By Anthony Andrews
When you hear or read the term ‘hunter-gatherer’ do you automatically think of cavemen and dinosaurs?
My apologies for using male dominant language but, equality between the sexes is still a relatively new concept in our society, although I suspect women have been fighting against male domination for many thousands of years.
We are now slowly realising that men and women need to be treated with the same level of respect and given the same opportunities, equal pay and their own choice of career or lifestyle. How long did the suffragettes fight for, before women were given the right to vote?
100 years? 200?
However long it was, it didn’t happen overnight and the fight to be regarded as an equal to a man is still ongoing.
The #metoo movement has put the spotlight (or is it ‘limelight’) on the issue over the last year or so, but ever since Germaine Greer wrote ‘The Female Eunuch’, a far larger number of women have understood that staying in the kitchen was not their only option and that they deserved the right to be heard and treated with equal respect to a man.
Could we call it a kind of self-determination?
We, as humans, are generally slow to grasp change or new concepts. This is natural and I’m sure experts in the subject could explain the reasons, but I’m only going to touch on that here, as it would lead me away to a completely different story to the one I’m trying to tell.
In early Britain and the rest of what we know today as Europe, history is fairly well defined in stages. Stone Age, Iron Age, Bronze Age, etc … The step between each of these events didn’t happen overnight either, they took … ages.
The move from hunting and gathering to the development of agriculture and animal husbandry was not just a case of ‘I’m tired of searching for tucker, I think I’ll just plant some crops and raise me some cattle.’ It was a huge change in human development and must’ve taken many thousands of years to be fully adopted by all of our European ancestors. The social changes it brought are also not to be overlooked either.
The male members, out spearing game and the women collecting berries and vegetables, the day’s bounty shared between the extended family or tribe, became a thing of the past.
Replaced with recognition of an individual’s right to own and cultivate their piece of land, selling the excess crops produced and employing other members of the community to reap and sow even more land. These beginnings are the foundation of everything we know today.
Being a part of the land and natural environment became a thing of the past, we now controlled the land and nature. We stopped worshipping the earth and animal spirits. We stopped thinking communally and began planning for individual survival and prosperity. I’m not sure how long it took, but I’d bet a dollar it was a lot more than 230 years.
Recently, I was writing about Aboriginal Australians being ‘wired’ differently to the rest of us. How, from the arrival of the colonial settlers to the Australian nation we know today, too many of us believe that they, generally, are a ‘primitive’ people with lower intelligence and are a burden on our modern society, unable to progress into being ‘productive’ members of the community.
We are looking at it all wrong.
Imagine that the last 10,000 years of civilisation didn’t happen. That we didn’t all learn to farm, even if we’d been exposed to the concept, as the Aboriginal people of Australia’s North had been by contact with, what are termed ‘Austronesians’, farming people that populated the islands to our west, north and east.
What if exposure to the lifestyle of cultivators set you more firmly in the belief that your existence was superior?
History has shown that the Aboriginal Australians that inhabited our ’empty land’ did use some techniques of cultivation, as confirmed by a bloke from La Trobe University, who knows a fair bit more about it than me, Emeritus scholar, John Hirst and others. They just didn’t see any benefit in adopting it as a way of life.
Replanting the tops of yams, harvesting the seeds of ‘nardoo’ grass and ‘firestick farming’, are just a few examples of this, but what if knowledge of the seasons and the different food sources it provided in different parts of your ‘traditional land’ and the freedom to travel from one end of it to the other was deemed to be a preferable lifestyle to being stuck in one place.
It wouldn’t mean that time stood still. That the extra 10,000 years of being a hunter-gatherer was wasted and that no progression of thought occurred. 10,000 years is a bloody long time … Would we have produced a European equivalent to the ‘Kadaicha men’?
People that, after a few days of intensive and painful preparation could ‘point the bone’ at a transgressor of tribal law and cause that person to die, even from great distances, just from the knowledge that it was occurring and was pointed at them.
It’s also undeniable that, just like the ‘civilised’ world, the Australian Aboriginal had an understanding of physics, the fulcrum and pivot point of the Woomera, throwing stick, is just one example. The boomerang, another.
They liked the way they lived. They were not envious of our possessions or our European ways. They saw themselves as equal to any man and were not easily enslaved. We could never understand or relate to that concept.
It was confusing to people from a system with clearly defined class barriers and a history of slave trading.
That they understood pretty quickly the difference between the convicts, later, the working people, and the ‘leisure class’ and that most preferred their own ways. This was not just confusing to us, it was downright insulting …
How dare they not recognise our superiority!
Interbreeding with the white population may have diluted their understanding and relationship with the land, creating another culture with one foot in each camp, but it can’t just change the mindset that has developed from eons of isolation and autonomy.
We are trained to judge everyone against our own standards and beliefs. We need everyone to be just like us or we consider it unfair. We believe that their contribution to our society has to be the same as ours and because some of them do live according to our standards, and do think like us, they all should.
I consider that unfair. When a culture develops, in virtual isolation for over 60,000 years, it takes more than 230 years for all traces of it to disappear and, I personally, never want it to and believe we can learn a lot from their way of living.
We question why they are often seen sitting around doing nothing. We call them ‘long grassers’ and ‘bludgers’, but we could all benefit from not desiring too many possessions which cause us to work ourselves into the ground in pursuit of them.
Sharing resources with our extended families is something that we don’t do enough of as well, and the need to relocate for employment opportunities has weakened our communities, making a lot of us more nomadic than those more recently descended from the hunter-gatherers that we feel so superior to. We’d also rather work more hours to earn enough money to put our old people into homes because we don’t have the time or inclination to look after them ourselves.
Maybe we don’t like or respect them because ‘hunter-gatherers’ are, by nature, communists…Not the kind, that wants to seize the means of production and change the system to one that reflects their worldview though, so there’s no need to panic.
They just want their worldview recognised and appreciated for what it is and to be given the respect and resources they deserve in order to keep their culture and heritage alive. And to be allowed more than just a token say in how best to protect their people that have been forced to participate in a society that they were never, by nature, designed to be a part of.