Ancient North Eurasians

Ancient North Eurasians lived in Siberia during the Ice Age. Their DNA is a genetic ‘missing link’ between Europeans, Iranians, Siberians and the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Japan.

Ancient North Eurasians lived 25,000 years ago, during the last Glacial Maximum. At the time, homo sapiens lived-in scattered bands across Africa, Eurasia and Australia who seldom met. Some groups survived and passed on their genes; others did not. As these bands lived in different climates and lived distinct lifestyles for thousands of years, they tended to look different. Because most modern peoples descend from numerous lineages, groups like the Ancient North Eurasians do not correspond to any one people today.

Ancient hunter-gatherers periodically returned to the same sites where they deposited tools, the bones of hunted animals and their dead. Archaeologists link sites to common cultures. Archaeogeneticists connect archaeological sites with genetic lineages.

Three sites are associated with the Ancient North Eurasians:

  • Mal’ta Buret’ culture
  • Yana Rhinocerous Site
  • Anfontova Gora

Remains indicate the ANE were hunter-gatherers with partial Neanderthal ancestry. They hunted hares, bears, bison, mammoths, horses and reindeer and built their houses from antlers and bone. Their tools were made from ivory and flint, their clothes from wool and hide. The Mal’ta Buret culture left over 30 ‘Venus figurines’ made from mammoth ivory (pictured). A 2021 study suggests ANE were the first people to domesticate dogs.

The Mal’ta boy was a four-year-old child buried near Lake Baikal, Siberia. He wore an ivory crown, a bead necklace and a pendant shaped like a bird. Genetic sequencing indicates the boy was a typical Ancient North Eurasian who shares DNA with both modern Europeans and Native Americans.

Until the 2000s, scientists thought Native Americans were of entirely East Asian origin. The Mal’ta boy, however, shares no DNA with modern East Asians, indicating the humans who first crossed the Bering Landbridge were of mixed East Asian and ANE ancestry.

Preserved bodies like the Mal’ta boy had brown hair, dark eyes and medium-light skin. The Anfontova Gora site contains the oldest known person to have blonde hair – a woman living around 16,000 BC. 

Over time, the Ancient North Eurasians dispersed and interbred with different populations. In the west, they became herders who spoke proto-Indo-European languages. Others interbred with hunter-gatherers from East Asia, crossed the Bering Land bridge and populated the Americas.

Estimated ANE ancestry among modern peoples:

  • Indigenous Americans – 14-38 (highest among Andean peoples)
  • Modern Europeans – 10-25%
  • Ainu – 21%
  • South Asians (Indians) – 10 – 20%
  • Iranians – 10-20%

The Kets (above), an isolated group of Siberian hunter-gatherers, have 40% Ancient North Eurasian ancestry.

By noting common elements across mythologies, legends and folk beliefs of their descendants, we can theorise what the ANE might have believed. The traditions of India, Scandinavia, Greece, Siberia and the Americas – from the Sioux to the Aztec – have only one ‘mytheme’ in common: a dog who guards the entrance to the afterlife.

Sources: BBC, DNA Consultants, Nature, National Library of Medicine

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The Apache

Native American Warriors and Battles Pictures - Native ...

The Apache are a Native American people from the southwestern United States. They resisted the Spanish and Mexicans for centuries and were the last Native Americans to submit to the USA. Today, they live in seven reservations across Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

The Apache were never a single nation. They lived in different tribes, including the Chiricahua, Lipan and Mescalero, who spoke a common language and shared a common way of life. Historically, the Chiricahua were the most defiant. 

Apaches speak an Athabaskan language, closely related to Navajo, and distantly to Tlingit. Their ancestors migrated from Siberia thousands of years after the initial settlement of the Americas and lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers. Over the centuries, Apache drifted from Alaska to the Great Plains of the USA, where they hunted buffalo and trained dogs.

In the 18th century, the Comanche drove the Apache into the deserts and mountains of the American Southwest. As the land was barren and lacking in buffalo, Apache raided for supplies, their victims the settled Puebloans and Spanish colonists.

Traditionally, Apache lived in wikiups and tipis. They mainly hunted deer, pronghorn and rabbits, gathered a range of wild plants and made clothing from leather and buckskin. Women fought alongside the men.

