Saturday, December 26, 2009

Primitive Tools in the Windward Islands

The Windward Islands of the southern Caribbean have a lengthy history with primitive peoples. Moving out of the South American continent, they settled their way across the islands in a series of migrations. Much has been written already on these peoples and their interactions, but little appears to b be available on their ways of life, skills, and tools. It is well known that the Arawak were sophisticated craftsmen who produced high quality pottery, but as of yet I have seen little of their lithics. This leads me to wonder what the natives of these islands were using to cut, scrape, gouge, saw, and drill.
I have spent much of my time in the islands seeking out museums with the answers, as well as looking to the environment itself for those answers.

You can see that with relatively little difficulty, one could put together a very useful toolkit. This kit is entirely made of local materials and using basic primitive skills. With this kit you can produce fire, butcher game, hunt, carve, produce stone drills, and produce a number of other tools.

The stone found here comes in varying degrees, which is very useful to primitive people or the survivalist. All of the stones I found are razor sharp, but are obviously more suited for certain tasks. The caramel coloured stone is probably the sharpest, but would not stand up to working wood. The grey stone is far more robust and could easily carve wood. Much of the islands here are volcanic, though obsidian is rare, if not non-existent.

Fiber is readily available from the palm trees. Both the trunk of the palm and the husk have very strong fibers. It can be somewhat wirey which makes me uncertain of whether it would work for fishing line. It would be suitable for all other tasks and I am certain it was a staple for primitive peoples in the islands.

As for fire I have had good success, even with wood simply collected from the beach. The set picture has been used several times and produces coals quickly and consistently.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I caught my first fish with a 3 pronged spear, albeit a modern spear with the aid of my snorkling gear, but quite a feet regardless.
Peacock Flounder appear to be fairly common on the sandy areas around here. I saw two the day I caught this, including the one I speared. They're excellent at camouflage and if you strike and miss, they bury themselves in the sand and become impossible to locate.
The Peacock Flounder is a left eyed fish, and the one I stalked seemed rather cautious. My first attempt to approach directly and go slow seemed to alert it and sent it gliding over the sand to a patch of algae that it promptly blended into.
Mum prepared it, since this is apparently one of her favorite fish to eat. They have a lot of bones, so there is a certain amount of skill required to eat this without getting messy. This is also how it is served in restaurants. Flounders hav no scales, so it's cooked with the skin on, which you peel back, then eat the flesh from one side, using your knife to separate it from the ribs. Once finished on one side, you flip it using your knife to seperate the flesh from the underside as well.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Choco Seeds

Finally bored through enough choco seeds to put on my necklace. They use these in a lot of jewelry in Bequia, and apparently down into the Amazon as well. They're brilliantly red seeds that almost feel like they're made of glass. I used a small chert drill (stone found locally) and a fish tooth to drill them.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary

The Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary is located on Bequia, SVG. We walked the 2 miles from Port Elizabeth to see Brother King and his sanctuary. He houses mostly Hawksbill turtles but also has Green Turtles and Red-Footed Tortoises. He runs his operation on his own money, so if you're looking for someone to donate to, this guy may be it. He is a retired fisherman who used to catch turtles, but has since dedicated his time to protecting the ocean he once fished.

The Hawksbill is actually quite aggressive compared to the Green Turtles. They fight with each other constantly and will bite you if you let your fingers too close. They do have brilliantly coloured shells however, which was one of the main reasons they were hunted prior to the introduction of plastic. Now they are primarily hunted for food with the shells discarded. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada are the only islands that have not stopped hunting turtles.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Adventure in the Windward Islands

I finally have pictures to post! It spans everything from Grenada to Bequia so this may end up being a decent sized post.
I'm starting to adapt to the resources and materials available here, it's obviously very different from the woodlands, and the needs of living in this environment are different too.
I was able to find Jasper in the hills around Tyrrel Bay, though it is some pretty burly stuff, and was difficult to spall. It ranges from almost yellow, to deep reds.
As for cordage, I have found a lot of agave and yucca, but that requires processing which I cannot do on the boat, so I have turned to the Coconut tree for fiber. The fibers inside the dry husks of coconut is surprisingly strong, and produces a decent cordage.

