by Simon Ayres
edited by Ellie Howe
Discussion of rewilding sometimes refers to it as the process of undoing domestication, and as Cambrian Wildwood seeks to replenish the land with a rich tapestry of native animal and plant species, we seek to replenish ourselves, undoing the processes of domestication and enjoying a deeper connection with nature. Rewilding is a relatively new concept resulting in a new word in the English language, and we were not aware of an existing term for ‘rewilding’ in the Welsh language. ‘Ail-gwyllt’ is the most obvious as a direct translation of the English, but after some discussion it was considered that a more suitable term is ‘Di-ddofi’. Translated into English, ‘di-ddofi’ means ‘de-domestication’.
The earliest humans originated 2.8 million years ago and Homo sapiens originated about 200 thousand years ago. Over the last 7,000 years, less than 5% of the history of our species, the process of domestication has made a rapid impact on our way of living. In the course of domesticating plants, animals and landscapes we also became domesticated ourselves, losing contact with nature and a direct experience of the world, as our living becomes mediated by symbols. We have been drawn inexorably along the route of agriculture and industry with their contingent effects of population growth and environmental destruction.
Archaeological evidence, the historical accounts by early European explorers, and comparison with contemporary people provide a consistent description of life in hunter-gatherer, or forager, societies. A work load of around 20 hours per week was enough to provide for all needs, giving far more leisure time than we enjoy in industrial or agricultural societies; infectious diseases were unknown, as were lifestyle diseases such as arthritis and cancer; sharing rather than competition was the social and economic norm required for survival; mental health problems such as depression and anxiety were unknown.
Human brain sizes were bigger in pre-agricultural times, representing a higher level of intelligence. Intimate knowledge of the plants and animals inhabiting an extensive area of landscape, plus mastery of a wide range of skills needed to live in a particular environment have been replaced by specialised and repetitive tasks in agricultural or industrial economies. Industrial economies have created a system, in the name of economy of scale, where most activity is carried out to support or deal with the effects of the system (transport, energy, administration, trading, emergency services, prisons, etc.) rather than producing what we need. In terms of seeing to our comfort, most of what we do is a waste of time, and it would be far more efficient and far less destructive of our environment if the predominant human activity were to engage directly with producing what we need, within a smaller scale economic system. The production of surplus inherent in agricultural and industrial societies provides wealth for an elite tiny minority, while other people tread the mill and just about manage to make ends meet, and substantial numbers of people do not have enough to eat. Harari describes the development of agriculture as the biggest con that humanity has endured.
As societies have lost their connection and place within the natural world, people have sought connection and fulfilment via abstract ideas, such as religion, science, technology, adulation of celebrity, etc. In using these ideas and their high priests to mediate our connection to life, or seeking experience through virtual reality, we relinquish our own birth right to direct raw experience – this is the end game of domestication.
Today, the last old growth forests and other wild areas are being destroyed, the last populations of wild animals are being decimated, and the last tribal forager societies are being wiped out through genocide or through forced integration with industrial society. Potentially we are witnessing the end of the wild at the hands of the industrial machine.
Rewilding embraces the ideas of human de-domestication. Freeing ourselves from the effects of industrialisation: mediated experience, delusion, drudgery, pollution, stress, disconnection, ill-health and the trappings of our domesticated lives. Through this liberation of ourselves, we will free the planet from the destructive effects of our industry, greed and unsustainable economic system.
Many of the skills that enabled us to live in balance with our world and connected to the cycles of nature have been lost. De-domestication or rewilding is about re-awakening these truly human skills and mind sets, utilising them once more in our everyday lives, to bring meaning and fulfilment back to our routines. These include basic life skills, such as growing food, bushcraft and foraging; and recovering our connection through mindfulness, a rooting in the physical world over the virtual, and of course time spent in wild environments, living in and being with nature, being a truly integrated part of it, rather than a detached spectator.
Overview of human rewilding activities:
Recovering the skills to live –
bushcraft and survival skills;
growing of food for subsistence;
collecting food from the wild;
traditional crafts and building skills.
Recovering the ability to connect, to live in the present moment –
meditation and other mindfulness practices;
absorption in skilful activities;
focus on real life instead of abstractions and virtual reality;
pushing our boundaries, stepping out of our comfort zones, accepting challenge.
Recovering a connection to the rest of the natural world –
spending time in wild, natural places;
observing wild nature;
living and working in natural surroundings.
These ideas owe much to the following references and individuals, in no particular order:
Kenton Whitman, ReWild University http://rewildu.com/ and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-tsZbkRochzhYO7-9wrs-A
Yuval Noah Harari, ‘Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind’
John Zerzan, ‘Running on Emptiness – The Pathology of Civilization’
Marshall Sahlins, ‘Stone Age Economics’
Mark Boyle, ‘Moneyless Man’
David Fleming, ‘Surviving the Future – Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy’
Rachel Corby, ‘Rewild Yourself – Becoming Nature’
Miles Olson, ‘Unlearn, Rewild – Earth Skills, Ideas and Inspiration for the Future Primitive’
A search for books on the internet under the term ‘primitive skills’ reveals a list of fascinating titles.