Sunday, December 27, 2009

Indigenous Boats and the Indigenous Soul

Bob Holtzman's Indigenous Boats blog deals with, you guessed it, indigenous boats. The purpose of this blog entry is to link the indigenous boat to the indigenous soul. The indigenous soul is a term that I had not encountered until yesterday in an article written by Martin Prechtel.
Here is a link to the article on the Indigenous Soul.
The article offers some insights on how indigenous cultures view and deal with technology. Though the article does not deal expressly with boats, the ideas expressed in it nevertheless apply. Boat building echnology is after all technology.
One idea that Prechtel presents is a mechanism that limits the amount of technology that the indigenous soul will allow. I have personally found something satisfying in building indigenous boats that I don't think I would get from building them in a more modern fashion. But I could never quite justify why I felt that building a skin on frame kayak might be better than laying up fiberglass and resin in a mold. Prechtel offers a justification from the perspective of indigenous culture. Essentially, in an indigenous culture, every extraction of a resource from the earth must be paid for in ritual. The ritual pays the debt we owe the earth for extracting that resource. The ritual is one of thanks. Prechtel proposes that the Mayans would never have built anything as complex as a car because the amount of ritual that would have to go into paying for the debt that its production creates would simply be prohibitive.
The building of a skin on frame kayak probably creates as much debt as a single individual can pay off in a reasonable amount of time. Aleuts, for instance took a whole year to collect the materials needed to build a kayak. That was probably enough time to pay for the debt that was incurred.
Prechtel also introduces the idea that the creation of something beautiful is another way that we can pay off debt. Hence, the importance of building boats that look good. Simply by making a good-looking boat, you have much less debt to repay than if you build an ugly one. I personally always thought that making an ugly boat was a crime against nature.
I may have more to say on this topic in the future.


Lee said...

Interesting that it would take a year to find enough wood.How about the belief that the kayak is a living thing? Wouldnt giving "birth" to something provide more than enought to repay the debt?

Unknown said...

I like this concept, makes you think of all the consumerism that goes on in our lives, nothing is for nothing,the time for payback will come eventually, maybe even in the form of global warming.Take just what you need and nothing extra, dont deplete the herd, or the fish, let nature continue to provide . There is enough for everyone if we let it be so. sorry for the long ramble, looks like you touched a nerve.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

Yeah, I think there's some justification for building a boat the hard way, collecting all the wood on the beach, splitting it, whittling it down to size, killing the necessary number of sea lions or seals or whatever, then sewing the whole thing together, only to have to do it again in a year. I think that you would have a whole different relationship to a boat built that way than one where you just go to the lumberyard.