Jungle Life: Facts and Stories of the Piraha

| 6/15/2010 3:15:53 PM

A-photo-of-Evan-Blake-WelchDan Everett is a linguist and former missionary who spent much of his life living with and studying the Piraha people of the Amazon tributary, the Maici River. I wrote this piece on the Piraha, but it’s thanks to Dan that the information is available. His book is called Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes. It’s mainly about Piraha culture and how it influences the Piraha’s unique language. Everett comes from a rural area and credits it for many of his abilities to live remotely. Below are some facts and stories I found interesting about the tribe.

Don't Sleep There Are Snakes cover imageChildren

An arms length from her child a mother sits watching the baby walk straight for the crackling fire. A guttural voice of disapproval is nonchalantly issued, but that’s as far as her parenting goes. The baby is scorched, unchided but in pain. It’s a tough lesson but children are considered equals to adults no later than when they're weaned in the Piraha tribe; children are treated with the same objectivity dealt by nature. Toughness is necessary for jungle life, and learning quickly is imperative to their survival.

Child weaning is a traumatic experience for the kids. It’s a right of passage for them making them accountable for finding their own food. Crying and pleading for milk is ignored, forcing the child to learn to find his/her own food.

Baby talk doesn’t exist. Babies and children are spoken to with the same tone and respect that an adult would use with another adult in our Western society.

Relationships and ‘Marriage’

Tim Upham
1/17/2012 8:39:35 PM

What makes the Piraha language so unique, is that it is not related to any other language in the world. That is the reason why Brazil must make every effort to preserve its indigenous languages. Peru just passed a law requiring it to place all of it government documents in its 80 indigenous languages, maybe Brazil may want to follow suit, because not everybody speaks Portuguese. In doing so, Brazil would be preserving its unique cultural heritage.

Nebraska Dave
6/15/2010 8:03:41 PM

Evan, it’s always interesting to me to see how other cultures deal with the common issues of life. I have traveled through many Central American countries and have friends in some of those countries. Their life styles are much different than mine but still they are quite happy with their lives. Language is another fascinating thing. I often wonder if other cultures like the Piraha people have an evolving language like the English language or does it remain basically the same? The Piraha people language sounds like it’s limited in concept communication and perhaps they really don’t care about philosophical things anyway. I’m not really a person to talk about philosophical things either. Thanks for sharing your story about the Piraha people group.

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