Daily Stone Age Life – The Lake

This Sohi village lies at the outflow of a large lake. It’s a beautiful sight, with its clear water and its surrounding forested mountains. The Sohi people travel about it by canoe – but these are not the kind of canoes that you might have paddled in at Scout Camp.

Each canoe is made by hollowing out a single massive fallen tree. It takes a week of energetic hacking and scraping with a stone axe, before the top of the fallen log and most of its inside wood has been removed, and the log starts to resemble a canoe. Now it is also light enough for a team of men to drag it to the lake for final hacking and balancing.

The sides and bottom of the canoe are left about two inches (50mm) thick, because if too much wood is removed there is a risk that a patch of bad wood will be encountered, or an axe-blow will fall in the wrong place, and a hole will open up which makes the canoe useless for anything except firewood.

The finished canoe is rough but functional. If the shape of the log causes the canoe to be slightly curved, a large rock is strategically placed inside to redress the balance. The canoe can now carry four or more people with ease, plus their tools and harvested crops.

Around much of the lake edge, there are high limestone cliffs riddled with ridges and ledges. A kilometre or so from the village, the bones of ancestors have been placed on the ledges, high up, as an ever-present reminder of those who used to be alive. One ledge is packed with skulls, another ledge holds all of the ribs, and another holds bones from the limbs.

The men travel to their fishing grounds, where they spear their catch using a very sharp almost needle-shaped stone bound with twine to a wooden shaft.

In the middle of the lake is an island, containing a small Sohi settlement, perhaps a dozen family huts and a men’s longhouse. Those who live on the island have used sticks and reeds to construct various forms of fish trap, from which the fish can be snatched by hand.

Just near the canoe landing-place is a patch of smooth mud, on wihch the children have been drawing with sticks. Some of the drawings appear to be part of games of various sorts, and others are representational. The drawings relate to the lives of the people – we see houses, villagers, canoes, fish, plants, trees, pigs and of course fire. Some of the children have tired of drawing, and are amusing themselves rolling stones around a set route by pushing them with a stick.

At the far end of the lake is a third Sohi village, and just beyond its houses are its gardens. In the next part of this series I’ll talk about the food of the Sohi.

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