Childhood Learning and the Distribution of Knowledge in Foraging Societies



A differential distribution of knowledge is characteristic of all human societies, and in relatively egalitarian foraging societies, in which age and gender tend to structure the few distinct social roles available, the distribution of cultural knowledge is also expected to occur along these lines. In this chapter, I consider the relationship between child-rearing practices and the distribution of cultural knowledge across social roles. In particular, I look at gendered patterns of knowledge and decision-making, drawing upon foraging societies in three different environmental zones as case studies for comparison: the !Kung San of the Kalahari Desert, the Aka Pygmies of the central African forests, and the Utku and Nunamiut Eskimo of northern Alaska and Canada. Child-rearing practices vary among the three groups considered here and are found to relate to the distribution of knowledge and skills across gender roles. This, in turn, may be among the factors influencing group decision-making patterns.