6

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A vegan hunter-gatherer tribe?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created April 20, 2010 at 11:35 AM

Surely not! A soon to be vegan friend of mine sent me this:

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/life/2005/01/07/stories/2005010700080200.htm

There are about 1,000 descendants of the Aryan tribes and they live scattered around Gilgit, Hunza, Kargil and Leh.

Being nature worshippers, they celebrate the Bononah (nature) festival and are strict vegans, which means they are not only strictly vegetarian but also don't consume milk or milk products. This minuscule community bars both men and women from marrying non-Aryans, and polygamy and polyandry is common.

Couples who do not conceive are free to choose other partners to give them a better chance of producing an offspring. Nearly 80 per cent of them marry in their own villages, while 20 per cent marry from neighbouring villages.

We shared a meal that consisted of jo (barley) roti baked in an earthern oven, lettuce leaves, roasted potato, spring onion, boiled cauliflower and wild mint. Women cooked in an open hearth, burning fallen twig collected from the trees in their courtyard.

There is a strict taboo against tree felling. The simple meal was fresh and extremely tasty.

The following week the trek continued into the villages of Baldes, Samit, Garkun, Darchik and Hanu.

The few thousand Brok-pa Aryans have over 5,000 years lived in these hostile terrain at 15,000 ft altitude, subsisting on a vegan diet.

I thought there were no vegan hunter-gatherers??

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19235)

on April 20, 2010
at 08:50 PM

Interesting looking book. I don't see their diet as that bad compared to many such agrarian cultures that suffer from subsisting mostly on 1 or 2 starchy staple foods. Their variety must make up many deficiencies. Other factors than food also protect foragers; low population density, not settling in one place and little contact with live animals limit infections. But then I wouldn't really want to live at any time in the past. A lot of paleo babies died of infections that are easily prevented now.

Ae011d9f1c8654ea66854ca2a977c397

(1165)

on April 20, 2010
at 07:00 PM

The Aryan tribes conquered Northern India 5,000 yrs ago and their Vedic scriptures were the basis for the Hindu religion and Buddhism is reformed Hinduism. Now whether this particular tribe has been in those mountains for 5,000 yrs is doubtful. It doesnt matter anyway as the article clearly describes a non hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on April 20, 2010
at 06:44 PM

Ancient Futures is an excellent book about a similar culture, the Ladakhs http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-Futures-Lessons-Ladakh-Globalizing/dp/1578051622 It does romanticize agrarianism, but I was guilty of this too before I know about paleo. Agrarian cultures do have some nice things, but they are much shorter and suffer from more health problems than foragers. The fact that many modern health authorities extol their diets is more a sign of how crappy ours is than how good theirs is.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on April 20, 2010
at 06:37 PM

I think they thought that the fat was OK, but not the flesh...haha

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19235)

on April 20, 2010
at 03:02 PM

I also noticed the animal skull on the wall :P

A727956fa3f943057c4edb08ad9e864e

(4183)

on April 20, 2010
at 02:50 PM

Thanks, I'm in awe of your googling skills, couldn't find anything online at all!

9722850c9a1c47b79edf7c4233040248

(1276)

on April 20, 2010
at 02:24 PM

HA! Love their vegan definition!

A727956fa3f943057c4edb08ad9e864e

(4183)

on April 20, 2010
at 01:03 PM

Yeah that's true, they are still a non-industrial traditional tribe though, and I thought there was no vegan tribes?

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8 Answers

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11
0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19235)

on April 20, 2010
at 02:36 PM

The group described in the article are the Brokpas that live in an isolated part of Kashmir. If you want a more indepth and impartial look at the group this article is good. http://www.krepublishers.com/02-Journals/S-EM/EM-02-0-000-08-Web/EM-02-2-000-08-Abst-PDF/EM-02-2-077-08-099-Bhasin-V/EM-02-2-077-08-099-Bhasin-V-Tt.pdf

They look like an interesting culture preserved due to isolation.

At some places, houses are side by side, at other places individual houses are in the middle of the fields. Every house has a small garden in which onions, tomatoes, turnips, large radishes, peas and some potatoes are grown.

They also have houses in the higher valley pastures at Dah-Drouk where they graze their animals and cultivate their summer crops.

