There are many places on this planet which test the absolute limits of human tolerance. The unifying experience of the peoples who call these places home is their Indigeneity. In the frozen artic: Inuktitiut cultures of Nunavik; the Eskimo Aleut of Siberia and Alaska; and, the Inuit of Greenland. In the searing deserts: the Bedouin of the Arabian peninsula; the Tuareg and Berbers of the Sahara; and, the Pintupi, Pitjantjatjara and Dieri of Australia’s western deserts.
At altitude: the Aymara highlanders living in the Andean Altiplano in South America; the Indigenous peoples of the Tibetan Plateau in Asia who live over 4,000 metres above sea level; and, the Amhara or Abyssinians who make their home at the highest elevations of the Ethiopian Highlands in East Africa.
Unlike most the world’s 370 million Indigenous population these people have not been pushed to their country’s geographic margins by colonisation. None of these places have ever been the target of colonisation and the inhabitants of these landscapes have lived there successfully and in tune with the forbidding environment for many thousands of years.
There is much debate about what exactly motivated prehistoric people to migrate to these remote and challenging places and for life to be sustained there. What is clear is that they have adapted both physiologically and culturally and despite the extremes, have much in common between their cultures and lifeways.
Most practice a nomadic existence because of the scarcity of food and natural resources and rely upon and revere the animals and plant life who share their worlds. They are all oral cultures and have deep and rich artistic traditions as diverse as poetry, song, dance, drawing and carving. They also have special celestial connections and the mysteries of space hold special meaning for all.
Dominant cultures in recent centuries have destroyed the lives and traditions of so many Indigenous groups. However, it is those who we find in environments at the very edge of human tolerances who have been able to preserve their lifeways, remaining largely untouched and providing an important alternative perspective in our world.