Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Old Way (Part 1)

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas wrote a book called The Old Way about the Ju/wasi people of the Nyae Nyae region that straddles the modern day border between Namibia and Botswana. She called the book The Old Way because the Ju/wasi are supposed to have been living at the time (1950s) the way humans had lived long before both agriculture and pastoralism. That is, they hunted and gathered. That was the Old Way.

In the sparse literature about the Ik, opinion is divided over whether the Ik are hunter-gatherers or, well, something else. Some sources say the Ik used to be nomadic hunter-gatherers who circulated over a large land area, following seasonal game, fruits, nuts, roots, and water sources. Then they came to lose this lifestyle when their best hunting ground, Kidepo Valley, was made a national park. That is perhaps the most romantic view. Other sources say the Ik have always been farmers as well, and even kept livestock before the Karamojong and Turkana tribes made that activity nearly suicidal.

Today it is a fact that the Ik are both farmers and hunter-gatherers. Much of the year is occupied with digging, planting, weeding, scare-crowing, harvesting, and processing a wide variety of crops. The Ik have a rich and old (i.e. not borrowed from Karamojong) vocabulary dealing with farming topics. They also collect wild honey and white ants to supplement their diet. These two foods figure prominently in their cultural identity. (They also have old vocabulary dealing with livestock, but they still keep nothing larger than a chicken; this is for self-preservation. We follow their example!)

Nevertheless, the Ik also hunt and gather. They have a rich knowledge of the plants that grow in their environment and use them for medicine (with greater or lesser degrees of success), building materials, and, of course, food. Just this past week we were driving through the bushland when an Ik man got excited because a certain kind of large thorntree was putting out new green leaves. He said they boil and eat those leaves in dry season. He said he would mobilize the womenfolk to come there on a gathering foray.

What I’m really getting at, though, is that the Ik hunt. I mean, they hunt hunt. They are hunters, with spears, snares, traps, bows & arrows. I had the amazing privilege of joining a group of thirty Ik men and boys last week for a nine-hour hunt. In The Old Way (Part 2), I will tell the story. Stay tuned!


Anonymous said...

Woo Hoo! I can't wait to hear about the infamous IK hunt for bush meat. I'm sure, it isn't like the recent TV Alaska documentary showing Sarah Palin on a Caribou hunt near the arctic circle with her Dad & Uncle.

velma said...

Bring it on! did you all get to eat any of the meat?? i wonder how the wild pig and wart hog meat tasted--different or the same??

Tammy On the Go said...

My Christmas card is going to be late! I forgot to get it in the mail on time!

rln said...

Anthropologist, linguist, explorer, ethnologist, botanist, and now . . . hunter! What God hath wrought thru our son! Among your certificates of achievement, may we soon hang a photo of yourself adorned with a loincloth and spear in hand?