MovieChat Forums > Quest for Fire (1981) Discussion > Ha, the old white-haired tribal elder wa...

Ha, the old white-haired tribal elder was practicing primitive eugenics

Ha, ha...wouldn't you know it. The white-haired tribal elder chief - wearing the funky straw mask, was practicing primitive eugenics with his new guest, our hero of the Ulam tribe. Having found a perfectly healthy, strong, male specimen from outside the marshland village tribe, the tribal chief thought it a good idea to add the man's genes into their village population. Actually it was a good idea.

Prehistoric humans, somehow by intuition and instinct, avoided things and invented cultural customs to prevent inbreeding and diversify the gene pool within their tribes and villages. In their time local human populations were very small. You could be living in a tribal group of say, 30 people. Avoiding in-breeding was a serious concern. Hence some ancient humans adopted the custom of greeting a friendly stranger by offering him their wives for the night. The possible resulting pregnancy was accepted as one of their own.

By the way, this movie was a good lesson in fire starting by employing the ancient but still effective method of the fireboard and swizzle stick. The movie was accurate in depicting the simplicity of the technique YET it's difficulty in execution. It took practice. The movie should have shown a closer look at the key element to using the fireboard and stick. There has to be very fine tinder at the hole where the swizzle stick rubs, creating the friction heat to ignite it. But it did show where the young tribesman put the glowing ember into a pod of larger tinder to build the ember into a fire. It works, but this method is time-consuming and takes practice and skill. It was no surprise that the easier and more efficient flint and hard stone (later steel) technique became the main choice of fire starting. The marsh tribe rewards our Ulam tribe hero for his stud services by showing him how to make fire.



I think there might, or might not have been a eugenics angle to this offering of female(s). Since the women were in plural, enhancing the possibility of pregnancy, there probably was.

In many cultures however, even in modern times (according to Masters & Johnson), people did not understand how pregnancy came about. Yet, women were often offered to visiting guests or dignitaries, because it was a good idea and custom in cementing good relations. The example would be, ‘yea, I went over there to tell the new strangers to get the F off our land, and they gave me this hot chick to F’.

Good policy!

Read George Stewarts, “Earth Abides”


It's not such a leap of faith to imagine that primitive peoples had a grasp on the concept that once you start putting something in a certain place, in a short while a baby comes out of that place, so there just MIGHT be a correlation.

Those whom we call primitive peoples, were not stupid. They just lacked a whole lot of background technology on which to continue building, like we enjoy. Do you know how a TV works? How your computer works? Or do you just know how to operate it?

It seems pretty certain that the old fellow was intent on imbuing some fresh genetic material into the tribal mass. Tall fit light haired new genetic material into a rather limited genetic stock.

He was most likely not happy that the first ones of the tribe to encounter the stranger, could think of no better thing to do with him than to whip atlatl spears at him. Heck, this is fairly good quality fresh meat! Line them fertile weight watchers up and see if he can spread some new blood into the group.

And get that skinny biotch out of there! She's too thin to carry a child yet, in the tribal wisdom.


Unfortunately, your idea of ‘when you put something in a certain place, and a few months after a baby comes out of there’ does not seem to hold true (maybe). Masters and Johnson interviewed Appalachian folks of what we would now call “lower socio-economic status” (and this was in our life time) and they ‘claimed’ they did not know why Emmajean all of a sudden had that baby! Maybe they were embarrassed? Interestingly enough, they also had practices where they put “that thing” in other holes! Now that begs a question?

I liked your idea on cultures and “background technology”! I would like to explore this idea more closely, so tell me more about what you would call “background”?

Jacob Bronowski in his book, “The Ascent of Man” loved the idea that as cultures mixed, new ideas in what you might call “background” technologies came to the fore. I have always like the modern day example where an electronic engineer a couple decades ago was seeking a “low noise amplifier” for radio receiver applications. Noise in such an amplifier device becomes self-generated within the device itself, as a result of ‘transient electron flow’. His new idea using lower gate threshold devices that ‘turn-on’ more quickly, thus reducing transients, -- became the bulwark technology that allowed for super-fast microprocessors for a completely different area of electronic manufacture!

