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I.4.1 Band, tribe, chiefdom, kingdom and state

Band Societies

  1.  the least complex form of political arrangement
  2. It is characterised by small group, also known as local groups
  3. It is found usually among the nomadic population of hunter and gatherers.
  4. The size of a band can range from 30-50 people or more.
  5. The size of a band may vary from one band to the other depending upon the food gathering techniques and the availability of the food in their natural environment.
  6. Band may have little or no concept of individual property ownership and they place a high value on sharing,cooperation and reciprocity.
  7. They may also loosely associate with a specific territory of their own in the sense that the members of one territory can seek membership in a neighbouring territory.
  8. The members of each band have less role specialisation and are highly egalitarian.
  9. Band organisation is predominantly found among the hunting and gathering communities representing the oldest form of political organisation.
  10. Common language and common cultural features bound band members together.
  11. In band societies, no political allegiance occurs with any one or more supreme authority or with other similar bands of their own ethnic community.
  12. Their political decisions are frequently embedded in the wider social structure of the local group.
  13. It is difficult to distinguish purely political decisions from those related to the family, economic or religious decisions.
  14. In other words, political life is simply one part of social life.
  15. Leadership roles are iterative within the band; there be could several leaders and each leader’s role may end with the accomplishment of a particular task.
  16. Leadership tends to be informal having no authoritarian political roles or leaders with designated authority.
  17. But the elderly are respected for their experience, wisdom, good judgment and knowledge of hunting.
  18. So, adult men gave decision. The headman can persuade and give advice but has no power to impose his will on the group.
  19. Bands may have a headman, as in case of Eskimo bands and the Chenchu who are recognised by the band members for their special skills in making implements, hunting, ritual, judgment acumen, folklore, world view, magic, medicinal and ecological knowledge etc.
  20. There were no strict rule of succession to the position of headman; sometimes it is hereditary as in case of the Kung bushman and a fresh person can be chosen as in case of the Chenchu.
  21. Societies composed of fairly small and usually nomadic groups of people that are politically autonomous.
  22. Bands are typically small, with less than 100 people. Each small band occupies a large territory so population density is low.
  23. Usually hunter-gatherers.In Band organization, the local group or community is the largest group that acts as a political unit.
  24. Political decision making within the band is usually informal i.e. the formal, permanent office of leader does not exist.
  25. Decisions are taken by the community as a whole or made by the best-qualified member.
  26. An informal headman may be a proficient hunter, or a person most accomplished in rituals.
  27. Leadership stems not from power but from influence, not from office but from admired personal qualities.
  28. Egalitarian.

Tribal Societies

  1. The tribal political organisations are predominantly associated with food production i.e. horticulture and pastoralism.
  2. Tribal societies are little bigger or larger in size than the band societies.
  3. When local communities mostly act autonomously but there are kinship groups (such as clans or lineages) or associations (such as age-sets) that can potentially integrate several local groups into a larger unit i.e. Tribe.
  4. Multilocal but not society wide integration. It is not permanent – integration comes into play only when outsider threat arises; when the threat disappears, the communities revert to self-sufficiency. It is informal – not headed by political officials.
  5. All the communities in a tribe may be linked only occasionally for some political/military purpose.
  6. Societies with tribal organization are generally food producers.
  7. Population density is higher, local groups are larger and the way of life is more sedentary than in bands.
  8. Egalitarian principle is the common feature of both tribe and band organisations.
  9. Both of them are similar in several important aspects as the political leaders have no marked differences in status, rank, power and wealth.
  10. In addition to these, both of them have local leaders but do not have permanent, centralised leadership.
  11. Tribal political forms can be distinguished from bands by the presence of some impermanent and informal pan-tribal associations that can bring together, whenever necessary, a number of local groups into one larger unit.
  12. Each of these associations operate autonomously but integrate themselves into one or more larger units when an external threat arises.
  13. The larger unit breaks back into original local units once the threat is nullified.
  14. The tribal associations emerge based on kinship and kin units like clan, and age grades, or secret societies.
  15. In many tribal societies, the kinship unit called Clan, a group of kin who consider themselves to be descended from a common ancestor, serves a mechanism for political integration.
  16. Clan elder usually looks after the affairs of their clan like settlement of dispute between the clan members, negotiating with other clan groups, etc.
  17. Segmentary lineage system is another form of tribal association where individuals of different genealogical levels integrate to form a bigger unit in opposition to another such unit.
  18. Genealogical connections bring groups with closer affiliation together.
  19. Such political integration of closely affiliated groups within the tribal societies is important in order to mobilise their military force in defending themselves from outside forces or for expanding into the territories of weaker societies.
  20. As mentioned by Evan-Pritchard (1940), the pastoral Nuer of southern Sudan serves as a good example of a tribal form of political organisation.

