good hunt. Previous hunting skill, good decision making, alliances, etc., all play a role. Note that a person can lose stature if he is seen as not in good with the Gods for whatever reason, regardless of other attributes. One key factor is how good he is seen at fairly allotting the results of the hunt. If some people feel they didn’t get their cut, he might not be chosen as leader next time.
How to massage other people’s egos and resolve disputes is quite important.
Note that those people I call “Omega males,” guys who act like Alpha males but without the abilities to back it up, don’t last long in such groups. They know he’s all talk and a trouble maker and he’s sent packing. In our society, they manage to go remarkably far.
I remember reading that this is quite similar to how pirate crews chose their captains; they basically voted on who amongst their number would do the job best. As long as the captain kept them busy, making money, resolved disputes and everyone was fairly happy, everything was good. If the crew as a whole disagreed with what the captain was doing, he’d be out of a job (which could simply mean going back to being one of the crew or it could mean getting killed/marooned). The captain served at the pleasure of the crew. Even Blackbeard has to sleep sometimes!
Probably way more variety than in advanced societies, almost all of which (depending on how you measure) have an official power structure that is pretty closely related to either Monarchy or Parliamentarianism.
The problem with this question is that it presumes that “primitive” societies are basically all the same. But there’s tremendous variations in the ways groups of humans organize themselves, and the smaller the group, the more possible organizations are basically functional.
Except elected political office is only one among literally hundreds of ways leaders are chosen. I work at an office. I have a boss, who has a boss, who has a boss. This message board has a boss. The grocery store near my house has a boss. My house has leaders (hint: it isn’t the children). My daughter’s ballet class has a leader. Their school has leadership. Churches have leaders. And on and on and on. Every human organization has some sort of leadership function, and those leaders are chosen in thousands of different ways. Even groups that operate by consensus have people who guide the group and set the norms and bring up the issues, even if they have no more formal authority than anyone else.
That’s a good point. I was thinking of the “societal” leader, rather than the many various subgroup leaders.
In most, if not all, Native American tribes the “Chief” had no real power over their followers. They were accorded respect owing to their reputation, experience, personal charisma. A person might take their advice and follow them, or reject it and do as they pleased. There was not a formal mechanism for designating someone as leader or supreme executive.
Hence, any time you hear the phrase, “Indian Princess,” you know the speaker is full of crap because Indians did not have monarchies or pass power with heredity.
Welllll…get outside North America and it was a more common system. There are a number of examples of hereditary rule from central and South America, as well as the Caribbean.
But even in NA you can find examples of hereditary offices, a prime example being the office of sachem and its variants in the east. There could be elective as well, but only within a given gens which was invested with the hereditary title.
In anthropology, a “chief” is a figure that is only found in relatively advanced societies.
If I remember correctly, the sequence was something like ‘band-tribe-chiefdom-early state’: each larger and more complex than the one before.
In terms of leadership?
‘Bands’ lacked a single leader; decision-making tended to be by consensus, with leadership assumed on a strictly informal and context specific basis (if hunting, the most experienced hunter). Most bands are of hunter-gatherers.
‘Tribes’ tend to be agricultural. Leadership is of the ‘big man’ variety: assumed by individuals to organize labor for some specific task; status is achieved on an individual basis, not hereditary or class-based. “Achieved” rather than “ascribed” status.
‘Chiefdoms’ tend to be either agricultural or pastoral (though on the west coast of North America, the fishing was so rich that chiefdoms arose based on that!). Leadership tends to be hereditary: chiefs are of a different class from non-chiefs, may have semi-divine ancestry. “Ascribed” rather than “achieved” status.
Chiefdoms there certainly were in North America, though the largest of these disintegrated before Europeans showed up in force, most likely done in by epidemic diseases:
However many (but not all) of the native American figures known as “chiefs” were not necessarily “chiefs” in the sense of this hierarchy, as their status was achieved rather than inherited. There are of course many intermediary types between each of these categories … some inherited a certain status, out of which a chief was chosen by ability, etc. Given the very wide range of Native American societies past and present, ranging from the major city of Cahokia (clearly “chiefdom” at least) through to the societies of the West Coast (which had hereditary classes, and so looked more like chiefdoms), right through the hunter-gatherers of the arctic, a wide range of examples are found, and it is unwise to generalize …
“Primitive” does not equal “stupid” or “retarded” as some people seem to think.
10,000 years ago, Humans were just like you and me, with the same capacity for rational thought. Only their context and knowledge base were smaller. (But very likely much larger in fields no longer important in our context.)
The problem is that the essential smallness of “primitive” societies places some strict limits on the available mechanisms of social organization.
It isn’t the same as in leadership of a small group within a larger society: that presupposes a larger society, with its rules and (importantly) its wide variety of people.
In a “band”, everyone would likely be related to everyone else - it would resemble an extended family more than a business office or a military platoon. It would lack the threat or promise of advancement and laws enforced by an outside power. These facts put something of a limit on the forms social organization could take - while there will be variety, it will not be huge.
Tam was only responding to the 2nd paragraph, but the reply is applicable to the 1st paragraph as well. One did not simply decide for oneself whether one was going to obey the Inca* or not.
*“Inca” is a term often used to describe the whole people, but it was really a term for the ruler. There can be only one…