Do you know where the happiest people on Earth live? You must’ve answered “Denmark”. According to the ex-missionary Daniel Everett, the happiest people live in Brazil.
Members of a primitive tribe, called Pirahã, are said to be the most simple and happiest people living on mother Earth, or so they perceive themselves. They are extremely simple, basing their knowledge on facts and relationships. A missionary, who went to the Amazon jungle trying to convert a lonely tribe has become an atheist himself and has written a book on Pirahã people pointing the differences between the simple tribe and modern 21-century people.
Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes
How different the realisation of world is among Pirahãs? First and foremost, Pirahã might be the only people not sleeping for a long time, unlike us. In many countries we have such expressions like “good night”, “sleep tight” or “sweet dreams”, that we say before going to sleep. In Pirahã tribe people, before going to nap, say to each other something similar to “Don’t sleep! There are snakes around”.
When You Are Not You Anymore
Members of Pirahã tribe usually nap 20-30 minutes each time they feel sleepy. Not more than that. Pirahã people think that sleeping is bad. They believe that while sleeping, a human being becomes weak and unable to protect himself, therefore they try to avoid long-hour sleep. And, most interestingly, they believe that after a long sleep you are not you anymore. If they happen to fall assleep for a longer time than they had planned (i.e. 20-30 minutes), they change their names because they are are not they anymore. Pirahã’s would change their names and would refer to their past as “him” (i.e. previous me).
In Pirahã tribe experiencing things means everything. Literally. Their culture is concerned solely with matters that fall within their direct personal experience, and therefore there is no undefined past or future, only their current personal experience and living memory. They have a concept and expression Xibipíío, meaning “experiential liminality”, which describes something “experiencable” or experienced. They do not value past or future, but instead focus on now, i.e. current Xibipíío = current experience. The tribe does not understand unexperienced past; i.e. if you want to say that “he went fishing last week”, Pirahã people will not believe you. First, because such concept of weeks does not exist, instead time is relative and you would have to say that it happened “small time” or “big time” ago. Second, in Pirahã language every verb must have a suffix, which indicates the source of evidence. So you end each verb with either “I saw it”, “I heard it” or “I deduced it from other available evidence”. Otherwise, if you do no do this, they will not understand how come you can even makes such claim and they would dismiss it (“I don’t believe it happened, unless there is evidence for it” attitude).
Accepting Things As They Are
Politeness in Pirahã tribes doesn’t exist, because it only shows lack of trust in each other. Everyone loves, supports and understands each other in the tribe, where they do not question or try to reason things too much. Children are not punished or shouted on and the only explanation and reasoning they have is “it just happened”. And that’s it. They do not question things nor try to see “deeper” aspects of feelings or situations. If a rebellious teenager wants to be alone for the whole day – fine, you are free to do anything you want as long as you are willing to not eat all day. You are responsible for yourself and your own survival.
In Pirahã tribe natural occurrences are not questioned. Things just happen. There are no special ceremonial rituals either. Two people “marry” when they start living together, and two young children can “marry” as well, because a boy might know how to catch fish and a girl knows how to clean it, therefore they can live together helping each other.
You Are Responsible For Your Own Work
One of the strongest Pirahã values is no coercion; you simply don’t tell other people what to do. You do not command (and cannot command) nor give advices, everyone knows what they have to do without being told so. Since there is no social hierarchy, no one is “better” or “worse” than the other one. The tribe doesn’t have leaders. Everyone is equal (hmm, just like in Denmark…) and equally good.
No God And No Myths
The story of Jesus Christ to Pirahã did not sound convincing enough since they did not understand such words as “century”, “time” and “history”. After Pirahã tribe had listed to the missionary Daniel Everett, the only questions they asked were “was he brown like us, or white like you”? “Did you see him? Did your father see him?” According to Pirahã , if you or at least people close to you haven’t experienced it, it is simply not relevant. Pirahã does not have any concepts of a supreme entity or God and they lost interest in Daniel’s stories as soon as they discovered that he had no empirical verification for Jesus. They require evidence on personal experience (Xibipíío). Otherwise they dismiss it as irrelevant.
To my mind, such tribes as Pirahã show that happiness lies in in small, daily activities. The more we try to complicate, the worse our lives become. It seems it’s quite easy to be happy, as long as you do not over-complicate your life… Don’t you think so?