We are all hunter-gatherers at heart says Monty Halls
21:33 GMT, 24 August 2012
I’ve been banging on for years about how I feel we’re all hunter-gatherers at heart.
You (yes, you) are a tremendous piece of design, you know, quite capable of running down an antelope or ganging up on a woolly mammoth.
Given the right food, training and attitude, you’re a fearsome, agile, relentless pack animal, a top predator unlike any other in the history of our planet. In the great game that is evolution, it is ‘Mankind 1, Everything Else 0’.
'I go spear-fishing a lot, and often emerge having shot only rocks, seaweed or my own foot
It was very much in the spirit of acknowledging our warrior roots that I decided to organise a foraging weekend.
The plan was to introduce a group of people to the joys of catching their own food.
In this case dinner was to be fish speared while snorkelling – the most primal way of catching fish short of hoiking them out of the water with your bare hands and then eating them raw like Gollum in Lord Of The Rings.
It’s important to point out that fishing with a spear, when done properly, is one of the most sustainable ways of catching fish.
Think about it – for a start you only catch the thing you want to eat without injuring any other fish that just happen to be passing (unless you’re a trigger-happy aquatic psychopath, and I’ll admit there are one or two of them out there).
As long as you make sure you don’t shoot the largest fish (they’re the good breeding stock for the future), then your impact is minimal compared to many other forms of fishing.
What’s more, you don’t leave anything behind in the water except a few scratched bits of rock where you’ve missed.
Monty says we are all hunter gatherers
And you do miss. A lot. Fish, it turns out, can move rather fast, and this is compounded by the fact that hitting anything underwater is a bit of a lottery anyway thanks to the low visibility and teeth-chattering cold.
I go spear-fishing fairly often for the pot, and frequently emerge having shot only rocks, seaweed and (on one memorable occasion) my own foot.
This particular incident was followed by a humiliating limp up the beach, with lots of people asking me how I’d got on, before I could climb into my car, find my phone, and grumpily order a pizza.
The great day dawned, and a splendidly enthusiastic group of potential hunters turned up and were duly taken to a suitable site in the boat (you can see them up there on the right).
They were given a lengthy briefing about what to shoot (only certain species which we would later eat), and what not to shoot (each other, seagulls, seals, the boat, me).
And then they were issued with their spears. These are hand harpoons propelled by an elastic strap – a system called a Hawaiian sling.
This system makes it almost impossible to accidentally spear anything as you might with a trigger harpoon. Sadly, it turned out it made it almost impossible to deliberately spear anything either.
An hour later the group returned to the boat somewhat chastened, although in fairness to them the water was about as clear as oxtail soup.
There was a rumour one of the group had seen a fish, although on closer questioning it turned out it may have been his own thumb.
Hunter-gatherers no more, we returned crestfallen to Dartmouth, to be met by a magnificent scene.
As I watched him work, the blade of the
knife flashing in precise silver arcs, it dawned on me that perhaps we
haven’t strayed so far from our hunting roots after all.
A friend from nearby Brixham – one of the major fishing ports on the south coast – had anticipated our woeful haul and laid out a glittering array of local species.
The friend in question – Alistair – works as a fish processor, and what followed was a masterclass in filleting, de-boning and preparing the catch.
As I watched him work, the blade of the knife flashing in precise silver arcs, it dawned on me that perhaps we haven’t strayed so far from our hunting roots after all.
The skills Alistair displayed had been handed down from generation to generation in Brixham, his hands repeating precise patterns honed through the ages, a vivid link with our hunting past.
On the coast there still lurks the last British tribe, the last people on our island who hunt wild food for mass consumption – our fishermen.
It will be a sad day when our fishing fleets fade away, because with them will die our last links to what was once a universal hunting heritage, lost forever on the rising tide of technology and time.