The term “primitive skills” is often used when discussing popular TV shows like “Survivor” and “Naked and Afraid,” but what does it really mean? In short, primitive skills are survival techniques passed down through generations, including fire building, tracking, foraging and wilderness navigation. Nowadays, many people go without ever learning these skills, yet they continue to be taught by outdoor enthusiasts around the world.
To learn more, we turned to the Maine Primitive Skills School, a wilderness education school that’s based in Augusta and offers workshops, apprenticeships and immersion programs. The following is a Q&A with Mike Douglas, director of adult programs at the school.
How do you define “primitive skills”?
Mike Douglas: Our ancestors, with a better diet and more extreme need to learn, came up with “first” skills, also known as primitive skills. These techniques and crafts are simple in design, efficient in operation and ingenious in their use of natural materials to solve problems and provide for life sustaining needs.
Why learn primitive skills in this day and age?
Douglas: Primitive skills practice leads to a deeper understanding of natural process and our needs versus wants in a modern world as much as it does in the out of doors. The practical aspects of the skills empower the participant to act to improve their condition with no reliance on gear. The standard of skills isn’t to suffer until rescue comes but to improve the situation until comfort is the baseline. Survival is a commentary on ones skill level; the nature literate person well versed in field craft is operating from a baseline of proactive improvements and relationship building. It is much more than just trying to survive in an alien environment.
Many people struggle with addiction to social media and a general dissatisfaction with the modern work environment. We are one of the most modern societies in the world, yet we struggle to find time to engage in meaningful exchanges with our neighbors, our loved ones, even ourselves. Being immersed in nature and learning how to promote bounty through life sustaining processes of our ancestors helps remind us who we are and what is important in our modern lives. Being able to flourish unplugged in the out of doors helps to put the rest of what we do in perspective.