"The longing to be settled, the defensive holding of our ground, the continuing endemic nomadism--I suspect that we share them all." (p. 85)When I was a young boy, my well-intentioned parents took part in an "Indian Placement Program" with the goal of converting, assimilating, and "educating" hunter-gatherers (or those that were until recently hunter-gatherers). It was a horrible disaster for most of those that were pushed into the program. They missed their families, way of life, and were forced to live artificial--to them--lives. Two of the three (the other got pregnant, married, and then divorced) that I had as foster brothers or sisters spent more time running away or committing crimes than they did assimilating. I didn't know better or even why there were so many problems. Now I do.
"The spread of agriculture may owe more to domination by immigrant farmers than to a quiet discovery of the benefits of farming." (p. 143)
"All human groups incline to the view that they lead the best possible way of life. From this follows a more or less casual assumption that those pursuing any other way of life would, if they could, change from their inferior to our superior society, religion, morality, economy, and forms of knowledge." (p. 150)
Regardless of your political leanings or social background and upbringing, The Other Side of Eden is guaranteed to change your view of "savages," otherwise known as hunter-gatherers in anthropological circles. Brody's book is a sort of non-fiction version of what Daniel Quinn has tried to point out. Similar to Quinn, it contains some good points but is unbalanced to the extent it no longer becomes believable in total. The presentation and facts suffer from painting with a broad brush. Everything hunter-gatherish is a romantic, perfect utopia and everything else is apparently evil, destructive, and wholly without merit in Brody's mind.
Brody believes that "the hunter-gatherer's underlying purpose is to ensure that the natural world remains the same." (p. 245) He goes to great lengths to repeat this theme without ever really providing any hard evidence for it. In addition he asserts that nearly everyone else's purpose is to destroy the natural world. I don't think anyone's purpose is to save or destroy the natural world even if certain lifestyle choices or societal norms can lead one's actions to help or hurt the environment. Brody seems to think that hunter-gatherers can't multiply or cause species extinction even though history doesn't indicate such. The Clovis hunter-gatherers, for example, where likely a cause, if not the only cause, of the extinction of a great many species on the American continent. In addition, they spread over lands at a rapid rate, contrary to Brody's vision of hunter-gatherers not multiplying or living outside their territory. Agriculturalists may do more damage and fuel the population problem to a greater degree than your average hunter-gatherer, but to assert that hunter-gatherers are without blemish in this regard is just plain biased--if not dishonest.
His stories of life with hunter-gatherers--especially in the beginning of the book--are very entertaining and insightful. His point could have been made better by just continuing with them (and possibly some hard scientific data) rather than resorting to the constant preaching and political statements. For instance, he states
"I believe there are lessons to be learned from the hunter-gatherer world that go to the core of who we are as human beings. These are lessons about the nature of history, the way in which those who dominate the world have achieved their ends, and the extent to which language is inseparable from the identity and well-being of any people." (p. 7)I agree with the above--especially the part before language. He teaches us some lessons, but he also delves into the worst of Steven Pinker's pseudo-science when it comes to language to try to elevate hunter-gatherers by falsely cutting down the communication skills of other species.
Hunter-gatherers do show many characteristics which appear to be healthier than those of many other groups (taken on average--individuals are another story). Namely, their egalitarian-individualistic mode of society, their connectedness with nature, and their lack of need to try to convert others to their way of doing things are fine traits. Ultimately, however, the most ethical memes aren't necessarily the ones that survive and thrive. Hopefully, some of the past wrongs done to hunter-gatherers can be undone, and a more enlightened generation of "agriculturalists" (i.e., non-hunter-gatherers) can grant them more peace than they have been permitted in the (recent) past. They do have much to offer and teach the world. Losing them, their cultures, and their languages would be a shame. Assimilating them is no different than effectively losing them to extinction.
"All human beings have been evolving for the same length of time." (p. 6)
"It is easy to see how government and churches often shared an overlapping, if not rivalrous, desire to subjugate the heathen and create the Christian." (p. 178)
"Dichotomized morality is so integral to the Judeo-Christian moral idiom that those brought up in its tradition have great difficulty conceiving of any alternative." (p. 235)
from the publisher:
Hugh Brody first encountered hunting peoples when he lived among the Inuit of the High Arctic, who instructed him not only how to speak but how to do and be Inuk-titut, "in the manner of an Inuk." Since then he has spent nearly three decades studying, learning from, crusading for, and thinking about hunter-gatherers, who survive at the margins of the vast, fertile lands occupied by farming peoples and their descendants, now the great majority of the world's population.
In material terms, the hunters have been all but vanquished, yet in this profound and passionate book, Brody utterly dispels the notion that theirs is a lesser way of life. Drawing on his experiences among indigenous peoples as well as on the work of linguists, historians, and fellow anthropologists, he reveals the systems of thought, belief, and practice that distinguish the hunters from the farmers. Whereas the farmers are doomed to the geographical and spiritual restlessness embodied in the story of Genesis, Brody argues, the hunters' deep attachment to the place and ways of their ancestors stems from an enviable sense, distinctively expressed in thought, language, and behavior, that they are part of a web of relationships in the natural and spiritual worlds. Brody's aim, however, is not to elevate one mode of being over another; rather, it is to suggest that we might move beyond the familiar dichotomies and become more fully human.
