Territoriality, Property and Mobility

Hgs typically have very fluid to nonexistent concepts and enforcements of territoriality, and their attitudes and practices regarding property and property rights are reflected in this laissez-faire conduct. The !Kung do observe boundaries in their areas, but for all practical purposes this boundary is so loosely enforced that anyone who has a legitimate reason to be there can do so unencumbered. The Hadza, on the other hand, have absolutely no concept of territoriality. Their range is typically referred to as "Hadzaland" by anthropologists, suggesting some more or less orderly conceptualization of their territory, but the fact is that anyone at all can show up in Hadzaland and not be turned away for any reason. They simply do not enforce any sort of right to their land. We shall see that ideas about personal property are congruent with these practices, as there is not much use for it on a permanent basis and, given the propensity to movement, it is viewed as more of a hindrance than anything. Movement is fundamentally interwoven with the entire hunter-gatherer world; people are picking up camp and moving around -- largely for resource purposes, but also because moving around is positively valued -- all the time; our species went about things this way for over a hundred thousand years. You might say movement is ingrained in our DNA, and one of the features of man's spiritual and emotional predicament today is that this need for motion is repressed; that our natural requirements for physical and mental health are not being met. Just a thought. I shall now move on to discuss these subjects, and also explore how they tie together in a neatly organic way. We are beginning to get a better picture of what these people are all about.

          Among the !Kung, each area and the resources it contains are used by a core of persons with long-standing associations with it, who identify with that area more than with others, and by many other people who have come from other areas, both temporarily and permanently, and who are in most cases linked to one or more of the core residents by a kinship or affinial tie (Marshall 1976; Lee 1979). Anyone with such a link cannot in practice be refused access to the area and its resources provided that they maintain minimal rules of customary politeness and respect. Marshall points out that newcomers share equally with the rest of the band while they are there. No one has the right to withhold resources from or take a larger share than the newcomer.

         !Kung who have been associated with an area for a long time claim to be 'owners' of it -- in particular its plant and water resources -- but the relative freedom of access nonetheless still operates. Notions of ownership are obviously very different than our own, and seem to have more to do with some loose identification or association with an area than strict possession of it. Lee tells us that the usual term for a hunter in the Bushman language translates as 'hunt owner,' which indicates that the term for 'owner' can refer to identification and not just possession. Therefore, in !Kung society, even though land rights may appear to constrain movement and access, the association with a particular locale may be more a means of indentifying oneself and others in a set of social relations rather than a set of exclusive rights. Among the Hadza, people identify strongly with their own areas, but place far more emphasis than the !Kung do on an individual's rights to access resources anywhere and everywhere, both in one's own locale and elsewhere (Woodburn 1982).

          In effect, there are no real boundaries in Hadzaland. Lee points out that even "the !Kung consciously strive to maintain a boundaryless universe because this is the best way to operate as hunter-gatherers in a world where group size and resources vary from year to year (Lee 1979)." If there were any sort of rigid boundary set up, material inequalities would be generated as populations and resources fluctuated over time. The double-flexibility over group boundaries and territorial boundaries limits the dangers of food shortages or overexploitation of sources of wild food. It also has day-to-day significance as a leveling mechanism (Woodburn 1982). Generally in these societies, this double-flexibility limits fluctuations and variations in wealth or standard of living, serving as a leveling-mechanism. Since the door is open for the movement of individuals, and the potential adjustment of boundaries, this leveling-mechanism can even out any discrepancies.

          The Hadza are strikingly non-territorial. When people in a camp decide to move to a different location, there is no concern about whether one is allowed to move there. They can move wherever they want to (Woodburn 1968). Most of the time a group of Hadza will know where others are living and will avoid moving to the same water hole. When no one is there, they can easily choose to move there. There is never any worry about whether an invasion of another area that belongs to a different group of Hadza is taking place. Hadza assert that they do not own or control any part of Hadzaland. The freedom to live anywhere has historically extended to non-Hadza as well, but the Hadza today can see that they are losing land and know they will lose more if they cannot exclude outsiders (Marlowe 2010).