Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes, By Daniel Everett
Sunday 20 September 2009
It is 6:30 on an August Saturday morning during the dry season of 1980. The sun is shining, and a breeze blowing up from the Maici River. Daniel Everett wakes up in his hut among the Piraha Indians of Brazil, and it is on this morning that he realises how differently the two cultures – European-based and Pirahas – see reality. For the next two decades he grapples with the nuances of these differences.
Everett first visited the Pirahas as a 26-year-old and ended up devoting so much of his life to them that his grandchildren now know them. His journey into the crucible of Amazonian culture teaches him both scientific and personal lessons which change his life profoundly. This memoir also shows his own perception of reality altering in fundamental ways: once a missionary, he finds himself converted by the Pirahas.
The title of this thorough, thought-provoking book is an expression used by some Pirahas as a good-night greeting: Pirahas believe that by sleeping less, they will "harden themselves" and also remain alert to the manifold dangers surrounding them in the jungle. Separated into two main parts, "Life" and "Language", the book examines the complexities of words as well as of people and place, studying the linguistic building blocks that make meaning, and what might be lost – and what found – in translation. We learn much about this fascinating culture: how they do not live by clock time, how competition is absent, how they have no word for "worry".
The vivid details are combined with broader questions, such as why we should care about other cultures and languages at all. The loss of language, argues Everett, brings loss of identity, and we must protect and respect languages and thus lives. The book also shows how those who once threatened to kill you can become your dearest friends.
Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 East 17 bandmember Brian Harvey in 'very desperate situation’
- 2 Is this bridge haunted by the ghost of nu rave?
- 3 Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
- 4 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 5 Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories
Britain's first cinema flickers back to life following £6m refurbishment
A historian gave the most British look of despair when someone screwed up Richard III's birthday at his reburial
James May hints Top Gear days are over following Jeremy Clarkson's BBC exit
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers