Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

Bone knife

Here’s a bone knife I’ve just finished. The bone is a cow bone from the butcher (dog bone), filed, sanded and polished into a blade. It’s hafted onto a yew handle with animal glue and sinew. It’s good for cutting fruit and vegetables. I might consider serrating it at a later stage so that it can be used for cutting meat.

Bow drill set

I’ve just finished a new (bow drill) bow to go with the set I used on Native Skills 2. You can use any old stick as a bow, providing it’s roughly the right length and thickness – but it can also be a good idea to create a nice one yourself, imbuing it with your own intentions and personality. Creating fire from wood is a ceremony, and the more respect and gratitude with which you approach it the better you will be rewarded. And successfully creating a coal isn’t the only type of reward – failure can teach you just as much, if not more, about the materials and your own attitude and mood.

I’m going to try to get into the habit of using the set every day, especially if I do the Native Awareness year course in 2010.

Avatar

We went to see Avatar in 3D on Wednesday. It’s the story of the human colonisation of the fictional planet of Pandora, and the resistance of the native population of Na’vi (The People). The humans attempt to usurp the Na’vi on a number of fronts, including militarily and diplomatically. They genetically create Na’vi bodies (or avatars), which trained specialists can upload their consciousness to, in order to negotiate with the Na’vi and attempt to ‘educate’ them in human values and language.

Pandora is a breathtakingly beautiful planet, and rendered in high-definition 3D it’s pretty awe-inspiring. The Na’vi enjoy a close bond with their land and can access a kind of ancestral consciousness through forest network. They are experts in tracking, hunting, healing, caretaking and honourable relationship. The barbarity of the colonising attitude is at the fore throughout, but for once things don’t always go the usurpers’ way.

Avatar is well worth a view and hopefully I’ll be going back to see the IMAX 3D version before it leaves the cinemas.

Rabbit skin pouch

I hope the above image and accompanying post isn’t offensive to any vegetarian or vegan readers. This is the rabbit skin pouch I have recently finished from the rabbits we skinned on Native Skills 2.

We were shown how to process the rabbits by a top-class chef (and lovely man) called Quentin, who explained to us how they had been killed and the importance of demonstrating gratitude to our rabbit brothers and sisters who had forfeit their lives so that we could eat. We took a rabbit each or in pairs and set about the task of skinning and butchering them.

The meat was ground into mince by Ben and Nicki to make rabbit burgers for that evening’s meal. The burgers were delicious, and Quentin also showed us how to make saltimbocca by wrapping the tenderest cuts of rabbit in prosciutto with a sage leaf, before flash frying them. Food always seems to taste more ‘real’ and authentic when cooked and eaten outdoors, but the fact that we had butchered the meat ourselves added an extra dimension to the meal.

The skins were salted and put into bags ready for us to collect at the end of the week. I’m not sure if the one I went home with was the one I skinned or someone else’s, but it was a good job with very little flesh left on it. When I got home I washed out the salt and pulled off the remaining flesh with my fingers. This was easy to do, though the skin was quite delicate at this stage and was prone to tearing. I then tacked the skin out on a board and left it to dry.

After a day it was supple and skin-like, and after a week it was beginning to go dry and papery to the touch. I unpinned it and used hand cream to soften it, stretching the skin as I went. Once the cream had been worked in and dried, I was ready to start making the pouch.

I cut out the two shapes I needed and sewed them together using linen thread. The skin was surprisingly easy to sew and yet at the same time strong. After sewing I turned the pouch fur-side out and whip stitched two lengths of raffia cord around the mouth of the pouch for a reinforced (and decorative) edging. These lengths were then reverse wrapped together to form the strap of the pouch. I added a bead fastener to finish the pouch off.

All the while I was making the pouch I remembered the rabbit that lost its life. When it was complete I took it to a favourite spot by the river near where I live to make another offering of sage and tobacco to its memory.

I’ve had mixed responses to the fact that I use animal materials to make things, and the fact that I am prepared to kill animals for food, but the fact is… I eat meat. I would much rather that it was killed and processed with respect and awareness – and be involved the process – than unthinkingly eat intensively farmed meat that has been treated as nothing more than a resource. The separation in many people’s minds between animals and meat ‘products’ has become widespread in our society, both a symptom and cause of the continuing industrialised animal abuse that fuels our desire for cheap meat, poultry, eggs and milk.

Additional images by Emily Heath, with thanks.