To the Martu, only two things matter: taking care of family, and taking care of land.

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By Eva Glasrud

Travel Writer

15 Nov 2017 - 5 Minute Read

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“You see that?” Desmond asks quietly as he adjusts the gun on his shoulder.

Squinting across the red sand, I see a burned out old Jeep. In the middle of the desert wilderness. I turn my gaze back to Desmond, and he continues.

“Many years ago, there was a dispute between two brothers over the ownership of that car. When they took their trouble to Mooky -” (he’s our medicine man) “- he told them to burn it. So they brought it out here and burned it.

“Because, to us, only two things matter: taking care of family, and taking care of land. The car came between family, so they destroyed it.”

I’m moved – but coming from a land of small claims courts and arbitrators, I can’t help but ask, “They didn’t want to sell it and just split the money?”

He grinds his molars, as he often does when he thinks. Then he answers, “Sometimes, the simplest solution is best.”

We continue our hunt in silence – after all, hunting works better when you’re quiet. But, more importantly, living and working with the Martu has taught me something. I have one summer to do research in the Great Sandy Desert. I have one summer to sleep under unfamiliar stars every night – and, sometimes, wake to scorpions under my sleeping bag in the morning. I have one summer to hear dreamtime stories, to learn from elders who can recall the first time they saw a white person. Their culture is alive, and it is changing fast.

I have the rest of my life to talk. Now is the time to listen.

Our hunting grounds.
Eva Glasrud
Our hunting grounds.
Eva Glasrud
Eva Glasrud

Our silence ends when we spy a small herd of camels. Desmond aims at the weakest and shoots. We light a fire so the others can find us and help carry the meat back to camp.

Desmond doesn’t talk much that night. He finds joy in providing for his tribe, but grief in killing. I pull some meat from the ashes below the cooking fire, brush it off – then moan with pleasure when I take my first bite. Desmond smiles at me briefly through the flames before returning to his contemplation.

As I finish eating, I thank him for teaching me to hunt and sharing so many foods and places with me. After a pause, he replies:

“Eva, I am your brother, and you are my sister. We hunt to share.”

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Travel Writer

Eva Glasrud runs Paved With Verbs, which offers college counseling and life coaching services for gifted teenagers. She spends her winters traveling.

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