The mainstay of the economy of the Brok-pa is agriculture, supplemented by animal husbandry. They produce two crops in a year and grow barley, wheat, buckwheat, mustard, maize, razma, masoor, urad, and karje. They grow vegetables like carrot, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes, onion, potato, turnip and radishes. Brokpa grow apricot, raisin, black and green grapes, walnut, apples and cherries. Brokpa rear mostly sheep, goats, Dzos (a cross between cows and yaks), Bulls and horses. The Brokpas do not rear cattle because of religious taboo. Poultry farming is also taboo. The soil of the area is alluvial, ranging from sand to clay, and is suitable for cultivation of wheat, barley, grim, peas and Lucerne (Alfa-Alfa) in irrigated areas.

The traditional Brokpa diet based on locally grown foods such as barley and hardy wheat prepared most often as tsampa/sattu (roasted flour). It takes in different ways. Other important foods include potatoes, radishes, turnips, and Gur- Gur Cha, a brewed tea made of black tea, butter and salt. Dairy and poultry sources are out of menu because of religious taboos. Brok-pa takes three meals a day; Chin-nana (Breakfast); Beh (Lunch) and Ganzang (Dinner). Brokpa vary with respect to the amount of meat (mainly mutton) that they eat. Household???s economic position decides the consumption of meat. It is only during festivals and rituals all have greater access to mutton.

The isolation of the people mean they have little access to modern healthcare relying mainly on traditional herbalism and shamanic spirit healing.

The culturo-ecological conditions in the area are responsible for the prevalence of gastroenteritis and acute respiratory infections among children and infectious diseases and nutritional diseases among the adult population. Smoke pollution in traditional kitchens with poor ventilation to avoid heat loss is injurious to health. They suffer host of diseases, including rheumatism, intestinal worms, cataracts, goiter, trachoma, pneumonia, dysentery and skin diseases.

Seems like a pretty unprocessed healthy diet overall with a wide range of vegetables, fruits and walnuts. Not vegan or hunter-gatherers or a idealist primitive garden of eden, it's a hard life living in places likle that. I prefer more of the modern medicine myself. The writer of the article probably visited while livestock were still being grazed up on high pastures before winter started and so did not see any.

Edit: Strangely they don't seem to count the butter (actually ghee) in their tea as a taboo dairy product.

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19235)

on April 20, 2010
at 08:50 PM

Interesting looking book. I don't see their diet as that bad compared to many such agrarian cultures that suffer from subsisting mostly on 1 or 2 starchy staple foods. Their variety must make up many deficiencies. Other factors than food also protect foragers; low population density, not settling in one place and little contact with live animals limit infections. But then I wouldn't really want to live at any time in the past. A lot of paleo babies died of infections that are easily prevented now.

A727956fa3f943057c4edb08ad9e864e

(4183)

on April 20, 2010
at 02:50 PM

Thanks, I'm in awe of your googling skills, couldn't find anything online at all!

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on April 20, 2010
at 06:44 PM

Ancient Futures is an excellent book about a similar culture, the Ladakhs http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-Futures-Lessons-Ladakh-Globalizing/dp/1578051622 It does romanticize agrarianism, but I was guilty of this too before I know about paleo. Agrarian cultures do have some nice things, but they are much shorter and suffer from more health problems than foragers. The fact that many modern health authorities extol their diets is more a sign of how crappy ours is than how good theirs is.

6
9722850c9a1c47b79edf7c4233040248

(1276)

on April 20, 2010
at 02:23 PM

First of all, the more important question is "how long have they really all been on a vegan diet?" Even supposing that they have all been strict vegans constantly for 5000 years, I notice that they are free to leave their spouses if they can't conceive. The fact that this of all things was mentioned in such a short article (largely devoid of facts but full to the brim with flowery and romantic landscape descriptions) suggests that it must happen regularly. I don't remember any mention of difficulty conceiving in WAP's book. In fact, many of those tribes forbade marriage until a certain time of year when the food was exceptioinally nutritious, or enforced a special pre-marital diet, with the full expectation that the woman would conceive within months of marriage.

