Band society

A band society is the simplest form of human society. A band generally consists of a small kin group, no larger than an extended family or clan; one definition sees a band as consisting of no more than 100 individuals.[1]


Bands have a loose organization. Their power structure is often egalitarian and has informal leadership; the older members of the band generally are looked to for guidance and advice, and decisions are often made on a consensus basis,[2] but there are no written laws and none of the specialised coercive roles (e.g., police) typically seen in more complex societies. Bands' customs are almost always transmitted orally. Formal social institutions are few or non-existent. Religion is generally based on family tradition, individual experience, or counsel from a shaman. All known band societies hunt and gather to obtain their subsistence.

Definitions and distinctions

In his 1972 study, The Notion of the Tribe, Morton Fried defined bands as small, mobile, and fluid social formations with weak leadership that do not generate surpluses, pay taxes nor support a standing army.

Bands are distinguished from tribes in that tribes are generally larger, consisting of many families. Tribes have more social institutions, such as a chief, big man, or elders. Tribes are also more permanent than bands; a band can cease to exist if only a small group splits off or dies. Many tribes are sub-divided into bands. Historically, some tribes were formed from bands that came together from time to time for religious ceremonies, hunting, or warfare.[3] Among the Native Americans of the United States and the First Nations of Canada, some tribes are made up of official bands that live in specific locations, such as the various bands of the Ojibwa tribe.


Band societies historically were found throughout the world, in a variety of climates, but generally in sparsely populated areas.[3] With the spread of the modern nation-state around the globe, there are few true band societies left. Some historical examples include the Shoshone of the Great Basin in the United States, the Bushmen of southern Africa, the pygmies (Mbuti) of the Ituri Rainforest in Africa, and some groups of indigenous Australians.

See also


  1. Kottak, Conrad Phillip (2010). Cultural Anthropology: Appreciating Cultural Diversity (14 ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 9780078116988.
  2. Erdal, D. & Whiten, A. (1996) "Egalitarianism and Machiavellian Intelligence in Human Evolution" in Mellars, P. & Gibson, K. (eds) Modelling the Early Human Mind. Cambridge Macdonald Monograph Series
  3. 1 2 Britannica.
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