Barbara Bamberger Scott loved this nonfiction book Don’t Sleep – There Are Snakes by Daniel L. Everett, a missionary/linguistics expert who lived for 30 years among the Piraha Indians on the Amazon River. The Piraha (emphasis on the last syllable) are not particularly colorful. Their language has very few words (but each verb has 65,000 different forms!). They are not usually a group anyone wants to study or work with because they’re just not as interesting as other tribes.
I found this story to be soooo third world, so reminiscent of things that happened to me in Africa and Latin America:
One day a group of men came to the missionary and asked for money to buy a large canoe. He pointed out that they had perfectly good small canoes, but they said the small ones were obviously no good for going out with a large group of people. He said, if you can make a small one, why not just make a big one, but they said “The Piraha do not make large canoes.” They asked him to go to a nearby village and buy a large canoe for them. Instead, he engaged the services of a canoe builder from the nearby village to come and teach the Piraha how to make a big canoe. The builder had the Piraha work alongside him until they all knew how the canoe was made and they had their own big canoe. Not long afterwards they came to the missionary and asked him to buy them another big canoe. He said, “But now you can make your own big canoe.” The men said, “The Piraha do not make large canoes.”