Wilderness Survival, Tracking, and Awareness
Wilderness Survival, Tracking, and Awareness

What It Is To Be Human

The following quotes are from the book "What It Is To Be Human", by Robert Wolff. It is now out of print, but has been republished as "Original 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 work nine to five, they certainly do not work for anyone else. They do not farm, they do not 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 poverty and ill-health.

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 needs 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 did 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 for 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 hours to keep. They enjoyed living, they smiled a lot. They sang almost all the time: little tuneless tunes they sang alone, or two or more people would sing together, 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 vivid in my memory of the Sng’oi is their contentment, their joy. They had the uncomplicated innocence of children, although they certainly were not childish or even innocent. They so obviously were not stressed. There was nothing they 'had 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, meant 'slave’. They rarely thought about those jungle dwellers who wore few clothes and were rarely seen anywhere. In fact, the Sakai, The Slaves, were an almost 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 they called 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 man, I was told later—spoke slowly, simply, for my benefit perhaps. "No,” he said, "we do not mind when others call us Sakai. We look at the people 'down below’: they have to get up at a certain time in the morning, they have to pay for everything with money, which they have to earn doing things for other people, they are constantly told what they can and cannot do.” He paused, and then added, "no, we do not mind when they call us slaves.”

Original Wisdom by Robert WolffYou 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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