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Ishmael Reader Moves Into Sustainable Community in Venezuela

Colin Doyle is a 24 year-old native of Southboro, MA. A graduate of College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA, he received his BA in anthropology from that institution. While there, he read Ishmael as part of his Intro to Biological Anthropology class, and claims, "I am forever thankful to Professor Barbara King for assigning it. The book was a 'revelation of realization to me'". Doyle goes on to explain that the reason the books touched him so greatly were that rather than impart outside knowledge to him, they brought out knowledge from within that he was not even aware he had. He calls Quinn's books the best he has ever read, and feels Ishmael was the most important book he has read.

The major lesson Doyle took from Ishmael is that many of us in Western society are trying desperately to understand why our way of life does not feel like it is working. Some blame capitalism, some blame greed, some blame religion. But Doyle feels that the roots of the problem are much more fundamental to civilization itself. After several years of bouncing these ideas in his head, Doyle came upon two major goals for his life: to continue in his earnest desire to save the world and to enjoy his life.

From March of 2002 until February, 2003, Doyle participated in an 11-month international volunteer program with the Danish non-governmental organization Humana People to People. The crux of the project was 6 months working in an HIV/AIDS program in Botswana called Total Community Mobilization (TCM). There were 4 months of training beforehand in Denmark and another month afterward helping to train a later group. Shortly after his return from Europe and the program, Doyle was hit even more directly with the realization of the root problems of civilization and his desire to attempt alternative methods which would allow him more inner peace of mind and meaning in his life. He also wanted to serve as a role model for others who wished to find a better way. His decision: to depart civilization.

This goal was easier said than done. Because civilization of our type is so widespread on the planet, Doyle knew he would have to find a hunter-gatherer group in a distant land. Initially he thought about New Guinea, before ultimately deciding to look in the Orinoco Delta of Venezuela, an area he refers to as "semi-civilized". A large delta region, full of rivers, this is where the Orinoco empties into the Atlantic. It is not densely populated, and mostly consists of Warao Indians (Warao means means "people of the canoe"). These people grow some crops of their own, and mostly speak Spanish, in addition to Warao. They are masterful manueverers of their muddy forest and river environment. They do have clinics and motors for their boats, yet live from a more indigineous perspective on life. Houses are made of self-cut wood with palm thatch, and generally don't have walls. Everyone swims at a young age, and kids and teenagers are generally found in a bathing suit and a smile. Their main activity is fishing, for food and for sale. Villages are double or triple digits in size. The Warao are quiet, modest, and humble. They have been in the delta for thousands of years, and can certainly be called "sustainable." according to Doyle. Their cosmology is based around rain lords and other beings that are responsible for winds, types of rain, and sickness. Shamanism is intact but is mixed with Western medicine (accessible clinics are a success of the Venezuelan government).

Two years ago, Doyle and fellow Ishmael fan Peter Maybarduk - an American nicknamed Kwaku - spent three weeks in an 80-person village in the delta called Jubasujuru. Jubasujuru is remote; it is about a 7-hour ride from the large shoving-off town for the delta, Tucupita. There is, however, a clinic and large village 15 minutes away by motorboat. Doyle saw Jubasujuru and its delta as a perfect opportunity to experiment with distancing himself from civilization. His familiarity with the area, combined with the fact that it is still semi-civilized, made it a more practical solution. So he asked his friend Kwaku if he could join him in the delta and received a definite yes. On August 2, 2003, Colin and Kwaku left for the delta, Kwaku planning to stay for 2 weeks and Colin planning to stay indefinitely.

What will Mr. Doyle do in Jubasujuru? "Live," he says. "I hope to fish worth my weight, and help repair roofs, canoes, etc. or whatever other activity is going on. I want to be sustainable as a member of their community, and not rely on outside money to exist there.My main cost is airfare. This I have paid for with a job between April and July of this year. It will cost little to be there, one of the nice things. Knowing how to use the surroundings for building materials, medicine, etc. is a wonderful thing - it's too bad developed people have lost this." Doyle also looks forward to playing with the kids, relaxing in the hammocks, and having some space from our culture's focus on marketing and possessions. He will enjoy not having to rush, and not even having to know what the date is.

Doyle knows many will be skeptical of his plan, but, since reading Ishmael, he has gotten used to that skepticism. What helps is being motivated strongly by his feelings, his morality and his conscience, and staying in touch with the view of the world he once had as a child, which he is thankful that he has not completely lost. Friends like Kwaku also help, as does his awareness that there are communities and individuals out there who are motivated by Ishmael and other things that mean a great deal to him.

Doyle concludes, "If I have one piece of advice for people, it is this: stay true."

On December 24, 2003, Colin wrote in with an update on his progress.

You may email Colin directly for more information.

Learn more about sustainable communities inspired by Ishmael and Daniel Quinn.

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