Roles in a Tribe

The Fifth Profession by David Morrell
From the Intro:

No single historical event marks the origin of Savage’s profession. The skill to which he devoted himself has its antecedents prior to fact in the haze of myth. At the start, there were hunters, then farmers, then with something to be gained by barter, prostitutes and politicians. Given some debate about precedence, those are the first four human endeavors. But as soon as something can be gained, it must be protected. Hence Savage’s[sic] – the fifth – profession. Although his craft’s inception has not been documented, two incidents illustrate it’s valiant traditions.

Morrell then goes on to cite these two particular events; the Japanese tale of the Forty-seven Ronin, telling of the honor and devotion of the bodyguards of a Lord Asano, a daimyo or minor lord, even beyond his death; and the Battle of Maldon, in particular the Anglo-Saxon poem of the same name, detailing the unfailing loyalty of the comitatus, or household guard, of a local lord, Byrhtnoth. The common theme – of protectors, and their loyalty to their masters – is one to which both Savage and Akira intimately relate.

The tribe may be the oldest form of human organization. It is simply the outgrowth of the family, grown larger than the nuclear family we know. Historically, each tribe produced individuals who filled certain key niches within the micro-society. These roles are consistent across cultures, from Australian bushmen to African pygmies to Apaches to Viking raiders. As we contemplate the idea of building resilient communities of our own, it is necessary, I believe, to look more closely at how humans have historically filled these necessary niches, how we fill them in our modern society, and how we might fill them in our future Resilient Community.

The first profession within the tribe we will look at (these are in no particular order of importance) is the Wise Man. The Wise Man is too old to lead in the hunt or in war, but has a lifetime of useful information regarding the internal politics of the tribe, the personalities of its members, the best times for planting and harvesting and provides mature prospective often absent in the younger members of society.

In our modern culture, we have relegated our old to warehouses and split up their traditional role. The preacher, pastor or therapist is the repository of inter-relational wisdom. The teacher, professor or pundit provides knowledge and the internet contains more practical advice than we can use. But, wisdom, real wisdom, is conspicuously absent, as is any check on the passions of youth. Youngsters no longer have bonded relationships with those outside their age range and lack even the realization that they lack any sort of perspective on life.

A Resilient Community is one that can care for its elderly throughout life and into hospice. It has a place for their wisdom, their knowledge and life experience and is a place they can contribute meaningfully until the end of their days.

The Warrior is the protector of the tribe. In his time he was the sole source of security for his extended family. Most warriors were not professionals, meaning they carried out other activities to provide income, but stood ready to pick up their weapons in defense or to ride out in offense. As time went on and tribes grew larger, they were able to pay the best warriors to be full time warriors. There is a certain math that indicates when a society can afford to pay for protection by providing for the livelihoods of the warrior in exchange for his protection. Some of the largest empires never took this step, for the most part the Greek Hoplites were a citizen spear levy. Others took to it early, giving the warrior a social status that insured all males capable of carrying a weapon did so, almost exclusively, living largely by raiding.

A Resilient Community must be able to provide for its own protection. I, personally, am a fan of the Swiss Model for a militia of part time warriors, willing to take up arms in defense, but not focused day to day on training. Given our times, there are plenty of vets with combat experience to leaven any militia formation, so long as the community places emphasize, either regulatory or socially, on the members ability to actively defend each other. The Appleseed Project is a great vehicle for this.

The leader may or may not also be a warrior. In more traditional societies, he was the best hunter or warrior, the man who, in his prime of life, had lived long enough to be on the path to being a Wise Man, but with the physical prowess to have the respect of the rest of the tribe’s warriors and hunters. Some societies divided the task of war leader and political leader. Most did not. Some divide this responsibility among several, doing things by committee or common agreement. But, always, there is a hierarchy and, even where the authority is informal, the opinions of some will be more closely listened to. These individuals have the ability to guide the society, for good or ill.

In our larger Republic we have instituted a Constitution which lays out a very detailed hierarchy of positions for formal leadership as well as checks and balances on same. I wont debate the effectiveness of this system, but at the Community level, it is probably unnecessarily cumbersome. Within many systems there are two types of authority given by the society to its leaders. There is positional authority, authority vested in an office or title which gives whoever holds that position certain rights over his fellows and there is authority of rank, that which has been bestowed on the individual for merit or birth or by vote and which he holds, regardless of position. As an example, in the military, a Major of the Nurse Corps outranks a Captain by position, but if that Captain is a Commander of a unit and his and the Major’s boss, the Lieutenant Colonel Battalion Commander, is killed the Captain, not the Major, will likely take up command of the Battalion, due to his positional authority as a Commander. A third form of authority is personal. That authority that derives from the trust and admiration of one’s fellows, freely given and freely removed. This is the authority best suited to a Resilient Community and should trump whatever formal authority the community establishes. Or, perhaps better, should inform and guide the decisions of the community within their chosen structure.

The Maker is one who makes his living other than through agriculture or commerce. It could be through some tangible product or some essential service that he or she is skilled to provide. In historic times sons learned these trades from their fathers, or because they were unable to perform as a hunter or warrior. Later, as the crafts developed, societies often interposed a form of apprenticeship, allowing parents to place their children with masters for training in a craft.

Now, we give our children over to the State for 12+ years, hoping they absorb both learning and manners. Most assume their little angel is destined for college and middle management, regardless of their proclivities for other methods of earning a living. With the looming education bubble this is likely to change within our lifetime. Within a Resilient Community, education can be locally controlled and focused on the individual child rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Children can be guided into careers or skill sets that maximize their desires and which are based on long term goals they set for themselves while providing a broad base of knowledge and experiences that do not close doors on their futures by pigeon-holing them at too young an age.


The Agrarian makes his living with produce and livestock. The original farmers and herders who know the land and the animals it supports. He carries the historic knowledge of growing things and provides from his surplus to the community around him, bartering or selling and buying the things he does not have time or skill to make himself.
In our modern society, the farmer no longer really exists. Corporations manage land for agricultural purposes in what amounts to an industrial model. Inputs and outputs are measured for efficiency and industrial processes and mechanization force the land to give beyond its ability to sustain.

The Resilient Agrarian is much less able to mass produce, but he is nimble, able to meet niche market demands within a short amount of time. Likewise, he is an entrepreneur, creating jobs and wagering on the market. His land increases in worth and capability, rather than being strip mined of its nutrients.

While the Agrarian and the Maker both need the skill of trading and bartering, for the Merchant it is all he does. Not a maker or a grower himself, he provides a valuable service of meeting the needs of both by arranging for trade that must take place among the members of the community and pulling from those transactions a small percentage of the value of the exchange. The full time trader can use economy of scale and inter-personal relationships to provide the community access to goods and services they cannot generate themselves at prices they can afford from their own production. Our modern society has bypassed the traditional Merchant, both for good and ill. The large corporations can be very nimble at providing mass produced, moderately quality goods. But it often falls to the artisan Maker or Grower to market high end or niche products locally. Here is where a Resilient Community can shine, with a Merchant of their own to market their produce to the outside world and bring in those luxury goods and raw materials they cannot resource locally.

Whatever form your Resilient Community may take, however you handle membership and governance, filling these key positions deliberately is of primary concern. And they cannot be filled with just anybody. It should be a deliberate decision to make sure the right person with the right qualifications, experiences and personality falls in on these positions in such a way as to maximize the community’s opportunities. Likewise, they should be redundantly filled, so that the loss of a key player does not cripple the community.


About cptcaveman

An Army Major, my family and I are in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. We enjoy photography, cooking, reading and outdoor sports like hunting, fishing and trapping.
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