Hugh Brody is an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker who has worked and traveled extensively among indigenous peoples. He is the author of several previous books.
"Hugh Brody's The Other Side of Eden is an indispensable book. it creates a haunting symphony: part philosophy, part linguistics, part eulogy, it informs our deepest sensibilities as few books can. While Brody exquisitely ranges throughout history and the world at large, The Other Side of Eden is perhaps most a kind of documentary film of the soul of the Arctic, Brody's personal heartland. Nobody -- nobody -- writes better about the northern reaches of our planet . . . Brody is absolutely fearless in his thinking, bold in his writing, generous in his knowledge and love of existence itself." --Howard NormanThe following is an excerpt from the book The Other Side of Eden: Hunters, Farmers, and the Shaping of the World by Hugh Brody.
"Hugh Brody has written a learned, eloquent, and mysteriously moving introduction to the enduring culture of hunter-gatherers. But none of these adjectives does justice to the deeply transformative experience of reading The Other Side of Eden, which led me beyond the limits of familiar mythology, introduced me to people whose lives are radically different from my own, and reminded me, at the same time, that different as they are, hunter-gatherers are an essential piece of my humanity and I cannot truly understand myself without them." --Jonathan Rosen
"A terrific read. In part a fascinating memoir of Hugh Brody's decades of living with and working on behalf of native hunting and gathering peoples, it is more importantly an examination of the ways in which freedom and intimacy with both family and location intersect in those cultures. Thus it offers us a model we ought to consider very seriously when setting out to rethink our own acquisitive, confrontational, divisive, warlike, and destructive ways." --William Kittredge
"Penetrating meditations on traditional societies caught in the avalanche of modem times, and on the gentle infusion of the holistic vision, not only in regard to life and death, but in such quotidian concerns as good manners and the care of children. Wonderful!" --Peter Matthiessen
"In this wondrous book, Hugh Brody takes us on many journeys -- to the Arctic Circle and the origins of humanity, and deeper yet into the mysteries of language and culture, dreams and colonialism. By doing so with trans-lucid originality, he provides readers with the chance to question how their own modem lives are organized and, more crucially, what we must reimagine about the past and the future if we are to survive as a truly thinking species." --Ariel Dorfman
Imagine the darkness of the far north. Not as something in which the adventurous traveler moves in awe, but as a beginning, for those for whom the Arctic is home. Imagine the inside of a skin tent, or a snowhouse, or a government-regulation low-rental prefab. In this home, an Inuit baby girl wakes in the night. She is held, fed, cuddled -- and talked to.
What words does she hear? The sounds of whoever is talking in the same space. The voice of her mother, encouraging her to eat. Words that tell the baby, over and over, that she can decide when to feed, when to stop feeding. Words of endorsement. After feeding, the baby girl dozes. With words of welcome, she is lifted into the amautik, the pouch shaped into the hood of her mother's parka, where she can lie curved against her mother's back. After a while, the baby begins to defecate. The mother, sensing the movements, lifts her out and holds her over the ground, murmuring encouragement. "Unakuluk, anatiakulugit." "This sweet little one, have a lovely little shit." The mother wipes her baby's bottom, saying "Kuinijuannu saluitutinnai." "Gorgeous and plump, aren't you nice and clean." The mother's father comes over to watch his granddaughter being wiped. He leans forward, his face close to the baby's, and talks to her softly: "Nuliakuluga. Nuliagauvit? Ii, nuliaga una." "Sweet little wife. Are you my wife? Yes, this is my wife." The baby's mother smiles, holding her daughter for her father to adore, and says, "Anaanangai. Ii, anaanagauvutit." "Mother? Yes, you're my mother."
In these words, the child is given the sounds of love and can know that she is safe. Not safe just to feed, to sleep, but safe to do these things as and when she wants. For she is a baby who carries the atiq, the spirit and name, of her late grandmother. She is the adored baby; she is also her mother's mother, her grandfather's wife. Her grandmother is alive again in the baby. This means the baby is doubly and trebly loved. And she must be treated with respect. She can no more be denied food or refused the choicest morsels, be told to sleep when she wants to be awake or told to wake when she wants to be asleep, or be chided for being dirty than could her grandmother, were she still alive. But her grandmother is alive -- in this baby who is also someone else. To her grandfather she will be "wife," and with this word, as well as all the pet names he used for his dead wife, he will call out to her. And the baby's mother will address her child as both "daughter" and "mother."
