response with reply to “Epiphany on the hunter-gatherer myth, by Ria”

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The coyote in me cannot be held down. She submitted “Epiphany on the hunter-gatherer myth, by Ria” to Black and Green Review for consideration. {Ha! Good one, Coyote!} I previously submitted a piece and got no reply, so I was anticipating the same. Was a bit of an elated shock to get a response this time, especially being that Epiphany seems to strike right at the core of their man-the-hunter basis. Don’t precisely remember, but I must have offered to expand on the piece if they found it lacking. Gotta give it to them for not just reading, but considering and responding with well thought out questions.

Interesting questions. Very telling of their pedagogy & methodology – rigid scientific with underlying vegan skepticism and blind acceptance of the mainstream meat norm – just doesn’t blend with my more sensual, experiential free flow. So I just answered & returned, leaving it up to them to do as they may. Enough prelude, here’s their response (bold) with my reply (italics):…

You manage to squeeze a lot of a big question into something without feeling the need to ground it. As it stands, it’s just a “what if” aimed at something you’ve made up (“hunter-gathererism”) to promote something you made up (“folio-frugivore” I’d love to take credit, but this one comes from paleo-anthropology readings on the earliest human diet, forget the exact sources). I have yet to see “primitivism” that goes beyond being vegan to be explicitly anti-hunter-gatherer. Just for the record, not all vegan anprims are absolute anti-hunter-gatherer. Some more so just with rewilding anprims. Some not at all. Obviously I’m not sympathetic at all. Understandably. You might just win the trophy for the toughest pro-hunting advocates of all times. Hence many vegan anprims have had moments of being silent & silenced on this matter. Thanks for being open to reading & replying earnestly.

But if you want us to run and respond this in BAGR, then I’m going to have to take up your offer to expand. This circulated amongst the editors and what would be more printable and response worthy would be if you could answer and respond to the following points. If you want to promote “alternative” history and have others take it seriously, you need to support it. Sounds like something the oppressor would say to the oppressed, but I’m game. The world is not social media. hmmm. ‘social media’ dis. I read this as a mechanism of discrediting. Perhaps one thing we can agree on (or maybe not) is the bias in stuff spit out ‘professionally’ by ‘professionals’ published in ‘professional publications’. Authoritative crap. Why exclude so much of others’ experiences revealed in the manner truest to them? Friendly warning: if B&GR limits itself to ‘professionalism’, emphasis on academic may end up being its downfall.

For wildness, For wildness

KT

My answers to your questions based solely on my personal short-lived experience:

a. who are the Pemon? Pemon simply means people. But more. My impression is Pemon is the Chinook of indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest US. It’s a connection of loosely affiliated groups of people acting in mutual aid at a minimum through reciprocity. From a modern lens the word refers to people who live in a vast region in northeast South America (21000 acres in Venezuela alone) left fairly wild with help from protective mountains. Pemon encompass many tribes speaking several unique languages, with varying degrees of interaction between tribes, mainly revolving around trade, sometimes marraige. In my estimation each village is able to subsist independently if need be. I did not have a sense that they had reached the point of interdependence, rather ‘interpreference’. Of the estimated 20,000 Pemon living in vast wildness, I mainly stayed in a Chirikayan village of about 50. What is their documented mode of subsistence? I don’t know about ‘documented’. There has been little historical ‘documentation’ of Pemon in general, and I would be skeptical of bias and overgeneralizing any ‘documentation’ if for no other reason than inability to fully account for the multitude of variances. Why do they have a ‘chief’? I surmise for this village having a chief has been a long-standing way of facilitating matters and resolving conflict both within the group and between groups. There seemed to be no extra privileges given to the chief for holding the few responsibilities. He truly seemed to be humbly representing the interests of the people. He worked hard and sacrificed much, which probably earned him the chief crown. Provide general overview of culture and ecological adaptation I was there during turbulent general elections. The whole country seemed to pause, from Caracas to the most remote indigenous villages the fervor was strongly felt. Even in the chief’s home there were books on abstract political ideology, like by Chomskey. He tried to engage me nightly on issues of politics, but the language difference was too much of a barrier. He and his wife, parents of 5 young children, both voluntarily enlisted in the military, garbing up every weekend to serve while their children adeptly cared for themselves. Chirikayan were excited to keep the Socialist party in power for both high ideals and tangible benefits, such as the health care they now received. The morning of the election a pickup truck came, all the adults squeezed into the back to ride to the voting place one village away. They gave us their big socialist flag to wave as we drove through jungle and savannah. Point being, this was not a typical time for them or us, excitement ran high, and there were military with loaded assault weapons all about, even in this most remote region.

