The Other Side of Eden , by Hugh Brody

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Native American history - Inuit / Eskimo culture - Hunter-gatherer society -
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by Hugh Brody

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The Other Side of Eden , by Hugh Brody

Hardcover - 376 pages
Published April 2001 by North Point Press
A division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 0-86547-610-1

to read an excerpt
from five pages
in Chapter 1

            Hugh Brody begins his work with a description of his visits to Inuit villages, which began in 1971 as part of his employment by the Canadian Department of Indian and Northern Affairs "... to give informed advice to Canadian policy makers." [page 24] At the Pond Inlet settlement in the Arctic, 60-year-old Simon Anaviapik invited Brody to live with the family, in their prefab multiroom house which adheres to modern government housing regulations. [36]

The Other Side of Eden , by Hugh Brody

The complete title of the book is
The Other Side of Eden : Hunters, Farmers and the Shaping of the World

            Jumping ahead to the appendix of notes [303] I find that the name Inuit is the newer (since the 1970s) and politically-correct name for Eskimos. The name is derived from the Inuit language, which is called Inuktitut. Inuk is the word for "person", and its plural, inuit means "people." Inuit is also the proper adjective.

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            Brody is quick to the point that Inuit society is "without authoritarianism" at all levels of daily life, even to the extent of parents trusting children to make decisions in their own best interest. [29]

            The author is also quick to introduce two other concepts that remain important throughout the book. One is the principle that the structure of language in a window to the subtleties of thoughts, feelings, and human interrelationships. The other is that hunter-gatherer societies have been consistently overpowered and dominated by colonialism and the encroachment by people who brought the farming way of life. The following anecdote exemplifies the message. Aniviapik explained to Brody that Inuktitut has several words that mean "fear", but the word ilira is the word used for such things as fear of "domineering and unkind fathers, people who are strong but unreasonable.... people or things that have power over you but can neither be controlled nor predicted." [41] Brody continues: "The word ilira goes to the heart of colonial relationships, and it helps to explain the many times that Inuit, and so many other peoples, say yes when they want to say no, or say yes, and then reveal, later, that they never meant it at all. Ilira is a word that speaks to the subtle but pervasive results of inequality." [41]

About the Author

Hugh Brody is an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker who has worked and traveled extensively among indigenous peoples. He is the author of several previous books .

(From the publisher)

            On a lighter note -- I know you were wondering about this legend that we've all heard -- yes, it's true that Inuktitut has many words for snow -- "... snow that has been rained on, powdery snow, windblown snow ....", and many other varieties, are distinguished in this extremely precise language. [47]

Table of Contents

The Other Side of Eden ,
by Hugh Brody

     Opening		     3

     1.  Inuktitut	     9
     2.  Creation	    63
     3.  Time		    99
     4.  Words		   159
     5.  Gods		   211
     6.  Mind		   259

     Notes		   301
     Bibliography	   351
     Acknowledgements	   361
     Index		   363

            In Chapter 2, Brody takes seriously the imagery of the Book of Genesis. After they are exiled from Eden, humans were dispersed over the earth, divided by the many languages they spoke, and forced to struggle to survive off the land. Brody observes, "The truth of genesis lies in the profound and disturbing insights it offers into the heart of the society and economy that come with -- and descend from -- agriculture. Farming has shaped much of the world -- its heritage, nations, and cultures." [79] Many facets of "town/country differences" [81] are laid out. The author surprised me here -- he pleasantly surprised me -- beginning with a mythical poem, but taking the train of reasoning toward an economic interpretation of history.

            Chapter 3 contains a beautifully constructed narrative of the early history of our species. Evidence indicates that our ancestors cooked food as early as 1.9 million years ago, and yet the oldest fossils of ancestors who walked upright (Homo erectus) are younger than that, dated at 1.5 million years. [110-111] That's right -- we cooked over fires before we even had the ability to stand up straight, which I find fascinating.

            The first people genetically the same as ourselves (Homo sapiens) are dated to 200,000 to 400,000 years (the time scale is in dispute). As late as 12,000 years ago, all human beings on earth were hunter-gatherers. [110-111]

            All features that we recognize as the institutions of modern civilization, including all conventions regarding government and private property, were only invented during the last one percent of our history. This fact appears to be somewhat of an embassassment to people who insist that fundamentally changing our social instititions would be impossible, as it would "violate human nature."

            Brody attacks the stereotype that hunter-gatherers are nomads and farmers are settled. "... it is the agriculturalists ... who are forced to keep moving, resettling, colonizing new lands." [86] The stereotype has been harmful by allowing excuses for cultural imperialism. Those who would like to appropriate the land of indigenous people go on to assert that "... the forests or tundra or desert where these people once lived their simple lives are now part of the global economy, with demands for timber, pulp, pasture, minerals, and space that originate in the developing industrial centers." [137] "Supporters of the colonial process have cited the apparent 'nomadism' of native populations to justify advances of the settlement frontier.... they equate a relative indifference to possessions and manmade monuments with a low level of human evolution." [152]

            Chapter 4, "Words", considers several ways in which language is significant.