Imagine this little girl a year or so later, as she learns to speak. Like children in all societies, after making all possible human sounds, she learns to use the special consonants and vowels of her own language. Then some simple words. She begins to name things. Here, in the corner of her home where food is stored, is the body of iqaluk, an arctic char; the flipper of qairulik, a harp seal; the skin of natia, a juvenile ringed seal. Outside are the skins of nanuq, a polar bear, and several tiriganiat, arctic foxes. But there is no "fish," "seal," or "bear." In the Inuktitut the child learns, there are no such categories. It is the specifics of the natural world that are named. As the child gets older, she will learn to speak of puijit, the "breathers" that are the sea mammals; and of uksuk or tunuk, the fat of sea creatures or land creatures; and of sijjarsiutit, the "shoreline seekers," wading birds. But she will not hear generic words for mammal, fat, or bird.
From the beginning of her life, the little girl will listen to stories. No one censors or limits that which is told. Her ability to make sense of what she hears is the only constraint. Her grandfather may give the details of the creation of sea mammals, at the earliest time of the world in which Inuit now hunt, with all its sexual and bloody details. He may tell a comic story about jealousy and fear. The small child listens for as long as she wishes -- she is, after all, also her own grandmother. And she discovers that stories are always a mystery, for they have much that cannot be understood, and much that comes from knowledge and experience beyond understanding. There are words she knows, things she can make sense of; and of these are both the border and the small gateways to an immense edifice of facts that she may not understand in any full way, but that creates questions, wonder, and puzzlement.
As she gets older, the child recognizes stories. Stories that are told many times. Details vary, but the same characters and principal events recur. This repetition is both the lessening and the maintaining of mystery. For the stories tell of events that are inexplicable and use words that are incomprehensible. No one would claim to understand every part of these stories, or to have a ready explanation for people, events, or processes that are confusing and strange. These are stories that defy any complete understanding. To tell and to listen to them is to experience the delight and enigma of incomprehension. Mysteries are repeated, not explained. The ultimate wonder about the world remains.
As the little girl learns to be with her friends, in the community of children who roam on the tundra, play on the ice, share chores in one another's homes, or sit listening to the talk of adults, she hears the ways in which people deal with one another. She will notice the way in which individual choices are respected. More and more she discovers that she is embedded in a web of relationships that link her, through her atiq, to so many others. Her uncle calls her "mother", and she can call him "son." Some of her playmates are both cousin and nephew or niece. Others are her in-laws because they are her grandfather's siblings, or her sisters and brothers because they have the atiq of one or other of her grandmother's brothers and sisters.
The words with which the girl is addresses place her in a group of families, in a community. They also show that she is an individual -- child and adult. She has a large, strong, unquestionable family, but she is expected to make her own judgments, take her own initiatives, be clear about her needs and preferences. She is given a place in a system that is both communal and individualistic.
She hears men and women talk about where they have hunted, gathered, and traveled, and she begins to learn the names of the land around her. She learns that many animals have to be given water when they are killed to ensure that some of their number will be willing to die again when she and her family need food. She discovers that animals and humans must be at peace with one another. Inuktitut has no words for "vermin" or "weed". There is no demarcation between the life of an animal and that of a human -- no word for "it." There is no hierarchy of classes of people or, within her community, of rights to use land. Bit by bit, she will come to understand that the world around her is shared both among people themselves and between people and the other creatures that belong there.
She hears individuals referred to as the miut of particular places. They are "of" this or that hunting area, or a particular camp, or even of a country. She learns that she is a miutaq of both where she now lives and the place her family thinks of as home, an area where they lived when they were young. In these places nunaqarpuq: "she has land." Not land that she can buy and sell. Dealing of this kind is, only in relation to whites and their trading posts or shops. Money, brought to the North by newcomers, is called kiinaujaq, "resembles a face"; its archetype is coins that showed the faces of monarchs and presidents. Beyond kiinaujaq there is no medium of exchange. Inuit did not have title deeds or contracts, prices or measurements of equivalent value. Inuktitut is without the categories and mathematics on which these depend. There are numbers for one to five, and words for ten and twenty, but no arithmetic system beyond these. The ways in which the girl's elders talk of belonging to or living in the places they have always known show her that the land all around her is irreducible, indivisible, and inalienable.
This land to which she belongs is the subject of many kinds of stories. Stories about its creation, or the first appearance of various creatures. Stories about traveling on it and living from it. She listens to her elders describe ancient times and recent times, passing on their knowledge about what this place is, what inner meanings it may hold, how best to make use of its creatures. From stories of creation and the hunt the girt builds an image, or a set of images, of her world. As in all great narratives, history, geography, personal adventure, and mysteries intertwine. There are misadventures, murder, and starvation, to be sure, but spiritual powers and every kind of humor mean that even the worst is part of being in the best possible place, in one's own land. Inuit nunangat, "the people's land" -- the expression Inuit use for referring to their part of the world -- is an ideal. To change or abandon such a place, according to this worldview, would be dangerous and foolish.
Thus is it possible to imagine this girl growing into the mind and land of Inuit culture, which is the northernmost example of hunter-gatherer societies. To go to the far north is to visit the most recent frontier between the languages of hunters and the languages of farmers -- a place where it is possible to experience the divide between these two ways of being in the world. It is also the place where those who wish to describe this frontier, and the encounter between hunters and farmers, can experience some of the deepest difficulties with language -- that of the hunters as well as their own.
Copyright © 2001 Hugh Brody