The Environment and its Impact on a Communitie´s Way of Life

The Environment and its Impact on a Communitie´s Way of Life

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You Are What You Eat, and Where You Live
     The environment in which a people live makes an important impact on lives they live. The distribution and abundance, or scarcity of natural resources will affect the size of a group and therefore affect many other aspects of the group’s way of life. These things include the distribution of power, or lack there of, and an importance in spiritual life. There are an almost infinite number of things that the environment has control of shaping, another is where or not a group of people will take on an artistic nature.
     It only makes sense that the environment surrounding a particular group of people will determine how large a group will be able to be. This may even vary within one group depending on the season. The !Kung, that live in Sahara desert experience a difference in group size from the winter to summer seasons. During the winter months of June and July the weather can drop below freezing and water is abundant the smaller groups of twenty to thirty people travel and gather to around ephemeral pans, water holes that dry up during the summer. When the weather is hot during December these small groups gather together in bands of around two hundred people around more permanent pans when there are fewer water holes to travel to. (Miller 3/8/01) The Nuer pastoralists of Southern Africa are another group where the resources change enough that they have to change their group size and location depending on the seasons. During the rainy months of May and June they move to high grounds and live in smaller groups. When it’s dry during the months of December and January they move back down to the lowlands to herd their cows in a much larger group. (Miller 3/29/01)
     The type of environment a group of people lives in affects their form of subsistence and this in turn will help determine whether a society will be egalitarian or hierarchy. An awesome egalitarian society are the !Kung. They are a nomadic people and must forage for their food and share whatever they come home with. The only thing that seems to show any sign of power is that a particular person may have the “ownership” of a waterhole that other people within the tribe must ask permission to use it. The funny thing about this is that no one is ever really denied access to these pans.

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A society that is completely opposite would be the Kwakiutl. They typically have a head chief of the tribe who has a considerable amount of power over the rest of the group. This is a group of people who’s ways may seem quite opposite from our own. The Kwakiutl collect food, and the way a tribal chief celebrates his rites is through a huge feast where he gives away gifts to every guest. It is not uncommon to also give away gifts for other events, and simple things such as killing a large animal and sharing it with those who are deserving. (Ember and Ember 1999: 122-123) (Miller 3/2/01)
     If a group of people has a lifestyle that allows for a lot of free time will be more likely to have an interest in artistic work, as opposed to a life that is constantly moving, and always looking for their next meal, in which case there will probably be little art to be found. A group of people whose culture is not inclined to carry any sort of artsy way of life is the Paiute who travel almost all of the time, usually looking for their next meal. Being a traveling group of people they don’t carry much around with them that they don’t need, anything on their back is most likely a necessity. The Hopi people, on the other hand, that live in Northeast Arizona are agriculturists. The corn they grow takes time to do so, and even though there are many things you can do with the corn, until it actually comes out of the ground there is some free time to do other things. The Hopi are a very artistic people, both the men and women participate in many meaningful pieces of artwork such as woven baskets, gowns, pottery, and more recently, silver work. The women are the basket weavers, making wicker, or tightly coiled baskets with designs symbolizing the most important aspects of their lives like clouds and rain. The men make the clothing, and now even make silver jewelry with the same artistic designs as the baskets that the women make. (Miller 3/27/01)
     The Hopi are also a very spiritual group of people. Their way of living depends greatly on the corn they grow. Corn is a vegetable that requires a lot of water that comes from the clouds that they look so highly upon. The clouds represent not only the life force of their crop, but also a link to the past. They believe that their ancestors and the Kachina’s come to them in cloud manifestations. The best way to describe a Kachina in to those of us who are not Hopi may be that they are sort of God-like beings, but not God in the sense that we may think of. They have the power to give life, and may manifest in many different forms, and are involved in not only every day life, but very much in special ceremonies. The Nuer on the other hand may not be considered as rich in spiritual belief as the Hopi. Their main form of survival is from cows, so every song and dance is created for the cows that they cherish so dearly. Each cow is looked so highly upon that each will have it’s own name and each is considered a part of a certain mans wealth. The cow is used for almost anything you can think of, but most rarely to eat. Even the urine will be used to wash hands with and the stomach used as a sturdy bag. Cows will even be given as a bride price or even a blood price if necessary. (Miller 3/13/01)
     The life of a person will be incredibly different depending on the environment they live in. The !Kung and the Nuer who have travel back and forth between the sort of summer and winter residences just to keep alive, and in doing this changing their group size on their own. The !Kung also lead a different way of life with their incredible egalitarian way of life in which no particular person is viewed greater than the other, but each having his own special talent, in complete contrast to the Kwakiutl, who have a chief that may make many decisions that the rest of the group may not be able to make. The environment also plays a role in the ability for a group to be artistic. Since the Hopi have the relaxation time to create detailed baskets and clothing they do, but the Paiute on the other hand have less of a reason to do so, in fact any extra item may be a burden. The resources around a people will also affect the spiritual lives that they lead. The Hopi are very spiritual, and in tune with a particular spirituality, but the Nuer are concerned mainly with the well being of their cows. All of the cultures mentioned have a way of living that is a direct result of the land they live on and what resources are available to them, the environment allows us what we need to survive, no matter the living conditions.
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