View Full Version : Why call it bush craft?
Why do we, in Britian, call the accumulated skills and traditions of native peoples from around the world Bushcraft? A phrase that was (in all likely hood) developed by Mors Kochanski of Canada.
More importantly, why when teaching these skills do we lean so heavily upon native American tradition and skills when in reality we have our own rich and ancient tapestry of crafts to draw upon.
Indeed in North America phrases like 'going bush' or 'things being done bush way' are common while in this country this type of phrase is non- existant pre 1980's.
Wouldn't we be better off calling these skills Woodscraft, or Whats-left-of-a once-great-forest-craft?
Another line of thought - historically in North America you have Bush-whackers and Bushrangers, in Australia you have Bushmen but in this country the most common term for people who lived and worked in a woodland enviroment was Forester (yes we even have it as a surname its that old)
In stealing the term from our American or Canadian cousins are we doing ourselves any favours? Or does it just show the reality of the fact that we are not only copying their phrase but their skill base too and in doing that show the gulf of knowledge we brit's lack about our own traditions.
Or am I just being over critical, after all, even the so called Master of Bushcraft had to learn off someone and why not a North American if no one was left in this country to teach him? :wink:
Bush in this sense is probably a direct adoption of the Dutch 'bosch', originally used in Dutch colonies for woodland and country covered with natural wood, but extended to usage in British colonies, applied to the uncleared or un-farmed districts, still in a state of nature. Later this was used by extension for the country as opposed to the town.
In southern africa, we get Bushman from the Dutch 'boschjesman' applied by the Dutch colonists to the natives living in the bush.
In North America (where there was also considerable colonisation by the Dutch) you have the word 'bushwacker' which is close to the Dutch 'bosch-wachter' meaning 'forest-keeper'.
Given that we lost many of our hunter-gatherer native skills to agriculture long ago but in North America, there have been people who used these skill in living memory, it seems only natural to turn to them for details. The same goes for African bushmen, Australian Aboriginies and any other indigenous people who still retain the skills.
That's not to say we have no knowledge bank of our own in this country - there are still people who know how to make bows, knapp flint etc etc. There are knowledgable foresters, country folk who collect wild foods, keepers who know the land, many of them very skillful indeed. While hunting is not of the same type as it was historically, there is still great knowledge of prey-species, including deer. There is continuing research into plants and funghi at the academic level.
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of Bushcraft is "skill in matters pertaining to life in the bush". This seems fairly apt to the skill set we are interested in.
Good answer, thanks.
I'd still be interested to hear any other views as to the reason we use the term.
Also any idea when (date) Bushcraft was added to the dictionary?
I feel that when you learn the true basics of a skill in North America, or Africa, or wherever... and you delve deeper into the local history, you will find that the basic techniques and principles are exactly the same. I am Dutch, Learned flintknapping from an Israeli, and then an American. Now I am studying local prehistoric styles of knapping and arrowheads used, and am finding, they are absolutely the same all over the world. Same goes for shelter, and fire. I like to use the term "Earth skills", or for the outside world the term "primitive survival". But I don't feel that any words do this lifestyle any harm, except for the word "survival" without context!
Al the best ,
Good points Anthonio. Delving into our wilderness history (UK) it is obvious that many skills are comparable to those with similar climates and even those of non similar climes have many skills that are comparable and interchangeable.
Maybe they should be called "World Skills" (I appreciate that some would interpret that as the ability to create bureaucracy :-? )
I wonder what we will be calling it in 200 years!
Let's work hard at keeping these skills alive and well and undistorted, so we won't be calling it "extinct" in 200 years! :wink:
All the best!
Sometimes I think it is amazing how much knowledge we have lost over the years. Scary stuff :cry:
But all we can do is our best to restore the balance.
'We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind'
Arcadia, Tom Stoppard
At least, we get the joy of rediscovery. :wink:
Interestingly, 'bushcraft' is a term which is used less in the U.S. and more in British Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia and those in Southern Africa. Perhaps there is a colonial legacy here?
If so, than it is very fitting that we in the UK use the term as most of our recent wilderness experience as a nation has been in these areas.
Although I like the term and use it, I'm equally fond of 'Wilderness skills'. Not quite as snappy though! I avoid using the term 'primitive' because to some this can seem derogatory (particulrly to native people still living the stuff), and can undermine the modern-day relevance of bushcraft.
I imagine that Ray Mears popularised the term here in the UK to differentiate it (Wilderness Living Skills) from pure 'Survival'.
Ive posted a reply in the wrong place! the subject was once called fieldcraft.Either way whatever you call it, if you are proficient in bushcraft you have the knowledge to survive a "survival" situation.The more knowledge in your head,the less you need in your rucksack.
I'm not sure Mors Kochanski popularized the term. Richard Graves wrote his book "Bushcraft" in 1972. Kochanski's book was published in 1987. Graves' book was listed in the Last Whole Earth Catalog and was widely read. Unfortunately it is now out of print and used copies fetch a pretty good price, especially the first SCHOCKEN edition.
Cheers HOODOO - havent read Graves' book but I'm sure your info is correct.
Point of posing the question was to get people to think and to that end it worked.
In fact Graves' book is older than that. My Australian edition lists no publication date, but the pamphlets it reproduces and collects are probably just post-war.
