With all this commotion over how life would cease to operate without cars, washing machines and everything in between. I’ve grown increasingly interested in the people who are able to exist pretty peacefully in nature and, for the most part, with each other. BBC Human Planet recently produced a documentary on the Korowai tribe in Western Papua. It showed the building of a Korowai tree house and their ability to live a peaceful existence with limited resources. What struck me particularly was when one of the tribesmen was interviewed, he said that once someone had helped build his house he would of course return the favour. These are clearly altruistic people who do not deserve the reputation they have been given by the media. Hollywood lacks understanding and respect of these people and often display them as ‘savage’ and ‘primitive.’ However, take a look at Western society and it is evident that we still possess many flaws which deserve that description. Anyways, before I start off on a tangent about this issue, I urge you to take a look at Survival International’s ‘Stamp It Out’ Campaign which aims to raise awareness of the danger of racism towards tribal people.
Understanding Tribal People
The UN estimates that indigenous people only equate to around 6% of the world’s population. This is includes minimally 5000 distinct peoples in over 72 countries. The West has a hideous history of maltreatment of tribal people. You only have to watch Rabbit Proof Fence to get a small snippet of the horrific attitudes we shamefully had. From a psychological perspective, racism such as this may have indeed incurred from the media. Unfortunately, as humans beings, we have a natural tendency towards ignorance as a protective measure, we hear of one negative thing about another racial group and this has the potential to stimulate a branding of the entire group which is just not factually correct, and clearly, from history, this ignorance is deadly.
The conflict that arises from the inability to understand these people is brought on by the issue of contacting them. Is it right to contact these people at the risk of forcing western ‘progress’ on them? Another problem is disease; these people have not been exposed to any diseases beyond their social group. And what right have we to force western medicine upon them? We only need to look at the Native Americans of the USA and the spectrum of problems that have arisen from western contact. My aunt works with native Americans and my cousin is a native American, and I have heard many horror stories of the prejudices they have faced – ranging from inadequate healthcare due to the government’s horrific distribution of funding to the loss of a precious culture and the inability to integrate these people into mainstream society.
Recent footage of an uncontacted Amazon tribe in Brazil show healthy and proud people in the forest of the Amazon.
Conflict in Land Use
The issue of deforestation is raised. What right have we to raid the world’s resources at the risk of their livelihood? We may have stronger force, but bullying other human beings and depriving them of their way of life simply because they are weaker than us is not a right. These people have the right to their land as they have done for centuries, no conservation, development or logging project is an excuse to take that right away. It lacks a moral vigour and diplomacy. Governments often have this feeling that the correct thing to do is to integrate these people in to western society, however, just because we may be happy as we are, the indigenous are by no means deprived and won’t necessarily benefit from our help. Records from colonial times support the cause that tribal people were prosperous without our aid with descriptions of good health.
Loss of traditional nomadic habits
It recently came up in my geography class – the Bedouin tribe and the growing concern of the loss of their nomadic habits due to the boarders placed which restrict their movement. This prevents successful farming for them, they seasonally work with the land and know which areas to go at which time of the year. There is some suggestion that with them becoming more sedentary they are able to be more accessible to receive healthcare. The possibilities for them to develop beyond a nomadic existence include diversification of their livelihood and possible training in to professional careers. However, judging the universal issues of tribes and integration in to a sedentary way of life, the negatives are stacked highly.
It’s difficult for governments to create policies which really work with the heart of a race. It goes beyond policy in countries with indigenous people, it’s also the effect of business and agriculture and ultimately links to harmonising two polar opposite ways of life. Finding a method of creating a mutual understanding of both will be the most probable way of synthesising the two.
Charities in support of the rights of indigenous people include: Survival International, Cultural Survival and Amazon Watch. I highly recommend checking out their websites and reading up on their current campaigns.
Related reports on indigenous peoples’ causes include: Survival International’s current cause ‘Progress Can Kill’ can be found on their website, the full report link is included below