Thoughts on: “Don’t Sleep There are Snakes” by Daniel L. Everett

Daniel, linguist and Christian missionary, spent decades in the amazon jungle trying to learn the curious language oh the Piranhã in order to do a Bible translation.

He was not the first person to try to convert these Amazonians. For 200 years people have traveled there to spread the good news’, but not a single Pitahã has ever taken the bait. They are just not in the marked for being saved!

It is a lovely account of immersing fully into a foreign culture, and the discoveries Daniel made had linguists pull their hair, since it crushed old assumptions about foundation of human language.


📝 Immediacy of Experience Principle: if you haven’t experienced something first hand your stories about it are irrelevant. The is the case for Pirahã.

📝 The Pirahã consumes everything they hunt and gather instantly. The don’t salt or smoke their food like other Amazonian tribes.

📝 Among the piraha the youth gets no sense of teenage angst, depression or insecurity.

📝 Piraha have no creation myth or oral history. (❗️)

📝 Left and right = “up“ and “down” river. They oriented themselves by external means, not relative to their own bodies.

📝 “Theories effect our perceptions; they are part of the cultural information that constrains the way we see the world around us.”


In the end it was Daniel that became the convert and started to doubt his own beliefs. He was turned from believing the bible was the exact word of God to go as far as challenging the value for myth in its entirety.

⭐️ TAKEAWAY:

Perception is learned. We experience the world according to our experience and expectations, “not always, perhaps never to how the world really is.”

Learning about the Pirahã culture is fantastic but the linguistic details can be quite exhausting at times.

3/5

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