Have you come out of your Thanksgiving coma yet? Oh, my goodness, the food! And not just Thanksgiving Day food, but the leftovers seem to last forever. We do have much to be thankful for in our culture – the land of plenty for sure.

How do hunter-gatherer cultures celebrate Thanksgiving Day? Well, that’s an easy answer – they don’t. Now the explanation of that is not so easy. Let’s start with the concept of being thankful or expressing gratitude. I’m sure you realize this, but our western culture puts a lot of emphasis on expressing gratitude and we do that mainly by saying “thank you” when we receive something from another person. We teach our children from an early age to say “please” (the frontside of gratitude) and “thank you”. By far my hardest adjustment to a hunter-gatherer culture was the apparent lack of gratitude the people would express – that just didn’t align with my culture and its way of expressing gratitude. Actually, in the tribal language they don’t have words for please and thank you. They just say, “Ane pitene ape manine” or in English “I will definitely get that thing.” Whoa! I found it insulting and offensive that there was no expression of gratitude whatsoever! But it was important for me to put my culture on the back burner and try to understand the how and why of their culture. The how was the easy part – you don’t need to express gratitude. The why took a while to understand, accept and be okay with. What I learned over time was that because hunter-gatherers share and share alike, it’s just expected that I will give the extra I have – even when someone says, “I will definitely get that”. That’s a hard adjustment, but as I grew in my understanding of their culture, I realized that I could participate in their culture as well. Therefore, if I was hungry, I could simply say, “I will definitely get that pig leg, sweat potato or greens.” It was so hard to do and practice, but it worked! This way of “sharing” has helped hunter-gatherers survive for centuries because everyone was “equal”; no one starves to death. As with every culture, there is an upside and a downside to the way things are done. The downside to everyone being equal, was that while they did survive, they didn’t thrive. The culture limited the amount invention and self-promotion by doing more or making something thing better than the way it was always done. I’ll address that whole issue in a later blog.

Hunter-gatherers are very skilled at stuff and gorge – they can really pack the food away when it’s available. This is for good reason because if you go a week without killing a wild boar, you get hungry! So, when opportunity avails itself, eat until you can’t eat anymore and eat until it’s all gone. Sounds a little like our Thanksgiving dinner table! The tribal language has a saying “Ane lile ‘une henewe” which in English means, “My stomach is tight and coming out now.” This expression is only heard when a person can’t fit anymore food in their system; they are stuffed! You don’t hear this expression every day, but when you do it means there was a good pig hunt or fishing trip.

Different from our Thanksgiving dinner is the whole issue of leftovers. Not only do we stuff and gorge Thanksgiving Day, we graze on leftovers for several days after! You know, hot turkey sandwiches smothered in gravy or pumpkin pie and whip cream screaming from the refrigerator for days after. In hunter-gather culture there are no leftovers like we know it. One time we had a couple of guys over for a meal in our house. We had learned by this time that we serve up the plate of food to each person at the table – equal portions of course. We ate, chit chatted and when we had basically eaten everything, there was still gravy in the bowl at the center of the table. The look on the fellow’s faces was priceless. You could seem looking at each other thinking, “What about the gravy?” Thinking the meal was done, my wife said, “I’ll put the leftover gravy in the fridge”. Within the next heartbeat they guys stopped my wife like she was doing something illegal and said, “That’s okay, we’ll eat it!” The guys poured the gravy into equal portions on their plates and finished it off!

There are several reasons for the lack of leftovers: firstly, there is no refrigeration, so food doesn’t last. Secondly, food is all about opportunity – if you kill a pig, it’s a great opportunity to eat and the next opportunity to eat most likely won’t be later in the day! One day out hunting we killed 9 pigs and pretty much there was eating all day long and into the night! The only time I would ever see “leftovers” was when we were out at one of the bush camps. If a lot of game was harvested, the people smoked it above the fire pits in order to preserve it for a day or so.

Would you like to experience an “eating opportunity” with a hunter-gatherer people? EthnoTrax can facilitate that for you – along with the hunting party and fishing to make it happen!

