Never Mind the Bull, Where’s the Passion Fruit?
by Vago Damitio
For the bulk of the existence of the human species, men and women have not kept pets nor tended gardens in the ‘modern’ sense. Neither have they ranched livestock, planted fields, nor built houses in one spot and put a mailbox in front with their family name emblazoned across so that their local postal worker could find where to bring birthday cards and cell phone bills.
Of course, some of this is painfully obvious. After all, not all cultures celebrate birthdays so it would be silly to think that such things as birthday cards existed in prehistory. As hard as it is to believe, many anthropologists, historians, scientists, and Christian fundamentalists are in agreement that in the remote past, there was probably a time when the bulk of calories needed in the day to day activities of all human Dicks and Janes came from somewhere other than a farm, ranch, grocery store, or five star restaurant perched in a romantic setting. The technical term for the lifestyle that this sort of diet entailed is variously known as hunter/gatherer or gatherer/hunter depending on where the person spouting the theory believes that most of the calories came from; hunting or gathering.
In order to understand how such a lifestyle might affect the psychology of human beings in the many facets of homo sapien existence, it is helpful to examine the societies which have most recently practiced this form of getting by. While it may be surprising to be told that there are still people that try to live in this manner, the more surprising fact is that they have managed to survive the barbarous cruelty of modern government, agriculture, disease, land devastation, and metro-sexual grooming products. Most of the groups that practiced gatherer/hunter lifestyles have been co-opted into ‘modern’ societies or completely wiped out by disease, crystal meth, or M-16s. Among those still surviving or recorded prior to destruction are the Tawi-Tawi Sama Dilaut of the Philippines, the Batek of Paheng, Malaysia, and the Agta of the Northern Philippines.
Rather than leading a sedentary lifestyle in one spot, these peoples chose to live a nomadic lifestyle that takes them to many different areas. As one might guess, this is not an easy thing to do in a world where most of six-billion people are all trying to say “This is my spot.” The Tawi-Tawi Sama Dilaut have developed a culture that avoids this problem by focusing their energy on the sea. These enterprising nomads of the water build a huge variety of vessels which serve as transportation, homes, and, in some cases livelihood (Nimmo 2001:pp 51-78). The Tawi-Tawi Sama Dilaut have developed fishing techniques for specific types of waters, gardening techniques which are sometimes on land and sometimes in specialized garden boats (Nimmo 2001:p 75), and practice social institutions which fit within the context of spending one’s life upon the water.
As one might imagine, living the gatherer/hunter lifestyle has a fairly profound effect upon the way that one must conduct one’s life. Among the Batek of Paheng, Malaysia it is important that each individual do their part to contribute to the greater good of the group. In Gathering in the Forest, Tuck-Po Lye writes that ““Everyone, everywhere, will be on the lookout for fruit at all times” (Lye 2004:p138). One adaptation that quite naturally follows from this harsh necessity is that, groups are generally smaller amongst gatherer/hunters than from more sedentary lifestylists. It is harder for large groups to find the necessary resources than it is for smaller groups, “…people that disagree are free to grumble or to leave.” (Estiorko-Griffin & Griffin 1981: p126) A group of more than a few would smoke an entire tobacco plant in a very short time whereas a small nuclear family can enjoy refreshing smokes in a family setting whilst only using a few leaves. The whole family can smoke together each time they visit the tobacco plant. The same thing goes for papayas, crab, big game, and other important resources.
One of the reasons the hunter/gatherer and gatherer/hunter split exists among academics and ‘modern’ people is because of the male-centric direction that society has followed. ‘Modern’ society has largely been dominated by those with penises through most of recorded history. As a result of this penis-centric view, the male establishment maintained for a long while that the bulk of calories were contributed to early societies by men. Since the men who supported this theory saw hunting as a manly activity, they decided that man hunted and provided while woman gathered and supplemented what the man brought home. Many studies have poked gaping holes in these penis-as-the-basis-of-all-civilization theories by pointing out that 1) most calories in subsistence lifestyles come from gathering and 2) that some women like to hunt (Estiorko-Griffin & Griffin 1981). This is true in both gatherer hunter societies and modern society (Stewart 2007.)
One thing is for certain, even though times have changed since the first humans went looking for a good place to eat, people have never stopped figuring out ways to get the things they need whether it is a place to call their own, a ‘family’ they can get along with, or a good meal. In some cases, a good meal simply means enough calories to sustain you until you can find more calories, of course. In others it means going to California Rock n Sushi for a birthday meal with your friend the postal worker.
Estioko-Griffin, Agnes and P. Bion Griffin. 1981. Woman the Hunter: The Agta. In Woman the Gatherer, edited by F. Dahlberg. New Haven and London: Yale Univeristy Press.
Lye Tuck-Po. 2004. Gathering in the Forest. In Changing Pathways: Forest Degradation and the Batek of Pahang, Malaysia. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers
Nimmo, H. Arlo. 2001. Magosaha: An Ethnography of th Tawi-Tawi Sama Dilaut. Honolulu: Univeristy of Hawaii Press (Distributed for Ateneo de Manila University Press.)
Stewart, Mary. 2007.. More and More Women ‘Heading Out on the Hunt’ on CBS 11 TV