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How to make my protagonist a better leader? (1 Viewer)

Tyrannohotep

Senior Member
My current WIP is a prehistoric fiction novel set in East Africa around 100,000 years ago, during the early days of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens). The protagonist is a young woman who was originally going to inherit her tribe's chieftainship from her father. However, after she behaved recklessly on a couple of hunting expeditions, her father takes away her inheritance and gives it to her younger brother. Feeling that she has disgraced herself before her own people, my protagonist runs away to join another tribe, and afterward her brother has their father killed and takes over the chieftainship, becoming a tyrannical warmonger thereafter.

I've decided that my protagonist's arc is going to have her become better suited for leadership so that she can return to her original tribe and challenge her brother for the chieftainship. The problem I've run into is, in what ways could she develop her leadership ability? So far I have her joining another tribe, but this tribe already has a chieftain of their own, so she would basically be a commoner instead of preparing to be a leader in her own right. Any suggestions?
 

Fiender

Senior Member
Many things can prepare a person for leadership. A general increase in competency is probably your best bet. She gets better at hunting, at organizing hunting parties, at training other hunters, etc. Show her acknowledge her flaws and then overcoming them, whereas the younger brother presumably does not improve on his flaws, giving the reader (and perhaps the characters) a clear picture that she is more suitable than him.
 

CyberWar

Senior Member
In all honesty, the premise of the story is flawed. For starters, a Paleolithic tribe is unlikely to have a hereditary chiefdom. If contemporary primitive tribes are any measure to go by, the tribes of early humans would more likely have been governed by a council of male and female elders with informal leaders who commanded authority through respect for them rather than recognition of any innate right to rule. The concept of hereditary rulership is thought to have emerged no earlier than Neolithic, after the invention of agriculture.

One's place in a hunter-gatherer society is basically determined by one's contribution to the tribe's survival, an informal leader emerging organically rather than through an institutionalized practice. Given a Paleolithic tribe's lifestyle, such a leader would logically be the best hunter - an older, experienced male. With the passing of one such elder, the leadership would naturally transition to the next best hunter - also one of the older men whom everybody trusts and respects for his age and experience. A woman might learn some basic hunting skills to subsist on her own in case of emergency, but would never master them to the degree necessary to lead the men of tribe simply because women serve other functions in hunter-gatherer tribes. Primitive societies tend to be very gender-conscious where it comes to division of labour, it being reinforced by various taboos. In general, the men and women of hunter-gatherer societies spend most of their time apart, pursuing their own gender-specific activities, so no matter how tempting the empowered female huntress/chieftess might seem to modern eyes, any anthropologist will attest that it just doesn't work that way.

That's not to say a woman couldn't occupy a position of leadership and authority in a hunter-gatherer tribe, however - just like men, women too have their own revered elders with a say in tribal affairs. What is certain, however, that these women weren't huntresses, at least not under normal circumstances, having plenty of their own traditional duties to attend to.

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With all that considered, your protagonist would be much more plausible in the role of a shaman. Say, a daughter of the tribe's eldest hunter, she is selected to become the current shaman's apprentice by the tribe's elders after demonstrating whatever they believe to be a manifestation of shamanic power. After the old shaman dies prematurely, she must fulfill her new duties with only minimal knowledge of how to go about it. Knowing that failure could easily earn her the wrath of her tribe, the protagonist could demonstrate considerable resourcefulness and ingenuity in playing her role, perhaps growing too confident in her abilities until a spectacular failure would lead her to abandon her tribe on a quest for atonement and lead her on a journey of discovery and adventure where she joins the other tribe and matures into a capable and competent elder (mind that 25-30 years of age was already "elder" by Paleolithic standards).

Some of the challenges that might test and hone her leadership abilities could be having to make tough choices as the shaman. For example, she might be required to triage wounded hunters after a hunt gone bad just after an accidental loss of the majority of her herbal supplies, knowing that whatever choice she makes is bound to make her enemies in the tribe. She might also have to divine the fortunes of the upcoming hunt without knowing the proper rituals (with the old shaman having died prematurely), having to come up with something new on the go while carefully avoiding upsetting the elders over such breach of tradition, and basing her predictions on careful observation of nature. After joining the other tribe, she might earn their respect by sharing some technological knowledge that her tribe had and the other tribe did not. The sum of her leadership qualities could be showcased by her persuading the two tribes to unite, perhaps after her insight helps save them both from an attack by a more powerful tribe.
 

alpacinoutd

Senior Member
As the leader, she has to exude confidence and authority. Maybe she has self-doubt at the beginning and she manages to overcome her fears and doubts.
 

