II. Primitive Peoples
Our knowledge of the gymnastics of primitive peoples is still very meagre. Former investigators themselves knew too little about this subject; either it completely escaped their notice or their reports were very inaccurate.
Exact research carried out by sports experts among a people whose achievements in running had excited general amazement, bears out the older reports. The people concerned are the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, who live on the plateau of the Sierra. Their name, which was given to them by the Spaniards, means “the runners”. Great distances are covered in their contests, during which one village competes against another. They mark a off track between 3 and 12 miles long and stage running contests up to as many as 20 circuits. The investigator, Lumholz, reports a running competition over a distance of nearly 170 miles which was contested without a stop. As he runs, each man kicks a small wooden ball in front of him.
‘The girls accompany the runners and spur them on. At night they bear torches in front of the runners so that they do not lose the ball. The authentic achievements are astonishing. It is reported of one messenger that he covered 600 miles in five days. Two achievements of the Western civilized world can bear comparison with this; the endurance walk of the American, E. Weston, about 1902, who walked 840 miles in 14 days, that is to say 60 miles each day as compared with 120 miles each day among the Indians. The same feat was accomplished by the Englishman, George Allen, who walked from the North Coast of Scotland to the Southern extremity of England, a distance of 842 miles in 14 days. We are, however, in possession of other reports concerning the feats of the Tarahumara Indians. The times were taken by the University of Texas, the Young Men’s Christian Association in Chihuahua — which has trained sports instructors at its disposal — and the German writer on sporting topics, Arthur E. Grix. According to their figures, two Indians covered 62 miles in 8 hours 35 minutes, 90 miles in 24 hours 53 minutes, 166 miles in 27 hours and 350 miles in 72 hours, which at a rate of 116 miles in 24 hour does not quite bear comparison with the run of 600 miles.
NOW these Indians live during their period of training on meat, fat and potatoes. They are not permitted to eat eggs. The meat is that of rabbits, deer, turkeys and rats. Their chief food consists of a porridge made of maize, called “pinole”. The maize flour is roasted, pressed and mixed with water shortly before being served. It swells in the stomach and gives a feeling of satiety. They also brew a beer, called “tesvino”, from maize, malt and hops. Some days before the contest, they discontinue the consumption of potatoes and fat and drink no maize beer. They continue, however, to eat meat. The endurance walkers, Weston and Allen, ate no meat, but eggs, potatoes, celery, bread, cheese, salads and fruits. Great feats of running by North American Indians, Hottentots and other negro tribes, and the fakirs of Tibet are also reported. It would be worth while at some time to investigate them and make inquiries into the diet.
Among the Asiatic peoples who have to a large extent, retained their original mode of life are the Japanese. They have astounded the Western world by their great achivements in sport. The staple food of this people consists of rice and soy beans as well as fish. Japan is said to possess only 1½ million head of cattle and 900,000 pigs, whilst Germany has 19 million head of cattle and 24 million pigs. This predominantly vegetarian diet is regarded as sufficient. Baelz, a German doctor living in Japan, once carried out tests with Japanese rickshaw coolies. He made them run 25 miles every day for three wecks. Their weight did not alter. Their food consisted of rice, potatoes, barley, chestnuts and the roots of lilies, that is to say, much starchy food, little albumin and still less fat (30 grammes). He allowed them to eat meat at the end of the second week. They liked it, but it made them tired. On returning to the usual food, they soon recovered their old powers of endurance.
The test is in complete accordance with the mode of life of the Japanese Marathon runners, who “at each meal partake of rice boiled in water, the half softened grains of which stick together in lumps. This is eaten with pieces of meat and fish, steeped in oil or dipped in sauce and rice brandy”. The Japanese heavy weight wrestlers, professional athletes who weigh as much as 36 stones, eat the same food, but in larger quantities. The chief beverage of these athletes is green tea without sugar or milk. It contains the valuable vitamin C (Grix).