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Day in the Life of a Hunter-Gatherer

“Very few modern people have ever experienced what it is like to “run with the hunt.” One of the notable exceptions is Kim Hill, PhD, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico who has spent the last 30 years living with and studying the Ache hunter-gatherers of Paraguay and the Hiwi foragers of southwestern Venezuela. his description of these amazing hunts represents a rare glimpse into the activity patterns that would have been required of us all, were it not for the Agricultural Revolution.”…7GZycC&pg=PA180

I have not read much of Loren Cordain’s works, but I stumbled upon a passage from Rafe Kelley’s Natural Athletics blog (here) that appears to be quoted from Chapter 10 of Cordain’s book, The Paleo Diet for Athletics, which just landed a place on my ever-growing Amazon wish list.

The passage is quoted below, as quoted from Google Books and Kelley. It’s a fascinating insight to how some hunter-gatherers still forage for food in modern times. The bit about anthropologist Kim Hill’s experiences ducking beneath vines and branches all day reminds me of a sequence in Erwan Le Corre’s MovNat video (ELC MovNat links here) where Le Corre dashes through the woods weaving a path through the underbrush.

What I wonder (And expect a full-scale blog post on this soon) is how we can find a balance between our extremely specialized modern existence when foraging for food means driving to Kroger and hunting is playing corporate politics and pushing for a raise and our undeniable biological programming that expects us to be active, problem-solving generalists. As far as diet goes, it’s simple enough to suggest exercise should involve cross-training and wide variability. But what about fitness? A one-hour workout session makes for a nice compartmentalized way to look and feel in shape, but it makes exercise an end in and of itself rather than a means to secure our continued existence.

I don’t want to run eight hours a day, mind you: I just want to find a better, more fulfilling balance.

Chapter 10 — The Paleolithic Athlete: The Original Cross-Trainer

Ten thousand years sounds like a long, long time ago. but if you think about it in terms of how logn the human genus (Homo) has existed (2.5 million years), 10,000 years is a mere blink of the eye on an evolutionary time scale. Somewhere in the Middle East about 10,000 years ago, a tiny band of people threw in the towel and abandoned their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. These early renegades became the very first farmers. They forsook a mode of life that had sustained each and every individual within the human genus for the previous 100,000 generations. In contrast only a paltry 400 human generations have come and gone since the first seeds of agriculture were sown. what started off as a renegade way of making a living became a revolution that would guarantee the complete and absolute eradication of every remaining hunter-gatherer on the planet. At the dawn of the 21st century, we are at the bitter end. Except for perhaps a half dozen uncontacted tribes in South America and a few others on the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, pure hunter-gatherers have vanished from the face of the earth. . . .

Very few modern people have ever experienced what it is like to “run with the hunt.” One of the notable exceptions is Kim Hill, PhD, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico who has spent the last 30 years living with and studying the Ache hunter-gatherers of Paraguay and the Hiwi foragers of southwestern Venezuela. his description of these amazing hunts represents a rare glimpse into the activity patterns that would have been required of us all, were it not for the Agricultural Revolution.

“The Ache hunted every day of the year if it didn’t rain…GPS data I collected … suggests that about 10 km per day is probably closer to their average distance covered during search. They might cover another 1-2 km per day in very rapid pursuit. Sometimes pursuits can be extremely strenuous and last more than an hour. Ache hunters often take an easy day after any particularly difficult day, and rainfall forces them to take a day or two a week with only an hour or two of exercise. Basically they do moderate days most of the time, and sometimes really hard days usually followed by a very easy day. The difficulty of the terrain is really what killed me (ducking under low branches and vines about once every 20 seconds all day long, and climbing over fallen trees, moving through tangled thorns etc.) I was often drenched in sweat within an hour of leaving camp, and usually didn’t return for 7-9 hours wi th not more than 30 minutes rest during the day.”

