In The Tree Where Man Was Born, Peter Matthiessen shares his East African explorations and findings from the 1960’s with poetic flavor and grandeur imagery. Matthiessen gives a uniquely diverse account of the wilderness, wildlife, and traditional peoples of various East African regions. Through these accounts and informative stores of what life is like there from socio-ecological perspective as well as personal travel narrative, one understand the depth to his musings. Despite his accounts as a majority of subjectivity and reader-impressionism from a different era, his insight is still creditable and helpful to the changes of life. Expounding from Jane Goodall’s quote from the book’s Introduction, “Matthiessen’s writing is a triumph
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His ability to delve into this topic was primarily based on personal encounters and logging, for example, from the Bantu and Maasai peoples. In his journals his took note of how life had been changing for the elderly of these tribes and their villages and maybe more importantly how from a culturally anthropological observation, the gatherers and hunters were brushed off to the side. This resulted in many of their people being forced to reside in foreign, possibly enemy villages where they were outcasts and could not do much to sustain their needs while living there. It is also important to take note that while Matthiessen’s insights were valid to the environmental and social changes to East African people, there are biases which are rooted possibly in his own thought processes such as the following quote.
“…There is a greater difference between “living” among a people and “knowing” them. While a European can learn something of the externals of African life, its system of kinship and classification, its peculiar arts and picturesque ceremonial, he may still have not yet reached the heart of the problem. . . . with his perceived ideas, mingled with prejudices, he fails to achieve a more sympathetic and imaginative knowledge a more human and inward appreciation of the living people…” (Matthiessen, pg. 28)
Socially, from those revolutionary changes, the gatherer-hunter lifestyles quickly