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Life Without Chiefs – Four Levels of Interactions | Flax Golden Tales

Life Without Chiefs (Marvin Harris, USA) (1927-2001)

Literal Comprehension

This research-based essay was written in 1989 by American writer, Marvin Harris. In his essay, he talks about human nature from the past to the present. In the past, many hunting and gathering bands and villages remained without kings, queens, presidents, and minister. All people themselves were chiefs and there were not any concept of the ruler and ruled. Similarly, people didn’t keep account of how much and what they gave or took Robert Denton and Canadian anthropologist Richard Lee research also inform us that they hate generosity. With cultural evolution, small band and village political leadership started exercising by headmen but they could not use their power to force others to obey their rule.

In the same way, there were many freeloaders who took more than they gave. In freeloaders group, there was Shaman, quarrelsome and stingy people who take more than giving. Along with the reciprocity practice, there was also the system of redistribution. Redistribution happened in food and other valuable things. A headman divided the valuable things into the separate portion. If the collected things were more than enough, the headman would store and later on, it would be redistributed in the time of shortage.

In the long run of time, the big man earned greater things and when there was a shortage of food, people would come to him, expecting to be fed, in return, he could call upon those who had special skills to make cloth, pots, and canoes for his own used. In this way, the big man became chief. Later chiefdom developed into states, and also into empires.

According to Marvin Harris, a man has not inborn quality to create hierarchy or class in his society and for him, it is the fall of human beings from the peaceful origin.


Diamond research-based writing studies human nature and comes to the conclusion that due to cultural evolution human being became corrupted and selfish. He also asserts that by birth, human beings do not have such negative qualities. Before cultural evolution, in hunting gatherer society, there were not any head and big men, but with cultural evolution. There appeared concept of the chief and headmen. Later chiefdom developed into states.

Critical Thinking

In my opinion, this essay is very much useful for those students who want to study the origin of human being and their nature. Personally, I almost all do not see any of its backdrops. However, at one point, I disagree: the essayist tends to believe that past hunting gatherer society was so good but he did not see its any outstanding negative sides. In this case, I doubt in his opinion and ask a question: we’re not there any backdrops of such societies?


After reading this essay, I lean many valuable things. My vision of the past has really changed. Before reading this text, I thought that ancient people were barbaric, wild uncivilized and they lacked human qualities. One more thing is that in my school time, our Nepali teacher, Hari Rana would say us that we should not imitate anything from the past. After reading this text, my vision of looking ancient period has changed. What our teacher had taught us that was completely wrong. From the past, we can copy many valuable things.

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