Short Essay on Primitive Economic System

Social anthropologists have dealt with primitive economy in a very scant way. There is no dearth of literature pertaining to tribal ethnog­raphy, particularly by the British anthropologists.

But all of them have looked at tribal economy in a very restricted way. They are mile­stones in the literature on social anthropology, but the economic life of the tribals has been totally ignored.

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Indian social anthropologists followed the British pattern. D.N. Majumdar, the doyen of social anthropology, has altogether neglected a separate discussion on tribal economy. Quite like Malinowski and other British counterparts, he links economy with habitat and society.

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Then, M.N. Srinivas came out with Religion and Society among the Coorgs. He has also not mentioned anything about the economic proc­esses of production and distribution. Srinivas was so much under the spell of British functionalism that his work was considered to be a work of the British tradition. How is it that all these master social an­thropologists have overlooked the economic status of the tribal people?

The question needs to be answered in the light of the tradition of British anthropology. How is it that the current social anthropology of India does not pay due attention to the tribal economy in view of the current trends of globalization, liberalization and privatization? Even in the university syllabus there is hardly any mention of tribal economy.

Strange enough books on social anthropology continue to project tribal economy in a very crude and primitive form. We would like to mention here that the Azandes and Nuers of Evans-Pritchard, Tallensis of Fortes, Hoes of Majumdar and Coorgs of Srinivas have undergone a sea change in their economy during the last five decades. These tribal groups of Africa and India have attained modernization.


It is tragic that the primitive groups who are now modernized are pre­sented as primitives in our textbooks. Thus, there is an urgent need to look at the economic affairs of tribals in the present context of the capitalist and market economy.


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