Playing at being primitive bah humbug.I enjoy stories of “primitive” tribes, but unlike many of the Westerners (often British) doing the reports I see things as a woman.

Yes, you are doing nicely playing macho and hunting, but if you were a woman and had a baby every 18 months, with the chronic backache and nausea, and still had to fetch wood for cooking and fetch water and dig in your garden, you just might prefer living in a town with running water, TV, and birthcontrol pills.

But that’s just me.

So the link is to an imaginary “tribe” of westerners who think they are living carbon negative lives. So what’s wrong with this picture?

Ryan, a twenty-five-year old from Hawaii, was our June chief on Vorovoro and he was teaching me how to free dive and spear fish.

Yes, but if you read on, he is using a $400 spear gun to do it. What, you didn’t bother to learn to make twine from local plants and knot them into a fishing net?

Then we have this:

One of our goals on Vorovoro Island is to become as self-sufficient as possible. To us that means we would like to be able to grow our own fruit, vegetables and herbs; bake our bread, roll our pasta, farm our chickens and goats, and catch our fish.

Bake bread. Roll pasta.
That requires wheat. Bread requires a different wheat from pasta wheat. Or are you eating cornbread? Funny, wheat doesn’t grow in the tropics. Where did they find it?

Rice should grow nicely. (wonder why they didn’t mention eating rice?) But of course, one doesn’t expect adventurers to dig ditches to irrigate rice fields, or to bend over in the hot sun ten hours a day to plant seedlings.

Of course, in native Fiji, they didn’t eat rice. I believe they ate sweet potatoes, bananas, taro, and breadfruit. Guess the “tribe” didn’t want to eat such things.

And look at their vegetable gardens:
Now we can at least harvest cabbages, capsicum and beans on a daily basis. I salivate at the thought of the day we can cross Fruitopia’s bridge.

Cabbages? Cabbages?
Where is this Island, in the North Sea?

Actually there are cabbages that grow here, but we rarely eat them. I think they come from Baguio, which is our mountain province.
And wait til they actually eat beans “on a daily basis”…hey fellas, don’t you know methane from farts is a green house gas?

I wonder what type of beans. Do they mean lentils? fava beans? Yard long beans (Asian String beans)? Mung beans?
And why don’t they plant eggplant or okra, which we eat every day here.

I have a great idea. We’ll open an “eco park” and let rich Yanks and Brits live like the average Pinoy did eighty years ago. Lolo, who is 80, can show them how to do it.

You can live on our farm. Of course, we’ll tell the farmers to get you a bamboo house, complete with lizards to eat the mosquitoes and holed in the bamboo floor to drain the dirt. You can cook by gathering wood, pump water by hand,  (yes, you can drink the irrigation water, but I wouldn’t advise it) and we’ll make sure the farmers don’t feel sorry for you and let you have a fan or a radio.

You can walk down the hill to buy cocacola and bread (pandesal) of course.  You can even take a tricycle into town and eat at Jolibee or McDonalds if you get hungry.

But if you want to live on local food, it means the local diet: we eat rice three times a day. No refrigerators, but rice is good if you keep it covered and off the floor. And I promise we don’t eat dog (at least if you ask, we say they only eat it in Pampanga, not here…but if Puti disappears, he might end up in the kettle instead of the pound).
For breakfast you eat rice, maybe with fish (tiny fish that are salted and dried, or bangus, milkfish) or maybe with canned milk or with an egg.

Lunch is rice and fish and vegetables, usually eggplant, okra and stringbeans. We are rich, so have local “free range” chicken, and once in awhile pork or “beef” from waterbuffalo, or goat.

No coffee and no tea. Milk from water buffalo. Beer is San Miguel, brewed and bottled locally. The local drink is Buku juice, from young coconuts. Thirsty? Climb 30 feet up that tree, and grab one.

With no refrigerator, you keep everything live until you eat it. Drop it on the floor, and Puti gets it, and if he misses it, the ants will find it in about ten minutes.

Oh yes: Have fun catching that “free range” chicken. No refrigerators, you know. It stays alive til you want to eat it.
Thanks to the Chinese, we have cloth (I wonder if the “primitives” in Fiji learned how to pound out tapa to wear?) and we have flipflops. (yes, you can go barefoot, but it may take six months for your feet to get thick skinned enough to do so).

In Fiji they used tapa cloth. Did you learn how to do it? It’s hard work. Here in the old days they used local fibers and wove them. Again, hard work.

In fact, everything is hard work. And the dirty little secret is that tropical paradises were not paradise for the sick, the elderly or the woman in labour.

Maybe the reason I am especially sarcastic is that this “tribe” is not really self sufficient.

If they break their hip, or get bitten by a snake, or develop Dengue fever, they know they’ll just be evacuated to a nice clean hospital bed.

And how much you want to bet the women playing at “primitive” are all on the pill?


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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