It is an undeniable fact that leadership, including political leadership, has always played an essential role in any society as it not only sets an example for other community members to follow, but is also paramount for the development of the society. Leaders set the direction for further development, while addressing problematic issues existing within the society in the most effective and efficient possible manner. At the same time, it is an undisputed fact that political leaders may hold immense power and authority over the society, which, in turn, may corrupt them and make them seek for personal benefits, profit, wealth, and even more power. Such behavior usually has detrimental impacts on the society that may find itself under the unbreakable rule of a dictator who has built a powerful totalitarian regime.
It is also logical that different peoples have different types of political leadership depending on their history, geographical location, level of economic development, lifestyle, culture, religion, and other essential factors that turn them into a unique society. In the contemporary world characterized by a wide spread of democratic liberal leadership, high levels of industrialization, and rapid globalization, it is remarkable that some peoples preserve the way of living that their ancestors have maintained for centuries without succumbing to the pressure of the outside, largely westernized world. Thus, the present essay provides a comparative analysis of political leadership common for three different peoples, including an ancient Hindu town in rural South India, the Yanomamo tribe residing in the Amazonian jungles in central South America, and the San Bushmen hunters and gatherers from the Kalahari desert in southern Africa.
It is obvious that the given three peoples will have different patterns of political leadership, but it is highly possible that the San Bushmen and the Yanomamo tribe may have some features in common. It is caused by the fact the two peoples belong to the hunting and gathering type of the society. In turn, political leadership of the Hindu town is predicted to be drastically different from the one in the other two peoples. At the same time, it is evident that the three peoples will be completely different from the so-called modern conventional type of political leadership that is prevalent in the overwhelming majority of world countries. Besides, it should be noted that political leadership is usually under significant influence of the society's culture and economics, as well as proximity to and relations with other countries or societies. Such close relations between different domains of social life are evident on the sample of the Hindu town in South India.
In the Hindu town of South India, the society is characterized with significant stratification and inequality of different groups. However, contrary to capitalist countries where the society is usually divided into classes based on income, the Hindu town is divided into castes that people are born in and that are an integral element of the religious outlook of the population (Gould, 1986). Such stratification is also evident in the economic relations, whereby representatives of different castes can choose only peculiar professions. A typical economic system that also influences other spheres of life in the Hindu town is called the jajmani system (Gould, 1986). In line with the jajmani system, occupations may be clean or unclean and only representatives of clean and unclean castes respectively can be engaged into such occupations (Gould, 1986). The clean caste is called Twice Born and individuals belonging to it cannot engage in an unclean occupations, as well as being prohibited to intermarry with representatives of unclean castes. Thus, they can choose to become political leaders of the society if they decide so, yet they have to possess respective skills and qualities to qualify for such position. Hence, there is also certain stratification within castes based on the history, power, and wealth of families to which individuals belong.
Moreover, political leadership in the Hindu town is quite often inseparable from religious leadership, since religion plays a vital role in the society's life. Since "absolute inequality" is the basis of all social, economic, political, and religious structures in the Hindu community, leaders have to ensure that representatives of all castes can productively co-exist with a view of promoting well-being of the community on the whole (Gould, 1986). The matter is that representatives of different castes would likely prefer limiting their contacts with individuals from other castes if they were given a choice. However, such scenario would be disastrous for the whole community, since all castes depend on each other for specific goods and services that only they can produce and render. Therefore, the primary function of the leadership in such kind of the society is to ensure that the town has all necessary products and services and that there are no conflicts between the castes.
As a rule, the Hindu town has the Gaon Panchayat that is the Council of Elders who governs social, religious, economic, and political life of the town (Gould, 1986). The Council has to find a tentative, but essential balance between preventing the castes from too close contacts based on religious reasons, while encouraging them to cooperate and communicate for economic reasons. Besides, leaders also govern significant economic activities, being jajmans or employers for workers. Withal, it is not an uneasy task to be a leader in the South Indian Hindu town, but leaders are of immense significance for the survival of communities and for the promotion of economic and social relations between different castes. In other case, castes members would eliminate any contact with outsiders from other castes for religious reasons. Therefore, the Hindu town would collapse without effective, efficient, and wise leadership that performs social, religious, economic, and cultural duties at the same time.
Contrary to the rigid social structure of the Hindu town marked by pronounced stratification and clear roles performed by the political leadership, the San Bushmen people and the Yanomamo tribe tend to be more egalitarian even though to a varying extent. Both peoples may be roughly classified as hunter-gatherer societies that differ greatly from the Hindu town due to the lack of a developed economic system. As a result, they do not suffer from inequality that is usually regarded to be a characteristic feature of any economically developed society (Gowdy, 2011). At the same time, the two peoples differ in terms of the political leadership even though being similar in some respects.
