The Pirahã people

My discussion with @Kub933 got me going down a rabbit hole of civilizations that were atheistic. While there is no truly atheistic civilization free of spiritual beliefs, but the Pirahã people are close. They have a fascinating culture that is primarily interested in direct experience and facts, and seemingly uninterested in belief - although there are exceptions. Below is the wikipedia entry on their culture:

As far as the Pirahã have related to researchers, their culture is concerned solely with matters that fall within direct personal experience, and thus there is no history beyond living memory. Pirahã have a simple kinship system that includes baíxi (parent, grandparent, or elder), xahaigí (sibling, male or female), hoagí or hoísai (son), kai (daughter), and piihí (stepchild, favorite child, child with at least one deceased parent, and more).[6]: 86–87

Daniel Everett states that one of the strongest Pirahã values is no coercion; one does not tell other people what to do.[7] There appears to be no social hierarchy; the Pirahã have no formal leaders. Their social system is similar to that of many other hunter-gatherer bands in the world, although rare in the Amazon because of a history of horticulture before Western contact (see history of the Amazon).

Although the Pirahã use canoes every day for fishing and for crossing the river beside which they live, when their canoes wear out, they use pieces of bark as temporary canoes. Everett brought in a master builder who taught and supervised the Pirahã in making a canoe, so that they could make their own. However, when they needed another canoe, they said that “Pirahã do not make canoes” and told Everett he should buy them a canoe. The Pirahã rely on neighboring communities’ canoe work, and use those canoes for themselves.[7]

Pirahã build simple huts where they keep a few pots, pans, knives, and machetes. They make only scraping implements (for making arrowheads), loosely woven palm-leaf bags, bows, and arrows.[5] They take naps of 15 minutes to, at the most, two hours throughout the day and night, and rarely sleep through the night.[6]: xvii, 13, 70, 79

They do not store food in any quantity, but generally eat it when they get it.[5] Pirahã have ignored lessons in preserving meats by salting or smoking.[5] They cultivate manioc plants that grow from spit-out seeds and make only a few days’ worth of manioc flour at a time.[5] They trade Brazil nuts and sex for consumables or tools, e.g. machetes, gunpowder, powdered milk, sugar, whiskey. Chastity is not a cultural value.[7] They trade Brazil nuts, wood, and sorva (rubbery sap used in chewing gum) for soda-can pull-tabs, which are used for necklaces.[5] Men wear T-shirts and shorts that they get from traders; women sew their own plain cotton dresses.[5]

Their decoration is mostly necklaces, used primarily to ward off spirits.[6]: 74 The concept of drawing is alien to them and when asked to draw a person, animal, tree, or river, the result is simple lines.[8] However, on seeing a novelty such as an airplane, a child may make a model of it, which may be soon discarded.[9]

According to Everett, the Pirahã have no concept of a supreme spirit or god,[10] and they lost interest in Jesus when they discovered that Everett had never seen him. They require evidence based on personal experience for every claim made.[7] However, they do believe in spirits that can sometimes take on the shape of things in the environment. These spirits can be jaguars, trees, or other visible, tangible things including people.[6]: 112, 134–142 Everett reported one incident where the Pirahã said that “Xigagaí, one of the beings that lives above the clouds, was standing on a beach yelling at us, telling us that he would kill us if we go into the jungle.” Everett and his daughter could see nothing and yet the Pirahã insisted that Xigagaí was still on the beach.[6]: xvi–xvii

I’m watching this documentary on them at the moment:


Yeah that is interesting, it’s actually one of the things I was contemplating about - the difference between established belief systems vs illusions/delusions which seem to flow naturally from the instinctual programming.

Because from the text it is clear they still experience the illusions/delusions of spirits and yet they do not have any established belief system around it.

It’s like there is the seed for those belief systems within each human, this comes from the instinctual programming and what humans have done with the use of increasing intelligence is turn those instinctive deceptions into solidified systems.

You should watch the documentary, seems like a great place to have an actualist meetup.

Yeah I’ll give it a watch when I’m back from training later.

Wow cool. You have no idea how many times I’ve contemplated posting about the Piraha here.

I wonder if they have PCEs

1 Like

Very interesting to read about these fellows…There was this interesting ancient atheistic school of thought in Hinduism which has some similar stuff with Actualism…It was called Charvaka :

Charvaka was a philosophical system of thought that emerged in India around 600 BCE and emphasised materialism to understand and live in the world. According to materialism, everything that exists is a perceivable matter; ideas like the soul and other supernatural beings or planes of existence are just the creations of creative minds.

Any supernatural claims, religious authority and scripture, the acceptance of inference and evidence in determining truth and any religious ceremony or tradition were all rejected by the Charvaka vision. The philosophy’s fundamental tenets were:

  • The only way to establish and accept any reality is by direct awareness
  • What the senses cannot perceive and comprehend does not exist
  • The visible components of air, earth, fire, and water are all that exist
  • The only evil in life is suffering; pleasure is the ultimate good
  • The fundamental aim of human existence is to seek pleasure while avoiding misery
  • Religion is a creation of the powerful and smart to exploit the weak

The Charvaka were atheists who did not believe in karma, reincarnation or an afterlife. It was believed that physical pleasure was harmless. Because pleasure cannot exist without suffering, Charvaka believed that wisdom consisted in savouring pleasure while avoiding pain as much as possible. Many of the traditional religious beliefs of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Ajivakas, such as an afterlife, reincarnation, samsara, karma, and religious ceremonies, were discarded by Charvakas.

Charvaka’s ethics was a hedonistic one. They thought that sensuous pleasures were the sole genuine goal of life and that there were no duties for a hereafter or karma. However, a subjective moral norm existed of avoiding pain and suffering during the pleasure process. Because death was regarded as an unavoidable occurrence, living one’s life to the utmost was the only prudent course of action.

1 Like