Home, Home On The Range
People mistakenly think that nomadic tribes just aimlessly wander about their countryside. In fact, they tend to follow established routes, arrive at specific places at certain times of the year and can stay there for extended periods of time. These routes are often determined by the weather when it is necessary to move to warmer, drier terrain or when it is better to move to high or low ground. Sometimes the routes lead to traditional meeting places where extended family groups gather together to celebrate cultural and religious occasions or carry out important communal rituals. The point is that whilst the precise routes that nomadic groups may take will vary, there is a routine and a structure to their wanderings.
This is absolutely necessary for tribal existence as there are times when animals need to graze and food needs to be gathered, even if it has not been farmed and just grows in the wild. Even the most “primitive” hunter and gatherer societies are acutely aware of this otherwise they would have long since perished.
When it was explained to one nomad that in our sophisticated Western culture, we tend to live in one home, in one place for long periods of time, he looked sad and worried. He felt a deep sorrow that we would, therefore, have to look at the same view every day, be surrounded by the same trees, the same buildings, the same roads for ever and by being so restricted, we would be all the poorer. However beautiful and inspirational the view might be, he saw this as akin to a self-inflicted prison sentence. He also thought that having wardrobes and drawers full of clothes from which to choose the right ones to wear on any particular day was irksome, time consuming and pointless.
However, we should not think that nomadic people have no belongings or that what they carry with them are the bare essentials of life. It is true that functional objects such as a simple cooking pot, may be ornately embellished so that it fulfils both a practical need and also a decorative or aesthetic one at the same time. Some things like jewellery, head dresses or masks are clearly not tools but a way to demonstrate social position and esteem, wealth and power or simply to differentiate one person from another. They may be helpful in attracting a husband or wife or ensuring that social customs and laws are upheld or just make life that little bit more tolerable.
Strangely enough, in that way, there suddenly appears to be rather less difference between the nomad carrying his relatively few possessions from place to place and the way that we accumulate ours whether for comfort, entertainment, to attract the opposite sex or merely for a little bit of one-upmanship.
So here’s a little game that can be played during a quiet moment over the Christmas holidays. It is a little variation on “What would you save from your home if it caught fire?” but this time it is “What would you take with you from home if you suddenly became a nomad?”
You might choose a treasured pen knife that had been passed down from a grandfather which has both functional and deeply sentimental resonances or it might be something purely functional and utterly without soul like a sturdy pair of walking boots. The choice is yours and you may, if you like, care to share your selection with us.