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!