Ferraro, Gary P (1992: 223) has mentioned that the band and the tribal societies are economically and politically autonomous, authority is not centralised and they tend to be egalitarian having no specialised role, small population in size depending largely on subsistence economy.


  1. Societies become more complex as the population increases with higher technology for fulfilling their subsistence needs.
  2. It is a formal structure that integrates more than one community into a political unit.
    1. The formal structure could consist of a council with or without a chief, but most commonly there is a chief.
    2. Densely populated. Communities are more permanent because of their greater economic productivity.
    3. The position of chief, which is sometimes hereditary and permanent, bestows high status on the holder. Have social ranking and accord the chief and his family greater prestige.
    4. The chief may redistribute goods, plan and direct the use of public labor, supervise religious ceremonies and direct military activities.
  3. In Chiefdoms, a number of local communities are integrated into a more formal and permanent political unit but the political authority rests with single individual, either acting alone or in conjunction with an advisory council.
  4. Chiefdoms may also comprise more than one political unit, each one is headed by a chief and/or councils.
  5. Societies with chiefdoms are socially ranked and the chief and his family enjoy higher status and prestige.
  6. The chief ship is mostly hereditary and the chief along with his or her kinfolk comprises social and political elite within their society.
  7. Subsequently, the chiefs have considerable power and authority in resolving or pronouncing judgments over internal disputes, issues, etc.
  8. In addition to these, he may distribute goods, supervise religious ceremonies and functions military activities on behalf of the chiefdom. Hawaii and Tahiti are the examples of chiefdom societies.


  1. kingdom have a highly centralized monarchy
  2. Citizenship – All kingdoms have citizens.  A country has citizens, but mans organization can also function as kingdoms and require membership. Nations and organizations are both kingdom systems.  Membership is similar to citizenship and identifies those who are submitted to the  systems involved.  Whenever membership is required it is a sure signs that some sort of kingdom is at work, and there is always power in it!  Citizens or members are always under the authority structure of that kingdom . They will be controlled by it.
  3. An Oath or Pledge of Allegiance – Kingdoms have system of pledging allegiance.
  4. Temples and Priests,  Palaces and Princes. All Kingdoms have temples, priests, palaces and princes of some kind. A priest represented the divine authority through which a King is able to rule.  A shaman represents the gods to the chief of a tribe and to the people.  The chief rules, but the  authority comes from the gods and the priests acts as a “broker” of sorts.
  5. Holy Days and Rituals and High Places Another sure sign of a kingdom is the holy days of celebrations and ritual. In fact, the god being served is often easy to identify at these times.
  6. Power Objects – Talismans, Charms, Fetishes       In Kingdoms of all kinds there are three main purposes to these  power objects. A charm brought blessing to the user; a fetish had power over others, and  a talisman would bring protection to its owner.
  7. Gates,  Flag Poles and Totems  Every kingdom will have identifiable geographic markers. These delineate the boundaries, the focal points, and the “sign posts” of a kingdom.
  8. Capital Cities  Capital cities were thought to be special places where the gods enabled kings to rule.
  9. They have organized courts to dispense justice.
  10. The kingdom is divided into counties and sub-counties for political organization.
  11. The kingdom maybe divided in social classes with the royal family occupying the top of the hierarchy, then ruling class, the chiefs who ruled over the peasants or commoners. At the bottom of the social class are the slaves who are acquired mainly through raids on neighbouring communities.

Nupe kingdom in West Africa and also the Roman Empire are examples

State Societies

  1. State societies have more complex and advance form of political organisation.
  2. According to Sahlins , state is defined as “an autonomous political unit, encompassing many communities within its territory and having a centralised government with the power to collect taxes,dr aft men for work or war, and decree and enforce laws”
  3. Both internally and externally, legitimacy is the central basis for power.
  4. Government tries to maintain a monopoly on the use of physical force through formal and specialized instruments of social control – police, militia, standing army.
  5. Emergence of cities, high degree of economic and other kinds of specialization, and market or commercial exchange. High level of social stratification.
  6. Robert L Carneiro mentioned that the state societies have complex, centralised political structure, which include a wide range of permanent institutions having legislative, executive, and judicial functions, and a large bureaucracy.
  7. The state societies have class stratification with unequal access to economic resources. These societies are generally supported by intensive agriculture.
  8. The high productivity of the agriculture presumably allows for the emergence of cities, a high degree of economic and other kinds of specialisation, market or commercial exchange, and extensive foreign trade.
  9. The people pay taxes.
  10. The rulers may use force but the threats of force alone do not ensure the legitimacy of the rulers.
  11. Legitimacy of rulers is said to accrue owing to different factors like divine origin of the rulers, socialisation of children to accept all forms of authority, the perceived advantage of state by the people in ensuring protection, employment, security to property etc.
  12. If state fails in its duty, the rulers lose their credibility and ability to control, eventually leading to the fall of state.

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