National Geographic has an interesting piece of ethnographic travel writing up on the Hadza of Tanzania. The Hadza are one of the few remaining hunter-gather populations in the world, and their language is an isolate which has clicks. There’s a bit too much “noble savage” archetype loaded into the piece, but this portion is of note:
The chief reason the Hadza have been able to maintain their lifestyle so long is that their homeland has never been an inviting place. The soil is briny; fresh water is scarce; the bugs can be intolerable. For tens of thousands of years, it seems, no one else wanted to live here. So the Hadza were left alone. Recently, however, escalating population pressures have brought a flood of people into Hadza lands. The fact that the Hadza are such gentle stewards of the land has, in a way, hurt them–the region has generally been viewed by outsiders as empty and unused, a place sorely in need of development. The Hadza, who by nature are not a combative people, have almost always moved away rather than fight. But now there is nowhere to retreat.
Like all extant hunter-gatherer populations* the Hadza exist precisely because their territory is unappealing or unsuitable for agriculture. It follows that the simplicity of the Hadza may be a function of the spare and marginal nature of the ecology with they depend upon for their livelihood, not the style of their livelihood. I am willing to hazard that hunter-gatherers more fertile territory would still have less inequality and social complexity than equivalent agriculturalists, but the hard-scrabble hunter-gatherers who remain surely give us an extremely distorted view of that mode of life.
* Many which anthropologists were able to study in the 20th century are no longer hunter-gatherers, so the presently extant list is shrinking fast.
H/T Michael Blowhard