Especially given the uniqueness of the moment, I don’t feel comfortable trying to draw overarching conclusions on their culture. But the place. Ah the place. An anprim’s dream. Along a forest edge filled with monkey hollers. A rolling savannah intersected with a sunny stream with a boulder in the middle, perfect spot for washing things like clothes and cookware and human bodies. A pond, for play of course. Across the savannah a half days’ walk to the tepuis, flat top mountains, the source of much myth. Pemon wildness of spirit is connected to the wildness of this place, which makes me fear for the coming changes.

This time of fast change is a melding of deep wild roots with incursions of civilization. Little things, like a rooftop rain catchment system on the chief’s stick built home, directing the afternoon’s heavy rains into a metal barrel. Old things, like owning a diamond mine and working it for village ‘improvements’. Older things, like slash & burn forest gardening. The plant I helped them harvest was cassava, a staple to both their diet and their trade, in the form of vegetable and bread. Newest things, like when I observed their first turning on of an artificial outdoor light. The level of my sadness matched the level of their delight.

Big things, like their traditional round white & yellow clay homes with thatched roofing, gradually being ‘updated’ with small solar power units providing each home with one outlet. When a unit is installed, each family is given the decision of what to plug in to their outlet, and the accompanying challenge of how to afford it. When I was there only a few homes had been given the socialist revolution’s Bolivarian gift of solar power. The family headed by a young couple chose a music stereo system with cds. Another chose a television and vcr. The chief chose a refrigerator and stove. This ‘progress’ forever changed not only their traditional forms like singing, entertainment, food storage and cooking, but their relationships with their community. Each type of electric device makes each home, each family, a domesticated specialist.    

Many traditional ways seem woven with encroaching domesticated reality. Newly electrified traditional clay homes remain open, with children freely running into any house. So much activity still naturally occurs outdoors that homes remain more of a shelter, a place to seek refuge from daily afternoon rains rolling in from the east tepuis, to sleep and sometimes eat.

Where trade was once in form of barter after long distance foot travel through people-less places, now the Santa Elena market funnels human activity into one spot with most exchanges in the form of cash. Once a week in the village as birds start their morning sing a pickup trick appears to drive a load full of humans and some wares, mainly cassava bread, through jungle to city. Santa Elena has become a hub of indigenous trading, each village bringing goods to booth manifesting a vibrant market. More rhythmically, intuitively than colonist ‘farmer’s markets’, each booth offers a specialized part to collaboratively nourish the whole.

But with everything in civilization, there is an insidious cost. Goods wrapped in plastic from distant profiteers are making their way into the market. Plastic makes its way into unknowing hands, transported a jungle ride back into remote villages. After the consumable part of the good is consumed, Pemon do what they’ve always done with the nonconsumable portion – throw it on the ground for Earth’s mystery to do its work. I wonder their surprise, then their frustration when they first noticed that plastic did not follow Earth’s natural ways, and took the process into their own hands. Now the plastic is routinely left on the ground, then after it piles up, set afire.

Food is nothing special, nothing more than body sustenance. Hunting seems nonexistent, and if it happens it is unimportant. The only ‘ceremony’ was a birthday party for a child, they said it was a new thing they were doing. They had music from a solar powered stereo and had brought balloons from the weekly market. They asked us how to blow them up with air. We played with the kids hitting the balloons up into the air, diving and laughing until dark. The adults seemed to think it odd that we played with the children, both then and in the swimming hole. Is this not an acceptable form of adult fun? Children have much freer rein than adults. Different from worldly reports, they have a taboo against drinking alcohol or any other way of getting high.

