The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World Summary
The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, written by Anthropologists and National-Geographic-Explorer Wade Davis, provides his ethnographic insight on different indigenous cultures that were established before modern human civilization. The book focuses on the variation of customs throughout the world and how the average person in today’s society isn’t as aware of how much the actions in one’s daily life has changed through the evolution of human existence. These indigenous societies, which were established long before modernization and the technology that humans in today’s world have become so acclimated to, is something that every person should take the time to study, so they can gain more information and knowledge of where humans originated from. They are not the only ones to first encounter human civilization, but they have contributed to certain aspects of today’s modern society. If we are not studying these past ways of life, then eventually they will die off leading to them being lost forever. After reading this very informative narrative, I have taken into account that humans judge others and their culture by their own personal experiences and perspective. If one is to study another culture other than their owns, they must first realize this flaw that is within every human being and work hard to set aside any biases to gain the most knowledge from the experience as possible. Throughout the book there were multiple main themes. Throughout this paper, I will discuss a couple of the main themes that seemed to be most relevant throughout the reading and provide evidence as to why these themes are important to modern society.
One of the most important themes I found while reading the narrative is the concept that culture is always evolving and adapting based on different economic environments. Different parts of the world offer various natural resources and the humans that decide to call the space home have to adapt to the ever-changing environment around them. The Polynesians had an extremely strict hierarchical society which made it next to impossible for anyone other than the first born to attain wealth or land. One of the only other ways to obtain such wealth is to set out in search of unclaimed land. The San of the Kalahari, primarily known for their exceptional hunting skills adjust to the dry climatic conditions by finding other ways to obtain water. These ways were digging large holes in the sand until they reach the moist under layer, drinking the water within a tree, and by squeezing it from the guts of an animal (Davis 21). In the Kalahari there wasn’t standing water for ten months out of the year. These alternative tactics are not something the average person in an American society would think of if they were in desperate need of water. In modern day society, we have the luxury of simply turning on a faucet or going to any neighborhood store to get water, but these ancient tactics are still significant in today’s world. Although the chances of one getting stranded in a dry desert or at sea without much water or food are very slim due to the technology we have in today’s world. These kinds of things do happen and if we are able to study ancient societies and how they were able to adjust to the different climatic changes they faced, people in an modern day society may have a better chance of surviving situations that can be life threatening. Because of different climatic environments, one must adjust its culture to adapt to the new environment. Some original traditions may get lost over time or be interpreted a different way. Advancement in technology plays a role in why some of these tactics and traditions no longer are practiced, but the foundation of how to make the technology more advanced will always go back to the way ancient societies did things. Wade Davis states, “The overwhelming scientific consensus suggests that all humanity lived in Africa until some 60,000 years ago. Then, perhaps driven by changing climatic and ecological conditions that led to the desertification of the African grasslands, a small band of men, women, and children, possibly as few as 150 individuals, walked out of the ancient continent and began the colonization of the world” (Davis 8). Although this is the case, traveling throughout the world became a new way of life. Those in certain societies traveled to new lands for many reasons, including “climatic and ecological changes” (Davis 9) and “to achieve wealth and status” (Davis 50). The idea Davis is trying to bring to light is that these individuals had to adjust to the changes of their environment declining by moving to a different place. Moving to a different place could mean these people would have to learn a new culture and shows how their old culture would have to change in order to adapt properly.
These ancient cultures still matter today because these indigenous societies offer new ways of looking at the world but they also offer a unique way of thinking and their own unique forms of technology and culture that ultimately shows us where the roots of most things in modern day societies come from. Humans originated from Africa, but traveling and the evolution of various cultures around the world have made it to the point that the root of human civilization has been slowly forgotten as time progresses. Diversity within today’s society is essential in being able to understand that not everyone is the same. We are all just products of our environment and the culture we’re raised around. The people in modern day society can learn how to navigate the pacific like the Polynesian did before the creation of advanced technology, we could learn the “7,000 languages spoken today that is dying at a rapid pace” (Davis 3), and we could also reincorporate forgotten ancient cultures in today’s society to add more variation. Wade Davis wrote in his invigorating narrative, “Perhaps the loss of a single rivet makes no difference, but eventually the wings will fall off” (Davis 166). In other words, if a few ancient cultures were to be erased from history, it may not make a tremendous difference but eventually taking away too many aspects of these ancient societies will lead to an ultimate collapse of these societies’ cultures. It is imperative for the people of the modern world to understand where they have originated from and how the evolution of certain aspects introduced by these ancient societies, our existence would not be as advanced as it is now or not as successful.
Indigenous cultures have ways of communicating and traveling as well. An ancient culture in “Timbuktu is able to navigate through the Sahara Desert by studying the various scents and colors of sand throughout a large amount of land “(Davis 210). The Mazatec’s in Mexico learned to communicate across vast distances by whistling, mimicking the intonations of their tonal language to create vocabulary written on wind” (Davis 163). Because of lack of technology these navigators were not equipped with the basic necessities that modern day society navigators are unable to do their jobs without. Their insight has proven helpful and resourceful since a lot of today’s world and certain concepts would still be unknown. Traveling along with other knowledge that can be useful to the modern world is what ancient societies had to exert. Traveling within these indigenous societies was not like it is in today’s modern societies. With the lack of high technology, most would probably assume that traveling was practically impossible, but people in those societies had their own ways to travel successfully. Different ancient societies had their own cultural tactics that they used to help them navigate large bodies of water. “Polynesians trained certain people starting at birth to navigate large bodies of water. By the time of their adult years, they were able to navigate by following the stars in the atmosphere “(Davis 57). “Paying attention to the reverberation of the waves across the hull of the canoe, knowing full well that every island group in the Pacific has its own refractive pattern that can be read with the same ease with which a forensic scientist would read a fingerprint” (Davis 59) was another way they traveled. The most simple and easiest way they traveled was by “simply memorizing where they have traveled in the past” (Davis 60). Some of these techniques such as memorizing locations is something many people in today’s society still use very frequently even with all of the modern day technology.
In the book, The Wayfinders, Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in Modern World, there were what could be interpreted into countless different themes and reasons why this book was written. Depending on the reader’s perspective of their culture and different cultures there are many things that can be acquired from the reading. This examination of indigenous cultures by Wade Davis has been very informative. Now there’s a clear understanding of the importance of these ancient cultures within our society and how much of an impact the people from these cultures have had on the evolution of the modern world. The topic needs to be discussed and appreciated more especially during such a sensitive time in history where it seems that so many are looking at diversity as a negative experience rather than an opportunity to learn from such influential societies. Once we take the time as a whole to understand where we come from most people could see that there’s not exactly a drastic difference between every culture. Most cultures today are just spinoffs of some ancient culture and that’s because as time goes on things change, but we must acknowledge the fact that most cultures started with the same foundation. This book is one that may have had an extremely impactful effect on most of its readers rather it be negative or positive your perspective would be modified after finishing because Wade successfully shines light on a few of the biggest reasons why today’s society isn’t as culturally competent as it could be if we all used this technology and the differences between cultures as a positive learning tool instead of a way to be biased towards things were aren’t familiar with.