Amazonian Tribe Lacks Abstract Concept of Time

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Courtesy Chris Sinha

While you’re rushing to meet deadlines and trying to make it to places on time, there’s one tribe in the Amazon that doesn’t have that problem.

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth and the Federal University of Rondonia in Brazil have found that the Amazonian tribe Amondawa, has no abstract concept of time. “In English we say things like, her birthday is coming up, or he worked through the night,” researcher Chris Sinha told NewsFeed. “But they (the Amondawa) don’t use such expressions of movement in space to metaphorically talk about time.”

The study was carried out via interviews, observations, questionnaires and experiments, and the results came as a surprise to the researchers, because it’s the first language in which it’s been established that space to time mappings don’t occur.

(MORE: Amazon deforestation prompts crisis cabinet)

But although the Amondawa, who were first contacted by the outside world in 1986, don’t have anything like a clock, they do talk in time periods. “They’re just not as strict,” says Sinha. That means that if two members of a tribe were to meet up, they’d say something like “We’ll meet in the afternoon,” or “we’ll meet tomorrow morning.”  This is also explained by the fact that they have a small number system which only goes up to four.

The Amondawa doesn’t have a calendar either; They don’t have a word for year, month or week.  Rather, they refer to the “dry” or “rainy” season.

So what does this say of their lifestyle? “They’re more laid back in the sense that they’re not ruled by time,” says Sinha. “There’s excitement in their lives, but it’s of a different kind.”

The Amondawa  have no trouble in picking up notions of time in Portuguese, their second language. “This tells us that we have become so embedded in a world that is governed by the measurement of time, that we find it difficult to understand what it might be like to live in a world that is not governed that way,” says Sinha.

The 24-hour lifestyle can indeed be stressful.

(MORE: Can the rain forest be saved?)

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