On the one hand, the Yanomamo tribe is egalitarian in terms of its social and economic structure, which is proved by the absence of ranked hierarchy (Peters-Golden, 2011). Although women may seem to have a slightly lower status than men in the community, prestige can be earned by any individual based on skills, knowledge, and competences. Hence, "there are as many prestigious positions as there are people to fill them" (Salamone, 1997). On the other hand, the Yanomamo tribe would not be able to live without political leadership. The matter is that they are not a typical nomadic hunter-gatherer society, since they construct and live in villages, build and tend to gardens, engage in trading, and are keen on inter-village warfare (Chagnon, 2013). Thus, the tribe needs a leader, who is called a headsman, responsible for maintaining order in the village, hosting guests and visitors from other villages, negotiating trade and marriage deals, and sometimes leading warriors in the battle, and subsequently performing peace-making duties (Chagnon, 2013). As a rule, the headsman is chosen on the basis of outstanding merits of the largest kin family in the village (Peters-Golden, 2011). Though not always, political leaders are also outstanding warriors who are distinguished through their immense strength and willpower, which become the reasons for the creation of myths about their combat prowess, especially in case of a heroic death in some battle (McKay & McKay, 2015).
However, the kind of political leadership typical for most Yanomamo tribes does not mean that leaders hold extreme power or authority over other villagers. Leaders are treated as "greatest among equals" and are not exempt from performing daily chores like hunting, gardening, fishing, or any other tasks that are performed by the ordinary villagers (Chagnon, 2013). Thus, the Yanomamo leaders have to perform even more duties than other villagers due to their wisdom, skills, and respect of other people. According to anthropological studies, the Yanomamo's leadership can be represented by a wide range of utterly different styles that depend on the tribe and personal characteristics of its leader. Some leaders may be violent, cruel, tyrannical, and despotic, which makes them initiate wars with other villages, promote wife-beating, and encourage overall violence among villagers (Chagnon, 2013). At the same time, there are many mild, well-spoken, truly wise, and quiet leaders who rarely interfere with the life of the village and remain inconspicuous most of the time. Yet, they are deeply respected by villagers and have their orders readily followed (Chagnon, 2013). Therefore, the Yanomamo tribe has a political leadership, but it does not negate egalitarianism and equality of all members respected for their outstanding skills and wisdom, who are, though, never granted extreme power and authority over their villages.
In turn, the San Bushmen hunters and gatherers from Africa represent the most egalitarian of all three peoples under analysis. They represent a typical hunter-gatherer society with the economy based on immediate return where all members of the group are equal in all respects (Woodburn, 1982). They have lived in such way for approximately 20,000 years and are not likely to change their established lifestyle practices in the nearest future (South African San Institute, 2015). Their social structure cannot even be called tribal as they have no single leader who would be of paramount importance and have clearly determined duties, while kinship ties are comparatively weak (Kalahari Meerkat Project). It should be noted, though, that the San Bushmen society can be identified as "assertively egalitarian", since they consciously prevent one single individual from attaining qualitatively more authority over community affairs than others (Woodburn, 1982). All individuals are equal as they all enjoy direct access to resources and perform hunting and gathering duties. Such equality is usually applied for the relations among genders as males and females are supposed to be equal (Morris, 2007). Of course, there is a division of labor based on gender with women being responsible for child rearing and men for hunting and making tools (Lee, 1979). However, such division does not significantly impact social structure of the San Bushmen people.
Since there is no political leadership as such, all decisions are taken by means of open discussions and negotiations, as well as via agreement by consensus (Kalahari Meerkat Project). Opinions of different individuals are considered with account for their age, skills, and experience in the field of discussion (Kalahari Meerkat Project). Nonetheless, the anthropological studies of the San Bushmen point out that some groups have leaders even though not in the conventional meaning of the word (Siyabona Africa, 2015). Such leaders are individuals who have lived in the group for a long time, i.e. are of a relatively senior age, have gained extensive experience, and are known for their good character and wisdom (Siyabona Africa, 2015). Such leaders may be regarded as honorary members of the group rather than political leaders as they hold no real power and merely receive more attention during discussions and more requests for advice. Therefore, contrary to the above two peoples, the San Bushmen people may be deemed truly egalitarian and devoid of political leadership.
In conclusion, the comparative analysis of the three peoples under consideration shows that they differ essentially in terms of their political leadership. The initial hypothesis that the San Bushmen and the Yanomamo as two hunter-gatherer societies have many features in common have not been proved even though the two peoples are egalitarian by nature. However, the San Bushmen have no political leadership and they are the only people under consideration that may be termed as completely egalitarian. In turn, the Yanomamo have political leaders whose powers are limited and who have to perform ordinary daily duties alongside with other villagers in addition to their supplementary tasks as headsmen. The Hindu town of South India is the most advanced people in terms of political leadership and its resemblance of the contemporary definition of such concept. Nevertheless, the Hindu leadership is simultaneously economic, political, and religious, which signifies that all the provided aspects are tightly interconnected in a given people. Thus, political leadership differs in its functions, roles, and scope of powers based on cultural, historic, social, economic, and religious peculiarities of different peoples.