Jean Liedloff, the Yekuana, and Golf

In the 1960s, the daughter of an apparently well-connected New York family, Jean Liedloff, dropped out of Cornell University in order to take a trip to Europe. In Florence she met two Italian adventurers who sparked her yearning for excitement by inviting her to join them on a diamond hunting expedition to the Venezuelan extremity of the Amazon jungle. When the trio arrived they hired natives to carry their equipment and supplies. During seven and a half months in the jungle Jean Liedloff saw how the native porters' clans — families at home in their huts, travelling in groups, hunting for food — all lived in perfect harmony with their environment.

Later, after several more expeditions — during which she lived in a village belonging to the Yequana tribe — she wrote a book about her experiences: The Continuum Concept. She was struck by how contented and relaxed the Yequana indians were in comparison to the stressed and neurotic inhabitants of cities in America and Europe. In one chapter she comments on the very different attitudes to work and recreation between these Amazon natives and inhabitants of consumer societies. The Yequana enjoy useful work and therefore have no need to invent separate activities for physical recreation. There's no gap to be filled in as far as excercise and enjoyment are concerned. Jean Liedloff used golf as an example to highlight the contrast:

"A man who spends his necessary, unenjoyed working life among papers and ideas will recreate his innate expectation of physical work through something like golf. Unmindful that its main virtue is uselessness, the golfer trudges about in the sun carrying a heavy load of clubs and every so often brings his attention to a sharp focus on the problem of persuading a ball to fall into a hole in the ground; this is done, very inefficiently, with the end of one of those clubs, not by carrying the ball and dropping it in. If he were made to do all this by force, he would feel sorely put upon, but as it is called recreation and is guaranteed to serve no purpose beyond excercising him, he is free to enjoy it as the Yequana enjoy useful work.
 
But there are now many golfers who have allowed the labour-saving impulse to spoil some of this pleasure as well, since it has been suggested by the relevant sector of the culture that carrying the clubs is not pleasant and, more recently, that the trudging between strokes ought also to be moved into the work category and little automotive carts are used instead. To re-create themselves after playing golf, they may soon have to resort to tennis."

Footnotes:

• Apparently, it's only readers of Liedloff's book who spell the name of the tribe "Yequana." Before she arrived, various anthropologists had made field trips to study the tribe over a period of decades. If you want to look up their findings on university websites you need to enter one of the alternative spellings for the tribe's name used by anthropologists:

  • Yekwana or Ye'kwana
  • Yecuana or Ye'cuana
  • Yekuana or Ye'kuana

Someone — anthropologists I guess — set up a website with photos and quotes from members of the tribe: http://www.chez.com/yekuana/

• In 2006, communal houses belonging to Yekuana and Sanema Indians were burned down by workers from an illegal gold mine in La Paragua. Following the violence, the Venezuelan army attempted to evict a group of miners and shot dead six people.
News report from Survival-International.org.

How's this for a contrast to the Yequana?
Some Americans want to restrict children's rights with a Parental Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Updated : 9/28/2009 | Home >>