Communalism, Reciprocity, and Exchange

Thomas Headland wrote:

"Twentieth-century Casiguran Agta history can be divided into three periods. The first is the Forager Phase, which lasted until 1964, when the Agta were still able to live their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle based on collecting and trading forest products with downriver farmers for rice. The second period, the Transition Phase, was from 1965 to 1979, when the Agta slowly moved from their foraging economy toward a livelihood based on wage labor as their forest resources declined. Finally, the third period, the Peasant Phase, occurred from 1980 to the end of the century, as the Agta slowly moved toward peasantization when Filipino colonists moved into their forestlands, loggers destroyed the forest, and ecological degradation overcame the region."


The pattern of acculturation Headland wrote was the common experience among forest-dwelling indigenous peoples in the Philippines. It's tempting to universalize such pattern and use the contemporary incidences of acculturation to explain how early gathering-and-hunting groups created communities and eventually conceptualized societies. I leave the job to the evolutionary economists, physical anthropologists, and environmental sociologists; I will just be specific by focusing on the Philippine experience.

I know anything communal is communalism. In India, communalism is a group hatred towards another group such as Hindus versus Muslims and Brahmins versus Dalits. Political theorists relate it to collectivism, small-scale communism, and even utopianism. Historians use it to mean what early communities and settlers had and did like the Plymouth Colony and the Pilgrims. I will simply use the definition from Merriam-Webster: "social organization on a communal basis." I like this definition because it suggests that people come together to organize and create a community, but the word "social" bothers me.

How can I use "social organization" in dealing with issues that are of pre-society? I think there's a difference between "social" and "societal." "Social" is a spatial marker that can stand alone independent from society, and "societal" is a modifier for anything related to society. A social relationship between two individuals does not mean society is included in their connection. It just means that they have a spatial relationship. It can be a relationship between a teacher and a student at school. Anyway, this post is about how communalism prepared the indigenous peoples who easily adapted to culture change, development, and capitalism.

Hunters and gatherers in the Philippines were nomadic, and led an egalitarian way of life. They were forest-dwellers. Before their acculturation, they had no concept of society. Initially, they also had no concept of community. Their initial grouping was based on kinship. They camped in forests as families. Later, due to intermarriages and dwindling resources, families were extended to form communities. More people meant more hunters and gatherers in their communities. I love to use tribes, but these indigenous peoples did not have that concept. Their idea of community was influenced by their notions of "outsider" and "insider." Outsiders were members of other communities

Within their communities, reciprocity was the rule. What some gathered were shared so when others hunted they could be reciprocated. Reciprocity also happened between lucky and unlucky hunters. Between communities, value-for-value exchange was the norm. Headland wrote about it. Honey in a bamboo tube, for example, could be exchanged with a coconut shell of unhusked rice, and both participants in the exchange came from two different communities. As if governed by contracts, they agreed verbally, since almost all of them were illiterate, how they should go with issues such as measurement, value, quality, and quantity.

Pre-community, there was something communistic in their economic ways, but it was not really communism. It was just how families interacted. A wife could gather edible greens in the morning, pick fruits in the afternoon, and join her husband in hunting bats and lizards at night. A husband could build a house for his brother, broil a bird for his mother, and make a bow for his father. Children were free to do what they wanted. They could climb mango trees, gather cherries, or crack nuts all for their family. If that was communism, my family is a bunch of communists. We contribute, give, and do chores without being told or assigned, and we expect no reward, payment, and money. We don't even divide labor. Whoever has time helps my father read The Wall Street Journal or reminds my mother to take her hypertension medicines. Will I do the same to non-relatives? I don't think so.

When families were extended and communities, formed, men hunted and women gathered as groups. More people meant more community roles. There were shamans, midwives, hut-builders, bow-makers. Elders talked about values, ancestors, spirits, territory, taboo, punishment. Roles and rules for both men and women were clearly defined and expected. Communalism in their experience was not communism. Others may say that they communally owned the forests. These indigenous peoples had no concept of property ownership. Forests to them were owned and possessed by spirits. Even their huts and gardens were not viewed as permanent properties since they seasonally moved depending on available food sources. They even had a practice of specialized labor. In their communities, there would always be someone whose job was to perform and chant. Even among hunters, due to limited resources, they had to pick the best among them to shoot a wild boar or a deer for a sure kill.





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