Hugh Brody is an English anthropologist. His parents were Jewish, and a number of their relatives died in the holocaust. Brody spent three decades in Canada hanging out with natives raised in hunter-gatherer societies. He worked for the government, and made documentary films.
Brody was raised in a nutjob civilization. He found the hunter-gatherers to be fascinating, because they had many virtues that were missing in modern society. The natives were kind and generous people. They radiated a profound love for the land of their birth, the home of their ancient ancestors. They deliberately had small families. Nobody gave orders to others. Everyone made their own decisions. Children were never disciplined.
He described his experiences in The Other Side of Eden, an excellent book. It examined the vast gulf between farming societies and hunter-gatherers — the broken and the free. In many ways, it was a predator-prey game. Wild people were useless obstacles to the insatiable hunger of the powerful empire builders and soil miners.
Conquered hunters had to be broken — turned into educated, Christian, English-speaking wageworkers. They had to be made dependent on a farm-based civilization, and this required turning their lives and minds inside out. It was different in India, where the British colonized people who were already farmers. These folks were allowed to keep their language, religion, and culture. The empire simply skimmed off a portion of the cash flow and became a morbidly obese parasite.
Brody’s family was Orthodox and Zionist. Later in life, his mind-altering experience with hunter-gatherers compelled him to reexamine his cultural programming. Genesis was essentially the creation story of western civilization. Eden was paradise, and Adam and Eve were provided with everything they needed. There was just one simple rule to follow, and they promptly disobeyed it. God threw them out.
They had two sons. Cain was a farmer, and Abel was a herder. God was not a vegetarian, and he loved Abel’s offerings of meat. Cain got jealous, and killed his brother. God condemned him to a life of endless toil. Eventually, God came to loath the troublesome humans, and decided to drown them all. Only a few were decent — Noah and his family were spared. God instructed the survivors to spread across the world, multiply, and subdue wildness.
So, the descendants of Noah were cursed to be wanderers, with no permanent home. Soil depletion, overbreeding, and belligerent neighbors forced them to keep moving. We think of hunters as being nomads, and farmers as sedentary, but the opposite is closer to the truth. Hunters tend to remain in the same territory for ages. Farmers commonly pack up and move when greener pastures become available.
Yes, hunters did eventually migrate to every corner of the planet, but the diaspora took more than 100,000 years. The new farming game grew explosively, and spread everywhere in a few thousand years. It was a huge and tragic change in the human journey, because it was thoroughly unsustainable, ravaged everything in its path, and created mobs of rootless broken people.
Over 200 years ago, Sir William Jones noticed that Sanskrit had similarities to other languages, like Latin, Greek, and German. Other linguists pursued this notion, and discovered many related languages. These are now known as the Indo-European family of languages, and they are spoken by half of humankind. They likely originated in the Fertile Crescent, and spread in all directions, as agriculture expanded.
Brody noted that Genesis made no mention of hunter-gatherers, it was a story told by the victors. This Hebrew creation myth was especially peculiar in that it described two-legs as being superior to all the other animals. In the stories of wild people, two-legs were often portrayed as the newbies — clumsy, comical, childlike critters who had much to learn from the older, wiser species.
The natives of northern Canada believed that they lived in the most beautiful place in the world. It gave them everything they needed. They treated their home with great reverence and respect. They were extremely lucky that their chilly Eden wasn’t prime real estate for agriculture. With the exception of horrific epidemics, they were relatively unmolested until the twentieth century.
But then, hell rumbled into Eden. Obnoxious missionaries told them they were wicked devil worshippers. The government built permanent settlements for them, with churches, schools, and stores. Their ancestral land became the property of the state. Loggers, ranchers, and miners moved in. A large region of Eden became a training ground for supersonic low altitude NATO bombers. By and by, the natives became fond of the pain killing magic of oblivion drinking. The good old days were over.
The residential schools were sadistically cruel. Children were taken from their families and sent far away. The kids were beaten for speaking their language. Many were malnourished or sexually abused. Many died. The primary goal of school was ethnocide — eliminating wild culture. They weren’t really creating improved people; they were breaking them, like ranchers break wild horses. The children were taught that they were primitive, and that everything they knew was wrong and stupid. After a year of English-only, they forgot their native tongue. It took years to relearn it, and many never did.
Control is the foundation of the farming mindset. Settlers ravage ancient forests with sharp axes and plows. They exterminate the wildlife and build sturdy fences. When Brody brought an Inuit elder to England, they took a drive in the country. Anaviapik was stunned, “It’s all built!” The original ecosystem was gone. It was unbelievable.
On one project, Brody hung out with alcoholic natives in an urban skid row. He noted that white drinkers took great pride in holding their liquor while drinking heavily. It was uncool to stumble around or slur words. Respectable boozers remained in control. Natives, on the other hand, let go. “There is a welcome loss of self, a flight into another state of being, another kind of person” — a spirit journey.
Control is impossible in the hunting world. Fish, birds, and game go where they wish, and do as they please. Weather happens and patterns change suddenly without warning. Hunter-gatherers must continually pay close attention to the land and its creatures. A living ecosystem is not a predictable machine. Intuition and improvisation are essential for survival. Folks must be open to many states of mind. Dreams provided important information. “If there is a trail to be discovered, the dreamer must find it.”
“It is artists, speculative scientists, and those whose journeys in life depend on not quite knowing the destination who are close to hunter-gatherers, who rely upon a hunter-gatherer mind.”
Brody, Hugh, The Other Side of Eden, North Point Press, New York, 2001.