Monday, September 19, 2005


According to the British Columbian ethnobotanist, Nancy Turner there is "often little distinction between hunter-gatherer lifestyle... and diversified agrarian lifestyle..." (1.) In fact, there is a "continuum" between the two economies. This is a position I came to as well from reading about so-called primitive peoples. The distinction between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists was part of the 19th century concept of Progress and linear social evolution. As though our ancestors, who have the same brains we have, who had an encyclopedic knowledge of plants and animals, were not capable of noticing that if seeds spill on the ground, plants would eventually grow.

For Turner there is an added misconception about hunter-gathers. They simply did not wander around looking for food, but were systematic about it, having regular territories with seasonal "crops" in different locations. The European invader was oblivious to Native economies, except where self-interest prevailed, like the fur trade. Racist arrogance precluded discussion or inquiry into how they gathered or produced fruit or vegetables. They were written off as "ignorant savages" stumbling aimlessly until they happened upon a berry patch.

British Columbian First Nations were certainly not just "gatherers." They engaged in controlled burning to encourage the growth of berry bushes and roots. Fruit trees and bushes were pruned, thinned and the soil tilled around them. Roots and berry bushes were transplanted to better or closer locations and fertilized with fish and seaweed. They often planted berry bushes near streams and waterfalls to allow for natural watering. Roots and bulbs were carefully selected, some for the harvest, others for replenishment of the crop. The Salishan peoples of Southern Vancouver Island depended upon fields of camas, a starchy tuber, the growth of which they encouraged by various means.

Some of these Native methods sound like permaculture. And if First Nations peoples engaged in permaculture, why not our own Mesolithic or even Paleolithic ancestors? This would help explain the ease of transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculturalists in Europe-Anatolia and the underlying cultural continuities which seem to run from the Paleolithic to the Chalcolithic or even Early Bronze Age. (2)

1. THE EARTHS BLANKET, by Nancy J. Turner, Douglas and MacIntyre 2004.
2. An egalitarian, shamanistic, relatively peaceful culture, existed in Europe from the time of Cro-Magnon peoples (The European ancestral population) to about 2500 BC., a period of more than 30,000 years.


Blogger Adam said...

It sounds like you are suggesting an "overlapping waves" model of economic/lifestyle development, analagous to the "overlapping waves" model of cognative development.

It's interesting that developmental psychologists relied on the same type of simplistic, progressive assumptions that anthropologists used.

12:23 PM  
Blogger eugene plawiuk said...

Larry while BC coastal native culture was mixed it was also civilized. In that it follows Spenglers definition of civilization, that being a slave based economic culture. The Coast Salish hunted and enslaved their enemies the natives in the interior. Clear exhibits of this are at the Anthropology Museum at UBC. A little refered to fact that those who support the idealistic Roussouian ideal of the noble savage overlook. As they overlook the destruction and genocide of the Hurons by the 12 nations.

4:52 PM  
Blogger eugene plawiuk said...

While you refer to Cro Magnon culture Maria Gimbutas asserts that a relatively peaceful period of matriarchical culture of permaculture existed in the Neolithic as well.

12:52 AM  

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