Disrespecting Cultures

Unfettered encroachment of the developed population upon traditional lands of  Aboriginal Peoples is endemic wherever Aboriginal Peoples still exist from Indonesia to Botswana; Siberia to Guatemala. South America, where there are yet the greatest number of uncontacted tribes, perhaps boasts the worst record of encroachments and magnitude of disrespect shown these people as the interiors are systematically opened to satisfy the greed and the colonial rape, pillage and plunder mentality the developed world still perpetuates upon the less developed. Even the seemingly innocuous industry of eco-tourism participates in its own way in this insensitive exploitation and cultural genocide.

Disrespecting Cultures

He felt ashamed to be there.

Everything had been so good until then but this was to be the low point of an otherwise great first trip into the Amazon jungle.

They’d flown over the Andes to Iquitos in North-eastern Peru where he was intrigued to see big ocean going cargo ships that had come up from the Atlantic, such was the magnitude of the greatest of all rivers. The boat ride downstream had been fun, stopping at several rickety floating docks on the bank to discharge and load people, luggage, foodstuffs and livestock. Everything was done manually and, to his eye, with a fairly decent level of efficiently in the end even though appearing unorganized at times.

At one such stop he’d translated the international signal flag design on the t-shirt of a cargo handler, a river Indian he was sure had never wandered far from that area. It read “Caneel Bay St John USVI”. He smiled, having gone past that very place on the ferry from Tortola less than two weeks previously, and wondered how it had come to be the property of this fellow who would never have even heard of the place.

The rudimentary lodge in the jungle was sensible for the environment in which they were staying and, given his unease with unnecessary comfort when traveling in natural places, he was very happy with the arrangements his girlfriend had made for them. He’d loved the jungle hikes, the river trip to see the pink dolphins, sightings of sloths, tarantulas, macaws and other indigenous creatures and flora, and enjoyed the antics of the semi tame monkey in the nearby village that seemed to enjoy riding on his shoulder and explaining the events around him by muttering into his ear.

The visit to the Amerindian village was altogether different and, given that he had been keenly looking forward to it, utterly disappointing. They had been taken with a few other “first world” people from the lodge to a settlement of the Yagua indigenous people from whom he had hoped to learn of their culture and, if possible, try to understand a little of their world view from any Elders that may be open to discussion. Instead he had been treated to a ridiculous spectacle of staged dance and a blow pipe show and competition put on purely for the participation of, and photo ops for, the tourists.

There were no translators available through whom to communicate with the villagers and very little authenticity in anything he saw. It was a sham of Aboriginal culture designed to give the paying tourists what they wanted, not what was anthropologically real.

There was no blame to be placed on the Yagua. He reckoned they were just being exploited by tour operators, and that although they probably only received a pittance compared to that which the tour operators charged, this was still a necessary income source for them as they struggled to adapt to the new order brought about by the tragically destructive encroachment of modern society. It would have been made all the more necessary as the advancement of so-called civilization into their territory increasingly diminished their ability to live their traditional ways from which they had little difficulty finding adequate sustenance for centuries.

Ancient wisdom sparkled in the eyes of the Elders. He silently speculated on how they felt about what they witnessed happening to their people. As they strutted back and forth in their grass skirts, their faces painted for the white people, he wondered what longing they must endure for the old life when they could walk with pride through the jungle at ease with their rightful position as one of the alpha predators.

He wept internally for them when he thought of the ignominy of their status in their own land, reduced to little more than a side show for paying spectators. He was angry and indignant for them with each new demeaning spectacle the tour group leader had them perform.

Disgusted he walked away from the group and round the back of one of the thatched huts from which the villagers had emerged. Beyond another such building were some more villagers, young Yagua adults and older teens, only they were wearing jeans and t-shirts, shorts and tank tops. He noticed, with more than a little curiosity, two wore expensive Nike running shoes.

The group seemed ill at ease with him being there and seeing them. He realized that tourists were not supposed to witness the reality of their existence. These young people were concerned that the scam would be revealed, the myth that the indigenous lifestyle still thrived would be busted and with it would go the much needed revenue it brought to the village. He tried to wave and smile reassuringly and, not wanting to make them any more uncomfortable, returned to the tour group that he was now starting to despise.

Upon approaching the others he saw that a bartering session was underway between the Elders and the tourists and was amazed to see a good leather belt disappear from the waist of a pair of dockers to be replaced by a length of woven grass that would not hold together for more than a few days. A pair of good sunglasses went for a crude model of a bow and arrow, but the best, to his mind, was when a pair of Nike running shoes was traded for two miniature “shrunken heads” made from he didn’t know or care what, but knew it wasn’t the real thing.

He looked back in the direction of the group of younger villagers now hidden from view again by the thatched huts and nodded his understanding. He then turned back to the Elders and nodded his approval. At least at this level of cultural interaction the Yagua was still the alpha predator and it would seem their gullible prey was in no short supply.

There are over 150 million Tribal People in the world spread between 60 countries. Even today more than 100 tribes are classed as “uncontacted”, which means they have chosen to stay isolated from the modern world. Particularly in Latin America, but also on a general global scale, these Aboriginal cultures living their ancestral lifestyles do not receive anything like the respect they deserve or their people the basic human rights the UN mandates are applicable to all humanity.

In parts of South America while seeking (often illegally) appropriation of Indigenous People’s lands, ranchers and mining companies (oil and ore) regularly terrorize these defenseless people up to and including assassination. Governments like those in Botswana and Indonesia may on paper grant albeit un-enlightened rights to their indigenous peoples, but in reality persecute them and try to force them off their own lands by a number of means varying between intolerable hardship to torture and death. This so their ancestral lands can be exploited for financial gain from which the Natives, who’s land it is, will receive virtually nothing.

Settled and developed countries like The United States, Russia, Canada, Australia, China, and New Zealand also have a great deal to answer for in terms of their present and previous dealings with their own indigenous populations.

The sadness this unjustness, cruelty and less than human behaviour causes me is greatly augmented by the realization that it is among these people, many of whom yet understand the wayto co-exist in balance with our planet, that a good chunk of the salvation of our species’ chance to survive is to be found. If we continue as we are upon our destructive exploitative path, in a few fleeting generations the so called civilized world will have depleted this earth beyond its ability to sustain human life in any but the smallest of numbers, and the outcome thereafter is grizzly at best and utterly alarming.

It is upon taking the ancient and natural wisdom of these tribal peoples, these natural conservationists, these less artificial beings who yet understand the physical and spiritual need and practices to remain in balance with our environment, and combining it with the modern world’s ability to create beneficial (not exploitative) technology, that the long term survival of our species as we know it hinges.

But why should they help us? What have we done to earn their respect sufficient to encourage them to do so? They, those that are left, will no doubt still be able to survive via their traditional life-styles in their natural habitat as it recovers from the wounds inflicted by industrial man long after we have gone. Why should they be bothered to help us survive when all we have done is diminish their existence for so long, as we have everything else that is natural upon this planet?