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The Myth of Hunter-Gather Hardships

Stephen Harrod Buhner

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Anthropologist Richard B. Lee (center) interviews !Kung San in southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert.

In-depth examination of hunter-gatherer societies has, however, conclusively shown that their lives have been empirically based, more efficient, less terror-ridden, less stressful, and less concerned with food production than our own. As the anthropologist Mikal Aasved observes, “The ethnographic record speaks for itself in refuting the myths and outmoded ideas concerning the life of early man.”

Aasved goes on to note that the anthropologist Richard Lee, in the mid-1960s, engaged in The first controlled study of subsistence living among hunter-gatherers with the !Kung Bushmen of Africa’s Kalahari Desert. The region in Which the !Kung people live is among the harshest on Earth .Lee, Through the use of detailed diaries, kept a complete record of food production and in take during his stay .He noted that the !Kung consumed an average daily diet containing 2,140 calories and 93.1 grams of protein, figures that, Mikal Aasved notes, are “high even by American standards.”

Lee determined that the average daily intake of food Consistently exceeded the !Kung tribes people’s metabolic requirements, That they did “not lead a substandard existence on the edge of starvation As has been commonly reported,” that anxiety levels were low, that Only 60 percent of the population (those aged 20-60) engaged in food gathering, and that the total amount of time they spent procuring sufficient food was only 12 to19 hours per week. The rest of their time was spent in what might be called leisure pursuits.

It is important in reading this to understand that the region inhabited by the !Kung is Extremely marginal, some of the most inhospitable on Earth, and that Lee’s study occurred during one of the worst droughts on record .Lee observes that cultures living in lusher climes would spend even less time on food production than the !Kung. His findings have subsequently been corroborated by other researchers studying other historical and contemporary hunter-gatherer cultures .The anxiety theory that has Been such a mainstay of Western scholars is completely without merit.

Indigenous cultures, contrary to Western scholars’ assertions, are extremely observant of the natural world. In fact, the members of such societies observe the actions of the ecosystem more exactly than Western observers. But more than this, they are working with systems of information gathering that are completely different from ours, systems based on different predicates, in language as specific as that used by science. Many contemporary writers are beginning to recognize this. Some Have begun to suspect that in throwing out all the ancient perspectives in Favor of a scientific approach, we might have lost something intrinsic to Who we are as a species .Perhaps no one has stated this so well as Vaclav Havel, the president of the Czech Republic, when he noted:

[T]he relationship to the world that modern science fostered and shaped now appears to have exhausted its potential. It is increasingly clear that, strangely, the relationship is missing something. It fails to connect with the most intrinsic nature of reality, and with natural human experience .It is now more of a source of disintegration and doubt than a source of integration and meaning. It produces what amounts to a state of schizophrenia. Man as observer is becoming alienated from himself as a being. Classical modern science described only the surface of things, a single dimension of reality. And the more dogmatically science treated it as the only dimension, as the very essence of reality, the more misleading it became.

Today, for instance, we may know immeasurably more about the universe than our ancestors did, and yet, it Increasingly seems they knew something more essential About it than we do, something that escapes us. The same is true of nature and ourselves. The more thoroughly all our organs and their functions, their internal structure and the biochemical reactions that take place within them are described, the more we seem to fail to grasp the spirit, purpose and meaning of the system that they create together and that we experience as our unique self.

Many of us who have been raised in a universe-as-machine perspective have sensed this truth that Havel has made plain. Many of us suspect that the “essential” thing that our ancestors knew about the universe is that there is more to it than simple matter. That it is in some way alive. That sense, covered over by 500 years of “rationality,” points toward the ancient mind-set that I call the Indigenous Mind. And many of us try in our own way to find the way back .Such a journey is a difficult one. But it can be made. It involves, as Ralph Metzner, on e of the pioneers in the study of non-ordinary states of reality, describes it, drinking from the Well of Remembrance. But dipping in to such waters always involves a price.

Excepted from Sacred Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation by Stephen Harrod Buhner.

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