LAND OF THE APACHES… - gypsywagens

In the Southwest, the Apache became expert guerrilla fighters. They struck isolated farms and villages, seizing resources and livestock, then melted away into the mountains and deserts. Their unsurpassed tracking skills and ability to survive in extreme climates made the Apaches a tenacious foe. Hundreds of Apache scouts would serve in the US military.

The Apache fought the Spanish for 120 years, the Mexicans for 80 and the Americans for 25. 

Apache paintings

While Apache saw raiding as a necessary peacetime activity, their enemies considered it an act of war. In 1835, the Mexican government issued ‘scalp bounties’ for killing Apaches– 100 pesos for a man, 50 for a woman and 25 for a child. Bounty hunters made a living murdering Apache, and revenge killings intensified. 

The US – Apache Wars (1853 – 1886) were the longest in American history. When the USA took over Arizona and New Mexico, they found themselves at odds with their new neighbours. Apaches raided with ferocity, while the US broke treaties constantly and forced Apaches onto barren reservations. Disaffected Apache broke out and fought as guerrillas in the hills.

Four great leaders fought the Americans and Mexicans:

  • Mangas Coloradas (Red Sleeves) – raided both sides of the border, murdered at peace talks in 1863.
  • Cochise – fought the United States for ten years after being wrongfully accused of kidnapping, died of natural causes in 1874.
  • Victorio – led a breakout of 200 warriors, killed at Tres Castillos in 1881.
'The Apache Wars' gives history of forgotten conflict ...

Geronimo (pictured right) led the last rebellion in 1886. With only 37 warriors, he held out in the Dragoon Mountains of southern Arizona for one year while 5,000 soldiers – a quarter of the US army – hunted him down. When Geronimo surrendered, the US took him and 300 Chiricahua to captivity in Florida then to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where most died of tuberculosis. They did not return until 1912. Geronimo became the most famous Apache and a figure of American myth.

As of 2010, there are 111,810 people of Apache descent. Most live one of 11 federally recognised reservations:

  • Apache Tribe of Oklahoma
  • Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma 
  • Jicarilla Apache Nation, New Mexico 
  • Mescalero Reservation, New Mexico 
  • Fort Apache Reservation, Arizona 
  • San Carlos Reservation, Arizona 
  • Tonto Apache Tribe of Arizona 
  • Camp Verde Indian Reservation, Arizona

Sources: Dan Carlin – Apache Tears, Chiricahua Apache Nation, Indians.org, Legends of the Old West, Mescalaro Apache Tribe

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Plains Nations

Sand Creek Massacre one of America's dark moments

The Plains Nations, or Plains Indians, are the indigenous peoples of the North American prairie. Many of the traditions outsiders associate with Native Americans in general, such as tipis, buffalo hunts and war bonnets, are specific to the plains.

Prominent Plains Nations include:

Study shows wildfires are increasing on the Great Plains ...
  • Arapaho
  • Blackfeet
  • Cheyenne
  • Comanche
  • Osage
  • Pawnee
  • Kiowa
  • Sioux

The Great Plains extend from the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Mississippi in the east, from Alberta to Texas. Like the steppes of Eurasia, they are a flat land of endless grass. In ages past, millions of buffalo roamed. 

The plains people lived for thousands of years in small bands that fought and traded with one another. Some hunted game and lived in tipis as nomads. Others farmed maize and tobacco in small villages. Some did both. For many plains people, buffalo were essential. They provided not only food but raw materials for clothing, tipis and tools. 

I'm from South Dakota, and I promise you the Great Plains ...

Plains people were among the tallest in the world, averaging a foot taller than their white American counterparts, and enjoying better nutrition. Today on plains reservations, obesity and alcoholism are rife

Plains Nations shared belief in a ‘Great Spirit’ and a female earth deity. Most tribes celebrated the Sun Dance, an annual ceremony of singing and dancing lasting four days. Medicine men healed and provided spiritual guidance. The modern Native American Church interprets Christianity through a Native American framework and uses peyote as a sacrament.

