For a couple of days now I have been reading and re-reading an article from the Globe and Mail about the Piraha tribe of Amazonian Brazil. It is taking just that long to digest the idiosyncracies of their culture.
The article focuses on Piraha's status as the only known group of humans with no system of numbering or counting. This is not for lack of interaction with others who do, however. Linguists living with the Piraha have attempted to teach them traditional counting systems, and the tribe has been in contact with other Brazilians for over 200 years. Yet, the Piraha have been unable (or unwilling) to adopt such a system.
Beyond that though, the author details a litany of further eccentricities of this tribe:
"The Piraha are the only people known to have no distinct words for colours. They have no written language, and no collective memory going back more than two generations. They don't sleep for more than two hours at a time during the night or day. Even when food is available, they frequently starve themselves and their children. They communicate almost as much by singing, whistling and humming as by normal speech. They frequently change their names, because they believe spirits regularly take them over and intrinsically change who they are. They do not believe that outsiders understand their language even after they have just carried on conversations with them. They have no creation myths, tell no fictional stories and have no art."
Any one of those characteristics would comprise a cultural chasm between their world and ours. However, all of them? Like I said, I keep coming back to try to get my head around this.