What It Is To Be Human
The following quotes are from the book "What It Is To Be
by Robert Wolff. It is now out of print, but has been republished
Wisdom" in an edited form. That is, the publisher's in-house
editors have reworded and rephrased bits of it to make it sound more
"correct". Many people are not aware of it, but this happens
to most books that we read nowdays.
From the chapter "The Real World, The Shadow World" (of
the unedited version):
SOME PEOPLE, and they are the people we think of as
primitive, live well
without 'doing’ much of anything. They do not have jobs, they do not
to five, they certainly do not work for anyone else. They do not farm, they
have to take care of animals. All of them, women, men and children wander
around and find things to eat: fruit, roots—they know their environment
intimately. Of course, because they feel part of nature. They spend their days
doing what they do best. Some like making things, they make canoes, or cloth,
or pots, or they carve. Some like hunting or fishing. Some people have a talent
for staying in touch with another reality, they are priests, shamans, healers.
Some of them have a talent for making other people feel good. I have probably
learned more from these so-called primitive people than from any other.
People who live very close to the earth, or the ocean,
with very few of what we
think of as necessities of life, live well. Sadly, it is no exaggeration
to say that as
soon as we come and bring them 'civilization’, they plummet into abject
The people I got to know—aboriginal people
in Malaysia, as well as wonderfully healthy and self-sufficient aboriginal
people on a few
islands of the
Pacific, in the mountains of the Philippines—were different
from each other, of
course, speaking different languages, with different customs. But
they are alike
in that they were happy. They were content.
These people were hard to find, because our aggressive
and intense civilization has driven them to the most inaccessible
parts of the world. They
lived off the land or the ocean. They did not have to rely for any of their
on the outside. They could find all the food they needed to sustain themselves,
they could find or make material for shelter and clothing. They carved canoes,
made blowpipes, they rolled a powerfully strong rope from the fibers of coconut
husk. And beyond what they could find and make in their environment, they
not need anything, nor did they want anything more.
They enjoyed life, they lived life. Life did not live
them, as happens to us.
Slightly later in the same chapter:
I learned to question my own assumptions about many
things. For instance,
my idea that if you do not have the use of the machines we think necessary
survival you must have to work very hard. Obviously that was a cliché that
needed to be thrown out.
The Sng’oi had all the time in the world. They
did not slave in gardens, they
did not work to get ahead, they were not stressed because they had office
to keep. They enjoyed living, they smiled a lot. They sang almost all
little tuneless tunes they sang alone, or two or more people would sing
making up words as they went along, which almost always led to much giggling
and laughter when they stumbled in this game.
I quickly threw away my idea that people who do not have
the advantages we
have—our many choices of education, infinite forms of entertainment—would
have to work so hard that they had no time for fun. What remains most
my memory of the Sng’oi is their contentment, their joy.
They had the
uncomplicated innocence of children, although they certainly were not childish
even innocent. They so obviously were not stressed. There was nothing they
to’ do. They wandered here and there. They sang, they made jokes. They
laughed a lot.
Later in the book, in the chapter called "Slaves":
Most Malaysians had probably forgotten that the
word they used for those strange, primitive, very shy people living in
deep jungle in the mountains,
'slave’. They rarely thought about those jungle dwellers who wore
and were rarely seen anywhere. In fact, the Sakai, The Slaves, were
mythical people, few people knew much about them.
After I got to know the Sng’oi, The People, and
when I knew they accepted me,
I apologized for having spoken of them as 'slaves' before I knew what
themselves, and before I realized what the word sakai meant.
My apology was a simple phrase. I
said I hoped they did not mind that I had called them 'Sakai’.
I was not sure
whether I had said it right: for a long time there was no reaction at
all. I imagined
that I saw smiles on a few faces, but it was dark, I could not be sure.
This time, again, one person answered. He—an adventuresome young
was told later—spoke slowly, simply, for my benefit perhaps. "No,” he
do not mind when others call us Sakai. We look at the people 'down below’:
have to get up at a certain time in the morning, they have to pay for
with money, which they have to earn doing things for other people, they
constantly told what they can and cannot do.” He paused, and then
we do not mind when they call us slaves.”
You could once read a large part of this book in PDF formaton
Robert Wolff's website, which is sadly no longer online.
The full title of the first version of the book is "Hope Lies In Our Ability to Bring Back
To Awareness What It Is To Be Human".
You can look at readers' reviews of "Original Wisdom" at Amazon.com.
You can read the foreword to "Original Wisdom" here.
Purchase from Australia (Booktopia)
Purchase from Australia (Angus & Robertson)
Purchase from Amazon
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