In "Doctor Brodie's Report," a 1970 short story by Borges, there's an Amazon tribe with no notion of cause and effect and no sense of the past. N. T. di Giovanni translates, "Since they lack the capacity to fashion the simplest object, the Yahoos regard such ornaments [produced elsewhere] as natural. To the tribe my hut was a tree, despite the fact that many of them saw me construct it and even lent me their aid. Among a number of other items, I had in my possession a watch, a cork helmet, a mariner's compass, and a Bible. The Yahoos stared at them, weighed them in their hands, and wanted to know where I had found them." And, "The words 'Our Father,' owning to the fact that they have no notion of fatherhood, left them puzzled. They cannot, it seems, accept a cause so remote and so unlikely, and are therefore uncomprehending that an act carried out several months before may bear relation to the birth of a child."

The Yahoos' numerical system stops at four. "On their fingers they count thus: one, two, three, four, many. Infinity begins at the thumb." Yet even more stingy and sublime are the real life Warlpiris, Australian aborigines whose language only allows for one, two, then many. Eternity snaps into being with one's middle finger. There's also the Pirahas. Numbering less than 350 souls, this Amazon tribe has no creation myths, no fairy tales, no arts, not even tattooing, no words for colors and no numbers except hói, which means either "one," "few" or "small." Compared to the 112 phonemes of Taa (spoken in Botswana and Namibia), 40 of English, 30 of Italian, the Piraha language only has ten. They also have no concept of the past. According to linguist Daniel Everett, the Pirahas believe that "everything is the same, things always are," and nothing matters but the present.


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