Horses revolutionised life on the Great Plains. Starting with the Comanche, Plains Nations acquired horses from the Spanish and embraced a nomadic culture. Instead of farming and hunting small game, they could move with the buffalo herds and hunt them at will. In war they fired arrows at full gallop.

https://www.legendsofamerica.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/ComancheIndians.jpg
Comanche, 1850s

Plains nations raided the Mexican and white-American settlements which encroached on their land, taking livestock and captives and disappearing before their foes could track them down. The ferocity of these raids and the barrenness of the landscape discouraged white settlement – for over a century, they halted Spanish, Mexican and Texan expansion. Instead, settlers chose the safer and more fertile coasts and river valleys of the continent. By 1850, the USA claimed both coasts, but the Great Plains remained free. 

New technology allowed the USA to settle the plains in the late 1800s.

  • Nitrate fertiliser allowed farming on previously infertile grassland.
  • Semi-automatic guns could outpace the native bow-and-arrow.
  • Railroads allowed fast travel across great distances.

The US ended raids and opened the land for settlement by killing the buffalo and the tribes who hunted them. Disease decimated the native populations and left them outnumbered. Those who could no longer fight back signed treaties and moved onto reservations.

Ogalala Sioux, 1800s

In the 1870s, settlers discovered gold in South Dakota and thronged into Sioux lands. A Cheyenne-Sioux-Arapaho coalition defeated the US at Little Bighorn in 1876 but surrendered by the 1880s. The Ghost Dance movement briefly revived hopes of independence, but the 7th Cavalry crushed the dream in 1890 when they massacred 200 at Wounded Knee.

In the 20th century, many Plains people lived in poverty on reservations. Meanwhile, the 19th century Sioux brave, mounted with bow and arrow and wearing a feathered war-bonnet, became the image of the stereotypical Native American in world media. Western literature and cinema either romanticised the plains peoples or painted them as bloodthirsty killers. Today, activists campaign for the US government to honour past treaties and compensate for their past crimes.

Why spirituality is central to understanding the Standing ...
Standing Rock, 2017

Sources: Akta Lakota Museum Cultural Centre, Indians.org, Legends of America, Scientific American

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Inuit Mythology

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Inuit Mythology covers the indigenous myths and legends of Arctic North America. These myths eschew the creation narratives of most traditions in favour of grisly cautionary tales. They are often as harsh as the environment which made them. Their deities blend the concepts of spirits, humans, animals and monsters.

The Inuit worldview is animistic. Invisible spirits called tornait (singular, tornit) imbue every aspect of the world. Most are harmful and held in fear and reverence by humans. As natural death is so common in the Arctic, respecting taboos and superstitions is essential. Tornait can take the visible form of stones, bears or humans.

Inuit deities resemble powerful tornait, to be feared and appeased rather than worshipped. These include:

  • Sedna, ruler of Adlivun
  • Anguta, her father and guide of dead souls. In some Greenland traditions, he is a creator god.
  • Nanook – spirit of polar bears
  • Malina – spirit of the sun
  • Igaluk – spirit of the moon

Adlivun is the world beneath the sea. Spirits of the dead travel to this frozen wasteland when they die and remain for a year, then travel to the elusive Land of the Moon, where deer roam and no snow falls. Shamans called annagguit may travel to Adlivun in their dreams to appease the goddess Sedna when a taboo is broken.

Sedna is the mistress of animals. She was once a human woman, tricked into marriage by an evil spirit or, in some traditions, a fulmar.

Her father, Anguta, slew the spirit and took Sedna back on his canoe. On the way home, however, a terrible storm brewed that threatened to kill them both. To appease the ocean, Sedna’s father pushed her off the boat. When she grabbed a hold of the canoe, Anguta cut off her fingers and sent Sedna to the bottom of the sea. 

Her fingers became the creatures of the ocean – the seals, walrus, whales and fish. She descended to Adlivun, where she transformed into a walrus-like creature that rules the underwater realm to this day.

In the Land of the Moon, ancestral spirits play a game with a walrus’s head. Their movements form the Aurora Borealis.

Malina, the spirit of the sun, was once a beautiful woman. Her brother Igaluk lusted after her and made her flee across the sky. To this day, Igaluk chases his sister, neglecting even to eat. As time passes, he withers until he disappears for three days eat once more. Occasionally, on a solar eclipse, he catches up. Igaluk lives on an igloo on the moon with the souls of dead animals. The legend differs amongst tribes: in some versions, the sister is the moon, the brother the sun.

.: INUIT MYTHOLOGY:.

