Survival Skills of Ishi

Survival Skills of Ishi

From 1871, when he was 10, till his death in 1916, Ishi lived a very hard life. His people were hounded and hunted down by the saldu (Yahi word for barbaric whites) driven by lust for gold and land. His tribe was attacked, decimated and driven many times. In the end about 50 individuals escaped when the entire camp was massacred, and burned. For about forty years they hid in a canyon. Their numbers dwindled to 40 to 20 and finally to 1, Ishi. He lived alone for 3 years until 1911 when he was found and delivered to a museum. It is utterly remarkable that despite all these tribulations Ishi survived sound in body, sane in mind, and firm in spirit.

Plant foods. Ishi had vast knowledge of wild flora and he knew how where and when to find fruits, wild cereals, edible leaves, mushrooms and roots. He also knew how to grow corn, beans, tomatoes, and squashes in undisturbed soil. Upon harvesting various foods he was able to process and protect them from rodents, insects and rot. Many of these foods needed some amount of processing and cooking before they were fit to eat; Ishi knew how to do that.

Good hunter and fisher. He was a sharp shooter, which meant a good procurer of meat. Ishi could track expertly, attract animal and birds by calling, and walk or run day and night without food for four or more days. After making a kill he could carry a deer on his shoulders over a four-day walk. In season, when salmon and trout came up the streams for breeding, Ishi caught them with bare hands, net, or spear. He also caught small fishes in little ponds along the river in the deep valley.

Clothing. In Yahi tradition clothes were fashioned mostly by women from hides, and a variety of plant fibers. But men assisted them in this work and learned the basics. Ishi therefore was quite able to cover himself for decency and comfort even when he was left alone.

Cleanliness. Ishi kept his body clean and healthy by bathing and washing regularly with appropriate natural soap nuts and known soil chemicals.

Healthcare. He had vast knowledge of medicinal herbs, which he used to remain in good health. Ishi ate in moderation and fasted to allow the body to heal itself. From boyhood he was encouraged occasionally to live alone for a few days in a special tipi to fast and meditate.

Bow is better than the trap. Ishi had learned to love and respect all living beings: snakes, bears, deer, and rabbits. He was taught to refer to them as brothers or sisters, and always remember to thank them for giving of himself. He and his tribal brothers never killed except for necessary food. Once he found an animal suffering intense pain from injury caused by the trap he had set. He vowed to prefer bow and arrow in future. Kindness to animals gave him tremendous moral strength.

Not all saldu are bad. Ishi had every reason to hate the saldu for their cruelty to his people for mere greed of land and gold. Indeed, he occasionally thought of waging a war against them. He was strong, brave and skilled enough to do a lot of harm to his enemies; but wise mentors restrained him. They told him that all white men were not bad. They also advised him to examine the ground reality before waging an all out war; for one man with a bow could not stand for long against 20 enemy with fire sticks (guns)? When young men and women talked constantly of saldu and their evil deeds, the elders told them that it was unhealthy.

By 1911 Ishi was no longer able to hide. He came into the open and fell in the hands of saldu. Luckily he quickly fell in the hands of a friendly sheriff. Ishi instantly and correctly read the man's face and shed all resistance. He became even more relaxed on reaching the university museum. They led him to his room and offered him a set of saldu clothes. He put them on, including the tie, but refused the shoes.
"Do you walk in them all the time? If your feet do not touch earth, how do they know where they are going?" He asked.
A Professor replied; as you well know, ours don't; most of the time.

July 1, 2006
P.S. (Ishi was born in 1861, not 1961, as wrongly said in story June 17, 2006.)