I will have to watch the movie again to better closely assess the eugenics idea? It was a good movie, but my area is much more closely related to physics. I did enjoy cultural anthropology in college though!

A side-line thought,,,,,,, why is it that men seem to prefer those “skinny bioches”? The more plump bioches would probably aid in a better stronger tribe, maybe?

She was a junkie for the printed word. Fortunately, I manufactured her drug of choice!
She was a bit of a pyromaniac too!


The modern 'preference' if I may generalize, for somewhat slimmer females is most likely a plot by fashion designers to hawk their wares and simultaneously skimp on clothing material.
Genetically and phisiologically speaking, a more well marbled woman is better able to bear healthy young due to her having a more stable means of offering her pre and post natal issue a steady supply of nutrition. Haven't found any auk eggs or fresh mastodon in several weeks and it's past berry season? No problem, we got fat reserves.

By background technology I mean building by inventors on the work of those who came before. The guy inventing the low noise amp wouldn't likely know what to do with a lump of germanium, would he? Can he wind a capacitor?
You yourself may be able to knock off a crystal radio in a few minutes but can you smelt copper ore for the wire? Inventors use stuff already in common use, to make new devices. Edison didn't have to refine tungsten to make his light bulb. That doesn't mean he was smarter than whoever first did, it just means he's building on the work of earlier man.
Heck the first man to think of and develop a way to tie a sharp rock onto the end of a stick and then shove his new invention into a boar's guts, was a genius!

Masters and Johnon may have interviewed primitive people who claimed to them that they had no idea that sexual congress results in the creation and eventual expulsion of a baby, but I'm more likely to think that these peoples were tugging on M+J's leg a bit.
"Noooo dad, I don't know HOW that baby got in there!"


Edison initially used horse hair, then carbonized cotton thread for his filaments. Tungsten is a much later innovation, but I get your point!

Tungsten was first used to make bulletproof armaments on military tanks at the latter part of World War 1. It was this application that made engineers think it would be a good tough material to withstand the white hot heat of current passing through the incandescent filament. It would also they determined withstand the stress of what is called “in-rush current” at the repeated instants the bulb is first switched on.

Interestingly enough, the first transistor was a lump of Germanium about the size of a golf ball. An engineering technician by the name of John Kirtland Galt was measuring what we would now describe as “forward bias”. Germanium was chosen because it had been used as a basic “voltage divider” in multi-plexing telegraph lines.

The really interesting thing was that it had been discovered that when the Germanium rods were exposed to sun light, their resistance changed. Quite by accident, when Mr. Galt (no relation to the Ayn Rand character) left his work bench at AT&T Bell Labs one hot summer afternoon, he switched off a small fan he had to keep him cool. As the blades of the fan slowed to the point where his lump of Germanium was alternately in sunlight then shade, he noticed that the milliamteters he was using to measure forward bias were alternating. Bronowski would have loved that, had he known about it!

Well, I have to go out now and hunt down some Auk eggs, or maybe a well marbled woman!


I read somewhere that culture served to remember background technologies as an individual of said culture wouldn't. This is why if you asked a person practicing a peculiar cultural custom, they rarely recall the reason for the invention of said custom (ex. circumcision and its advantages).


Hey---QUEST FOR FIRE is being shown on the MOVIES channel--check your local listings. I actually remember this coming out back in the day, and reading a good review about it, singling out a then-unknown Rae Dawn Chong in particular for a good performance. Never seen it before,though, and it definitely looks interesting.


Not if you're female.


I would initially say primative man didn't make the connection (sex and baby). But then again maybe he had until religion* reared it's ugly head. But then he offered not one but 4 i6t five women so there was an end game. Including drugging him up with either fermented fruit or fermented milk.

As they were freely enjoying sex, I couldn't help but think of the Puritans who would have surely frowned upon everything and there would be no man nor genetic pool.