Stephen Kahn

Persistence Hunt

In Hard to tell, Humor on February 24, 2011 at 5:13 am

When I was a child, I played football, baseball, and basketball enthusiastically and very badly with my friends in Southern California. At times I attended sporting events as a spectator but I have never been a “sports fan” in a big way. As I grew older I did not exercise as much as I should have. When we moved to Whidbey in 2005, I joined the Island Athletic Club and began to exercise more seriously.

IAC is an excellent organization, with many fine choices from individual machines to group classes and activities. As something of a professional nudnik, from time to time I offer the management of the club helpful ideas, which they sensibly, politely, and courteously ignore.

Recently, as a strange kind of spam, I received an unwanted subscription to the print edition of several magazines, including ESPN: The Magazine. As a compulsive reader, I flipped through the Feb 21 issue, which is devoted to SPEED. Along with articles on NASCAR (providing helpful information on “How to crash”) and the importance of the 40-yard dash for evaluating professional football players, I found an interesting article called “Slow and Steady Wins the Planet,” describing how evolution helped turned humans into distance runners as a way of hunting down game.

The article describes the “Persistence Hunt,” a type of hunting believed to date back in human history to before the invention of the spear, and persisting today in the popularity of marathons as a form of sporting competition. Portrayed in the film The Great Dance: A Hunter’s Story (which I have not yet seen), described at
it shows a hunt of a !Xo San tribe hunter in Botswana running a kudu to death.

As the web site describes the movie:

The great dance is characterized by stunning visuals. The film is the winner of more than 35 international awards. It is a visual poem on the San hunters, who sustain a small band of nomads in the Kalahari Desert. Strictly speaking not a conventional documentary the filmmakers have inter-cut documentary footage with highly original and semi-abstract material so the hard core of fact is surrounded with lyrical evocations of San legends, creating an intriguing visual texture. Black-and-white footage has been combined with richly coloured images, giving the film a poetic dimension rarely seen in documentaries. The directors, Craig and Damon Foster, have created a sublime visual poem with this film, as well as their latest, Cosmic Africa.

As one of my impractical and unhelpful contributions to IAC, I will suggest that they add “persistence hunting” to the club activities. We don’t have any kudu on Whidby, but we have many deer, some of whom visit our five acres in the woods. Club marathoners can chase down deer, with their choice of the following “tracks.” For vegetarians, at the end of the hunt, the participants can perform CPR on the exhausted deer. For carnivores…well, I will quote from the article:

The hunt ends when Karoha [the San hunter in the film] walks up to the animal and plunges a rudimentary wood spear into its chest–an act that is largely ceremonial. Karoha then kneels and quietly honors the kudi by ritualistically spreading sand over its body and transferring saliva from the antelope’s mouth onto his own exhausted and burning legs. On Karoha’s face, and especially in his dark eyes, there in his dark eyes, there is a solemn sense of relief and joy. As it has for millennia, this successful persistence hunt means his children will eat and grow, as will his standing in the tribe.

Island Athletic Club posts winners of their various training competitions around the club. This competition, I suggest, will raise their training promotions to an entire new level. The vegetarians will be honored for their life saving skills; the carnivores for their hunting skills; all excellent accomplishments in regard to this blog’s theme of survival. Civilization? I am not sure.

  1. I suspect that all of Australia’s fauna could outlast me. Especially if it was sunny. Which is normally is. I’d get sunburn and collapse from heatstroke long before a wombat. Not that I’d want to eat a wombat…

  2. More about Australia soon (writing as a person who has never been there, from a point of profound ignorance).

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