Wild Shit

Here is a great MSNBC article:

PORT BLAIR, India – Two days after a tsunami thrashed the island where his ancestors have lived for tens of thousands of years, a lone tribesman stood naked on the beach and looked up at a hovering coast guard helicopter.

He then took out his bow and shot an arrow toward the rescue chopper.

It was a signal the Sentinelese have sent out to the world for millennia: They want to be left alone. Isolated from the rest of the world, the tribesmen needed to learn nature’s sights, sounds and smells to survive.

Government officials and anthropologists believe that ancient knowledge of the movement of wind, sea and birds may have saved the five indigenous tribes on the Indian archipelago of Andaman and Nicobar islands from the tsunami that hit the Asian coastline Dec. 26.

“They can smell the wind. They can gauge the depth of the sea with the sound of their oars. They have a sixth sense which we don’t possess,” said Ashish Roy, a local environmentalist and lawyer who has called on the courts to protect the tribes by preventing their contact with the outside world.

The link goes to the article which has a great AP photo of the man ready to let fly his spleen at the Coast Guard chopper.

Read the article with a pinch of salt, though. I think Mr. Roy has given in to the tendency to romanticize the indigenous folk, in the vein of the “Mother Earth, Father Sky” take on Native Americans. I’m pretty sure the Indonesian mesolithic folk don’t have a sixth sense about such things. In studying ancient languages, art history, archaeology, and anthropology, I learned that one difference between literate and pre-literate (which is to say alliterate) cultures lies in the way memories are stored. I’d cite some sources, but I’m too lazy to look around.

The bottom line is that since these folks don’t use paper, parchment, stones, etc. to record historical events, they develop an oral tradition to pass on historical events, which begin to take on the aura of myth and fable. Surely there is a morality tale children are taught when they are young about the fisherman who saw the ocean recede and became greedy, going to the beach to collect up all the fish and lord it over his neighbors, only to be swallowed by a monstrous wave. Moral of the story: get to high ground when the water recedes quickly.

Or maybe I’m falling into the paternalistic trap and infantilizing these people. Maybe they teach tsunami avoidance as a type of science or survival technique. Regardless, I don’t think it is anything so outlandish as a sixth sense. Or maybe I’ve been out of academia too long and was looking for a reason to flex my refutation nuts.

UPDATE: They refer to the people as ‘paleolithic’, while I would put them in the ‘mesolithic’, since they obviously use boats, oars, and bows. They’re possibly even ‘neolithic’, depending on if they have domesticated animals, but I can’t find any reference that supports or refutes that. Now I’m just needling.

~ by kinshay on 2005-01-05.

No Responses Yet to “Wild Shit”

  1. I’m pretty sure it came down to one guys saying “Where the fuck did all the animals go?” and the other guy saying, “Lets go!”

    Anyone ever see Dreamcatcher?

    When the animals walk, follow.

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