Primitive Skills

Dr. Purushothaman
December 10, 2013

The term "primitive skills" encompasses a set of methods and tools that has flourished and evolved for thousands of years. And though we refer to them as "primitive," the skills are quite complex and sophisticated. Primitive skills were necessary for providing ancient peoples with the necessities of life; shelter, food, water and warmth. They are the foundation for all of our modern ways.

Primitive shelter is one of many primitive skills, and there are dozens of methods for constructing permanent or temporary dwellings. Perhaps the simplest is the debris hut, which consists of a ridge pole propped up on one end and covered with a thick layer of leaves, grass or any other forest floor debris. It's quick and easy to build, offering an excellent temporary sleeping shelter that can remain warm and dry all night. On the other end of the spectrum is the tipi. The tipi is simple yet complex. Its construction relies on many different primitive skills. A truly authentic tipi requires the ability to dress skins, manufacture wood working tools and make cordage, or rope.

The diets of primitive peoples varied regionally, and different methods were used to procure food. But the fundamental primitive skills are necessary to build the tools, no matter what the diet. A bow is built with stone knives and scrapers. The arrow shaft might need fire for straightening. The stone arrowhead and fletching are hafted onto the shaft with primitive cordage and glue. And of course the bow string requires primitive cordage. One can surmise how primitive skills are necessary for the manufacture of fish nets, traps and other hunting tools. Primitive containers were necessary to carry, store and cook food, as well as water. Primitive pottery makes an ideal cooking vessel, while a simple gourd could be used to carry water on a hunting trip.

Probably the most widely known of primitive skills is friction fire. For most folks, the mention of primitive skills brings to mind two sticks being rubbed together. The art of friction fire is extremely important for staying warm, cooking food, making tools and clearing land for agriculture. There are several different methods for making fire including the bow drill, the hand drill, the fire plow, the fire piston and flint and steel.

Often overlooked, the most important primitive skill is a peaceful and resourceful mind. Without it, no amount of skills or tools can provide sustenance. But a clear thinking individual can walk into the woods with nothing and derive more than enough gear from the bountiful pool of natural resources.

Primitive skills are an important part of our history, which is why many of us feel a strong natural affinity for studying the old ways. They offer a real glimpse into the past. They provide us with clean, natural and simple methods to accomplish everyday tasks. And they give us a sense of connection with the natural world as we integrate ingenuity with environment. Through the study of primitive skills we can reclaim what modern culture forces us to forget.

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