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Kent, S. 1989. "And Justice for All: The Development of Political Centralization among Newly Sedentary Foragers." American Anthropologist 91(3): 703-712

Professor Kent seeks to investigate the level of centralised organisation and leadership, and the effects thereof, in three different types of Bushmen communities: sedentary, newly sedentary and fully sedentary. These are represented by the !Kung, Kutse community and the Ghanzi & Nabta River Bushmen respectively.

According to a 1988 report by Hitchcock, violence and suicides reported by Lee in 1979 for newly sendentary !Kung communities were higher than those for the Nabta who have been sedentary for over 100 years. This is due to the Nabta having developed internal forms of institutionalised arbitration.

Kent moves on to discuss the recently settled community named Kutse, who are comprised of Bushmen and Bakgalagadi. Here statistics reveal an interesting social phenomenon, with an average of only half the population saying they think there is a chief. The person named as a chief is furthermore not a political chief in the traditional sense but rather a "mediator of disputes", and is therefore not part and parcel of a political system. Rather, he only holds the position because of the recognition conferred upon him. Kent also witnessed fights which numbered as much in one month as that observed amongst the nomadic !Kung in an entire year, as well as individuals vying for positions of moral and political authority within the community itself. One notable observation is that despite this being a newly sedentary community, people retained some of the fluidity of their nomadic counterparts in terms of moving away from the center of the community or moving to a nearby village, i.e. although they were tied to the sedentary community, they were not yet tied to a specific region or functionality within the community. Their socio-political framework is in a transitional phase.

Nomadic !Kung disperse when trouble develops between individuals and/or groups. The more sedentary !Kung call upon their Herero neighbours to mediate in disputes.

Kent concludes, "I suggest that endemic violence characteristic of newly sedentary Basarwa [Bushmen] only superficially resembles violence endemic in other societies with long histories of sedentism. The violence stems from different origins. While nomadic, Basarw did not have the high level of tension and hostilities that plague newly sedentary and aggregated groups. Violence is less common in long-term sedentary Basarwa with emerging headmen and political centralization. As Knauft (1987) recognozes, it is crucial not to lump superficially similar phenomena without determining whether or not the underlying causes are also similar. To do so is to mask the very diversity we seek to investigate on both diachronic and synchronic levels.



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