The most usual criteria for punishment in primitive societies is the principle of “Eye for an eye”. According to this principle if a person has taken the eye of another the chief orders that the eye of the criminal should be taken.

Blood for blood is the ancient principle of retribution in primitive societies. Thus punishment is based on retributive principle. This is so since most of the tribal people believe that crime is a violation of divine system or rules. Hence it is believed that the criminal is evil and should be given suitable punishment so that he may become free from evil.

The evil souls must be punished. Besides retribution, another basis for punishment is compensation of the loss. Punishment in the form of fine is usually based on this principle. A fine is imposed since it compensates the loss.

But the most important principle in the primitive system of punishment is the principle of collective responsibility.


According to this principle punishment is not necessarily awarded to the individual who has committed the crime but his family, clan and local group may also be punished. For example, punishment of death is given for a murder, but this punishment may not be awarded to him who has murdered.

In his place some other member of his family, group or clan may be killed since the group is collectively responsible for the criminal act of each member.

Kinds of punishment

Different types of punishment are prevalent in different primitive societies. While in some societies compensation and social extermination are the more usual punishments, in other societies different types of physical injuries are inflicted as punishment. Similarly, in some societies fines are imposed and community feast is demanded to wipe off the crime.


In some other societies the criminal is publicly insulted by blackening his face and carrying him through the entire village seated on a donkey. In America, in a tribe an unfaithful wife is given the punishment of death by drowning in water. In an Uganda tribe there is provision of jail for the criminal. The criminal, however, can be set free for a night.

If the crime is very serious the criminal is fixed to a pole till he dies. Murder is usually punished by capital punishment but most of the tribes do not have the provision for hanging till death. The provision for jail, however, is very exceptional. Usually, one does not find prison houses in tribal societies.