I’m unsure of ecological adaptations, but I did see ritualized habit changes in response to increasing encounters with civilization, like those above, and attempts to form new habits that didn’t work for them. When I first arrived, I asked the chief’s wife, where is the bathroom? She outstretched her arm and slowly gestured my eyes toward the low rolling ground of low vegetation. When you squat there’s just enough cover for privacy. I couldn’t find signs of bury. I looked around for signs of other excrement on the ground. None. I couldn’t wait. After a nervous poop, I took a walk just to look for more signs. Nada. Soon this place’s daily rhythm showed me. First the sky turned grey, then the wind picked up. Droplets tickled the skin. Everyone took shelter. Drops pounded on the roof as we watched the rain barrel overflow in deluge. Later I wondered what impact the hard rain had on my poop. I couldn’t find the exact spot. It was so broken down into such tiny pieces that it just disappeared to the human eye. But days later, even with such an easy and beneficial natural poop dispersal system, I discovered where they had hauled in a plywood outhouse, set it straight on the ground without digging a hole, and abandoned it saying it ‘didn’t work’.

b. for the people who did not eat the fish, what do they eat? Much of the food they ate centers around cassava, with the nightly meal being in the form of a stew. I don’t know the names, but the food was a variety of domesticated raw and cooked plants parts, both vegetables and fruit, like banana and coconut from market, and foraged plant parts from leaves to berries. I don’t remember if there were nuts, seeds, lentils, mushrooms, etc., my mind was distracted elsewhere. what is their general daily intake of food? They, and I, did not eat much in terms of quantity. Most of the vegetables were from forest gardens, so perhaps that made them somehow more filling, and required less time to gather and digest relative to foraging wild vegetables. what items? Wish I knew the fruit and vegetable names, but most of the people only knew their native language which I do not know. how do they obtain these things (grow or gather)? Combination of slash-and-burn cultivation and gathering mainly wild fruits. When I was there it was harvest season for cassava, most of which went into making a bread for market to trade for other mainly grown vegetables.

c. are any of these ‘vegans’ entirely self-sufficient in terms of food? Individually ‘self-sufficient’? Food gathering seems to mainly be collective, I presume slash & burn has been well in effect and a vegan diet with grown foods combined with gathered wild foods is long established. Or are there outside inputs coming in? Trading with other Pemon tribes at Friday markets. This case obviously cannot be used as a case of veganism subsisting on only foraged wild food, but combined with grown food, as done by indigenous people virtually worldwide for hundreds of years or more. I don’t hide my personal belief that one could subsist wildly without meat. And humans adapting toward vegan primitivism is how Earth can thrive best.

d. what is the normal day-to-day activity level and subsistence regime of the Pemon? Imagine remote nature, no electric, no plumbing, no cars, and you can deduce just about almost all you need to know about the day-to-day life in this place of plenty. Humid mid days tamper activity, but overall comfortable temperatures make for plenty of time for both ‘work’ and fun. Every day before dusk all adults come together to play soccer, married people vs single. Point being, their workload is low enough and energy level high enough that they have plenty left to run & play.

A work division between sexes emerged in teen years. Forest harvesting is tough work, and both men and women work together, with machetes and hauling too. More women than men forage. Women cook & do housework. Men seem to have more free time. Men were often off somewhere during the day, I assumed hunting, but if so their expeditions into the forest didn’t seem productive. The dark night I stumbled upon the man spear fishing was the only meat for the community during my two week stay.

e. what role do the vegan members play in that regime? what is there contribution to the whole? All people of all ages had a fairly high activity level, from my domesticated perspective, with no noted difference between people based on diet. A post-colonizer contact adaptation with the larger world of money exchange is mining diamonds. The Cherikayan chief considers the village fortunate to have a diamond mine within their ‘property’. One morning just before sunrise he left with one of my visiting vegan friends and a few vegan Chirikayan children to fast hike to the mine. They arrived in time to eat the lunch they brought with them. They played in the mud, helped mine for diamonds, then trekked back. They all seemed to keep up the same.