Legends of Sauman Kar -an ancient race of giants– are likely misremembered accounts of the Dorset Culture who lived in the Arctic before the Inuit came. Other mythical creatures include polar bears who walk upright and live in igloos, akhlut – wolf-orca hybrids and qallupaluit – hideous creatures who lurk in the ocean and drown disobedient children. 

Sources: Franz Boas – The Central Eskimo (1888), Canadian Encyclopedia, Inuit Myths, Philip Wilkinson – Myths and Legends (2009)

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Haida

Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson

Haida are the indigenous people of Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, and Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, USA. Traditionally they lived by fishing, hunting, raiding and trade.

Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, consists of two main islands and 150 smaller ones. Biologists call it the ‘Galapagos of the North’. The temperate rainforest that covers the islands includes trees over 100 meters tall and moss seven inches thick. Unique species include the Sitka spruce and Haida Gwaii black bear. Migrating birds from around the world nest, and seals and whales beach in Haida Gwaii. Salmon fill its rivers. Today, the archipelago falls under Haida heritage areas and National Parks.

Haida were hunter-gatherers. In lands so abundant in fish and wildlife, however, they could settle in one place and sustainably forage rather than move from place to place – a rare luxury in hunter-gatherer societies. Haida gathered edible plants, hunted deer, birds and bear, and caught salmon and seafood. From hollowed red cedars, they carved canoes that took them as far as California, where Haida not only traded but plundered and enslaved.

There were once 100 self-governing villages in Haida Gwaii. Their people identified with one of two clans – the raven and the eagle. One could only marry a member of the other. Within each clan were 20 lineages, each of which had economic rights to particular groves, rivers and fishing grounds.

Haida art exemplifies the distinct Pacific Northwest style, with stylised depictions of animals such as ravens, eagles, orcas and bears carved and painted onto wood. Symbolising lineage, these images traditionally decorate Haida canoes, houses and, most famously, totem poles. Haida manga began publication in 2001.

Stanley Park Haida Totem Poles | The rich cultural ...

The potlatch ritualises social and economic ties between lineages and commemorate births, weddings and deaths. In these public ceremonies, attendants exchange gifts, perform dances and music and settle disputes. They are essential to Haida culture.

Haida worldview was essentially animistic, with a supreme being at the top. Today most mix Christianity with traditional beliefs. As in Pacific Northwest and Koryak traditions, the trickster Raven is central to Haida myth. His schemes inadvertently create the fabric of our world.

The Haida’s ancestors migrated to the islands at the end of the Ice Age 13,000 years ago, when the rainforests emerged. Their customs and folklore bear striking similarities to the Koryak people of eastern Siberia, meaning the two are likely related.

File:Haida canoe.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

When Europeans made contact in 1723, there were around 50,000 Haida. An 1863 smallpox outbreak emptied their villages. By the time Canada annexed Haida Gwaii in 1900, there were only 500 left, a number sustained to this day. Like other First Nations, Haida children were victims of the Canadian Indian residential school system in the 20th century. Today there are 501 Haida, 445 of whom speak the language. The name ‘Haida Gwaii’ (meaning Islands of the People), was restored in 2009.

Sources: American Anthropologist, Canadian Encyclopedia, Coast Funds

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Inuit

An elderly Inuit man, Aarulaq, wearing a duffle parka and ...

Inuit are the indigenous people of the North American Arctic. They live in Greenland and the polar regions of Alaska and Canada. Their ancestors migrated from Asia around 1000, making them the last indigenous people to settle the Americas. 

Inuit means ‘the people’ in Inuktitut. A singular Inuit is an Inuk. 

The word ‘Eskimo’ refers to the related peoples of the Arctic Circle who speak Eskimo-Aleut languages, including Inuit, the Aleuts of Alaska and the Yupik of Kamchatka. Eskimo means ‘snow shoes’ in Algonquin but scholars once thought it came from the Cree ‘askipiw’, meaning ‘eater of raw flesh’. That etymology is now disproven, though Eskimo is still considered derogatory in Canada. Inuit is preferred. 

Eskimos of Alaska construct an igloo, 1924 | Inuit, Igloo ...
Inuit in 1920

The ancestors of the Inuit crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia a thousand years ago. Known as the ‘Thule Culture’, their ancestors displaced the Dorset people who came before them and spread across the American Arctic. The Thule had greater numbers and husky-driven sledges which the Dorset lacked. The last Dorset group perished in 1903. Owing to their later migration, Inuit are more closely related to the indigenous Siberians than other Amerindian and First Nations groups. 

