Thursday, May 29, 2008

About to meet the destructive power of "civilization"

Image caption. Painted: In a thick rainforest along the Brazilian-Peruvian border, these tribespeople are thought never to have had any contact with the outside world
Check this article out - Incredible pictures of one of Earth's last uncontacted tribes firing bows and arrows (h/t JOS at Mickey Z's place). Some passages from the article that struck me as salient:

The uncontacted tribes, which are located in the jungles of South America, New Guinea and a remote and the beautiful and remote North Sentinel island in the Indian Ocean (the inhabitants of which have also responded to attempts at contact with extreme aggression) all have one thing in common - they want to be left alone.

And for good reason. The history of contact, between indigenous tribes and the outside world, has always been an unhappy one.

In our overcrowded world their very future hangs in the balance. Almost all of these tribes are threatened by powerful outsiders who want their land. These outsiders - loggers, miners, cattle ranchers - are often willing to kill the tribespeople to get what they want.

Even where there is no violence, the tribes can be wiped out by diseases like the common cold to which they have no resistance.

According to Miriam Ross of Survival International, which campaigns to protect the world's remaining indigenous peoples, 'These tribes represent the incredible diversity of humankind. Unless we want to condemn yet more of the earth's peoples to extinction, we must respect their choice. Any contact they have with outsiders must happen in their own time and on their own terms.'

As to who these people are, how they live their lives, what language they speak - we know nothing. 'Normally you can tell who tribes are by their language, how they wear their hair, how they adorn their bodies and so on, but in this case the photos don't allow us to get close enough to see,' says Ms Ross.

[snip]

'The jungle is fundamental to their lives and survival. It's their home, their source of food, the source of their culture etc. Without it, they could not exist as a people.'

Contact is usually a disaster for these remote tribespeople, who live a life probably unchanged for more than 10,000 years. Even if the loggers do not shoot them (which they often do) or force them off their land, diseases against which these isolated humans have no resistance typically wipe out half an uncontacted tribe's numbers in a year or two.

Ms Ross added: 'These pictures are further evidence that uncontacted tribes really do exist. The world needs to wake up to this, and ensure that their territory is protected in accordance with international law. Otherwise, they will soon be made extinct.'
The above passages reminded me of something social psychologist James Jones wrote regarding mere contact between groups or between peoples – namely, that people of color found their contact with Europeans to be disastrous1 (e.g., the indigenous peoples of Africa whose cultures were nearly decimated by slavery; the indigenous peoples of the Americas, whose genocide could be easily labeled The American Holocaust2). Monocultures are disastrous for agriculture, and equally so for the human species. Certainly those who are on the receiving end of the current era of monoculture as exemplified by neoliberalism (think about IMF, World Bank, etc.), those on the receiving end have found their ways of life decimated. I'll be writing more on the topic over the next few weeks, as I've been inspired by the work of Anthony J. Hall - (in particular, his book The American Empire and the Fourth World Volume 1: The Bowl with One Spoon).

Footnotes:

1. James Jones (1972). Prejudice and Racism. Boston: Addison-Wesley.

2. David E. Stannard (1992). American Holocaust. Cambridge: Oxford University Press.

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