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7 February 2011
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Further Reading

Daily Life

Like men and women everywhere, the daily lives of tribal people are a reflection of their beliefs and traditions. Although their lives may be simple in material terms, the task of surviving in many  different environments makes for a huge variety in indigenous methods of subsistence.

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In the remotest parts of the world, food is obtained by hunting, gathering produce from the forest, growing grains, vegetables and fruit, fishing or keeping livestock. Sometimes these activities are supplemented by trade if there are links with outsiders. As food is traditionally taken directly from its source, it might need a lot of preparation to make it edible. Women tend to be in charge of most food production other than hunting. Matis women work in their gardens whilst the men spend most of their time involved in hunting activities. Women are also usually responsible for childcare.

Life is tough in many places. Hunters need a lot of skill order to survive and if game becomes scarce (as for the Babongo tribe of Gabon and the Akie of Tanzania), they must find new ways to supplement their diet. Cultivation is hard work – a job which often falls to women – and is dependent on the weather. In times of drought, people go hungry – like the Dassenech of Ethiopia. Livestock might provide a constant source of food – blood, milk and meat – but animals are vulnerable to disease, drought and thieves. Nomadic groups who depend on their herds, like the Darhad and Nenets, spend their whole lives travelling vast distances in order to find pasture. Indigenous people are at the mercy of their environment, and many tribes’ rituals reflect this – like the Dassenech’s nightly rain dances by Lake Turkana.

Rituals which to us may seem cruel and dangerous often serve a vital role in keeping law and order within a group, and are fundamental to identity. Practices like stick fighting, ritual whipping, bull jumping and scarification fulfil important functions. As well as showing that the culture is still strong and vibrant, they give participants pride in their heritage and a sense of belonging.

Different methods of child-rearing and family organisation depend on the environment and what sort of skills and knowledge are needed for the survival and well-being of the group. For instance, Inuit children are believed to be the incarnations of elders and are given the respect and freedom to evolve, slowly learning from the world around them. Other cultures are more rule-bound and many have strict divisions between genders and age groups.

The lives of indigenous peoples show us different ways of seeing the world. They can help us look at our own society - the way we live and our relationship to the world around us – in a different and sometimes clearer light.



Brody, H. (2002)
Maps & Dreams, Faber & Faber, UK (new edition)
Chatwin, B. (1987)
The Songlines, Jonathan Cape
Lee and Daly (1999)
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers, Cambridge University Press
Narby, J. (1999)
The Cosmic Serpent, Phoenix, UK
Vitebsky, P. (1995)
The Shaman, Macmillan, UK.

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