Villages are self-sufficient units. Discuss and illustrate

Any discussion of villages and self-sufficiency is as much concerned with the ethnographer's approach as it is with establishing working definitions of 'village' and 'self-sufficiency'; the first often decides the latter.

Common to all definitions of the village is that it is a group of houses in a rural district. What appears to vary is its size, spacial description, permanence, its occupants' relationship to their environment, and its association with the notion of 'community'. Considering the number of villages in existance it is not surprising that there should be differing interpretations concerning its nature and specific attributes:1  How many houses (or homesteads) constitute a village can be determined by administrative decision, spatial isolation from other groups of houses, or how strongly the inhabitants constitute a social group and consider themselves separate from another group of houses. Some authors classify the scattered homesteads of New Guinea swidden cultivators as a village,2  then in other places villages are "crowded nucleated settlements with their surrounding cultivable lands separating them from other like settlements".3  In the USA a village contains up to 2,500 people, in India the numbers reach into five figures, and the Lele villages of the Congo had an average of 171 inhabitants.4  In some countries a large settlement with an administrative centre is a town, in others a village; small ones can be called hamlets.5  Impermanence of the settlement does not appear to affect entitlement as 'village' except where the inhabitants do not obtain their main source of livelihood from agriculture. Sanderson6  has classified them into the migratory agricultural village which lasts for a few months; semi-permanent villages, which last for a number of years, and permanent settlements. This may just admit the permanent settlements and gardens of the Jie of north-east Uganda, even though their main subsistence source was their herds, as well as those of the Bedu of Cyrenaica (Libya), who were also herders but who had an equal interest in dry cereal farming. It may not include the winter villages of the hunting and gathering Kwatkiutl of north-west America.7  Villages in some parts of the world move their position, they seem to remain the same village so long as they are the same 'community'.
      The association of the village with a single community is all pervasive (especially in peasant village studies). It is portrayed as a unit with inhabitants linked by a system of bonds and relationships, common interests, shared patterns of accepted norms and values and who think of themselves as different to and separate from another village.8 

      The relationship (and self-containedness) of a village with the outside world is reflected in the terminology concerning the occupation of their inhabitants: we have horticultural (or primitive) societies, which appear to be the most self-sufficient if only because their counterpart in agriculture – the peasant community – is seen as being dependent on a larger society, though it varies as to which context.9  Next we have the post-peasant with no internal institutions of moral, political or economic order and with a complementary relationship to "modern mass culture, a highly industrialised economy and a thoroughly bureaucratised government".10  He may be a part of the rural proletariat – those who may work on a plantation or farm – or a cash-crop farmer (for both of whom the village is largely a residential and recreational centre).

