I just watched this 2003 TED Talk video lecture by Wade Davis, the pioneering ethnobotanist and anthropologist who has lived with an amazing array of indigenous cultures around the world. Of course, Davis is best known for his studies of ritual use of psychedelics and also the zombification practices among Vodoun acolytes in Haiti. I've found Davis's work to be personally inspirational, provocative, and mind-expanding. This TED Talk, titled "Cultures At The Far Edge of the World" is no exception. In it, he tells an amazing story about an wonderfully resourceful Inuit elder. Davis retold the same story in a recent Discover magazine interview, but I highly recommend the TED video too because it features many his breathtaking photographs. From Discover:
One of the cultures you celebrate in Light at the Edge of the World is the Inuit. What do you most admire about them?TED Talk: Wade Davis, Cultures At the Far Edge of the World (ted.com), From Hatian Zombie Poison to Inuit Knives Made of Feces (Discover), Buy Davis's "Light at the Edge of the World" book (Amazon)
Davis: The Inuit didn’t fear the cold; they took advantage of it. During the 1950s the Canadian government forced the Inuit into settlements. A family from Arctic Bay told me this fantastic story of their grandfather who refused to go. The family, fearful for his life, took away all of his tools and all of his implements, thinking that would force him into the settlement. But instead, he just slipped out of an igloo on a cold Arctic night, pulled down his caribou and sealskin trousers, and defecated into his hand. As the feces began to freeze, he shaped it into the form of an implement. And when the blade started to take shape, he put a spray of saliva along the leading edge to sharpen it. That’s when what they call the “shit knife” took form. He used it to butcher a dog. Skinned the dog with it. Improvised a sled with the dog’s rib cage, and then, using the skin, he harnessed up an adjacent living dog. He put the shit knife in his belt and disappeared into the night.