A second point is that the author plainly views these tribes as those fabled "noble savages," for lack of a more modern term. She's not writing an informational article, she's writing her own personal dream of the perfect human race (wanna bet that she has a vegetarian and environmentalist bent and thinks that modern marriage is slavery?). How many times does she compare it all to heaven and spiritual experiences? Surely life at that altitude is harsher than the Mount Olympia she makes it out to be.

And I want to know how the hell there are trees growing at 17,000 feet.

5
E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107

(15613)

on April 20, 2010
at 07:31 PM

Lots of convincing argument against the factuality of the vegan tribe, but even if such a group were fully vegan would it make much of a difference?

It's pretty clear that the reason for this group being vegan is due to specific, separate cultural factor (e.g. they're vegan because they've acquired buddhist beliefs, not acquired a cultural belief in veganism as a result of 100,000 years living a vegan lifestyle because it was optimal). Therefore the fact that some tribe is vegan doesn't prove anything more than the fact that there are pre-industrial tribes practicing genital mutilation or human sacrifice.

The vegan tribe would matter more if you're applying WAPF/Stephan Guyenet reasoning: some healthy culture eats veganly, therefore it must be possible to be healthy and vegan. Clearly if there is some tribe living healthily on a vegan diet, then it is possible to live that healthily (in that context) while being vegan, but it doesn't tell us anything about what is optimal (as with the kitavans).

4
8e75344356f4a455185ee52da0b90bf2

on April 20, 2010
at 12:55 PM

Edited!

Hmm ... I found them referred to as the Brogpas.

Says they were established "centuries ago" not 5000 years. Also:

*"Chieftain of Darchik village Tashi Dava, says, "We are Buddhists by religion. We drink goat???s milk, and eat plain barley and saag. "

"Agro-pastoralists by nature, the Brogpas grow apricots in plenty."*

So much for being either vegan OR hunter-gatherers.

If they love nature to the point where they won't fell trees then why is a goat's skull hung on the eave of the "hut" behind the chick in the picture? ;p

Ae011d9f1c8654ea66854ca2a977c397

(1165)

on April 20, 2010
at 07:00 PM

The Aryan tribes conquered Northern India 5,000 yrs ago and their Vedic scriptures were the basis for the Hindu religion and Buddhism is reformed Hinduism. Now whether this particular tribe has been in those mountains for 5,000 yrs is doubtful. It doesnt matter anyway as the article clearly describes a non hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19235)

on April 20, 2010
at 03:02 PM

I also noticed the animal skull on the wall :P

3
9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on April 20, 2010
at 02:04 PM

This was posted on the raw vegan boards some time back and I couldn't find any legit scholarly research on these people being vegans. I think since they wear wool, I doubt they are true vegans. Besides that, the first result that comes up when you put "Brokpa Tribe" in google scholar is about yak breeding!

I would take Hindu Business Online with a grain of salt like Russia's Pravda. I've often found that people in foreign countries have differing views of the word "vegan." I traveled with a vegan friend in Eastern Europe and their definition very much annoyed her when we were served fish and potatoes cooked in tallow.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on April 20, 2010
at 06:37 PM

I think they thought that the fat was OK, but not the flesh...haha

9722850c9a1c47b79edf7c4233040248

(1276)

on April 20, 2010
at 02:24 PM

HA! Love their vegan definition!

3
03aeff8d87a3b53a449b5b8e9158da98

(3268)

on April 20, 2010
at 12:48 PM

I would think that, by definition, they are not hunter-gatherers.

A727956fa3f943057c4edb08ad9e864e

(4183)

on April 20, 2010
at 01:03 PM

Yeah that's true, they are still a non-industrial traditional tribe though, and I thought there was no vegan tribes?

2
Ce0b5fd94b1034e96cf710b6f138c29d

on April 21, 2010
at 03:00 AM

Sounds to me like they're neither Vegan nor hunter-gatherer, given that they raise and eat mutton and rely on agriculture.

So far as I'm aware there are no known primitive societies that did/do not eat meat. Given that a vegan diet is nutritionally inadequate barring careful planning and/or supplementation, I'd be extremely skeptical of any such claims.

0
6eb2812b40855ba64508cbf2dc48f1b6

(2119)

on April 20, 2010
at 12:40 PM

They are hand gathering wild barley?

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