      Villages also appear to have a historical development from self-sufficiency to a period now when most have become fully integrated to, and dependent on, the nation. The archaeologist Childe saw the pre-historic horticulturist as self-contained and self-supporting with initial trade in non-essentials, later including some staple commodities. However, this did not affect the isolation of the community which continued "into the medieval English village".11  Differences of opinion arise with the emergence of the peasant village. The peasant is the villager who owns or rents some land and whose farming is subsistence-orientated and his primary source of income.12  He differs from the horticulturist in that he "lacks isolation, the political autonomy and the self-sufficiency of tribal populations," according to Kroeber.13  However, the areas of influence and dependability differ amongst writers, although all agree that the peasant always exists in relation to the town (supplying the market for his trade, whether surplus or essential).14  For Redfield the major dependency was cultural.15  He also recognised an interdependency in material culture: the peasant supplied the food the city needed and the city returned with some product the peasant wanted. For Steward he is dependent on the institutions of money, law, education and organised churches and his status is one of occupation.16  Subsistence-wise most agree that he is (or was) economically self-sufficient. At the same time the peasant community is seen as a closed one, hostile to the surrounding environment and operating according to its own principles.17  Now, though, this is not always true. With better transport facilities, communication and sometimes government interference the members of the original self-contained production and enterprise unit of the village – the family – become integrated into the national division of labour complex and are allotted "specific production operations". The village, as a result, has become a "place of residence for people following various occupations and belonging to different social strata".18  We can also include the modern development of villages acting solely as summer resorts or simply 'suburbs' of the nearest town – a residence centre for its workers.
      Is this gradual progression an honest one or has it perhaps been due to anthropologists' initial tendency to present human societies as whole and complete? After Malinowski's studies on the Melanesian islands "every anthropologist saw his first task to be the reporting of some more or less discrete and autonomous primitive group and the analysing of its way of life as a system of parts contributing to the whole". 19  Malinowski, in his classic accounts of the Kula exchange ring in Melanasia, implied that the trade in ordinary items which always accompanied the Kula exchange was with surpluses and out of disinterest. However, Uberoi in his re-interpretation from Malinowski's own evidence, indicates that Kula, rather than just providing social alliances, established the peace of the marketplace and the other trade consists of essential foodstuffs and other goods.20  In inland Kula, needed surplus fish from the coast is exchanged for surplus yams from the inland villages. The Trobriands lacked stone, clay, ratten, bamboo and sago (the stone for axes and adzes for housebuilding, canoe cutting or gardening). Tubetube and the Amphletts were not self-sufficient in food. Through the Kula ring clay went from area to another where it was made into claypots, then these went to an area which needed them. Likewise stone went to the Trobriands by one route and they received by another the sand with which to polish them. Those not in the Kula ring traded through local Kula villages to the latters' partners.21 
      The tendency to see primitive economies as self-sufficient in this economic sector may be because any essential trade was accompanied by a social relationship that appeared to be more important – rather than homologous. The Potlatch, another prestation, served in promoting exchanges of food amongst villages or groups with a temporary surplus to those with a temporary deficit among the Kwakiutl Indians.22  Secondly, relationships with like 'communities' (other villages) may have been passed over.23 
      Certainly there appears in some ethnographic accounts the desire to find self-sufficient, autonomous communities and this may explain some 'loose ends'. Forde24  desired to find an "economically and territorially autonomous" village in south Nigeria. In his account of Umor at Cross River he mentions, though, that labour had been hired for a generation to help with the hoeing of yam hills – once a woman's work. Whether this was due to particularly rich harvests (for a generation?) or to cope with the fact that women were engaged in cracking kernels for trade is not stated. Certainly in his next report25  he mentions they were adopting foreign Ibo girls for marriage and thus labour. Younger men also only had time to run small farms because they were engaged in the trade of kernels (for cash for imports?).
      Aspects other than the economic sphere may be ignored. Lupupa Ngye, lying in the savannah region of Zaire, was "virtually a self-sufficient entity which neither requires outside goods and services nor shares a system of traditional political governance with others...".26  Knowledge of the manufacture of some imported goods was present in the village and, if cut off, they would not have perished technically, "esthetically", or in any other known sense according to the author. The village had its own system of gods, politics and justice, the villagers were horticulturists and each specialised in a trade. Some cash crops were required by the Belgian authorities and the money earned spent on modern consumer products. However, Merrian does mention the young men had to marry out if they were to acquire wives: rules forbidding marriage between certain kin and the older males' polygynous habits, plus a stigma attached to bachelorhood, necessitated this.27

These accounts raise certain questions concerning 'self-sufficiency'. If some part of a village is dependent on outside input for its desires, status, position or quality — does this militate against self-sufficiency, or is it self-sufficient if that input can with little effort be found inside it? How far (as in the case of Lupupa Ngye) do we take the substitution of market for indigenous items as evidence of lack of self-sufficiency? Halpern28  sees the horse-drawn plow, new crops or agricultural techniques as not threatening village autonomy. But may it not, if it increases productivity for some, and wealth, increase the dependency of some on the outside?29  It may also increase the villagers' ability to provide for themselves nutritionally.
      The idea of the village as a unified community may obscure the different relationships certain groups have with the 'outside'. The poor of Hayriye, Turkey,30  depended on cash income from migrants to maintain independence from traditional village authority (those who gained wealth from the land) and eventually relied on this income for their relatively longer leisure time. The young, by getting outside work, may acquire new desires which the village cannot provide for. The Brahmins in Duari, Nepal, received money from clients in other villages which enabled them – by loans – to keep their own village's lower castes in a debt relationship with them (and thus one of power).31  Micro-ecological differences in the land of Kufr el-Ma, Jordan, meant some peasants had to seek additional work outside the village for income to live.32  Self-sufficiency may occur through isolation, but more probably a 'demand ceiling' for imports and involvement with the outside: in Uafato, Western Samoa,33  the village assembly ensured subsistence food availability took precedence over cash sales, and the Lele elders resisted the introduction of money into transactions where they supplied desired services which gave them power in the giving.34  However, factors militating against self-sufficiency seem more common: the desire for commodities not produced in the village;35  colonialists or foreign firms, etc, may encourage all-out cash-cropping; the government may turn the self-sufficient peasant into a farm labourer (as in Communist bloc countries); the village may wish to join the national network with its pensions, insurance, subsidy and relief systems;36  political and economic reasons may deter full autonomy — negro villagers in British Guiana were prevented from becoming independent producers instead of relying on planters, who wanted them dependent on plantations for cash income;37  or local resources may not be sufficient to provide all of the villagers with food or other items (for example, from population pressure, or use of simple agricultural techniques, or these in combination with ecological difficulties — Kufr el-Ma lacked enough land and water, the latter having to be purchased from another village — or seasonal fluctuations in agriculture). Villages too may go through periodic fluctuations of self-sufficiency/dependency. War and seasonal changes may affect their ability to cope; some Samoan villages are withdrawing from the market economy (but relying on outside aid during emergencies), however, according to the author's interpretation of self-sufficiency, they never really lost their autonomy.38  A static picture will show them as one or the other, but may not be the whole truth.

