Gatherers Part 4

Adaptation to a specific vegetarian diet means that the animal becomes entirely dependent on certain vegetable species. That is exactly what happened to the lemurs on the island of Madagascar, just 400 kilometres from the south-east coast of Africa.

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The human hunter-gatherer rapidly refined his techniques, mastering his environment. Then, he learnt that instead of going in search of the plants where they grew, undergoing hardships like the elephants or the marine iguanas, he could plant them himself right by his home. A clearing in the forest, a refuge and a garden: this was the birth of agriculture, and with it sedentary man. This took place some 10,000 years ago, and was called the Neolithic Revolution.

Agriculture as such arose independently in various different regions of the world, and was the first of the great cultural advances which have transformed the planet, permitting human populations to multiply.

Then, as happened here in the Trobriand Islands, near New Guinea, the inhabitants managed to achieve increasingly large harvests, making it possible to store the excess for consumption in times of want. The result was a guaranteed supply of food all year round.

Agriculture brought human beings the possibility of leisure, of free time, as it released them from the interminable search for food and refuge.

In the tropical forest of Venezuela, the Makiritare still live in self-sufficient communities, whose contact with the outside world is limited to the acquisition of certain plastic utensils from nearby villages. 

After gathering in the manioc from the fields, they grate it, turning it into tapioca, a wet pulp which must then be squeezed in long baskets to extract the hydrocyanide acid, which is poisonous. The result is a kind of paste from which the Makiritare prepare their favourite food.

The food in question is the “Casabe” or “Jungle Bread”, a toasted flat bread which forms the basis of their diet.

At this point, anther step in the cultural evolution of the human gatherer occurs. The harvested food is increasingly processed, leading to cooking, gastronomy, the meeting of the family and the clan around the fire or stove, and so eating becomes much more than simple ingestion of food. It then becomes a social act, strengthening bonds. So much so, that there is virtually no human culture in the world that does not celebrate important events with the corresponding banquet.

In the highlands of New Guinea, these Papuans are going to prepare one of the most complicated and ingenious vegetable recipes in the world: the Momo. It is a true ritual in which the entire village participates, a tradition governed by ancestral rules.

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