Inuit have adapted to the most extreme conditions of any human society. In the Arctic, temperatures can reach -50° and there are periods of 24-hour darkness in winter. There is no wood or domesticable animals. Agriculture is impossible. The traditional Inuit diet was 75% fat and in winter, 100% meat and fish.

Inuit drove sledges, wore fur coats and built skin tents in summer and igloos in winter. They fished, and hunted seals, walrus, caribou and whales, and made harpoons from narwhal horns and walrus ivory. Their adaption to polar environments meant Inuit settlers thrived in Greenland while Norse colonies perished. Kayaks are an Inuit invention. 

European whalers made contact with Inuit in the 1700s. By the 19th century, the measles, smallpox, tuberculosis and alcohol they introduced had killed 90% of the Inuit population.

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By the early 20th century, Inuit were hunting with guns and using metal tools. Many made a living selling fox pelts to white traders. Some attended missionary schools but were largely independent of mainstream Canadian society.

The Canadian government asserted control over the Inuit from 1939. Government assimilation policies forced Inuit children into residential boarding schools and assigned them state-sanctioned names. Abuse was rampant. They resettled nomadic Inuit into permanent settlements to lay claim to parts of the Arctic, ended their traditional way of life and forced them into the modern economy. The decimation of whale populations, melting ice caps and oil drilling has since made the traditional Inuit lifestyle untenable.

In the 1970s, university-educated Inuit lobbied for land claims and self-representation. The territory of Nunavut, which is majority Inuit, became self-governing in 1993. 

Map of Canada highlighitng the Nunavut and Nunavik regions

Today, Canadian Inuit live in four autonomous regions, each located north of the treeline.

  • Inuvialuit (Northwest Territories)
  • Nunavut (own territory)
  • Nunavik (Quebec)
  • Nunatsiavut (Newfoundland and Labrador)

Greenland, though under Danish sovereignty, is 80% Inuit. As in Canada, the Danish government resettled Inuit into towns and forced changes in diet and occupation. Resettlement, overfishing and climate change destroyed their traditional way of life in a mere generation. Greenland gained home rule in 1979.

Blanket Toss in Utqiagvik, Alaska

Modern Inuit are impoverished minorities in their respective countries. Many live in isolated communities with little access to roads and hospitals. Canadian Inuit live 15 -20 years less than the average citizen. In both Greenland and Canada, suicide is six times the national average. 

It is not all, however, so bleak. Inuit culture is seeing a revival across Alaska, Greenland and Canada. Traditional visual art and throat singing is taught across the Inuit homeland, and in Nunavut, most children now learn Inuktitut as a first language.

Sources: Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, Inuit Tapariit Kanatami, Minority Rights Group

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Taiwanese Negritos

Climb Snow Mountain, Taiwan

The Austronesian speaking tribes of Taiwan are recognised as the island’s indigenous inhabitants. But what if they were not the first? Oral tradition among the Saisiyat people points to an earlier population resembling the ‘Negritos’ of Southeast Asia, who died out long ago. If true, then this ancient group would be the first human beings to live in Taiwan.

‘Negritos’, or Asiatic Pygmies, is the word ethnographers use for the indigenous peoples of maritime Southeast Asia. Unlike the dominant Malay, Indonesian and Fillipino populations, Negritos are under 150 cm and dark-skinned. They include groups like the Aeta, Semang and Sentinelese, who although diverse in culture and language, share a similar appearance. Negritos descend from the first people to arrive in Southeast Asia and were displaced by more numerous farmers and seafarers 5,000 years ago.

The Saisiyat are an aboriginal group of 6,000 from northwestern Taiwan. Anthropologists believe the Saisiyat to be among the first peoples to settle Taiwan. Among them exist oral accounts of an earlier Negrito population.

Every two years
, the Saisiyat celebrate Pas’tai’ai – the ‘Ritual to the Short People’, and the tribe’s largest celebration. Thousands gather to sing, dance and drink rice wine, wearing blades of silver grass to protect them from ill-fortune. Performers wear coloured robes, beads, mirrors and bells which clang as they dance. Other rituals take place in secret and are closed to outsiders. Pas’tai’ai takes place on the tenth lunar month and lasts several nights. The festival was at risk of dying out until its revitalisation in the the 2010s.