It seems possible, if we take 'self-sufficiency' at its most general usage,39  to apply it to most spheres of village life (as indeed I have done) – those of material culture, kinship, law, politics, ritual; and to illustrate its range and degrees I have established three (very general) categories for each. At one extreme we have the completely autonomous and independent village (which, in effect, acts as a state) and at the other the village is fully absorbed into the nation's life and has become simply a residential centre.40 
      Material self-sufficiency could be divided into (i) where goods (other than food) are imported, but which could be made in the village. For this they exchange a trade item, produce some crops or labour to obtain money to pay for them (as in Lpupa Ngye); (ii) where goods other than food are desired and imported (for example, Hayriye, Turkey,41  or the Lebanese peasant village in Peters' article42); and (iii) where imports include both food and products either due to integration into 'modern' national life or for the reasons mentioned on previous pages (for example, Kufr el-Ma, the Lele, or villages in the West, etc.). 43  Three degrees of political and judicial self-sufficiency could be  (i) the village has its own active and indigenous political and judicial organisation (for example, the Lele, Uafato, and Lupupa Ngye) but may have a 'vertical' relationship with a colonial or national power for taxes, but which otherwise does not interfere (except sporadically);  (ii) minor political and judicial judgements and organisation are left to the village (such as in many Arab 'peasant' villages and Lupupa Ngye when it was under an intervillage chief). The village structure may already replicate that of the nation and thus may not be interfered with; and  (iii) political and judicial appointments are made outside the village and laws and political organisation or structure imposed 44  (for example, Hayriye, Turkey, and Western villages). Degrees of kinship may be  (i) enough members of each sex are available;  (ii) exogamic rules may apply; and  (iii) enough members of the opposite sex are not available (as for young men in Lupupa Ngye and males in Umor, Nigeria). Ritual self-sufficiency may be categorised as  (i) village beliefs are indigenous and those concerned with carrying out rituals exist in the village (for example, Lupupa Ngye. The Lele had only occasional inter-village rituals);  (ii) some villages have to co-operate with others (for example, Redfield's Yucatan community of five villages45  and Forde's Cross River villages had matriclan priests perform certain rituals46)  and  (iii) those who carry out the ritual are not found or trained in the village, perhaps because of the great body of learning associated with the beliefs, which can only be obtained at a major centre (for example, all Arab village, Islamic or Christian, and Uafato, Western Samoa, had a Christian church).

According to Redfield,47  larger systems and relationships between villages and communities were not examined because it was easier to see small and simple societies as whole. A village is a "point of intersection of lines in a complex of regional networks"48  and as such adjust to outside changes. It would be wrong to see relationships with other entities as links of dependency — but by looking at the larger 'system' we are more able to discover if these exist. Secondly, from the foregoing discussion it can be seen that villages differ in degrees of self-sufficiency depending on which aspect we look at, and when we look at them.

1   Several hundred thousand in the Middle East alone (Gulick 1976) and 800,000 at least in China (Village Studies) — not counting the rest.

2   Clarke 1971, classified as such in Village Studies.

3   Antoun 1977:104.

4   Douglas 1963:28 (with a spread of 24 to 482).

5   What to call a small settlement is obviously a problem: a hamlet (about 25 people) and a hamlet group (about 15 hamlets or 300 to 400 people) in Melanasia, and described by Seligman (1910) as such, become respectively a village or a group of villages for Malinowski (in Argonauts). Uberoi, in his re-interpretation of Malinowski's works on the area, retitles the latter's larger villages as village clusters divided into village sections (defined by their common lineage) — in Uberoi 1971: 9, 11, 25, 62.

6   In Winick's Dictionary of Anthropology.

7   Gulliver 1955; Behnke 1980; Piddocke (1965) in Vayda 1969.

8   Galeski 1972:72 specifically here. But most other descriptions of the village refer to community, especially the encyclopedias. Of course, in this way the ribbon settlements of West Africa can be distinguished as individual villages where spacially they do not appear to be so.

9   Few horticultural villages are seen to remain. The common link between their villages was that the people were of the same tribe. Peasant village communities carry out economic, administrative, cultural and social control functions — but their ultimate 'fate' is affected by the city or nation.

10   Geertz 1961:5.

11   Childe (1936) in Redfield 1965:7. Fisk (1962) in Lockwood 1971:5 sees the primitive subsistence unit as "entirely independent of the outside world for the necessities of life."