This was on a wall in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Most of the bricks are pitted from the sea air, but this one stood out. Upon closer look, I found it to be a dog track impressed in the brick when still wet, then made perminent when the brick was fired.

Coconuts are of course, everywhere. The trick is being able to get them. This is made particularly difficult when people hammer nails into the sides of the palm.
Anyway, they grow in various stages with each stage being used for something. The water can range from quite sweet to sour, but it's all good and safe to drink, which is helpful on these islands where fresh water springs are sometimes non-existant.
Machetes (also called cutlasses on some islands), are a very useful tool down here, and are extremely common. One local told me that every house must have a machete, speaking to its usefulness. I've seen old women cutting tuna in the fish markets in St. George with large, English made machetes. The two cutlasses Elliot and I were able to purchase in St. George are Brazillian and have already proved quite useful.

The infamous Barracuda. Not nearly as aggressive as I've grown up thinking, they are incredibly common reef predators. The locals eat them regularly, and you have to ask at restaurants before you order fish, or you'll end up eating one of these. That is something to be avoided because they are known carriers of Ciguatera, as are other reef fish. I have eaten it since I've been down here, and it isn't bad, albeit a bit boney. Other fish we have had here are Red Hind and Snapper, which I much prefure.
I'm told the smaller Barracuda are safer, but for the most part we throw these back.

Aloe Vera grows abundantly here, which is fortunate for us people or European decent. The sun here is absolutely merciless at midday, and you really do have to watch your back. Definitely a good plant to have in a survival situation in these islands.

There are many types of lizards here, as well as Iguanas. Some of these types can get quite big, which makes them a possible survival food on the islands.
After anchoring in Chatham Bay, we heard from some locals that there was an abandoned British Fort in the hills around the bay. We were pointed in the direction of a dirt path leading up into the hills, so we set off to find this fort. The whole island used to be heavily defended against American Privateers, so forts seems to be relatively common on the island.
First interesting thing we noticed was as we left the beech behind, we noticed the trees were almost covered in these air plants. They're everywhere, growing on anything with a bare branch.

Some pretty rockey trails at parts, which I walked barefoot. It was like hunting for a lost city, and the trail became so dense in parts we had to use our machete to cut our way through.

Red Footed Tortoises are native to the island, and we found 5 along the trail. They seemed to be hanging out in little groups, which is quite different from the Box Turtles in the US. I'm not sure if the natives ate these, but Elliot says they can get up to a foot in length so it's possible. They were not afraid of us when we picked them up and are quite beautiful.

In some parts the canopy was quite dense, creating these open patches that were quite refreshing to be in.
There are many of these snakes, none of them are venomous. They're also very aware and it was hard to even get a picture of them before they vanished into the leaflitter.

In all reality, Fort Irene is probably on the hill behind me, but we were unable to find it. Should we have had another day in the bay, I would have just bushwacked my way up until I found it, but we weighed anchor later that day and left. I have no idea what kind of fort it was, or what was in it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Carriacou Island

We arrived in Carriacou yesterday. It's a relatively small island compared to Grenada, but was apparently heavily settled by the Arawak and later Carib natives. In one guide book I read that there are places on this island where ancient pottery literally covers the ground, and "tumbles over the cliffs into the sea". The museum in Hillsborough has a decent collection of artifacts from these groups, which gave me a pretty good idea of what resources they were using, and how they made their tools.
Local stone appears to be Quartz, Jasper, and a dense stone called Ironstone. They make celts here out of Ironstone as well as Conch Shells. The Conch shell (called Lambi here) celts look identical to their stone counterparts
Cordage has been very difficult to find in these islands, and after asking at the museum it seems that the Arawak used a native cotton and some other plant which the museum interpreter didn't have a name for. It almost sounded like she was describing yucca or agave, which they have both of here. I'm just not sure if its native or an introduced species.
Turtles are protected here, but they were once a staple of the island cultures. In the museum they had a number of pottery artifacts with turtle effigies on them, as well as turtle bone pendants.
I am yet to see any stone projectile points, and the only artifacts that show any working are actually shell that have been knapped into serated blades.
I made my first bowdrill fire in the islands 2 days ago on Isle De Rhonde. It's a very scrubby island with a few palm trees, the rest of the vegetation being cactus, a variety of toxic tree related to poison ivy, and some kind of very spikey acacia.
Elliot and I picked up Machettes, which they call Cutlasses, in St. George so we can cut up coconuts, and explore some of the denser parts of the islands here. As we enter the Pacific, uninhabited islands will become more plentiful and the chance to make overnight survival camps on them will be more frequent.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Grenada and the Tropics

