Another key feature of hunter-gatherer life, and one of its essences, is reciprocal exchange. People give with the expectation of taking, and take with the expectation of giving. There is variability in food acquisition, and those who have luck one day may need a handout on the next. The best way to provide for the inevitable rainy day is to be generous (Harris 1989). "Reciprocity is a small society's bank," says Harris.
In reciprocal exchange, there is no importance placed on how much one expects to get back, or what it will be or when one will get it. Generosity is taken for granted. No one says "please" or "thank you" -- it would be totally inappropriate. To express gratitude indicates that you are "the kind of ungenerous person who calculates how much you give and take (Harris 1989)." Robert Dentan explains further, "In this context saying thank you is very rude, for it suggests first that one has calculated the amount of a gift and second, that one did not expect the donor to be so generous (1968)." To call attention to someone's generosity is to indicate that others are in debt to you and that you expect them to repay you. To suggest to any member of an egalitarian group that they have been treated generously is appalling.
A striking feature of hunter-gatherer subsistence is the amount of time dedicated to the actual food quest. Lee points out that in all, the adults of the !Kung camp he visited worked about two and a half days a week. Since the average working day was about six hours long, the !Kung, even despite their harsh environment, devote from twelve to nineteen hours per week to getting food. Even the hunter who worked the hardest -- who went out on sixteen of the twenty-eight days -- spent a maximum of thirty-two hours a week in the food quest (Lee 1968). Sahlins explains that the sixty-five percent of the people in a !Kung camp who were effective food producers worked 36 percent of the time, and 35 percent of the people did not work at all (Lee 1969; Sahlins 1972). The Dobe !Kung work week is approximately 15 hours, or an average of 2 hours 9 minutes per day.
Lee paints an excellent picture of hg subsistence and leisure among the bushmen: "A woman gathers on one day enough food to feed her family for three days, and spends the rest of her time resting in camp, doing embroidery, visiting other camps, or entertaining visitors from other camps. For each day at home, kitchen routines, such as cooking, nut cracking, collecting firewood, and fetching water, occupy one to three hours of her time. This rhythm of steady work and steady leisure is maintained throughout the year. The hunters tend to work more frequently than the women, but their schedule is uneven. It is not unusual for a man to hunt avidly for a week and then do no hunting at all for two or three weeks. Since hunting is an unpredictable business and subject to magical control, hunters sometimes experience a run of bad luck and stop hunting for a month or longer. During these periods, visiting, entertaining, and especially dancing are the primary activities of men (1969)."
In this chapter we have explored the dynamics of the economic side of things, the way hgs go about making a living and what that entails. Once again, hgs emphatically do not typify the type of "economic man" that modern theory has come to posit as a universal. Next, we'll examine some further developments in hg ethnography on a variety of topics.