Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Meet Paul Campbell

[Campbell's books are available from the Store at www.ChristopherNyerges.com]

Do you all know Paul Campbell?  Paul Campbell, local resident, is the author of “Survival Skills of Native California.”  He has a lifelong interest in the outdoors, and a particular interest in the American Indians who lived here in Southern California.

Paul has also authored “Earth Pigments and Paint of the California Indians.”
What a fantastic book!  Here is a treasure trove of original research whose scope goes far beyond the seemingly-limited title.  Campbell begins with his quest for a blood-red ochre. He shares where all the colors used by Southwestern tribes came from, the binders they used to make pigments into paint, and the storage containers of these pigments.  With color photos throughout, Campbell gives examples of pigments in rock art, body paint, face decorations, bow and arrow paint, and more. The book also includes a portfolio of late 1880s photos of mostly Mohave Indians showing face and body paint.
A must-have addition to any library focused on anthropology, native skills, and art. 

 “The local Indians were so in-tuned with nature,” says Campbell, as he shows me the simple bird trap he made based on local native designs.

“They lived here for at least 10,000 years, and it seemed to me that after they lived here that long using simple technologies, they figured out the best ways to live in this environment.  If I wanted to be in tune with this environment,” he adds, “I realized that I should at least begin where they left off.”

So, about 10 years ago, Campbell decided to begin actually practicing some of the skills and making the tools that were used by aboriginal peoples here for millenia.
“What I read in most books was insufficient,” explains Campbell, and he began his quest with extensive research that included trips to Mexico where he studied with the Indians who still lived and practiced many of the old skills.

“When my research reached what I call a critical mass, I’d go out and make these tools, like bows, and traps, and rabbit sticks, and I found that they worked well.  The more I practiced under difficult conditions, the better I got.  I improved by experience and I was able to refine certain subtleties in these skills and tools.”

Campbell showed me a lightweight willow bow he made using stone tools.  The stones were first collected within a few yards of where the willows grew.  He’d whack the stones together to create sharp edges and he used those sharpened rocks to cut the willow, split the willow, and shape the willow into a bow.  He used smooth rocks to sand the and smooth the bow.

“Each rock tool is slightly different, designed to perform a separate function,” says Campbell.  “My purpose in dong this was to demonstrate the usefulness of the universal tool kit composed of shattered rocks,” he explained as he showed me a river rock with an edge that was nearly as sharp as a metal knife.

Campbell explained that a simple bow became the universal weapon, though the bow probably did not come into California until the 3rd or 4th Century A.D.  “The bow was one of the most important weapons of all the primitive weapons.  It was used to hunt game at a short distance,” says Campbell.

Campbell showed me both a small boy’s bow, about 4 ½ feet long, which he made in about eight hours with stone rasps and stone scrapers.  Large game bows would be about 6 feet long and take a bit longer to make.  Campbell explained that the bow was and is a fairly accurate weapon in the hands of even a novice.  Hunting in the old days involved stalking, and then calling-in the game so that they could be hunted at close range.

Campbell also showed me some simple arrows that he made from the shafts of the mulefat stems.  There was no arrowhead, but just a sharpened, fire-hardened point. And there were no feathers, just a nock cut into the end where it met the bowstring.  Campbell explained that these simple arrows were used for short distance hunting.

Campbell continues to pursue his research for both the historical and survival value, and he teaches at such annual events as RabbitStick and Dirttime.

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