- gatherer time
Euro-American image of time is a machine, a factory assembly line
chucking out identical hours, each unremarked and
indistinguishable. Worse than that, it has insisted that its time
is the time, and that indigenous peoples all over the world lack a
‘proper’ sense of time. It is not a lack. Rather they have
cultivated a far more subtle and sensitive relationship to time
The Leco people of
Bolivia have tree calendars, the U’wa of Colombia have insect
clocks ‘which whistle on the U’wa hour’ and the Kaluli
people of Papua New Guinea have a clock of birds. To the Karen of
Burma, the forest over the course of a day supplies a symphony of
time, provided you know the score.
The San Bushmen of the
Kalahari would never schedule when to hunt but would read and
assess animal behaviour and choose a ‘right’ time
spontaneously, ‘waiting for the moment to be lucky.’
Hunter-gatherer time is a series of unique moments, confluences of
a hundred streams, a thousand interconnecting factors, including a
person’s mood, a shift in wind direction, knowledge of a cubbing
season, a sight of fresh tracks. Scheduling or planning would
destroy the necessary elusiveness of this subtle sense of timing,
and would kill stone dead the exquisite sense that time is alive.
seems to weigh in with the burden of a heavy stasis, a life
half-lived and a death half-died, all the dirgey effort of a
worthy cause and none of the dynamite of ‘progress’. But the
opposite is true. Progress, along the trajectory Euro-American
culture is now on, is a one-word lie; it is neither the travel nor
the arrival, but the ultimate ending; not the flame of thought,
but a bonfire of humanity: the vaunted ‘progress’ of cars and
unlimited plane travel leading to global warming and millions of
environmental refugees – this so-called progress is a politics
which tends towards death. Sustainability, on the other hand, is
where the life lies, where time touches eternity, the time of the
natural world, of ice and melt, of the seas’ times and tides.
Both sustainability and progress need to be redefined and
reclaimed. In order to do this, Western culture needs to listen to
indigenous peoples because in their ideas of cyclical time, time
is constantly restored, nature sustained and sustaining. These are
the very ideas the world needs most.
Griffiths is the author of Pip Pip: A Sideways Look At Time.