Additional Participants

Senior Personnel

Rebecca Bliege Bird

Graduate Student

Christopher Parker

Bonnie Bass

Undergraduate Student

Michelle Connelly

Pearce Creasman

Organizational Partners

Parnngurr Aboriginal Community Council

Other Collaborators or Contacts

Teddy Biljabu

Nola Taylor

Mitchell Biljabu

Project Period

August 2001-July 2003

Level of Access

Open-Access Report

Grant Number


Submission Date



Among Aboriginal people in Australia's deserts, as among all humans, food acquisition is not simply about eating: practices related to what types of foods are acquired, who obtains the food, how food is treated and distributed, are infused with value other than simple nutrition. Often these practices are attached to gender roles. Traditional explanations have assumed that gender differences in foraging and food sharing are bound by a common goal of provisioning--that like a mini-economy of scale, a household will be better provisioned through gender specialization. But recent work among other people that hunt and gather suggests that under some circumstances critical aspects of gender differences in labor may arise from the ways in which different strategies of food acquisition and distribution meet different foraging goals, some of which can conflict with household provisioning. This is especially the case when the activity of acquiring food can provide public goods that are distributed widely, or when food contains symbolic value beyond its simple caloric content. This research proposes to quantitatively test the predictions of hypotheses that examine factors influencing food acquisition, sharing, and their link to gender differentiation among the Mardu of Western Australia. To what extent are different (sometimes conflicting) foraging goals influencing a sexual division of labor? To what extent are Mardu foraging decisions designed to more effectively provision themselves and their households, and to what extent are they influenced by the ways that different activities can honestly signal underlying qualities of the acquirer? How do changes in household composition, environmental dynamics, and social dynamics affect male and female foraging strategies? Answering these questions will involve quantitative measures of the economics of resource patch utilization, prey selection, food transfers, and Mardu camp composition and ecology. Delineating these and how they structure subsistence decisions will have broad relevance for our understanding of basic features of human family organization in small scale economies.

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