12   Firth includes other small-time producers, such as the Malay fisherman (Firth 1946). The difference between a farmer and a peasant for Weber was that for the former agriculture was a business from which to gain profit and who saw the land as commodity and capital. For the peasant agriculture is both a livelihood and a way of life (in Encyclopedia Britannia). Some authors (eg. Antoun) call all those who live in such a village as peasants, even though most of their livelihood comes from elsewhere.

13   Kroeber (1948:284) in Foster 1967:2. Wolf saw horticulturists become peasants with the appearance of power outside his social stratum (Foster 1967).

14   As Weber put it: the peasant is a rural debtor to the urban creditor (1978: 177-80).

15   Redfield 1965:32-4; culture includes science, philosophy, religion and fine art from which the peasant produces his own technology, lore, religion and folk art. Gould (1959) sees the differences between anthropologists seeing peasant villages as self-contained and others seeing them only against a larger background was because they are a bit of both. The interdependence of city and village with the transfer of surplus to city and repayment relies on the independence of the peasant and his ability to produce for himself.

16   Geertz 1961:3-4.

17   Pitt Rivers in Geertz 1961:14; Foster (1967); Bailey in Shanin 1971.

18   Galeski 1972:169-70, 59, 25-6. This development occurring not only in the West but also in the Third World (specifically Africa in Saul and Woods in Shanin 1971).

19   Redfield (1955) 1962:122.

20   Uberoi 1971:116-157 (for all this paragraph). During the Kula exchange of armshells and necklaces, gifts of pigs, bananas, yams, taro, axeblades and belts were also made.

21   Those islands out of the Kula ring had to manage elsewhere: in 1918 the Sinaketans, who were not members of the Kula communities, were living on rice and tinned food bought wih the cash earned from pearling for white men.

22   Piddocke (1965) in Vayda 1969.

23   Uberoi (1971:30-31) sees marriage and its resulting tribute forming part of a district economy. A chief in the Trobriands who was able to commit polygyny had all his wives' families (from her own land) contributing their yams to him annually and through this accumulation and redistribution a number of villages were integrated into a "district economy". The tribute was used for prestations, warfare, public ceremonies and tribal enterprise.

24   Forde 1937.

25   Forde 1950.

26   Merriam 1974:307-8. Although at one point the village shared a chief with another one.

27   Merriam ib:238-9.

28   Halpern 1967:43 — govenments may, of course, intentionally provide these items without the village desiring them.

29   In Nalotawa, Fiji, (Watters 1969:64) cash cropping was limited to selling the surplus of some indigenous crops, and the author found evidence in diet and expenditure that "a fair range of Western goods and foods have become necessities" – provided for from the sale of these crops – but only for those who managed (through effort and desire) to grow enough surplus.

30   Magnarella 1979.

31   Caplan 1972. In another village, Mayor (Aiyappan 1965 in Halpern 1967), the higher castes lost such influence when lower caste men found work outside and when professional external moneylenders appeared.

32  Antoun 1972.

33   Lockwood 1971:70.

34   Douglas 1963:62-66. Younger men paid raffia for ritual services which gave them status, like marriage. The introduction of money, with its ready-availability, would have reduced the power of the elders through the "saleability of social status".

35   Tepotzlan villagers in Mexico "wanted to attend school and to have better food and clothing" and since their land offered little opportunity to obtain these from selling surplus food they found income through migrating temporarily to the USA as farm labour and in becoming a tourist colony (Lewis 1951 in Halpern 1967:10)

36   Halpern ib:40.

37   R. Smith in Firth 1964:308.

38   Lockwood 1971: 9, 12, 207. The author quotes Keesing and Keesing (1956) who say the status of the goods and services which leave and enter the village have not changed with the involvement in the copra trade, even though some 76 per cent of the cash obtained is invested in necessary items.

39   "The ability to carry out one's desires without Aid" (Penguin English Dictionary, 1969).

40   The village as state does not, of course, exist – if it ever did it was probably called a city-state or township. In the following categories it is difficult to compare precisely the relative self-sufficiency of villages since ethnographic data is never complete (comparatively speaking).

41   Magnarella 1979.

42   Peters 1963.

43   The Lele suffered from hunger largely due to their not wanting to adopt more efficient agricultural techniques or providing enough labour. Thus they had to import durables like iron bars, tools and weapons, and fish and meat (Douglas 1963:13, 45, 54-55).

44   In Feudal times in Europe the villagers were self-sufficient in food but depended on the lords of the manor (outside the village) for justice and protection.

45   Redfield 1962:251.

46   These matriclan priests could be inter-village.

47   Redfield (1955) 1962:131.

48   Redfield ib:134.

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