Thursday, August 14, 2014

11. The Ohlone Way by Malcolm Margolin

I rarely read non-fiction, as you well know.  A colleague at work, who is very skilled at getting people to do things, pressed this upon me and I aquiesced as the subject matter was interesting to me.  It's an accessible study of the way the aboriginal people of what is today the San Francisco Bay Area lived before the white man came.  I like the Bay Area and I am curious about what it is that makes the colonial culture so different and destructive compared to the supposedly idyllic cultures that were here originally. The Ohlone way is also a classic in the field and spawned a publishing house and a rich field of study.

The most striking thing about the description of these people's world was the insane abundance of food.  It was a kind of paradise.  These societies were extremely primitive, technologically.  Much of their time was dedicated to gathering food, hunting or fishing.  But there really seemed to be no scarcity.  The second most striking thing was that there also seemed to be no history.  There was so little change in their social structure over time as well as a cultural reaction towards death which was not to talk about it and not to preserve the memory of the deceased.  There are some obvious simple conclusions you can draw from this like the natives were peaceful and unchanging because they had so much food while the colonialists were aggressive and tool-building because they needed to do that to survive in their histories.  It is probably risky to draw those conclusions though (and the book doesn't), but it's an interesting start.

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