Scarcity and survival: The role of oral tradition in mediating subsistence crises
Author(s)Minc, Leah D.
Full recordShow full item record
AbstractSurvival of periodic subsistence crises is largely dependent on a group memory of past crisis situations and of the strategies appropriate for dealing with the altered environmental conditions. One mechanism utilized by nonliterate societies for the preservation of survival knowledge is its incorporation in oral tradition. As a body of reference knowledge, oral traditions potentially operate over two time scales. Secular oral traditions (folktales, songs, and histories) depend on repetition for perpetuation with inherent potential for distortion. In contrast, sanctified oral traditions, such as ritual performances, rely on a correct reproduction of the ritual order to achieve supernatural efficacy. Rituals accordingly assume an invariant character appropriate for the transmission of survival information over extended periods of time. The role of oral tradition in mediating subsistence crises is examined for two hunter-gatherer groups: the Tareumiut and Nunamiut of northwest Alaska. Utilizing the ecological and ethnographic literature, the temporal variability in the primary faunal resources of these groups is modeled and the social means for buffering subsistence stress are presented. The survival strategies encoded in secular and sanctified forms of oral tradition are then evaluated and compared. The study concludes that secular forms provide a readily available medium for the enculturation of specific values or behaviors relating to group survival across seasonal or short-term interannual shortages, while ritual performances provide a model of resource variability and the appropriate responses relevant to crisis situations recurring on the pan-generational time scale.
Minc, Leah D. (1986/03)."Scarcity and survival: The role of oral tradition in mediating subsistence crises." Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 5(1): 39-113. <http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/26239>
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology