I’ve always felt sorry for the Gatherers.
(Which means I imagine that I would have been a Gatherer, being unable to visualize myself in any period of history as a Hunter.)
I’m thinking – without doing any research on the subject – that this wasn’t a hyphenate kind of arrangement – the Hunter-Gatherers. I’m guessing they were two distinct groups of people – the Hunters and the Gatherers. It makes sense that it was that way, the roles being so temperamentally different. Hunters would have a swagger – you’d need a swagger to go head-to-head with the substantially larger animals that Hunters forced to confront on a daily basis, with no more than a long, (often not long enough) pointy stick. Gatherers like to sing.
Hunters would find it beneath their dignity to gather. Gatherers wouldn’t hunt because – let’s put the best possible face on it – they found it barbaric. More likely, they just stunk at it. Not strong enough, faulty reflexes, there may have been vision problems – which once again relegates me to the “Gathering” contingent.
Experience tells us that as soon as two groups appear, almost immediately, there arises some form of hierarchical structuring. Who’s Number One? Who’s Number Two? This may be natural. Based on understood criteria, an order inevitably evolves – one group is first; the other is second, or, there being only two in this particular group, last.
It seems obvious, between the Hunters and the Gatherers, which group would be accorded the loftier status. You can tell just by the labeling. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Gatherer Hunters”? No. Hunters inevitably come first. Hunters are the heroes. Gatherers? You know. You can see them wearing aprons.
Need we explain the disparity in respect? One group risks their lives facing huge animals with tusks and sharp teeth. The other group spends their days picking stuff up off the ground.
I venture to say that the Gatherers represented the “Everybody’s A Winner” concept in the prehistoric era. It doesn’t matter what you do. Everybody gets a prize. This view comes accompanied by the age-old rationalization:
“We can’t all be Hunters. The world needs Gatherers too.”
Such reassurances are invariably delivered by the Gatherers’ mothers. Or, more stingingly, by the Hunters themselves, who, while saying it, were always trying to keep a straight face. These self-worth bromides fooled nobody. There was no comparison in the two roles. And everyone knew it.
Hunters died hunting. The worst that can befall a Gatherer is a chronic “stooping” injury. Once in a while, a Gatherer might mistakenly sample a bad berry and be laid up with a stomachache.
“Oo-ooh! A stomach ache! That’s really serious.”
This was standard “derision material” for Hunters, sporting stumps where limbs used to be but were bitten off by their preys while they were trying to kill them. No arms – tummy trouble. Gimme a break!
Gatherers’ children would come home from school, bullied and beaten by the progeny of Hunters.
“They made fun of Pop’s job.”
“What did you do?”
“I gathered names for a petition demanding better supervision at recess.”
“That’s my boy.”
Teenage Gatherer boys took pains to conceal their shameful family identities.
“What does your father do?”
“My father? He’s a Ga…rage Mechanic.”
“I don’t know. But he’s not a Gatherer.”
Then they’d race home, begging their fathers to collude in the subterfuge.
“You told her I was a Garage Mechanic?”
“I don’t know what that is, Son.”
“Please, Dad. Couldn’t you just pretend to be a Garage Mechanic?”
“Will you at least wear the gloves?”
“If I have to.”
(The gloves would cover the “Gatherer’s Giveaway” - telltale berry-juice stains darkening their fingertips.)
“Thanks, Dad. You’re a peach.”
“A ‘peach’? I don’t know what that is. But how could I? I’m a Garage Mechanic.”
(This may be the sitcom version of Gatherer family life, but even sitcoms have a kernel of truth in them.)
Gatherer Dads understood the embarrassment their jobs heaped upon their families. “Gathering” was a second-tier profession. You only have to compare the cave drawings. Hunters’ cave walls were adorned with elaborate murals – the intrepid hunter facing the towering mammoth. Gatherers’ murals? A guy, a bush and a basket. Gatherers themselves were embarrassed by the depiction. Company came, they threw a sheet over it.
And when the Gatherers arrived at the Hunters’ houses for dinner?
“Oh, a pie. Thank you. All we have is freshly killed meat.”
Which brings us to the only “up” side in the Gatherers’ lot.
Less heart attacks.
That’s something, I suppose. But it hardly balances the books.