The Tribe as a Unit of Subsistence: Nomadic Pastoralism in the Middle East


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Among Middle Eastern pastoral nomads some “tribes” can best be described as “units of subsistence”: they exploit an area providing multiannual subsistence. Tribesmen sometimes control this area; more usually they control part of it and share the rest with other nomads and with settled people. Small corporate groups afford the tribesman security and, through genealogical links, mediate his formal membership of the tribe. The unit of subsistence is articulated mainly by networks of institutionalized relationships. Corporate groups join forces only for defense, and then their alliances cut across tribal lines. Under external pressure the unit of subsistence may develop formal leadership and a small standing militia. This administrative setup is in the literature often associated with the corporate groups and called “tribe.” While coexisting with a unit of subsistence, this “tribe” is not necessarily identical with it in area or population. [ecology, genealogies, Middle East, pastoral nomads, tribe] 1977 American Anthropological Association

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-363
Number of pages21
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1977


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