Without scientific data or research into its chemistry, bushmen mastered poison for hunting by simply paying attention to their environment and getting to know the world they live in.
- Researchers studied San tribes, in southern Africa
- The group of hunter-gatherers used beetle larvae to poison their arrows
- The poison has a paralyzing effect on their large prey
- It’s unknown how early this technique started, or how they came by the discovery in the first place
It’s an important observation that indigenous populations have such a magnificent awareness of their environment. They learn every plant, insect, and animal, down to the smallest crease in the earth and smell in the air. The San tribes of southern Africa still present with those capabilities. Their knowledge is passed on from generation to generation across the centuries. It dates so far back that researchers were unable to tell when it all began.
However, for these groups of hunter-gatherers that are quickly diminishing, it’s likely that some arts were established early. The art of poison is among them.
Researchers from the University of Kansas conducted a study on San tribes, using existing entomology, anthropology and chemistry texts dating as far back as 1700s. The extensive study was paired with actual field tests, as they went to live with and study the indigenous African groups. One exceptional observation was their use of certain beetle larvae that added a poisoning quality to their arrows. It showed an ingenious way of using their environment, by blending in ingredients and finding ways to maximize their hunting capabilities.
The San tribes essentially dig into the ground, finding cocoons of beetles and taking them along. The skin of the larvae holds poisonous qualities to it. Scientists have actually been unable to detect the biological purpose behind it. It could be to fend off predator or may help the beetles against the arid heat. However, the larvae already have two defensive mechanisms in place: the cocoon and being buried underground. The poison is simply an extra, though unknown how the San tribes even discovered it.
After taking back the beetle larvae, they are broken out of their protective cocoon. The hunter-gatherers then proceed to either rub their skin directly on their arrow tip or mix it in a concoction with other plant juices. According to lead author of the study, Caroline Chaboo, who is an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, they were also incredibly careful with the poison. This ranged from the actual preparation to making sure the remnants of the materials were thrown far away from the community.
The poison had a paralyzing effect on their prey. Once struck with the arrow, the animals would still get their chance to escape, but over the course of several hours, they would slowly lose their ability to move. Eventually, the animal would stop, fall over, and offer the San people the opportunity to make their kill. It’s one of the many factors that make their tracking abilities as impressive as they are.
Due to the fact that they are few of the remaining hunter-gatherers, the San people hold a special place in human history. They are a representation of true adaptation and ability to use the environment to better serve their purpose. Without technology or science, they managed to weave intricate systems that aid in their survival. Such indigenous knowledge offers us a deep insight about nature.
It’s a beautiful lesson on how we can survive in a hotter world with diminishing water supplies, using only experience and knowledge of the world around us.
Image source: dailymail.co.uk