I arrived in Grenada last Tuesday and its vastly different than any environment I have ever been in. We haven't reached any uninhabited islands yet, as Grenada is relatively developed. Most of the beaches here are privately owned and any of my bushcraft skills I would like to practice here I fear would attract too much attention. Tomorrow we make passage for Curriacou, an island that has a lengthy history with ancient peoples who migrated there from Northern South America. One account I read described "pottery literally falling into the ocean" from the ancient inhabitants.
My plans are to make a series of tropical survival videos with the help of my brother, so if anyone has any advice or suggestions in this area please share, as there appears to be a relatively steep learning curve in the tropics, in my opinion.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Winds of Change

Its been quite awhile since I graced my own blog with a post, but summer always proves to be an intensely busy time for me, and this summer has been no different. I have however documented it fairly well with my new (albeit outdated) camera.

I have come to the decision that I will be leaving the US soon (3 months or so), and thus I will be opening up myself to different environments to test my skills, and learn new ones. My next destination will be St. Lucia, and the surrounding islands. Eventually I will end up in Australia after traveling extensively in the Caribbean, with a trip to the Galapagos Islands in between. It's a pretty big change, but it is one that will ultimately enrich my skills, as well as this blog.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

MAPS Meet 2009- May 21-25

Its that time of year again, there are still spot available to register, so if you've been thinking about going to a primitive skills gathering, or you've attended MAPS in the past, sign up!!

Monday, February 23, 2009

MAPS Group Overhaul

For those familiar with the Mid-Atlantic primitive skills scene, you may have heard of a group called MAPS. It recently went on a little hiatus of sorts, and largely disappeared except for a yearly gathering that bears its name (MAPS Meet). Through the diligent work of Rick Hueston of Earth Connections School, it has been brought back to the fore front of the primitive skills community in the Mid Atlantic region with the complete overhaul of its website (which lay stagnant for a few years, and was in serious need of change). It now features far more content that is updated regularly, lists of events, and even features a Facebook-like networking feature.
So if you've attended MAPS Meet, or are interested in primitive skills and are in the Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia area, please join!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Australian Military Issue FRED

While cleaning up around my apartment I came across a little device I was given when I was about 8 years old by my dad's friend. It's a thin, about 3 1/2 inch long piece of metal with a small blade attached. It's been floating around for a number of years, and I figured it was a rather gimmicky military can opener with little to no practical application. I decided to research it and find out if it was valuable or what it was exactly.
The only marking on it are a rather lengthy serial number and the year 1985, along with a faded British Board of Ordinance marking (looks like an arrow, it's present on almost all British made military equipment).
Through some quick Google research, I found it to be an Australian version of the P-38 and P-51 can openers. The P-38 and later model P-51 can openers were issued in mess kits in the 40's, and were apparently supposed to be disposable, however the soldiers were keeping them so they made their way into standard issue. The Australian military seems to have capitalized on the concept by improving the design by adding a can opener, and spoon-like depression to the end.
It's very light weight, sturdy and durable, and has a hole so it can be attached to a key ring, making this my new favorite survival tool. I also read they have been used as screw drivers, box openers, and one source even reported them being used by women in the 50's and 60's as weapons against rapists and muggers.
The US versions are no longer issued, but the Australian versions are still in use and are still available from some Australian surplus shops.

*UPDATE*: As of 2005, the Australian Military have determined the F.R.E.D. to be redundant and have removed them from standard issue. Since writing this article I have found them to be rather difficult to get a hold of, though they are available through military contractors by using the NATO Stock Number (NSN) on the back of the F.R.E.D. (7330-66-010-0931)