I don't mind what we call it really. Bushcraft is a convenient term, and it means that we all know what we're referring to. Too often a slight variation in the name of something is used to create a fairly meaningless distinction or subdivision. The one problem I have noticed, and this could apply to Gary's business, is that there are a lot of companies with confusingly similar names, or product names. The Bison Bushcraft / Woodlore Bushcraft knife has been mentioned here as an example, and with Woodlore, Woodsmoke and a slew of other companies out there someone is bound to get overlooked. It's a bit like fast food would be if the main companies were called Burger King, Burger Queen, Burger Prince and Burger Democratically Elected Representative.
Gary, I think the reason to note it is that the term "bushcraft" is really a foreign term in the states. I don't know anyone who uses it regularly and traditionally we referred to such things as campcraft, woodlore, outdoors skills, woodcraft, backcountry skills or just plain survival skills. For Indian methods, the terms primitive skills or traditional skills are often used. Alaskans talk about living in the bush as do Canadians but I don't know that the the term bushcraft is normally used there. Not sure. The first time I ever came across the term was Graves' book. The second time was Kochanski's book and the third, Mears' book. For whatever reason I've always thought that this term was originated by the Aussies or Brits. I think "living in the bush" is a phrase also used in Africa by European colonists eh? In the US (except for Alaska), the wilds are not referred to as the "bush" but as wilderness.
Thanks Hoodoo you asnwered my question from the other topic.
Campcraft and fieldcraft would seem to bunch together with the same meaning.
As for Bigjackbrass' comments - yes mate your so right, even to me and I've worked for some of them, the names are too similar.
Once I'm up and running I'll be setting up under Bearclaw Bushcraft. The Bearclaw nic is a long story but its something I've had for a long time - the bushcraft is a necessary evil these days. I dont think fieldcraft or anything similar would allow potential students to find me via a search engine.
Besides Bearclaw Bushcraft does at least have a ring to it.
What a wonderful debate.
I can understand all of your points. A name is everything, always has been and that's why business's spends spend millions of pounds on such things each year.
I am no bushman but I am a woodsman. I have had this same sort of debate in my industry also. I like to be different and I like to look at things from a different angles. Today I have been teaching a group of students hurdle making and I make it quite clear to them that hurdle making is a woodland SKILL, not a woodland CRAFT. The word Craft, means nothing. Lace making is seen as a craft and you can name many more as well as I can.
I like to turn things on there head. Just because we have always used a term, like bushcraft, it doesn't mean that it can’t be changed to something else. I applaud people who break with convention, people who have the strength to push forward and change things.
People quite often call me a Forester, well I am not, I am a woodsman. I work in the woods, not in a forest ( forest doesn’t mean trees at all, but we will talk about that later).
If you call it bushcraft, does that mean your work, is in a bush?........and it’s a craft?..............it’s time for a change.
If you're going to replace the word "bush" with something more appropriate, what would it be? It would have to cover not just woodland skills, but all types of environment, marshland, hills, moors etc.
A generic term for the countryside & whatever that includes?
BUSH - n. 1 shrub 2 thick growth 3 wild uncultivated land - according to Oxford dictionary doesnt really cover all the areas and different field the subject stretches too.
Does FIELD craft?
WOOD craft would seem to in as much as we practice mosr of it in a wood - making as as Jack has pointed out amateur woodsmen.
Forest - no that doesnt cut it, forest is essentially a norman term for hunting ground and can include built up areas too.
Bearclaw Fieldcraft ? Does it have the same ring as Bearclaw Bushcraft? I'm not sure.
Incidentially seems I was correct in my discribing Bushcraft as an americanism (from Alaska) as a canadian friend of mine has pointed out to me that in canada the term used to describe our subject is general WILDERNESS SURVIVAL.
Bearclaw wilderness survival - sounds better - wilderness living and survival school - sounds even better but too long.
Cheers Hoodoo so we can blame the Aussies eh!!
Funny how this thread has developed - I'd have thought people eager to claim the term 'Bushcraft' as their own and not to try to redirect its origin to elsewhere.
Personal I like the Wilderness living or skills term and I think thats what I'll use.
Gary it's hard to make that claim because to me, it's a completely foreign term. I can't think of a single American outdoor writer in any century, be it book or magazine, that has used that term. Only in the past few years has it popped up, and that's mostly on the Internet. I have never even seen the term associated with Alaskans. Bush pilot, yes. Living in the bush, yes. But bushcraft? No. If you do a search on Google for bushcraft, the vast majority of hits come from Australia, NZ, and Britain and some from Aftrica. Now I admit that there's a lot I don't know about Alaska but I've sure read a lot of Alaskan hunting and fishing stories and I've studied the Inuit a bit and I've never seen the term used. So if it's a standard colloquialism in Alaska, they must be making a concerted effort to hide it from the lower 48. :-)
The words ‘ survival’, wilderness, ancient living, and skills have always appealed to me. If someone mention’s survival, you have a dammed good idea what that means. If someone say’s bushcraft, it’s not so apparent and as HooDoo says, it’s not something he is largely aware of.
I think Bison Rog and Dominic had it right when they called it the Wilderness Gathering. Jonny Crockett is also right in calling his business the Survival School, they both do exactly what is says on the tin!
Maybe I should call it Bushival - but that sounds to much like the people who make five pints!
On a serious note though - I think Wilderness survival offers the best of both worlds especailly as even Mr Mears has adopted the term. And personally I really do not see the difference between one or the other - Bushcraft and survival or both leaves on the same tree to my mind.
I think you are right. As I am an outsider, it makes more sense to use a term that most people would understand. I could call myself an ancient technology constructionist, but I am a Hurdle Maker and people understand that.
Don’t get bogged down with what Ray Mears says or recognises as everyone, has the ability to inspire and educate, remember that and be different.