Review:The Other Side of Eden; Hunter-gatherers, Farmers and the Shaping of the World (2002) Assessment 8 out of 10

A beautifully written elegy for the last Hunter-gatherers.

Brody suggests the greatest contrast and source of displacement in the human past was that by farmers of hunter-gatherers. The modern unequal capitalist world is the direct outcome of what farmers became, those who had left or been expelled from Eden

Hunter-gatherers are those living on the other side of Eden, on the land in small communities, without fixed settlements. They were knowledgeable about and respected the animals they hunted. Food was shared. They were shamanistic, believing shamans could be transformed by spirits guiding the hunt. Children were cared for but steps taken, including infanticide, to control population growth. Thinking and language was conditional, individual choices respected, decisions combining detailed knowledge and intuition.

Farmers settled, but were never satisfied, always seeking to expand the land they farmed. Land and nature were to be controlled, population increased. Monotheistic religion was the creation of farmers, separating the good and the unworthy, paradise promised only to believers. Such thinking was deterministic giving rise to society which was both authoritarian and hierarchical

There was a hunter-gatherer holocaust. Those occupying the land farmers wanted were removed or destroyed. This happened in the Great Plains. It happened in Australia. Hunter-gatherers were decimated by diseases, to which they had no resistance. Hunter-gatherer children were sent to schools, remote from their families, with the intention that they lose their language and culture. Here they suffered sexual and physical abuse.

The result is numerous hunter-gatherer languages becoming extinct and present day hunter-gatherers restricted to the most marginal areas beyond those suitable for agricultulture. Brody describes his involvement with such people, hunting with the Inuit in the Arctic, attempting to learn their language and those of Athabaskans, south of the tree line. He was present at Canadian court cases which sought recognition of tribal rights to land, difficult when a traditional hunter was not recognised as an expert witness or title to the land was sung, rather than recorded in title deeds.

Hunter-gatherers are susceptible to alcoholism, something I have seen in Greenland. In part this may be a reversion to shamanism seeking transition through “spirit” contact.

A simple dichotomy between hunter-gatherers and farmers should be avoided. Scavengers on the margins of modern cities adopt elements of hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The distinctions of the remote past,when farming appeared before the adoption of monotheistic religion and hunter-gatherers weren’t restricted to marginal lands, would have been very different from those in the more recent past.

Great stuff, highly recommended

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