The Double Standards of the "Uncontacted Tribes" Circus
The story of the so-called “uncontacted tribes” in the Amazon has made its way around the world (even to Norway!). At the same time, there is a complete lack of interest in the story of indigenous people being publicly humiliated in Bolivia, the CultureMatters author Jovan Maud notes.
Are indigenous groups only interesting as long as they are “uncontacted” and “lost"? Has this something to do with obscure notions of “purity"?
Anyway, the anthropology blog CultureMatters has done a great job in deconstructing the “uncontacted tribes"-myth and criticizing organisations like Survival International that use this myth in their work to help indigenous peoples. CultureMatters-blogger Greg Downey writes:
While I certainly agree that small pockets of cultural diversity should not be aggressively assimilated, I feel a little queasy that we have to sell the drive for cultural autonomy and respect for foraging peoples with the whole ‘never seen a white man’ drivel. The term ‘uncontacted’ is part of the problem; ‘isolated’ would be better, as these groups have seldom ‘never seen a white man.’
One of the reasons these groups are attracting attention is that they are under pressure, especially on the Peruvian side of the border, not only from the usual suspects (miners, loggers, and ranchers), but also from a French petroleum company that wants to drill in the area.
Why can’t we go with that story: protecting the environment, wildlife, and the local people’s ways of life against the shattering impact of wreckless resource extraction to feed petroleum addiction? Why do we have to stoop to the whole ‘they think the plane is a giant bird or spirit’ and ‘their way of life was unchanged for 10,000 years’ cannard?
The CultureMatters-author was interviewed by ABC Radio in Melbourne about this issue and they started discussing the common idea that it is ‘inevitable’ through ‘progress’ that people like this will have to disappear.
I wonder if all those ‘well, it’s sad but that’s the inevitable cost of progress’ really even think for thirty seconds about what they’re saying: are they saying that every acre of land that might support people who want to hunt or gather food, inevitably, must be drilled, logged, burned, or dug up for minerals? Really?
Savage Minds followed up with Stone-Age Links and a post The myth of the “untouched” Amazon that concludes that “today’s hunter-gatherers might be descended from the builders of four-lane highways, bridges, moats and canals".
And Maximilian Forte writes (in a satirical post) about a maybe even greater discovery Four New Tribes Discovered: 3 in the USA, 1 in Iraq
With similar thoughs in my head, I wrote one year ago “Help the Hadza!” - Why focus on culture and not on human rights?
See also earlier posts: