Baka hunters.  Photo: Exploring Tourism, Cameroon.

Baka hunters. Photo: Exploring Tourism, Cameroon.

This unit explores some challenging questions about Indigenous Knowledge Systems and serves as a vehicle for a collaborative written assignment and brief oral report.

Frame the activity by asking students to revisit the Native Planet photo documentary of the Mantawi people, who live a highly ritualistic, semi-nomadic, hunter gatherer life, relatively isolated on the Mentawai Islands off the coast of Western Sumatra, Indonesia.

One potential threat to the Mantawi culture is the fact that the Islands have some of the very best surfing in the world. Students should visit the high end Australian Surf Travel website, which includes prices. Allow students to express their own conclusions about this “real life example” of globalization.


Each group selects a different Knowledge Question from the list below and then applies it to a relevant real-life example. Confident students can modify any of the Knowledge Questions on the list or invent one of their own.


  • To what extent can we say that life in industrialized nations is materially rich, but socially poor, compared to life in traditional societies?

  • How effective are the methods used in traditional societies to settle disputes in the absence of police forces and adversarial judicial systems?

  • To what extent should we condemn certain traditional societies practices like infanticide and “widow strangling”?

  • What if anything can industrialized societies learn about child rearing from traditional societies?

  • To what extent is it best to leave the last remaining traditional societies in places like the forests of Amazon and Papua New Guinea well alone?

  • To what extent do we romanticize when we refer to people living in traditional societies as “true environmentalists”?

  • What is lost when a language dies?

  • To what extent are the creation myths of traditional societies fundamentally similar to the written creation texts of the major religions?

  • To what extent are globalization and the fusion of cultures progress?

  • What can traditional societies teach us about the nature of war?

  • To what extent are traditional societies the inevitable product of their geography?

  • To what extent can we argue that the collapse or erosion of indigenous societies is only natural?