Political leaders, or headmen as they are usually called, seldom possess any real power or authority to command the actions of others. !Kung San leaders, for example, direct migration and subsistence activities and perform certain ceremonies, but the position they hold contains no power, honors, or rewards. Fried appears to catch the essence of political organization at the band level when he says (1967:83):
It is difficult, in ethnographies of simple egalitarian societies, to find cases in which one individual tells one or more others, “Do this!” or some command equivalent. The literature is replete with examples of individuals saying the equivalent of “If this is done, it will be good,” possibly or possibly not followed by somebody else doing it. More usually the person who initiates the idea also performs the activity. . . . The leader is unable to compel any of the others to carry out his wish.
SIMPLE HORTICULTURAL SOCIETIES
A number of simple horticultural societies can be found in the modern world. Most of these are found in Melanesia, a chain of islands in the southern Pacific (generally said to include New Guinea), and in various regions of South America. Extensive ethnographic research has been conducted among these societies, and the results of this research provide the basis for the discussion that follows.
Simple horticulturalists live in small villages ordinarily containing from 100 to 200 persons. Although villages substantially larger than this are known to exist, they are not common. Each village is in essence economically and politically self-sufficient.