Stranger in their midst

From a handwritten note – quite literally on the back of an envelope – from my university anthropology days. It reads:

The reader must imagine to himself the privilege of making contact with primitive societies which were more or less intact and had never been studied seriously. Just how recently – as luck would have it – the whites had set out to destroy them will be clear from the following story.

The Californian tribes had still been quite wild at the time of their extermination, and it happened that one Indian escaped, as if by a miracle, from the holocaust. For years he lived unknown and unobserved only a dozen miles from the great centres of population, and kept himself alive with his bow and sharp-pointed arrows whose stone heads he carved himself.

Gradually there was less and less for him to shoot, and finally he was found, naked and starving on the outskirts of a city suburb. He ended his days in peace as a college porter at the University of California.

I can see why I wrote it down, why I wanted to keep a record of it. It quite wonderfully catches the whole essence of disappearing peoples and cultures, and does so beautifully and concisely. I don’t know who the tribe were, or who the porter was. Maybe I’d prefer to keep it that way.