Legend has it that the Saisiyat once lived by a tribe of dark-skinned ‘short people’ they called the ‘Ta’ai’. A river separated the two peoples. Relationships were cordial until around a thousand years ago, the Ta’ai took interest in Saisiyat women. According to one version, they made advances on the chieftain’s wife during the harvest festival. In anger, the Saisiyat turned on the Ta’ai and killed all but two. Some versions say they forced a battle; others say they cut down a bridge; some say a tree fell on the Ta’ai.

The two survivors were elders.
They warned the Saisiyat that the spirits of their people would curse them unless they kept their culture alive. The elders then taught the Saisiyat the dances and songs of the T’ai, which they recited every two years to this day. Local caves said to house the Ta’ai spirits are forbidden to visitors. The Saisiyat tell of sickness and misfortune befalling those who visit them.

The Ta’ai of legend resemble Philippine Negritos. Dutch colonists of the 1600s claimed accounts of ‘Little People’ were once common, and similar, though less developed, accounts still exist amongst the Tsou tribes of Taiwan.

AETA PEOPLE: ONE OF THE FIRST AFRICAN NATIVES OF ASIA AND ...
Aeta people are indigenous to Luzon, Phillippines

Archaeologists have found no trace of an earlier, Negrito presence in Taiwan. A 2019 genetic study, however, noted ‘strong genetic affinity’ between the Saisiyat and Atayal, and Philippine Negritos, but stated this ‘could not support a past Negrito presence in Taiwan’.

Folk tales of pixie and dwarf-life people are common in other Austronesian cultures, particularly the Haiwaiian and Māori traditions. However, the Ta’ai of Saisiyat folklore do resemble real people in the neighbouring Philippines. As hunter-gatherers leave less remains than settled communities, it is entirely possible there was once a small Negrito population living in the mountains of Taiwan. Their memory lives on in a thousand year old ritual still held today.

Sources: BBC, Edelweiss Journal of Biomedical Research and Review, Taiwan Museum Reuters

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Taiwanese Aborigines

BIGCAT: The beautiful original peoples of Taiwan

Taiwanese aborigines are the original people of Taiwan. They settled the island over 6,000 of years ago. Today, most Taiwanese are of Han Chinese ancestry – the 569,000 aborigines are 2% of the population. They belong to around 20 different tribes.

The Austronesian language family began in Taiwan. In ancient times, settlers from Taiwan took to the sea. Their descendants became the modern inhabitants of Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Polynesia. Of the 9 subdivisions in the Austronesian language family, 8 are exclusive to Taiwan. The descendants of those who remained are the modern Taiwanese aborigines.

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Taiwanese aborigines did not consider themselves a single people but as members of one tribe or another, such as the Truku or Atayal. Some lived in the island’s western plains, where most Taiwanese cities stand today, others in the wilder, mountainous west.

The plains tribes lived in bamboo villages. They grew millet, fished and hunted deer. When the Dutch colonised Taiwan (Formosa) in the 1600s, mass-scale Han Chinese immigration assimilated the plain tribes. The modern Taiwanese census does not recognise the 200,000 or so plains aborigines as a separate people.

The mountain tribes had little contact with settlers until the 19th century. Headhunting was a common rite of passage. In some tribes, if a man did not take an enemy’s head in his life, he would not pass into the next. Mountain tribes hunted wild game and had facial tattoos. They traded pelts and camphor to Han settlers in exchange for guns and iron.

In response to raids, the Japanese invaded Taiwan’s interior in the 1890s. They considered the aboriginals barbarians to be vanquished, and over the next forty years, cowed the indigenous tribes one by one.

When the Sediq rebelled in 1930, Japanese authorities bombarded them with artillery and killed 600.

Taiwanese aborigines fought as specialist jungle troops for Japan in WW2. One of them, Terumo Nakamura, did not surrender until 1974.

The Kuomintang dictatorship that ruled Taiwan from 1945 – 1987, pushed a vigorous assimilation campaign through interrmarriage and education.

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Bunun people, c.1900.

The Yami people live on Orchid Island off the coast of Taiwan. In 1982 their government dumped nuclear waste on the island, which the Yami have protested since.