“The Hiwi on the other hand only hunted about 2-3 days a week and often told me they wouldn’t go out on a particular day because they were ‘tired’. They would stay home and work on tools, etc. Their travel was not as strenuous as among the Ache (they often canoed to the hunt site), and their pursuits were usually shorter. But the Hiwi sometimes did amazing long distance walks that would have really hurt the Ache. They would walk to visit another village maybe 80-100 km away and then stay for only an hour or two before returning. This often included walking all night long as well as during the day. When I hunted with Machiguenga, Yora, Yanomamo Indians in the 1980s, my focal man days were much, much easier than with the Ache. And virtually all these groups take an easy day after a particularly difficult one.”

“While hunter gatherers are generally in good physical condition if they haven’t yet been exposed to modern diseases and diets that come soon after permanent outside contact, I would not want to exaggerate their abilities. They are what you would expect if you took a genetic cross section of humans and put them in lifetime physical training at moderate to hard levels. Most hunting is search time not pursuit, thus a good deal of aerobic long distance travel is often involved (over rough terrain and carrying loads if the hunt is successful). I used to train for marathons as a grad student and could run at a 6:00 per mile pace for 10 miles, but the Ache would run me into the ground following peccary tracks through dense bush for a couple of hours. I did the 100 yd in 10.2 in high school (I was a fast pass catcher on my football team), and some Ache men can sprint as fast as me.”

“But hunter-gatherers do not generally compare to world class athletes, who are probably genetically very gifted and then undergo even more rigorous and specialized training than any forager. So the bottom lines is foragers are often in good shape and they look it. They sprint, jog, climb, carry, jump, etc all day long but are not specialists and do not compare to Olympic athletes in modern societies.”

The blockquoted material within the blockquote is from Rafe Kelley’s Natural Athletics.

3 replies on “Day in the Life of a Hunter-Gatherer”

I enjoyed your post, but wanted to comment on your last paragraph before you start your quote from The Paleolithic Athlete. Firstly, I believe it has become increasingly more difficult to “forage” for our food in modern society. I say this because most average Americans are brought up on a “white bread diet” and almost guaranteed a dessert at the end of each meal as a reward for finishing off a “healthy” dinner. I quote healthy because this is generally in the eye of the beholder as to what this consists of, mostly protein, way too many carbohydrates and sparing serving of vegetables and fruit. After years of eating this way we leave the nest and strike out on our own, only to learn the typical family meal isn’t healthy for us and we now have to fight 25 years of eating habits and taste bud pleasing foods to eat the correct healthy meals, this means a new set of instructions on how to prepare this food as well. In Hunter-Gatherer societies this was their primary focus and readily passed down to their children, what is it we pass down to our own children. I would say everything that is learned in school does not help sustain life once they move out- an argument for a later time. But, we must wade through the Jungles of Kroger and focus our attention on the same morsels our ancestors nourished themselves on for thousands of years before us as the proverbial apple (original sin in this instance, not the nutritious fruit) of modern day food – a term used lightly since most is doused with chemicals, or made up of man-made ingredients and called food, dangles in front of us. A tug on our emotions as it is filled with memories sitting around the family table or the euphoric sugar high courses through our veins, almost as powerful as a first time cocaine user, is it funny America’s sugary beverage is named Coke, but it still legal? Again an argument for a later time.
As far as being simple to suggest that exercise for much of the cross-section of humanity should be cross-training and widely variable I would say this is easier for you to assume thanks to the advancement in a small population of exercise focused pioneers, including my personal hero Greg Glassman, founder and CEO of CrossFit. These pioneers have led to the explosion of constantly varied, high intensity training that we see today, more forcefully than Joe Weider shaped the last fitness craze.
If you are swept into this type of training you can’t really say that exercise is an end to itself because exercise is the foundation in how we move about our society. Without practicing and becoming proficient at something you can not efficiently accomplish something, including something most of us take for granted everyday, such as walking or feeding ourselves. In order to be able to walk, you must exercise your body in that mode. So than it becomes a question of what you want to with your walking? Do you want to only be able to walk to your neighbors house? The car inside your garage? or cross country? Then and only then can you start training, but with CrossFit and other variable, high intensity training you can throw this previous notion out the window. and training for “everything” becomes your norm. You train for the unknown and become proficient in a great many of things so that you become efficient at many things, but not selective, or the best at one particular thing. So exercise is not an end to itself, but a foundation of training to move you though life, whatever you want that life to look like?

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