f. how much time did she spend with this group? Two weeks. has she analyzed any of this at an extended temporal scale? No. f. can she cite any other examples in the anthropological literature of any non-agricultural (and thus civilized) indigenous people who are 100% vegan, whether as an entire group or who have ‘vegan’ members such as she asserts with the Pemon? The meat bias in historical documentation is so thick, I deem almost all of it unreliable. The mission of finding the dietary truth would need to start from scratch. It’s too labor intensive for one person. g. If there are any verifiable citations for this then how many are there? I haven’t stumbled upon any. What is their geographical and ecological scope? The geographic scope was a swath of forest edge, savannah and tepuis compromising ~ <50 acres. The ecological scope emerged organically through my domesticated, modern mind through observing and interacting, i.e. likely scant in proportion to any scientist with a planned mission, or senses of a primitive mind. Sorry if it seems I’m avoid the scientific questions, hey I was just hanging out & contemplate the experience now only through memories. What are their specific colonial/industrial/agricultural contexts? Well of course there’s the Spaniards, but I think the mountains prevented too much intrusion. The main one of relevance here, and the one you may find most informative from your perspective, is past ‘encounter’ with Seventh Day Adventist missionary. The church is still standing, and they still use it for service weekly. I attended a service. There were no bibles. They spoke their indigenous language, which I could not understand. To me it felt not that different than many typical mainstream quiet Christian churches, but I am generally repulsed by religion, so I’m not a good judge.

I did not ask the diet of Pemon or Chirikayan pre-missionary contact, or if contact with the Adventists changed their dietary practices or mindset. If no individuals abstained from meat pre-contact, their current diet still shows how humans can and do adapt.

Many native people worldwide have actively fed life in their ecosystems, and show restraint in acts like hunting to maintain a thriving biota. One of the things that makes humans so special is our ability to adapt. We’re super-adapters. No doubt time is now for some super-adapting. That doesn’t mean to throw out the past, just continue doing what we’ve always done – adapt. If Earth is more viable with a future vegan primitive, then so be it.

 

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “response with reply to “Epiphany on the hunter-gatherer myth, by Ria”

  1. Pingback: response with reply to “Epiphany on the hunter-gatherer myth, by Ria” – Vegan Primitivist

  2. Excellent and thought-provoking, Ria. You flesh out insights into the visceral experience of the anprim vision. Idyllic as it is, imagine…if they had no corruptive influences from the “civilized” world closing in. Would they be, were they in the past, purely “vegan” in every regard? Who can answer… Some may have been murderous, as the spear-wielding man was. But perhaps he was just a lone metaphor for the cusp the Pemon are on, caught between 2 worlds and being pulled into the darkness. And in that darkness then comes the doubts and questions and apologist challenges that the interviewer threw at you here. But it is so simple – why WOULDN’T we go back to living this way? Too humble for our arrogant sense of superiority and the false “sense”of safety and comfort in an artificial world? Why is it so anthema to us to be re-immersed in the real, of life? Why are we so immersed in the fear of letting go and returning to our senses? And of letting go of the myth of time and our linear consciousnesses? We simply invented them as one of our super-adaptive measures as we were losing touch with ourselves. A very unfortunate outcome of our being super-corruptible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Modern anprims tend to cherry pick, they want the macho hunter thing, so they say Let’s make that into our future primitive, but they don’t like wild tending, or hierarchal oppression, or whatever, so they say Nature takes care of herself, or That doesn’t really count because…, therefore Let’s not make that into our future primitive. Seems one of their main populations for successful outreach is all those ego-filled, gluttonous Paleo dieters, which drags anprims even further into ruthlessly hunting Earth to death.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The format of having your original writing followed by B&GR’s questions with your replies is very revealing, much more so than if you just incorporated their prompted info.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Good on you for taking on the hunter narrative. That’s certainly the aspect of “old boy primitivism” most conveniently coopted/accepted/celebrated by the dominant death culture. Maybe those of us who resonate with a different primitivism need our own journal.
    Until every cage is empty.

    Liked by 1 person

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