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Four Subsistence Patterns of Production. Highland Maya Cargo System. Essay Example.

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Sewanee University of the South
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1. Four Subsistence Patterns of Production

Food foraging entails collecting anything that is available for human use. Societies that practice food foraging are primarily nomadic people who spend the better part of their lifetime hunting animals and gathering plants for subsistence (Lee, 2012). Examples of the society include Eskimos/Inuit of Alaska/Canada, Kung of Africa, and Aboriginal of Australians. The Ju/'hoansi people are also classified into this category. In this community, the division of labor is based on gender (Lee, 2012). However, is not very uncommon for men to perform feminine duties. Gender role determines tasks and responsibilities to be performed (Brown, Liebovitch, & Glendon, 2007). The social distinction is based on age differences. Ju/'hoansi women can travel for almost twelve miles in a day gathering wild food like mongongo nut (Brown, Liebovitch, & Glendon, 2007). Men practice hunting as their main task in the family. However, under certain circumstances, men can gather plants, collect water, and build their huts, tasks that are considered as womens.

Pastoralists are people who keep animals and use their products such as meat and milk as food. Pastoral farming or pastoralism is a branch of agriculture that describes domestication or keeping of livestock by people for their use. Examples of such communities include the Nuer herders of Sudan and Maasai of Kenya/Tanzania. Maasai people practice nomadic pastoralism. The Maasai societies reside in a close proximity to headwaters and they raise their domestic animals such as cattle in this location where they get the subsistence needs. During the winter, goats and sheep are grazed across lowland (Coast, 2002). Regardless of this, they are divided into groups that follow the herds as the others maintain the village. Coast (2002) add that young men, known as Moran, take care of the herds as they follow them throughout the year as the women and the women build houses (manyatta), feed the children and the aged and maintain their homestead. Maasai also practice agro-pastoralism whereby the duties are mostly delegated to the women. Maasai raise their cattle to both support themselves and as a sign and store of wealth. There also is age-based social stratification.

Horticulture is a production system involved in the cultivation of domesticated plants/crops via hand tools. Horticulturalists are considered to be agriculturalists. An example of such as community is the Pakistan people. Such communities use simple but effective methods that do not include the use of plow or draft animals, exceptionally prepared fertilizers, or irrigation (Smith, 2006). This type of production is environmental determinism. Thus, because Southwest Asia rapidly turned dryer over years between 12-15,000 years ago, people gathered together around oases (Smith, 2006). They collected wild seeds and thus led to plant cultivation. The division of labor in horticulture is more intensive since a lot of energy is required for preparation of plots and food processing. Men clear the bushes and trees but both men and women are involved.

Agriculture includes crop or/and animal husbandry. This was a transition which occurred around 10,000 BP from hunting to herding or/and growing of plants. An example of an agricultural society is the Egyptian community. During this period of agriculture development, the first animals were cattle, pigs, goats, ducks, and geese. Major crops included wheat, barley, vegetables, figs, melons, pomegranates and vines (Bard, 2015). Egyptian farmers settled in areas with Kemet or rich black soil especially along River Nile where they kept oxen as domestic animals but they pulled plow during cultivation periods. They also practiced gender-based division of labor. Men organized the plowing as women sow the seeds (Bard, 2015). During harvest period, children and women remained behind the male reapers to gather any corn ears that had fallen.

However, living in these societies would be hard for a modern guy in the US. However, living in the horticultural and agricultural communities would be more bearable than in among pastoralists and forages. However, although new and better strategies of production exist in the US, Americans are still living in a capitalist society. The subsistence patterns in our society have not changed. The agricultural practices and political organizations are very much the same. The only thing that seems to have changed is trade through globalization, the rise of information infrastructure as well as the spread of throw away capitalism.

2. Highland Maya Cargo System

The "cargo system" is a leveling system/mechanism for the Mayan Indian people from Northern Guatemala and Southern Mexico. According to Haviland, Prins, Walrath, & McBride, (2013), a leveling mechanism is a societal obligation compelling a family to distribute goods so that no one accumulates more wealth than anyone else. Over a period of time, this system has witnessed vast changes into a syncretism of the primordial pagan culture of the Mayan Indian and the present Catholicism introduced by the Spanish invasion of the region in the 17th Century (Steinberg & Taylor, 2002). The system has experienced changes in the working mechanism and the entire structure as one of the most unique ancient social system.

Highland Maya Cargo System is a social system that involves four levels of social development whereby every man is expected to go through in his life and in which he is expected to provide service as an obligation the community for a period of time (Reese-Taylor, 2002). In all the steps, a man in this society gives out a given percentage of what he earns as income to his village. By paying this amount, he progresses from one level to another as he gains greater prestige and a greater responsibility in his society (Steinberg & Taylor, 2002). Young men are located at the bottom-most part of the Highland Maya Cargo System as they are just getting introduced into the system. Additionally, the term lasts for a period of one year. However, in this period, young men are supposed to perform menial work for older counterparts (males) within the cargo system, attending to higher-ranked members, and running errands.

The cargo-system can be described as leveling mechanism because it is an economic system which encourages wealth re-investment whereby the society benefits from an individuals efforts. The levels are based on prestige. Such prestige is attached to a set of prescribed responsibilities in each level (Reese-Taylor, 2002). With the presence of levels in the system, the structure can perform ensure the society is leveled. Such as system ensures that no one individual accumulates more to himself or for his family at the disadvantage of other people (Steinberg & Taylor, 2002). However, although the process of preventing wealth accumulation by a member of the community ensures the following wealth distribution of culture to every member of the public should lead to an egalitarian society, it is not the case with the Cargo System (Haviland et al., 2013). This means that the Highland Maya Cargo System is not an efficient leveling device as it may be perceived by many.



Bard, K. A. (2015). An introduction to the archaeology of ancient Egypt. John Wiley & Sons.

Brown, C. T., Liebovitch, L. S., & Glendon, R. (2007). Levy flights in Dobe Ju/hoansi foraging patterns. Human Ecology, 35(1), 129-138.

Coast, E. (2002). Maasai socioeconomic conditions: a cross-border comparison. Human ecology, 30(1), 79-105.

Haviland, W. A., Prins, H. E., Walrath, D., & McBride, B. (2013). Anthropology: The human challenge. Cengage Learning.

Lee, R. B. (2012). The Dobe Ju/'hoansi. Cengage Learning.

Reese-Taylor, K. (2002). Ritual circuits as key elements in Maya civic center designs. Heart of creation: the Mesoamerican World and the legacy of Linda Schele, 143-165.

Smith, M. L. (2006). The archaeology of food preference. American Anthropologist, 108(3), 480-493.

Steinberg, M. K., & Taylor, M. (2002). The impact of political turmoil on maize culture and diversity in highland Guatemala. Mountain Research and Development, 22(4), 344-351.


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