Cultural Anthropology

The Worlds last Hunter Gatherers



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From remote Amazonian tribes to modern free-ranging Freegans, hunter-gatherer lifestyles, although rare, do exist in the twenty-first century. These ancient tribes follow traditions of food gathering, hunting and preparation that have existed for thousands of years. Agriculture and modern industry have greatly diminished the number of such tribes and their lands. Most are not expected to survive another hundred years, given the ever-accelerating pace of population and what is known as "progress." 

Among such peoples are the Bushmen of Africa's Kalahari, the Hadza of north central Tanzania, the Penan of Borneo, the Spinifex of Australia, the Piraha of Brazil's Maici River, the Batak of the Western Philippines, the Sentinelese of the Andaman Islands and a small handful more across the globe.  Although marginalized and greatly endangered now, such groups still live a way of life more tried and true than any alternative life style.  These people embody a spirit of living in the present more fully.  Most modern people, on the other hand, have overflowing households of clutter and possessions, keeping them enslaved on treadmills of debt and storage.

It is important to remember that human beings evolved as hunter-gatherer peoples, and only the recent advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago resulted in the present modernity and also some modern day consequences of civilized life. Among these are obesity, heart disease, pollution, over-crowding and climate change. This means that for the last 90,000 years, people roamed areas largely living outdoors. To do so requires an advanced practical knowledge of plants, animals, weather, resources and more. It is also often noted that these groups have lasted longer than any known civilization.  No matter how long-lived and powerful, empires such as ancient Rome, the Ottomans, the British empire and many more have grown, prospered, enslaved, colonized and exploited other regions and then died.

The reasons for this are many, but primarily it is being familiar with what works practically for survival in one's environment, how to live sustainably to avoid over exploitation, and having just enough  members, usually small bands of less than one hundred, to optimize cohesion, support, food availability and range. Although many external pressures have existed for the last three hundred years for such groups, internal pressures have been less detrimental.

One may realize the greatest threats to these groups are the four M's. Missionaries, miners, modernity and money. For example, for the Bushmen and Hadza of Africa, more and more modernity and the influence of money has seeped near their traditional lands. They are simply outnumbered by a vast and surging population set upon farming, herding and developed society. For the remote Andaman Islanders, their greatest source of survival is geographic isolation. Still chasing off intruders with bows and arrows, these people (who may number up to five hundred), have been able to stave off invasions and thus the corruption of civilized life. These Sentinelese hunter gatherers are the only known such people to have so far actively repelled invaders and preserved their ancient hunting grounds. They are also known to have cohesively weathered the 2004 tsunami, perhaps through ancient warning systems already in place. 

The Piraha of the Amazon, and a few other tropical rain forest tribes, have been gifted with the former impenetrability of the vast rain forest. But modern corporate giants are intent upon taking the resources that remain there. There are notably oil, minerals and the trees themselves, which developed nations have a sense of entitlement toward that continues a relentless pursuit which results in more jungle falling each day.

In the year 2000, the Spinifex people of Australia were at last granted some rights to their traditional lands in the Great Victoria Desert. Prior to this, however, many were first forced out across the twentieth century.  First, well-meaning Christian missionaries came, and then in 1952, atomic bomb tests were commonplace among these unsuspecting and peaceful people. 

The Batak of the western Philippines are also in steep decline.  With nearly 1,000 members at the beginning of the twentieth century, they are known to have no more than 300 people today. Subsisting on rice, small game and fish, they are thought to have survived for the last 50,000 years.  Their knowledge of rice gathering extends to more than 60 varieties, and their fishing and hunting expertise is legendary. 

All of these tribes have one thing in common.  They could teach humanity how to better sustain a productive planet were they not marginalized toward extinction. Although there is no such thing as "a noble savage," limits imposed through agriculture, toxins, garbage, stress of rat race life, alienation from humanity's evolved biology and the ills of sedentary and motorized lifestyles do hold a high cost for developed nations.  A  true and proven connection to nature is a great gift which such indigenous tribes can share. More and more sociology, psychology and anthropology studies have revealed serious consequences to the more recent and rampant, exploitative development since hunting and gathering were supplanted by agriculture and empires.

The urgency of a finite planet has warned "civilized" people that sustainability is the key to continued existence. Modern day hunter-gatherer diets and exercise regimes are popular. People are more and more becoming interested in living off-grid, learning sustainable methods of hunting and abandoning the ills of loud and trashy over-developed areas.  The foragers known as Freegans, who mine the detritus of post-industrial waste and garbage, provide one avenue.  The idea to avoid waste and simplify needs may catch on, especially as food shortages, droughts, floods and other ravages of climate change continue to take their toll upon the post-industrialized world. 

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