            One tactic in the encroachment against hunter-gatherers by agricultural and industrial society has been the attempt to deprive native people of their own languages. Until recent times, In Canada, as in Australia and parts of Africa, government has enacted laws to force aboriginal childen to attend boarding schools where they were only permitted to speak English. [173-176]. An law passed in Canada in 1867 forced Inuit children to live at these abusive residential schools for ten months each year. [175]

            Brody moves on to other characteristics of language, such as the characteristics of oral history as contrasted with written history [197] and the elegant refinements of poetic metaphor which the vocabulary and grammar of Inuktitut make possible. [210]

            In Chapter 5, "Gods", Brody discusses elements of Inuit and general hunter-gatherer spirituality, including creation myths, dream interpretation, and shamanism.

            Chapter 6, "Mind", goes still deeper into linguistics and the thoughts behind words.

            Some Canadian courts have allowed that Inuit people may be deprived of their land unless the people being deprived could could prove to each court that they are "an organized society." [271] Brody goes to battle here: "What are the qualities by which society is judged to be organized? Rules and conventions of behavior, shared economic practices, common religious belief and customs -- these things are society." [271]

            Here Brody discusses the leap in evolution that modified the human brain to turn us into a species that always uses language to communicate. [279]. He delves into the linguistic theories of Noam Chomsky and Claude Levi-Strauss [286], and critiques the school of linguistics known as structuralism [287]. These analyses have led some readers and book critics to charge that the author digresses. I don't agree that Brody digresses, since the book in its entirely has been multidimensional, and the author clearly never intended to produce merely the simple story about his experiences living with an Inuit family.

            Brody closes with a reminder that -- "The encounter between hunter-gatherers and farmers is a history of loss to one kind of society, gain to another." [299] "Without the hunter-gatherers, humanity is diminished and cursed; with them, we can achieve a more complete version of ourselves." [300]

Reviewed by Mike Lepore for

            I strongly recommend this book to nonfiction readers who take an interest in history (particularly ancient history and Native American history), cultural anthropology, and sociology. I recommend it also to all readers who are sensitive to social justice and injustice, and are uncomfortable with the tendency of powerful nations to obliterate the cultures of their native inhabitants.

(376 pages, including 14-page 2-column index)

Please click here for price and shipping information ...
The Other Side of Eden , by Hugh Brody
Nonfiction - ISBN 0-86547-610-1 / 0865476101

Book Description
From the Publisher

            Hugh Brody first encountered hunting peoples when he lived among the Inuit of the High Arctic, who instructed him not only how to speak but how to do and be Inuktitut, "in the manner of an Inuk." Since then he has spent nearly three decades studying, learning from, crusading for, and thinking about hunter-gatherers, who survive at the margins of the vast, fertile lands occupied by farming peoples and their descendants, now the great majority of the world's population.

            In material terms, the hunters have been all but vanquished, yet in this profound and passionate book, Brody utterly dispels the notion that theirs is a lesser way of life. Drawing on his experiences among indigenous peoples as well as on the work of linguists, historians, and fellow anthropologists, he reveals the systems of thought, belief, and practice that distinguish the hunters from the farmers. Whereas the farmers are doomed to the geographical and spiritual restlessness embodied in the story of Genesis, Brody argues, the hunters' deep attachment to the place and ways of their ancestors stems from an enviable sense, distinctively expressed in thought, language, and behavior, that they are part of a web of relationships in the natural and spiritual worlds. Brody's aim, however, is not to elevate one mode of being over another; rather, it is to suggest that we might move beyond the familiar dichotomies and become more fully human.

Praise for The Other Side of Eden

            "Hugh Brody's The Other Side of Eden is an indispensable book. It creates a haunting symphony: part philosophy, part linguistics, part eulogy, it informs our deepest sensibilities as few books can. While Brody exquisitely ranges throughout history and the world at large, The Other Side of Eden is perhaps most a kind of documentary film of the soul of the Arctic, Brody's personal heartland. Nobody - nobody - writes better about the northern reaches of our planet Brody is absolutely fearless in his thinking, bold in his writing, generous in his knowledge and love of existence itself."

-- Howard Norman

            "Hugh Brody has written a learned, eloquent, and mysteriously moving introduction to the enduring culture of hunter-gatherers. But none of these adjectives does justice to the deeply transformative experience of reading The Other Side of Eden , which led me beyond the limits of familiar mythology, introduced me to people whose lives are radically different from my own, and reminded me, at the same time, that different as they are, hunter-gatherers are an essential piece of my humanity and I cannot truly understand myself without them."

-- Jonathan Rosen

            "A terrific read ... In part a fascinating memoir of Hugh Brody's decades of living with and working on behalf of native hunting and gathering peoples ... it is more importantly an examination of the ways in which freedom and intimacy with both family and location intersect in those cultures. Thus it offers us a model we ought to consider very seriously when setting out to rethink our own acquisitive, confrontational, divisive, warlike, and destructive ways."

-- William Kittredge

            "Penetrating meditation on traditional societies caught in the avalanche of modern times, and on the gentle infusion of the holistic vision, not only in regard to life and death, but in such quotidian concerns as good manners and the care of children. Wonderful!"

-- Peter Matthiessen

            "In this wondrous book, Hugh Brody takes us on many journeys - to the Arctic Circle and the origins of humanity, and deeper yet into the mysteries of language and culture, dreams and colonialism. By doing so with trans-lucid originality, he provides readers with the chance to question how their own modern lives are organized and, more crucially, what we must re-imagine about the past and the future if we are to survive as a truly thinking species."

-- Ariel Dorfman

Please click here for price and shipping information ...
The Other Side of Eden , by Hugh Brody
Nonfiction - ISBN 0-86547-610-1 / 0865476101
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