Anthropology and Bushcraft

If you have followed either Ray Mears' or Bruce Parry's programmes on TV over the last decade or so you'll see a strong link between trying to understand the lifestyle of a people in a different part of the world and the hobby of bushcraft.

Beyond Bushcraft Books
Although there is a wealth of bushcraft and survival literature out there after you've read a few books you find a great deal of similarity and repetition in books and very little in the way of new ideas or inspirations. In search of more information I have turned to other disciplines as a way of gaining more knowledge.

Anthropological Answers
The science which provides useful and inspiring information about modern people living in the wilderness using their traditional skills is named Anthropology, a science studying people, societies and their way of life. With yesterday, August 9th, being the international day of the World's Indigenous People I finally felt compelled to tell you all about it.

The Other Side of Eden
The first book of this type I read was one I found on the Jack Mountain reading list in their student handbook. The book looks at the marginalisation of hunter gatherers and as such is named The Other Side of Eden. The book concentrates on the inuit people but also takes in other native American groups and their lifestyles. The discussions on the languages spoken, their vocabulary for describing fauna, flora and weather and the nature of speech in an oral, not written, culture are all fascinating for the linguist in me. The book also looks at their hunting strategies and how the idea of wilderness living skills and adventure are very far apart. For the people who live the skills, adventure is what happens when things are out of control. This is a book I recommend if you are interested in hunter gatherer lifestyles and especially those of North America.

"Savages" of South America
The next book I picked up was a battered second hand copy of a book discussing the lives of South American native people and their war with the oil industry, modernisation and Christianisation. The book was titled "Savages" and despite having a few interesting insights into food storage and jaguar shamans it was mostly anti-globalisation literature dressed up as anthropology. The writer was not a speaker of the Huaorani language and has received a fair bit of criticism for this, the style is also a little new-age

Reindeer People
The final book, and perhaps the most noteworthy is the most recent I have read. Called Reindeer People it is a mix if a study and story that combines the human elements of the latter with excellent referencing of the former. The book looks at the lifestyles of the Eveny (also here) reindeer herders (a people related to the Evenk group seen in a Ray Mears episode) and how their lifestyles were changing during the collapse of communism in the USSR. The book is well written and easy to read with the only quirk being a few extracts being translated into English and their written equivalents then being noted in brackets in Russian. Not too bad if you have a basic grasp of spoken Russian and not a major deal but I could see this being an irritant if you don't.

Polar Research
The writer, Piers Vitebsky, is a professor at the Scott Polar research institute in Cambridge. The research institute is the centre of British polar studies and has a very famous museum. Sadly, the museum is due to be closed for the best part of a year - until spring 2010 - for rennovation. As a result I've not yet been there.

Rigour over Rhetoric
In my opinion anthropological literature can provide a new avenue of information and ideas for bushcraft. From my, albeit limited, reading I would say that choosing those books with more academic rigour than political agenda will be rewarding. The 2 books on northern peoples were really fascinating and eye-opening and I'd definitely recommend them. One advantage of this type of research is that you can pick an area whose skills are relevant or interesting to you. For me that will always be the northern forests.

If you want to see some beautiful pictures check


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