Native tribe where members sleep propped up on one elbow

I have this picture in my head from a TV show maybe 15-ish years ago. It was likely a National Geographic special or something on PBS. The show was about a native tribe, probably in Africa, who were a culture of hunter-gatherers. They were black, didn’t wear clothes, but did wear different types of ornamentation. As I recall, they were nomadic and didn’t have permanent shelters or villages.

The most salient part of the story, and what stuck with me, was their sleeping habits. At night, individuals slept directly on the ground with no bedding and no pillows. But that’s not the strange part. An individual sleeps on his/her side, propped up on one elbow with the his head cocked down toward the shoulder on the side that is doing the propping-up. They don’t put their heads on the ground because they don’t want bugs to crawl into their ears while they’re asleep.

I’ve googled every which way I can think of, looking for a picture. I know I didn’t make it up. Anyone know anything about this?

I will have to see if I can find the name but I know exactly what you are talking about although the show I saw on it was closer to 30 years ago than 15. The reason I know that is that my father had the very odd habit of sleeping that way sometimes. We always made fun of him for it when I was growing up and we were shocked when we saw a tribe on TV that did the same thing. He went around for the next week or so telling people that he must be a reincarnated member of the tribe.

I believe I remember that the bushmen (the San people perhaps) of the Kalahari desert did this. To keep bugs out of their ears as mentioned above.

If they are really H/Gs, then it’s probably the Bushmen. There are virtually no other H/Gs in Africa. And most, if not all, of them aren’t really full-time H/Gs any more.

I’ve been googling bushmen, San people, Kalahari, sleep, elbow, and haven’t come up with any pictures. Thanks for confirming that I didn’t imagine this.

I did findthis picture, identified as being of members of the San people, resting in their customary way by standing on one foot.

Shagnasty, yikes… 15 years… 30 years… strange how they all run together. In two years, I’m having my 50th high school reunion, and I KNOW that can’t be right! Someone has falsified my birth certificate and my driver’s license (especially my driver’s license picture).

I remember that too, and I think (if memory is correct) that it’s from the Animals are Beautiful People movie. I still have that old movie around here somewhere.


Oh my goodness! You are SO right! I used to have that movie, and I loved it. The part about the little wild dog always had me sobbing, but overall it was a wonderful movie. I’ll have to look for it online.

Wow. It’s so cool that you remember that! :slight_smile:

ETA: imdb link

Australian Aborigines. Tough as nails.

Rectal temperatures??? WTF? Stupid evil 1950s scientists…

slightly nsfw added tag to break auto-image WE?

I don’t see the propping as described though. Perhaps it is a family thing?

A whoosh maybe?
How else would you get a core temperature in the 50’s?

Not core temperature. Just skin and extremity temperature. It has been well documented. I just happened to post the one study that was conducted by madmen, who likely tied their subjects up. Also the Aborigines do not shiver when they sleep. Some interesting vascular adaptions going on. The Inuit have others.

What’s so strange about sleeping that way? I often do it myself, even in my bed. And on a hard surface, the shoulder is a much more comfortable place to rest your head than a rock or tree-root.
I don’t really see how it could provide any protection from ear-infesting parasites though. At least, they would have free access to the ear pointing upwards.


Do the seats recline?

What’s with all the zombies today.

It happens every Christmas break (and less so at the beginning of the school year). I think it shows more wandering minds and time off from the regularities of life!

I remember seeing some carved wooden headrest to keeping the head away from the ground during sleep. I think it was African but not sure. It looked very uncomfortable.

You may be thinking of a Japanese-style “taka-makura” (tall pillow) used to sleep without messing up your hair.

I’ve seen it in PNG. It looked very uncomfortable.

The examples on this page are collector items. Stuff people use isn’t always that polished and complex:
New Guinea Headrests | sell New Guinea headrest | tribal art (

“Headrests have been around since before the time of the Pharos and are on almost all continents across the globe.”

They won’t allow me to upload the image but if you type bushmen sleeping on google the first photo is an African man lying on his shoulder propped on elbow

I’ve seen that too