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Keywords:

  • Population structure;
  • Lineal effect;
  • Fission-fusion model;
  • Malaysia;
  • Semai Senoi

Abstract

Analysis of histories and genealogies from seven relatively un-acculturated, swidden-farming Semai settlements shows that the composition of local groups fluctuates through time. This instability is similar to a pattern which Neel and his colleagues have suggested is typical of primitive society, the fission-fusion model. In addition, the individuals comprising Semai fission groups are kinsmen which implies that the number of independent genomes represented is markedly less than the number of individual migrants (the lineal effect). Fission groups may form new villages or fuse with an established settlement. In either case, the genetic effects of such migration are more pronounced than would be expected on the basis of founder effect or random migration.

Despite several conspicuous differences in social organization between the Semai and the South American Indians (e.g., bilateral vs. unilineal descent) whose population structure provided the empirical basis for the fission-fusion, lineal effect model, the basic similarities are striking. The Semai case thus lends support to the proposition that this pattern may be of some generality in technologically primitive populations.