Don’t knock, just walk in – open door policy

When it comes to tribal etiquette it’s a good idea not to assume that what we do in our culture is appropriate in another culture. This is very true when you want to enter someone’s house in the tribe. Now you might think, “What’s the big deal with that?” Well, it’s a big deal in any culture, but let’s talk about our culture first. When you approach a house in our culture you go to the front door and ring the door bell or knock so that the people inside can hear you. If no one responds by coming to the door you leave because not to do so would communicate ill intentions. Only if you are a very close relative might you be able to enter the house with a quick knock announcing, “I’m here, it’s just me!” But in our culture, very few people have that right. Most likely a grown son or daughter in most cases.

Tribal culture is completely the opposite. When I was learning the tribal language and culture the most useless thing I learned was, “Ane wiyeme filane nai?” Or “may I come in?” This was useless because you don’t need to announce your arrival or ask to enter a house; just go in. Tribal culture is open door meaning that you don’t ask to enter someone’s home. Initially I was apprehensive to walk in without asking, but I soon learned that to do otherwise meant ill intentions – completely the opposite from my culture!! You see, someone that wants to steal always checks to see if someone is home by asking to come in. It’s okay to just walk in a tribal home because their homes just aren’t private like ours. Their homes don’t have bathrooms, bedrooms or other private things that homes do in our culture. Therefore, just walk in and don’t feel like you’re being a criminal!

 

Biodegradable Culture

Tribal culture is traditional based on a biodegradable way of life. Now it’s no secret in our culture that we have some issues with our non-biodegradable waste. We have so much garage in our culture that billions of dollars are spent trying to manage all that we don’t consume! The classic example is the plastic bag. We use these and discard these on a daily basis. We have other plastic waste issues and my least favorite is what I call the “duck trap”. You know, the plastic deal around Coke bottles that’s really handy… until you drink all your Coke and you’re left with a plastic ring that’s thrown in the garbage. I always cut the things up before I toss them.

Tribal culture has a lot to offer us about waste management because their culture is completely biodegradable. Whether it’s housing materials or what they wrap their food in, when discarded everything is biodegradable. The people make a durable long lasting bag which is woven from a particular tree bark in their forest. What they do is strip off the tree bark and then peel off the inside fibers of the bark. When they have stripped off what they need, they roll the fibers together into string. From there they weave bags that are used to carry everything from babies to firewood and anything else they need to carry. When the bags become worn out and need to be discarded, the people will either throw them away or first use them to rub down a new canoe in order to water seal it. Which ever they decide, the bags will break down and become biodegradable. This is just one example of everything in their culture being biodegradable.

Now, back to the plastic bag issue. Today in the ocean there is a ginormous problem with plastic waste. I believe the reason for this is that many developing nations that now have access to plastic for carrying food or other store-bought items don’t realize that the plastic isn’t like their traditional items that are truly biodegradable. In their minds when they throw something like a plastic bag away, it’s just the same as a leaf wrapping on their food that they used to throw away. Unfortunately, the plastic doesn’t break down and disappear and therefore our oceans are full of non-biodegradable waste!! It’s really that simple.

Tribal kinship can be very confusing at times to an outsider. I imagine part of the reason for this confusion is the fact that western cultures have many relationships that are not part of our family line. In tradition tribal culture every connection was a relative of some sort. Before contact with the outside world, the only connections tribes had were with family or relatives; outside of those connections were enemies – that would eat you, literally. It always amazed me when a visitor showed up in the village, people knew exactly what to call the individual. It was either father, uncle, cousin, grandfather or my favorite Hamaru (two men that  married sisters would call each other this). We were adopted into a family line and soon were addressed by a kinship term in accordance with the family line that adopted us. I was addressed as yeti (brother), owai (grandfather), ofei (cousin), eite (father) and neise (brother-in-law). We learned in our language and culture acquisition that the tribe didn’t even have a word for “friend” because they knew how they were related to everyone they ever came in contact with. As the tribe’s horizons began to expand to the outside world, they had to build a word for friend in order for others to understand that the relationship was not through kin, but just a friend. The term they came up with is nati feni feni a’i or “our grandfathers were brothers two sides removed”!! When a non-relative would come visit us in the village, it took time for the tribal people to understand the concept of friend because in their culture they were literally related to everyone they ever knew!