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Public Lecture Series with Gareth Roriston

The Last Dance - Watha Elephant Culture

Traditionally hunter gatherers and seldom documented, Gareth Roriston will present on the Watha community of Galana, Kenya — their history, traditional culture, survival techniques, and current issues faced by the community as they homogenize into modern Kenyan society, at the potential expense of losing their history and cultural identity. In particular, the Watha's long history of elephant hunting as a way of life, in the face of the well-known crisis facing African Elephants today.

The Watha are now a disenfranchised people.

Long respected by neighboring tribes for their unrivaled mastery of tracking and stalking, their enormous and powerful bows are specifically designed for the largest land animal on earth — the elephant.

Overnight in 1948, their world changed with the advent of a national park on their ancestral lands. Despite their long history and tradition in the area, Watha men defaulted to the status of ‘poacher’ for subsisting as they had for generations. The presentation will include footage of the Watha demonstrating their legendary large game tracking skills, their intimate understanding and reverence for their quarry, and an overview of the educational process involved in acquiring their unique skillset.

As they are seldom documented, this history of the Watha is drawn from both academic resources and their own oral tradition. The lecture will also include a history of how Roriston came to know and work with the community, and a discussion on the process of producing a documentary on the tribe. The film is now in post-production under the working title The Last Dance.

With only a few hundred individuals left, The Last Dance may be the final documented work on the scattered tribe before their culture is lost, as they adapt into wider Kenyan society.

A discussion of their current options as both a community and as individuals will also be presented, with anecdotes from individual contemporary Watha.

Gareth Roriston is an explorer of the human condition through the lens of evolution. He is a former professional Mixed Martial Artist with a BSc in “ Science and Management of Exercise and Health” from The University of Surrey.

Finding himself in Kenya running fitness retreats and delivering lectures geared toward health and wellness, using mankind’s niche in evolution as the filter, Gareth later went on to follow his passion for nature and performed the role of Acting Warden for the Galana Wildlife Conservancy seasonally over a period of four years.

During this period, as part of an anti-poaching effort across Galana Wildlife Conservancy’s 65,000 acre unfenced span, he began to keep intelligence folders and notes regarding poaching incidents — individuals such as trespassers and known poachers in the local community and rumored ivory trafficking routes.

One particular community were often cited as complicit in the black-market ivory trade, including the most notorious poacher in the area. This poacher’s allegedly enormous kill count of elephants, coupled with the fact that the animals were always taken by traditional means (bow and arrow), hinted at an extremely high level of bushcraft.

With scant, but inspired literature available about this mysterious elephant hunting tribe, Gareth learned as much as he could and set out to learn more first hand. Eventually, an opportunity arose to drive a government ranch manager(complete with local security forces) to the very heart of the tribe’s village. While in the village, Gareth met the notorious poacher's father and one of his brothers, who confirmed much of what he had read, and taught him much more about traditional Watha culture.

Gareth maintained contact with this family and even hired them to teach him their form of bushcraft, local knowledge and cultural lore, which culminated in the making of a forthcoming documentary film about the tribe.

Date: Monday, March 6

Time: 6:00 pm Reception, 7:00 pm Lecture

Location: Club Headquarters, 46 E 70th Street, NY, NY, 10021

Member Ticket Price: $10

Guest Ticket Price: $25

Student Ticket Price: $5 with a valid academic ID

Reservation Notes:

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