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In anthropology, an acephalous society (from the Greek ἀκέφαλος "headless") is a society which lacks political leaders or hierarchies. Such groups are also known as non-stratified societies. Typically these societies are small-scale,[1] organized into bands or tribes that make decisions through consensus decision making rather than appointing permanent chiefs or kings. Most foraging or hunter-gatherer societies are acephalous[citation needed]. Some exceptions to this trend are the Indus River Valley Civilization, Minoan Crete and the Cucuteni-Trypillia culture.[2]

When these societies do not possess distinctions of rank, they are described as egalitarian.[1]

In scientific literature covering native African societies and the effect of European colonialism on them the term is often used to describe groups of people living in a settlement with "no government in the sense of a group able to exercise effective control over both the people and their territory".[3] In this respect the term is also often used as synonymous to "stateless society".[4] Such societies are described as consensus-democratic in opposition to the majority-democratic systems of the West.[5]

The Igbo Nation in West Africa is alleged to be an acephalous or egalitarian society.[4]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Dictionary of the social sciences. Calhoun, Craig J., 1952-, Oxford University Press. New York: Oxford University Press. 2002. ISBN 9780199891184. OCLC 51115271.CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ Gelderloos, Peter (2017). Worshipping Power: An Anarchist History of State Formation.
  3. ^ H.S. Daannaa: "The Acephalous Society And The Indirect Rule System in Africa, Journal of Legal Pluralism And Unofficial Law, Nr. 34, p. 62,
  4. ^ a b Daannaa, p61; G.N. Ayittey: "STATELESS SOCIETIES: The Igbo, the Fulani, the Somali", A New Nigeria,
  5. ^ Ayittey, ibid.