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Students in a long tail boat in Indonesia. Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Indonesia Semester.

Discussions Discussions…

Over the past week in the traditional fishing village of Sampela students have been joining their families in their daily routines and augmenting this hands on experience with knowledge from guest speakers and academic papers. Daily discussions have been a space where students have shared key points from their individual reading, have reflected on guest speakers, and have talked through topics such as consumerism, mangrove ecosystems, spirituality, coral reef ecology, and how conservationists can gain participation from locals.

With three months in Indonesia under their belts, the conversations students are beginning to be able to have are amazing. Below are some ideas adapted from the notes Arjuna Rogers used to organize a discussion on the meaning of “affluence.” The article Arjuna used as a base to facilitate the conversation was Marshall Sahlins’ “The Original Affluent Society,” which can be read online for free.

Key Points

• “the hunter-gatherer way of life has been the most successful and persistent adaptation man has ever achieved”
• it is still a question, whether or not humans will be able to survive the modern consumeristic, artistic, overall nonsense society we have created.
• Kalahari bushmen are one of the last examples of hunter gatherers on earth today
• these people work at most 19 hours a week, only people who have to work, there is no owned property and material wealth is considered a burden.
• these people eat around 2,140 calories a day and about 91 grams of protein a day.
• people over 60 surviving over 60 years is about the same as people in Western society.
• hunter gatherer people follow a different definition of affluence than the western world: they follow “The Zen road to affluence, which states that human material wants are finite and few, and technical means unchanging but on the whole adequate” as opposed to the Western road to affluence, which he calls the “Galbraithean way” (after the Canadian economist Kenneth Galbraith) where “man’s wants are great, not to say infinite, whereas his means are limited…” and “the gap between means and ends can be eventually be narrowed by material productivity”
• because these people eat what the earth has to offer, their diet is varied and doesn’t often repeat its self.
• It’s proven that practicing a varied diet makes you healthier and that surprising your body with new foods helps your body function.
• hunter gatherers are affluent in the sense that they work when they need, work mostly only to feed themselves, have lots of free time because of that, and don’t rely on unnecessary material wealth for happiness.

Key Criticisms

• this article only counted the time gathering and hunting as “work” and did not include cooking, cleaning, and various other things needed for survival.
• the data used in this article may have been hastily gathered.

Key Questions for Discussion

• what does everybody think affluence is?
• what do you think of when you imagine a hunter gatherer society?
• is the Bajau fishing society in Sampela a hunter-gatherer society?
• the two definitions of affluence: why would a group go from one to another? Why would the Bajau people stray away from spear fishing and move to more drastic ways of fishing?
• has the reason Bajau people fish changed?
• how do hunter gathering communities fit into this money and economy driven world that has been created?

The discussion students had went on for many hours and all manner of ideas were shared. As you patiently await the return of your young ones, reading this article and following up with questions about their perspectives could be a great way to connect and share with them a little piece of their journey!