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Cash, Commoditisation and Changing Foragers.

Despite its dry title, this volume provides a useful update on how traditional hunter-gatherer societies have adapted during the last two decades to circumstances involving relations with complex nation-states and with national market economies. Drawing heavily upon a classic study by Steward and Murphy ('Tappers and Trappers' 1956) to focus attention upon general issues of socioeconomic changes arising from contact with European economics, Peterson leads off with a paper that compares the results of the different volume contributors with earlier findings in economic anthropology. This introductory paper establishes the comparative nature of the volume. Principal issues for comparison include the effects of depersonalized, all-purpose money in lieu of or along with more personalized exchange relationships based upon traditional principles of reciprocity (an essential feature of the process termed 'commoditisation'), dependency upon some dominant culture within the nation, and the question of whether one can even speak of these societies as 'hunter-gatherers' in the context of such basic changes to their existence.

From Peterson's synthesis, the volume moves on to papers that examine particular cases in detail. From this point on, the emphasis is empirical rather than theoretical (with the possible exception of Gomes' study of the Semai of Malaysia, which adopts a Marxist analytical approach). Detailed economic data and 'thick' ethnographic description characterize these case studies, with four on Australian Aborigines (Matsuyama, Kubota, Koyama, and Peterson), two on the Central Kalahari San (Sugawara, Tanaka), one each on the Mbuti of Eastern Zaire (Ichikawa), and the Semai of Malaysia (Gomes), the Agta of northern Luzon (Griffin), and two on Native Americans (Feit's study of the James Bay Cree and Langdon's paper on the Yup'ik Eskimo of Alaska). Viewed in the aggregate, these papers provide a detailed 'snapshot' of different hunter-gatherer societies at more or less the same time. The greatest single strength of this volume is the wealth of contextually controlled data brought to bear in each case on the general issues addressed by Peterson in the introductory paper. This is certainly one of the more focussed and coherent contributed volumes in anthropology encountered by this reviewer, and it provides a level of empirical detail not often found when dealing with these kinds of questions. Stimulating as Steward and Murphy's pioneering study was, it lacked this kind of attention to the details of historical and cultural context. Each of the ethnographic case studies contains valuable data that will permit wider comparative analysis in hunter-gatherer studies.

There are surprises; some good, some bad. I was fascinated to learn, for example, that the Yup'ik of southwestern Alaska have not only maintained a strong orientation to subsistence hunting and fishing and to traditional concepts of land tenure and a kin-based mode of domestic production, but they have incorporated cash into their economy successfully enough to permit one community of 108 households to acquire and operate 90 cars and trucks, 137 snowmobiles, 110 three-wheeler all terrain vehicles, and -- get this--five airplanes! Add to this their assorted boats, rifles, and other durable items and we begin to see a picture of a traditionally-oriented community effectively adapting cash and industrially-derived products to serve traditionally defined goals. On the other hand, I remain unconvinced by Koyama's conclusion that: 'Far from commoditisation dissolving all that it touches, the effect in central Australia is to keep alive skills and knowledge that are no longer essential to day to day survival ...' Koyama argues that the art and craft industry of central Australia has somehow served to perpetuate traditional Aboriginal social traditions. Yet his data reveal increasingly individual production and sale of craft items, which is a far cry from traditional Aboriginal practices of joint production and sharing of resources. Many of the skills described by Koyama were introduced and promoted by various Euro-Australian agencies, such as the batik art by Aboriginal women at the Ernabella Mission, and cannot be viewed as traditional skills and knowledge any more than the watercolor paintings sold by many Aboriginal artists in and around Alice Springs. Koyama's data contradict his own conclusions, although I hasten to add that these data are of value, especially when compared with the other papers in the volume.

I was also fascinated to discover how important equestrian hunting by groups has become among the Central Kalahari San. Tanaka describes how hunting on horseback has increased the intake of meat over earlier bow-and-arrow hunting, using data collected in his studies during the 1960s as a baseline for comparison. Tanaka also notes how wage labor (that is, 'earning money') has begun to displace work that was formerly seen as embedded in the range of other activities such as hunting and gathering, child care, play, singing and dancing, and chores. It is the owners of horses who serve as catalysts in this change, since: 'Horses, which are the key element in equestrian hunting, are the most expensive items purchased with cash ... In equestrian hunting, those who can own horses are limited to a few persons so the foundations of reciprocity have vanished.' The Central Kalahari San appear unable or unwilling to use their newly purchased technologies to maintain traditional values to the same degree as the Yup'ik of southwestern Alaska. By comparing cases such as these, one is led to look more deeply into questions of why different hunter-gatherer societies have adapted so differently to the introduction of cash economies.

The comparative scope of this volume, however, remains limited to what can be termed 'marginal' or 'subsistence' hunter-gatherers. More sedentary or productive hunter-gatherer societies like the Northwest Coast Indians and many California Indian groups were left out, without any rationale for this exclusion. The absence of discussion of these kinds of hunter-gatherers is keenly felt, since much of the most useful and stimulating analysis of the themes addressed in this book was already well developed in the context of such studies. Useful as it is, this volume is not the last word on the effects of cash and processes of commoditisation on hunter-gatherer societies. Some of these more sedentary hunter-gatherers had evolved concepts of capital and credit even before the introduction of all-purpose money, and their principles of reciprocity were sometimes quite unlike those of the traditional subsistence hunter-gatherers considered in this volume. There is still a need for a comparative treatment that embraces the broader totality of hunter-gatherer adaptations known through empirically controlled ethnographic studies of the kind contained in this volume.

RICHARD A. GOULD Brown University
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Author:Gould, Richard
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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