Aborigines have been a minority since the 1700s. In modern, democratic Taiwan, they face higher mortality, poverty and unemployment than Chinese-Taiwanese. Of their twenty known languages, ten are now extinct, the rest endangered. Those who move to the cities risk losing their culture, those who stay face poverty.

In the 1860s, European missionaries exploited aboriginal animosity for the Han colonial system to win converts. Today, most aborigines are Christian.

Taiwanese aborigines - AnthroScape

In the 21st century, Taiwan has begun to embrace its aboriginal heritage as a means to distinguish it from mainland China. Aboriginal groups have made been slowly reviving their culture through tourism and education.

In 2016, Taiwanese president Tsai-Ing-Wen, herself of aboriginal descent, officially apologised on behalf of the government for historic oppression of the aboriginal community. She declared August 1st Indigenous People’s Day.

Sources: Cultural Survival, Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs and Steel (1997), New York Times, Taipei Times.

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Ruc People

The Ruc are a small tribe indigenous to the mountains of Quang Ngai province, Vietnam. Until 1959, they lived in complete isolation from the outside world as they had for thousands of years. The Ruc were hunter-gatherers who lived in caves and grottos and shunned contact with mainstream Vietnamese society. Upon their discovery, the North Vietnamese government forced their integration. Today they no longer live as hunter-gatherers and are recognised as one of Vietnam’s 53 ethnic minorities.

Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site, is a land of dense mountain jungle that houses the world’s largest caves and oldest limestone deposit. The Ruc have lived there since the Stone Age and their name means ‘cave people’ in a local dialect.

To the ethnic Vietnamese that farmed the lowlands, these mountains were a wilderness home to dangerous beasts and mysterious tribes. Though their ancestors likely settled northern Vietnam at the same time, while the lowlanders adopted agriculture and formed kingdoms, the Ruc and their cousins maintained a hunter-gatherer lifestyle free from outside influence.

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In 1959, a group of North Vietnamese soldiers were investigating the aftermath of a bombing in the mountains of Quang Ngai when they spotted a band of ‘forest people’. The strangers were short, naked and incredibly agile. They fled up trees and into caves and grottos. The soldiers followed them and spent all day persuading eleven families to relocate to a nearby village.

Rather than leave them be, the authorities forced integration. According to communist doctrine, history is progressive and the Ruc would be better off by settling down and adapting to modern, agricultural society than remaining in their primitive and oblivious state. By 1971 the Ruc had all abandoned their caves and were living in permanent homes.

The Ruc moved into state-provided houses, and their numbers grew from 109 in 1971 to 500 today. Many longed for their old ways, however, and to this day some still live in caves up to three months a year. In 2013 Ho Tien Nam became the first Ruc to graduate from university. He now works as a teacher.

Anthropologists place the Ruc language in the Chut group, which encompasses five other indigenous tongues and is part of the Austroasiatic family. Their ancestors may have retreated to the mountains when farmers settled northern Vietnam. Their language is small and, because they had no tribal or family names, after 1971 they took Vietnamese ones.

Following the Mysterious kha-nyou | Animal behavior ...

Traditionally the Ruc foraged for food, mainly the edible powder of the Doac tree, fished and hunted small animals. They slept standing up. Ruc believed in magic and cast spells to protect from pregnancy, stave off wild beasts or in, in some cases, cause harm. These spells and rituals are upheld by elders with secrecy and reverence. In 2005, scientists identified the small animal Ruc hunted as the Laotian Rock Rat, an animal they thought died out 11 million years ago.

Sources: English-Vietnam, Species Conservation, Spiritual Travellers Blog, UNESCO

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Uttermost Part of the Earth

UntitledUttermost Part of the Earth (1948), by E. Lucas Bridges, is the definitive story of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. The memoirs of the land’s ‘third white native’, it details his life amongst the indigenous Fuegians, their cultures and the effects of colonisation. Part autobiography, part ethnography, part history book and part adventure novel, Uttermost Part of the Earth is the most detailed account we have on a people now extinct.

Lucas Bridges (1874 – 1948) was the eldest son of Reverend Thomas Bridges, who established the Anglican Mission at Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego. He grew up amongst the coastal Yaghan people and, as a young man, explored the island’s interior, where previously uncontacted tribes lived.

