Far Cry Primal: tribal warfare

The tenth part in my series on Far Cry Primal, where I play through the game and offer commentary.

Written by Josho Brouwers on

Sayla told me to head north to pick the yellow flowers of a rare plant. She would be able to make an antidote against rot fumes, allowing me to access the main fort of Ull, the leader of the cannibalistic Udam. Dutifully, I head north, as indicated by the marker on my map, and soon find the location with the yellow flowers. I pick one, at which point I get enveloped by a green mist. Some Udam appear and hit me over the head. Lights out.

When I awake, I find myself in another crude cage, without any of my gear, and with a child looking at me. A moment later, the uglu face of Ull, burnt and scarred from the many battles he fought against the Izila and others, looms into view. He remembers me from when he led the Udam in an assault against the Wenja village, which feels like it happened ages ago now. He tells that the Udam suffer from skull fire and that they are dying. Feeding on Wenja might cure them. He casually kills another Wenja prisoner in the cage on the far end of the cave and then strolls off.

‘Escape the prison cell’, the game tells me. I walk up a ramp and find some more dead Wenja, who were inexplicably not eaten yet. I also find another primitive grapple, similar to the one I used to have. There’s a convenient grapple point that allows me to jump out of the cage, and I do so with ease. Ull is nowhere to be seen, but the cave is crawling with Udam. I manage to grab my gear, which the Udam stored nearby, and then proceed to fight my way through the cave system. At last, I find myself back outside in the snow and return to the Wenja village.

Far Cry Primal, like the other games in the series, sees you often square off against a fairly large number of opponents. At least in this game, you get a pet to help you out. But it’s a bit of a pity that you never have to lead a group of fellow Wenja in an assault against an enemy outpost, for example. Certainly, there are some Wenja missions in which you have to help defend a group of your fellow tribesmen against an enemy assault or where you have to escort a group to a place of safety, but it would have been interesting to be able to assemble a group of Wenja and lead them into a battle of your own choosing.

That does raise an interesting question. When did people start inflicting violence on each other? Traditionally, hunter-gatherers are regarded as peaceful. It is only with the advent of farming, it is argued, when people started living in villages, that it became opportune for some to engage in predatory warfare against rival settlements. According to this line of thought, the advent of civilization in the Neolithic went hand-in-hand with the emergence of warfare, of violence between groups of people. By contrast, the hunter-gatherers lived in tune with nature and with their fellow humans. Noble savages, indeed.

However, this idyllic picture seems unwarranted. As soon as hominins developed tools necessary for killing animals, they would have been able to aim the pointy end at other members of their species, too. For the Palaeolithic, we have relatively little in the way of skeletal material. But the earliest evidence for violence between humans is a Neanderthal femur from Mugharet-es-Skhul, Mount Carmel (Israel), that featured a wound almost certainly inflicted by a wooden javelin. Many skulls have also been uncovered from the Palaeolithic era that were fractured. While these no doubt could have been caused by animals and injuries, it cannot be excluded that some were the result of hominin violence.

By the Upper Palaeolithic, behaviourally modern humans were developing new weapons. The atlatl or spear-thrower was devised to hurl javelins with greater accuracy and force at a target. Later still, toward the end of the period, the bow and arrow were invented, which is a technically sophisticated device. The remains of child from Grimaldi (Italy), from the Gravettian and dated ca. 25,000/22,000 BC, had a projectile embedded in the spinal column. A young woman from the San Teodoro Cave (Sicily), dated to ca. 12,000 BC, had a flint point stuck in the pelvis. The child almost certainly must have been the victim of a raid; the woman might also have been, or was otherwise involved in the fighting.

An obvious source of information for this time period would be cave paintings, but sadly humans are seldom included. There are, of course, depictions of animals that are apparently struck by arrows or javelins (though some argue that the arrow-like things scribbled in the paintings are not actually projectiles, but have some other significance). Famously, a human figure is shown collapsing as the result of a bizon attack in the so-called ‘Well scene’ at Lascaux (France), dated to ca. 15,000 BC. One cave-painting at Cougnac has been argued to represent a man pierced by spears or arrows. Likewise, an engraving on a cave fall from Cosquer cave, Provence (France), dated to ca. 20,000 BC, has been interpreted as showing a human-like figure falling on his back after being hit by arrows, and taken as proof for the existence of murder or capital punishment in the Palaeolithic.

From the Mesolithic, at least, we have indisputable evidence for human aggression. Bone and stone projectiles have been found inside rib cages and abdominal areas that were probably not grave goods, but evidence for injuries in the soft flesh of the victims. Skulls from Grosse Ofnet, Germany, show injuries that could only have been inflicted by other human beings. Graves containing multiple bodies, of both sexes and all ages, with fatal injuries, are interpreted as victims of violence, most likely raids by rival groups. During the Mesolithic, population densities increased and, depending on the environment, people often became more sedentary, which would explain an increase in inter-group violence.

By the Neolithic, of course, the evidence for warfare is completely unambiguous. Aside from finds of skeletons with injuries, the Neolithic also sees the creation of the earliest stone fortifications, most famously at Jericho, for example, dated to 8000 BC. Some have argued that the earliest wall at Jericho was built for defence against floods and did not have a military purpose. But evidence for ditches, palisades, and walls are known from a large number of Neolithic sites, such as the double oval enclosure at Schletz in Austria.

In any event, it seems safe to assume that violence is an innate part of human nature. Aside from the archaeological examples, further proof of violence among hunter-gatherer societies can be added from anthropology. The tribesmen of Papua New Guinea, for example, frequently engaged in tribal warfare, though casualties were often limited. Indeed, it has been argued that only peoples living in the arctic (e.g. Eskimo) escaped inter-group violence, owing to the hostility of the environment.

There’s plenty of reference material out there if you’re interested. I enjoyed the relevant essay by French anthropologist Pierre Clastres that are available as Archaeology of Violence (2010), a translation of a collection from 1980. There is also a useful chapter by Slavomil Vencl in Ancient Warfare: Archaeological Perspectives (1999) edited by John Carman and Anthony Harding (which I also reviewed). I also enjoyed the book by Jean Guilaine and Jean Zammit, available in English as The Origins of War: Violence in Prehistory (2005). As a jumping off point for further study, I also think Warfare and Society: Archaeological and Social Anthropological Perspectives (2006), edited by Ton Otto, Henrik Thrane, and Helle Vandkilde, is very useful.

Anyway, back in the village, I return to Sayla, who is ecstatic at my having picked the yellow flowers. She will prepare an antidote and then I can go hunt Ull. I leave her hut and head to Tensay, who tells me that I should go to the Izila and retrieve the mask of Krati from them. With the mask, I should be invincible. I decide to waste no time and immediately head for the place where the Izila keep the mask.

I again have to swim to get inside the area I need to be. The mask is kept high up on a ledge and I have to climb to the top, fighting the Izila along the way. I finally reach the object of my mission, when I get struck down by an arrow. Batari appears and threatens me, but I rip the arrow out of my leg and plunge it into Batari’s exposed neck. She falls to the ground screaming and I get the hell out of dodge. After a few more close encounters with the Izila, I reach the outside and return to the village.

Like Sayla, Tensay is extremely pleased with my having completed the mission. He pees on the mask, sprinkles some stuff on top, and puts the thing on my head. With the mask of Krati on, the Izila will fear me. This seems like a good point to rest for a while. Things are in place for a final showdown with both Ull and Batari, the leaders of the rival tribes in the valley of Oros. I will deal with them later, but first I think I shall explore Oros a little further and complete some other missions.

This article is part of the series, Let's play Far Cry Primal.