The Mountain People

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Posted by panch from ( on Tuesday, January 14, 2003 at 0:47AM :

...great book by the anthropologist Colin Turnbull...came out around 71 or so. He lived for different periods of time with a tribe in Africa called the Ik.

There was a terrible draught lasting several years that eventually altered behavior patterns everyone...including scientists, were convinced until then were "natural"...a part of the very soul and marrow of a people such as the bound by a continuous tradition going back to before anyone could remember. Instead Turnbull watched them change their customs...traditions...everything that made them who they were...was fluid after all...not fixed and certain at all. Civilization...even in a remote African village, is really rather a delicate thing after all.

Because of starvation...the cumulative effects of an ongoing, slow but steady deterioration in the food supply...he saw all sorts of things happening to the Ik that went completely against their most cherished traditions and even religious taboo's.

Parents threw their children out of the family compound because they couldn't feed them, loved ones were buried at night in secrecy, in backyards, because no one could afford the funeral banquet...eventually gangs of young children, forced to band together...would scavenge for food...even taking it out of the mouths of the elderly...their own parents in some cases, whom they no longer recognized, or pretended not to. Prostitution of all kinds...among everyone took hold with customers sought anywhere and everywhere...often the person just laying there too weak to move...just for a scrap of food.

Every single trait or custom that was thought to be set in stone...turned out to be made of jello...liable to fall apart through something as simple as a lack of rainfall.

There's a lot more to it. Turnbull went back to balmy England and began to notice that what starvation and draught was doing in transforming the IK...overcrowding and another kind of starvation was doing to the all industrialized society. Unfortunately...people going through that severe a transformation, don't know it...because it is so completely alters and rearranges whatever standards they had.

I happened to read the book when I was at the Group Home with my own tribe of savages. It taught me that if you would change behavior... you should change the physical surroundings...remove whatever anchors people were accustomed to...whether they were good people or bad. That...and that alone would be the the way to alter behavior...not through carrots and sticks...not through punishment...but out of necessity when the rules for survival change drastically. You either changed along with them or got wiped out. You could chose to die quickly and get it over with...or drag it out in hopes there would be something left of you if the rain ever came.

That book...and the kids around me...showed me the way to Cypress dumping us all in an environment where everything the kids had learned for survival as wards of the court and prisoners...would no longer do...wouldn't even keep them dry or fed.

I wish I'd been foolish enough to take Johnny with us...see if his catatonic attacks, which could last for days in the city...would disappear if he really believed there was no one there to rush him to a hospital...but by the same token there was also no one there to rape him or abuse or neglect had so often happened to him since he'd first entered the system as an incredibly beautiful black child of three years.

Nature...the simple needs of the body and mind, when the only way to satisfy those needs is by your own hard work, patience, creativity and skills...that was the best medicine of all...the best councelor...the best therapy.

As Bradley said one day as we struggled up a trail with jerry cans of water from the lake to boil our beans and rice..." can't EVEN talk that jive around here...too much work".

It's simple. The ones who say it's very hard...are like the Jackster...incompetant they think the task is incredibly difficult...and they'll stop you too...keep you from showing them up cause that's all they're really thinking about, THEMSELVES...even if they ARE in Social Work.

Erase Jackie!!!

-- panch
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