Tyrannohotep

Senior Member
In all honesty, the premise of the story is flawed. For starters, a Paleolithic tribe is unlikely to have a hereditary chiefdom. If contemporary primitive tribes are any measure to go by, the tribes of early humans would more likely have been governed by a council of male and female elders with informal leaders who commanded authority through respect for them rather than recognition of any innate right to rule. The concept of hereditary rulership is thought to have emerged no earlier than Neolithic, after the invention of agriculture.

One's place in a hunter-gatherer society is basically determined by one's contribution to the tribe's survival, an informal leader emerging organically rather than through an institutionalized practice. Given a Paleolithic tribe's lifestyle, such a leader would logically be the best hunter - an older, experienced male. With the passing of one such elder, the leadership would naturally transition to the next best hunter - also one of the older men whom everybody trusts and respects for his age and experience. A woman might learn some basic hunting skills to subsist on her own in case of emergency, but would never master them to the degree necessary to lead the men of tribe simply because women serve other functions in hunter-gatherer tribes. Primitive societies tend to be very gender-conscious where it comes to division of labour, it being reinforced by various taboos. In general, the men and women of hunter-gatherer societies spend most of their time apart, pursuing their own gender-specific activities, so no matter how tempting the empowered female huntress/chieftess might seem to modern eyes, any anthropologist will attest that it just doesn't work that way.

That's not to say a woman couldn't occupy a position of leadership and authority in a hunter-gatherer tribe, however - just like men, women too have their own revered elders with a say in tribal affairs. What is certain, however, that these women weren't huntresses, at least not under normal circumstances, having plenty of their own traditional duties to attend to.

---

With all that considered, your protagonist would be much more plausible in the role of a shaman. Say, a daughter of the tribe's eldest hunter, she is selected to become the current shaman's apprentice by the tribe's elders after demonstrating whatever they believe to be a manifestation of shamanic power. After the old shaman dies prematurely, she must fulfill her new duties with only minimal knowledge of how to go about it. Knowing that failure could easily earn her the wrath of her tribe, the protagonist could demonstrate considerable resourcefulness and ingenuity in playing her role, perhaps growing too confident in her abilities until a spectacular failure would lead her to abandon her tribe on a quest for atonement and lead her on a journey of discovery and adventure where she joins the other tribe and matures into a capable and competent elder (mind that 25-30 years of age was already "elder" by Paleolithic standards).

Some of the challenges that might test and hone her leadership abilities could be having to make tough choices as the shaman. For example, she might be required to triage wounded hunters after a hunt gone bad just after an accidental loss of the majority of her herbal supplies, knowing that whatever choice she makes is bound to make her enemies in the tribe. She might also have to divine the fortunes of the upcoming hunt without knowing the proper rituals (with the old shaman having died prematurely), having to come up with something new on the go while carefully avoiding upsetting the elders over such breach of tradition, and basing her predictions on careful observation of nature. After joining the other tribe, she might earn their respect by sharing some technological knowledge that her tribe had and the other tribe did not. The sum of her leadership qualities could be showcased by her persuading the two tribes to unite, perhaps after her insight helps save them both from an attack by a more powerful tribe.
I greatly appreciate your insight and suggestions. In fact, I like it more than what I had currently (I was winging most of the story anyway, and that tends to lead me into dead ends). However, there is some recently uncovered evidence that women in at least some prehistoric societies were more likely to be big-game hunters than traditionally assumed.
 

CyberWar

Senior Member
I greatly appreciate your insight and suggestions. In fact, I like it more than what I had currently (I was winging most of the story anyway, and that tends to lead me into dead ends). However, there is some recently uncovered evidence that women in at least some prehistoric societies were more likely to be big-game hunters than traditionally assumed.


It's certainly possible, though it still remains to see whether this discovery is an isolated case or a more general phenomenon. To be honest, the tone of the article certainly seems to suggest a political agenda above honest news.
 
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