AF Tschifferly, who rode from Argentina to Washington DC on horseback, convinced Bridges (below) to write down his stories. In his 70s, Bridges applied his lifelong energy to writing this book. It describes his later life – service in WW1, adventures in Paraguay and South Africa, only in passing. Tierra del Fuego is the focus.

The book five parts:Lucas Bridges y las creencias religiosas de los selk'nam ...

  • Ushuaia, 1826-1887: European exploration, Bridge’s early life, the Yaghan.
  • Haberton, 1887 – 1899: adventures on the coast, the Manek’enk (Aush), first contact with the Selk’nam.
  • The Road to Najmishk (1900-1902): Selk’nam conflict, adventures in the interior
  • A Hut in Ona Land (1902-1907) Bridges’ sheep farm. Selk’nam culture, Fuegian animals, myths and legends.
  • The Estancia Viamonte, (1907-1910) The story concludes.

Vivid descriptions bring the prehistoric wilderness of Tierra del Fuego to life, its rugged cliffs and islands, snowy forests, mountains, moors and bogs, and the creatures who call it home. Bridges alternates between the main narrative and such descriptions, peppering them with strange and fantastic anecdotes.

While his father dedicated his life to transliterating the Yaghan language, Bridges is most interested in the mysterious tribe beyond the mountains. After making contact, he lives and hunts amongst the Selk’nam hunter-gatherers (whom he calls ‘Ona’, their Yaghan name) for over ten years. He learns their language and customs, makes friends and enemies, and is eventually the only outsider initiated to their lodge. His accounts cover everything from courtship to clothing to secret societies and the Selk’nam’s (lack of) religion. Though the author veers on paternalistic, he treats the Fuegians with genuine respect and is free from the naked racism so common in his time. He tries but does not succeed, to ‘soften the blow of civilization’ and help the Selkn’am adapt. They left no records of their own.

The cast of characters can be bewildering. Many key players have unfamiliar Fuegian names. Bridges does well, however, in describing their backgrounds and personalities, while reminding the reader of past events. Memorable individuals include the insane ‘wizard’ Minkiyolh, the hunter Ahnikin and the gaucho Serafin Aguirre.

The many stories in these pages are fascinating, heartwarming and sad. There are true tales of abduction, murder, hunting trips, shipwrecks, escaped convicts, massacres and suicidal horses woven throughout its pages in simple and matter-of-fact prose.

Overriding the stories, however, is the sobering doom Bridges alludes to from the start. Civilization will triumph. Roads and airstrips will conquer South America’s last frontier, and guns, alcohol and measles will destroy the indigenous way of life.

Bridges does not discuss the Selk’nam genocide at length. That happened in northern Tierra del Fuego in the 1890s, before Bridges made contact. Those he meets are the remainders yet untouched by colonialism. Due to libel, Bridges does not disclose the names of murderous settlers. Their children were still prominent landowners when the book was published.

Obtaining this book was difficult. It went out of print years ago and the only copies online are expensive second-hand ones or third party reprints. I opted for the latter option and paid  $30 to have it delivered from New Delhi. It is a hefty book with well over 500 pages. Unfortunately its many black and white photographs and maps were barely visible. They are one of the books’ main draws.

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This passage on page 336 stands out:

“Talimeoat was a most likeable Indian. I was much in his company. One still evening in autumn, just before business was to take me to Buenos Aires, I was walking with him near Lake Kami. We were just above the upper tree level, and before descending into the valley, rested on a grassy slope. The air was crisp, for already the days were getting short and, with weather so calm and clear, there were bound to be a hard frost before sunrise. A few gilt edged, feather clouds broke the monotony of the pale green sky, and the beech forest that clothed the lake’s steep banks to the water’s edge had not yet completely lost its brilliant autumn colours. The evening light gave the remote ranges a purple tint impossible to describe or to paint.

Across leagues of wooded hills up the forty-mile length of Lake Kami, Talimeoat and I gazed long and silently towards a glorious sunset. I knew that he was searching the distance for any sign of smoke from the camp-fires of friends or foes. After a while his vigilance relaxed and, lying near me, he seemed to become oblivious to my presence. Feeling the chill of evening, I was on the point of suggesting a move, when he heaved a deep sigh and said to himself, as softly as an Ona could say anything:

“Yak haruin.” (“my country”)

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