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The last free people on earth?

September 20, 2012

Somewhere in the Himalayas I had made friends with a shepherd. I asked him about freedom. He said, “My friend, Your eyes are too weak. See beyond you can see now. You will see free people. There, if you see hard, you will see one of my goats. It is free”.

The conversation came back to me as I was reading about Yanomami, a tribe living near Venezuela. Yanomami live in large, circular, communal houses, called yanos or shabonos. Some can house up to 400 people. The central area is used for activities such as rituals, feasts and games. Each family has its own hearth where food is prepared and cooked during the day. At night, hammocks are slung near the fire which is stoked all night to keep people warm…

From them among many things we can take lessons in democratic and peaceful living. There, there is no place for a chief. Decisions are made by consensus, frequently after long debates where everybody has a say.

Yes, men do hunt, but there is a very simple rule that they have in place. No hunter ever eats the meat that he has killed. Instead he shares it out among friends and family. In return, he will be given meat by another hunter. Women tend the gardens where they grow around 60 crops which account for about 80% of their food. They also collect nuts, shellfish and insect larvae. Wild honey is highly prized and the Yanomami harvest 15 different kinds.

Some (many) of us, would say that they are “backward” for their alternative ways of life or nakedness, or for their lack of material possessions, that they have tried and failed to keep up with the “modern” world, that they have little understanding of cars, hospitals, banks or the Internet. José Carlos Mereilles, calls these other cultures, “the last free people on earth” — free from the influence of governments, the subliminal powers of advertising and the media and the thoughts of others.

As the world becomes increasingly homogenized, it is wonderful to see that there are free people, people who still live in harmony with their environment, who still measure time by the cycles of the moon, people who talk to trees and who can by looking at the nest tell if it is going to rain after 3 months, people who use the song of an African bird to guide them to bees’ nests in baobab trees.

As is typical of hunter gatherers and shifting cultivators, it takes the Yanomami less than four hours work a day on average to satisfy all their material needs. Much time is left for leisure and social activities.

About a Peruvian tribe Dilwyn says, “They are an incredibly happy people and there is no real discord. In 30 years I have only seen one bad argument. It was two men arguing over a tin of tuna and it upset the women so much they hid their faces in their robes.” Jaime from the tribe went along with Dilwyn to Britain and after seeing his place said to him, “I’m surprised how cut-off from nature you are in your houses and how much pollution there is. That’s why I think you are not as happy.”

It was 2010 summer. Somewhere near a village in Gujarat, I met this wonderful lady from a small tribal village near Manipur. We had come together to be part of the same gathering, different people from different states gathered together to share our stories. She told many wonderful stories from her village, from her past, about how they lived, about how they spent their evenings. “Every evening, after dinner, everyone in my village comes together, and sits around a big bonfire. Together we dance, sing, play, just sit and talk till the stars come over… Sitting together around the fire is as important to us as having dinner is to you.”
Gleison Miranda/FUNAI/

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Hema S permalink
    September 20, 2012 09:29

    For a moment whole new (old) worlds, new (old) possibilities) had started dancing around me… and then again I fell back into the reality bound by constraints, reality of the modern world that somehow seems so rigid, so powerful. But possibilities exist, these people still do exist. Thanks for such a refreshing write up Amit.


    • September 20, 2012 13:12

      thanks to the refreshing lives people across the world still continue to live.. hope to live a few weeks (months? years?) at least with one of the tribe before I die 🙂


  2. Chris permalink
    September 20, 2012 09:55

    A picture of the world I want to live in ! @ Hema – The moments might increase and the different worlds might continue to exist 🙂


  3. September 20, 2012 21:13

    Reblogged this on Thoughts & Reflections.


  4. September 21, 2012 12:35

    Incredible! They are truly free…free from “thought-communization”. Wish we start getting out of our homes, our mental confinements and opening up to each other’s worlds more.
    Thank you!


  5. gsaurabhr permalink
    September 21, 2012 23:29

    I am currently reading ‘non-zero: the logic of human destiny’. The author provides rather contrasting views. Might be interesting to have a look at it just so as to have a counter-argument to test these views against. I tend to get lost in this ‘heart vs mind’ sort of dilema, as I would like to call it.


    • September 21, 2012 23:40

      This article touches multiple views – diversification, small communities, freedom to choose a way of life, forceful homogenization etc. Which view are we talking about here, as being contrasted by the book?


  6. robind333 permalink
    October 3, 2012 02:58

    So many times I wish I was living this way….thank you for sharing…many, many blessings to you…Robin


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