“They grow no food, raise no livestock, and live without rules or calendars… What do they know that we’ve forgotten?”
This is an excerpt from the beginning of a National Geographic article on the Hadza, a small hunter-gatherer tribe in northern Tanzania. Reading this challenged the usual assumptions I’ve had celebrating civilization. As I read about the strange, austere life described in National Geographic, I also felt an odd sense of longing, despair, and hope. This wasn’t the first time I’ve felt this way. In my anthropology and sociology classes in college a lot of my assumptions about the “progress” of civilization was challenged and I became more sensitive to the pervasiveness of these assumptions in Western culture’s mythology.
I remember spending a summer in Swaziland and having a conversation about how, in spite of all the negative effects, colonialism was ultimately a good thing because it saved Africans from their unprogressive culture. Just recently, I heard the argument that, in spite of the oppression that resulted from the hierarchy formed in the patristic period (in church history), it was ultimately a good thing because it saved Christianity from remaining a “folk religion.” This disturbs me, and despite many of my concerns about sometimes ideological nature of “primitivism”, I nonetheless think it presents an important challenge to civilization that needs to be wrestled with. Consequently, I will (with a hesitant mistrust of labels) come out now as an advocate of the primitivist critique. I say that simply meaning that I think our love affair with the civilization needs to be questioned, and so far I’ve enjoyed the depth of questioning that results when we are willing to go so far as to engage the idea that a pre-civ lifestyle is the healthiest alternative.
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Nekeisha Alayna Alexis
Liza Minno Bloom
Eda Ruhiye Uca