hunters – gatherers

the absence of teaching

the presence of play

a culture of trust

Fascinating study analyzing childhood social learning among Aka and Bofi hunter–gatherers in Central Africa. [posted on fb by Nikhil]

“Foragers value autonomy and egalitarianism, so parents, older children or other adults are not likely to think and feel that they know what is best or better for a child and are generally unlikely to initiate, direct or intervene in a child’s social learning.

Since learning is self-motivated and directed and takes place in intimate and trusting contexts, hunter–gatherer children are generally very confident and self-assured learners.”

Social learning among Congo Basin hunter–gatherers

This paper explores childhood social learning among Aka and Bofi hunter–gatherers in Central Africa. Existing literature suggests that hunter–gatherer social learning is primarily vertical (parent-to-child) and that teaching is rare. We use behavioural observations, open-
2011 post by Peter Gray – h/g as egalitarian/peacful:

In each of these societies, the dominant cultural ethos was one that emphasized individual autonomy, non-directive childrearing methods, nonviolence, sharing, cooperation, and consensual decision-making. Their core value, which underlay all of the rest, was that of the equality of individuals.


If just one anthropologist had reported all this, we might assume that he or she was a starry-eyed romantic who was seeing things that weren’t really there, or was a liar. But many anthropologists, of all political stripes, regarding many different hunter-gatherer cultures, have told the same general story
How did hunter-gatherers maintain their egalitarian ways? Here are the three theories, which I think are complementary to one another and all correct.
Theory 1: Hunter-gatherers practiced a system of “reverse dominance” that prevented anyone from assuming power over others.
If teasing doesn’t work, the next step is shunning. The band acts as if the offending person doesn’t exist. That almost always works.
Theory 2: Hunter-gathers maintained equality by nurturing the playful side of their human nature, and play promotes equality.
The drive to play, therefore, requires suppression of the drive to dominate.
Theory 3: Hunter-gatherers maintained their ethos of equality through their childrearing practices, which engendered feelings of trust and acceptance in each new generation.
hunter-gatherers employed a style of parenting that others have referred to as “permissive” or “indulgent,” but which I prefer to call “trusting.” They trusted infants’ and children’s instincts, and so they allowed infants to decide, for example, when to nurse or not nurse and allowed children to educate themselves through their own self-directed play and exploration. They did not physically punish children and rarely criticized them.

 Elizabeth Marshall Thomas..she observed:

Ju/’hoan children very rarely cried, probably because they had little to cry about. No child was ever yelled at or slapped or physically punished, and few were even scolded. Most never heard a discouraging word until they were approaching adolescence, and even then the reprimand, if it really was a reprimand, was delivered in a soft voice. … We are sometimes told that children who are treated so kindly become spoiled, but this is because those who hold that opinion have no idea how successful such measures can be. Free from frustration or anxiety, sunny and cooperative, the children were every parent’s dream. No culture can ever have raised better, more intelligent, more likable, more confident children.

In sum, my argument here is that the lessons we have to learn from hunter-gatherers are not about our genes but about our culture. Our species clearly has the genetic potential to be peaceful and egalitarian, on the one hand, or to be warlike and despotic, on the other, or anything in between.

posted by Peter on fb sept 2015 – from 2009

Have you ever noticed how we, as a society, use agricultural metaphors to talk about parenting and education? We speak of RAISING children, just as we speak of raising tomatoes or chickens. We speak of TRAINING children, just as we speak of training horses. Our manner of talking and thinking about parenting suggests that we own our children, much as we might own domesticated plants and livestock, and that we control how they grow and behave. Hunter-gatherers did not have agricultural metaphors, and their approach to parenting was very different, and much more trusting and playful, than ours. I think we have much to learn from them.

perhaps too – much to learn about property itself.. in regard to ie: agriculture..

In past essays I have talked about hunter-gatherers’ playful approaches to (a) government, (b) religion, and (c) productive work. Now, in this essay, I describe their playful approach to parenting.[1]

ie: (partial of his bullets)

  • “Hunter-gatherers do not give orders to their children; for example, no adult announces bedtime.
  • “The idea that this is ‘my child’ or ‘your child’ does not exist [among the Yequana, of South America]. Deciding what another person should do, no matter what his age, is outside the Yequana vocabulary of behaviors. There is great interest in what everyone does, but no impulse to influence–let alone coerce–anyone.
  • “Aborigine children are indulged to an extreme degree, and sometimes continue to suckle until they are four or five years old. Physical punishment for a child is almost unheard of.”
  • “Infants and young children [among Inuit hunter-gatherers of the Hudson Bay area] are allowed to explore their environments to the limits of their physical capabilities and with minimal interference from adults.
  • “Ju/’hoansi children [of Africa] very rarely cried, probably because they had little to cry about.

on this causing spoiled children.. h/g love/protect/trust…

Anthropologists commonly use the termindulgence to characterize the hunter-gatherer style of parenting, but I think the more fundamental concept here is trust. Parents indulge children’s desires because they trust children’s instincts and judgments. They believe that children know best what they need and when they need it, so there are no or few battles of will between adults and children.

part of why we think we see spoiled people and that this doesn’t work is that we believe in partial trust. but partial or regulated or specified or judgmental trust is no trust.. so we.. haven’t yet seen what people are really like…

People who are trusted from the very beginning usually become trustworthy. People treated in this way do not grow up to see life as a matter of trying to overpower, outsmart, or in other ways manipulate others.


That is the attitude that I have been describing throughout this series as the playful approach to life–the approach that brings out the best aspects of our humanity.

Play, as I have said repeatedly in this series, requires individual freedom. Play is no longer play when one person attempts to dominate another and dictate what they do.

mar 2016

Study of ancient Japanese hunter-gatherers suggests warfare not inherent in human nature
ute people
Bruce Pascoe – aboriginals beyond h&g’s
James Suzman – affluence w/o abundance
nomad ness