The snows of Kilimanjaro

The story we have been told is that the indigenous people leave a much lighter footprint on the planet and there are many things we, Western consumerists, could learn from them. In tune with the nature, harmonious and sustainable, indigenous lifestyle has always been a fetish of the progressive, eco-minded left. The linked article injects a dose of reality into this romantic notion.

A couple of Kiwi adventurers spent two weeks living in the Maasai village in Kenya. Over that period they did enjoy some of the rewards expected to be delivered by indigenous lifestyle like beautiful views, closeness to wildlife and being able to cuddle a baby goat. But, on top of that, their daily reality included some shockers:

Most westerners can’t fathom living without internet for 14 days, let alone living without electricity, running water, and fresh food.

A shower for us consisted of using a drink bottle of water to wash, and as water was scarce we only showered every 2-3 days.

On our first full day, we went looking for a calf which had escaped from the group. Within half an hour of walking, we came across the calf or rather half of the calf. The other half of it had been eaten by lions.

We then started looking for firewood and putting the sticks into piles. Once a pile was big enough a strap was tied around the bundle, the bundle was hoisted on to the woman’s back and the strap was carried against the woman’s head. Both Oscar and I had a go at carrying the sticks for the half hour walk back home and it was extremely uncomfortable as the strap exerted a huge pressure on your head from the weight of the wood and the sticks struck into your back as you walked.

That same day we went to collect water, something we would do a few times over the course of the two weeks. Heavy jerry cans of water would be carried back to the village in the same way as the firewood, on your back with a scarf around your forehead. With a village of 200 people an immense amount of water had to be carried back.

One of the days we were invited to have some meat with the men (…) The crackling was really tasty when you could ignore the pieces of animal hair which were still attached.

And now some absolute beauties which should delight the feminist progressives:

What we quickly learnt was that Maasai live in a patriarchal society with extreme gender bias. Women do absolutely everything, including all of the hard physical labour. They look after the children, cook, clean, shop, fetch water, fetch firewood, herd cattle, build houses, and take down houses while the men sit under trees all day. I can almost guarantee that a man in that village has never once collected water or firewood.

While impressively small, the carbon footprint of the indigenous lifestyle does not buy a lot in term of the basic comforts we in the West consider prerequisite for a fulfilling life. Also, on closer examination, most indigenous groups exhibit some very unappealing characteristics like inequality, violence, misogyny and exploitation (Maasai are far from the worst in that regard). It does not mean that the West should not get smarter but using indigenous lifestyles as a template seems more retrograde than progressive to me.




2 Responses to “The snows of Kilimanjaro”

  1. Voytek Klepatski Says:

    A real test would be sustainability of the indigenous lifestyle. Would the natives of Kenya give up their low carbon footprint way of living given a chance to have more comforts and variety in their lives?
    Of course they would

  2. da-boss Says:

    Yes – sitting under a tree all day sounds rather boring…

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