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The Lost Tribes of the Amazon
April 13, 2013 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Franco believes that governments must increase efforts to preserve indigenous cultures. “The Indians represent a special culture, and resistance to the world,” argues the historian, who has spent three decades researching isolated tribes in Colombia. Martínez says that the Indians have a unique view of the cosmos, stressing “the unity of human beings with nature, the interconnectedness of all things.” It is a philosophy that makes them natural environmentalists, since damage to the forest or to members of one tribe, the Indians believe, can reverberate across society and history with lasting consequences. “They are protecting the jungle by chasing off gold miners and whoever else goes in there,” Franco says. He adds: “We must respect their decision not to be our friends—even to hate us.”
posted by jason's_planet (21 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
It is good that they stress the agency of the Amazon tribes and their relationship with modern history. They are not uncontacted so much as no-desire-to-be-contacted, and that lack of desire is based on good grounds.

But also include something stupid like:
Martínez says that the Indians have a unique view of the cosmos, stressing “the unity of human beings with nature, the interconnectedness of all things.” It is a philosophy that makes them natural environmentalists, since damage to the forest or to members of one tribe, the Indians believe, can reverberate across society and history with lasting consequences.
This is just noble savage bull in new clothes. It is utterly unscientific and borderline racist.

And later:
Some anthropologists, conservationists and Indian leaders argue that there is a middle way between the Stone Age isolation of the Yuri and the abject assimilation of the Ticuna.
What is "Stone Age isolation"? The Stone Age lasted for a couple of million years and included some big and complex societies. Moreover, they don't live in the Stone Age. Their isolation is a consequence of very recent history, as they took pains to explain all the way through.
posted by Jehan at 10:25 AM on April 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


There is something that unsettles me a little about a "How will we protect the way of life of these brave, proud people who resist modern culture?" piece right on the heels of a piece about deluded dopes who hide from EMF radiation in West Virginia. It cuts somehow, but damned if I can figure out in which direction.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:47 AM on April 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


How will we protect the way of life of these brave, proud people who resist modern culture?

Well, they do have some issues with modern culture, with being made into tourist attractions and other such humiliations, but in many cases the decision to head off into the woods was a decision to avoid being enslaved and slaughtered:
Then, around 1900, came the rubber boom. Based in the port of Iquitos, a Peruvian company, Casa Arana, controlled much of what is now the Colombian Amazon region. Company representatives operating along the Putumayo press-ganged tens of thousands of Indians to gather rubber, or caucho, and flogged, starved and murdered those who resisted. Before the trade died out completely in the 1930s, the Uitoto tribe’s population fell from 40,000 to 10,000; the Andoke Indians dropped from 10,000 to 300. Other groups simply ceased to exist. “That was the time when most of the now-isolated groups opted for isolation,” says Franco. “The Yuri [and the Passé] moved a great distance to get away from the caucheros.” In 1905, Theodor Koch-Grünberg, a German ethnologist, traveled between the Caquetá and Putumayo rivers; he noted ominously the abandoned houses of Passé and Yuri along the Puré, a tributary of the Putumayo, evidence of a flight deeper into the rainforest to escape the depredations.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:03 AM on April 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


(Oh, sad. When I saw "the Amazon," my first thought was of a giant warehouse full of consumer goods, not a river or a rain forest or a culture. Consumer capitalism has totally colonized my brain. Must resist!)
posted by Corvid at 11:21 AM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Me too. I fear I am lost in the cosmos with absolutely no understanding of the the true nature of inter-connectedness, beyond online Instant watch Mad Men and Breaking Bad videos (tm.) and an obscene ever-growing pile of crap in my Wishlist.

Down with Amazon (the online behemoth), up with indigenous tribes who respect life and death, and the intuitive sense of the relation between creation and destruction and have every right to hate our filthy consumer guts.


*Internet Angst makes me feel alive.*
posted by Skygazer at 11:52 AM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Such cynicism.

You can look at stories like this several ways:

One, full-on Noble Savage and nothing's wrong with that; it creates awe and respect, which might lead to protection where it's needed.

Two, you can consider it from the point of view of utility: what can we learn scientifically or socially from such self-isolated groups?

Or, three, you can just revel in how different people can exist and thrive without making judgements about how, why or in what way they are existing or thriving.

To me, this is the very best kind of science fiction; something at once real and yet so divorced from my daily experience as to make it very interesting, morally, socially and technologically.
posted by digitalprimate at 12:27 PM on April 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


(Oh, sad. When I saw "the Amazon," my first thought was of a giant warehouse full of consumer goods, not a river or a rain forest or a culture.

Buried deep in a now automated warehouse, there is a noble tribe of forgotten order pickers, struggling to survive in an environment that hostile to them....
posted by cosmic.osmo at 1:44 PM on April 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


digitalprimate: "One, full-on Noble Savage and nothing's wrong with that"

Yeah, just because it's a somewhat more positive stereotype doesn't make it any less racist or damaging.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:12 PM on April 13, 2013


What about their children? What gives them the right to deprive their children of access to the benefits and opportunities of modern civilization?
posted by Jacqueline at 3:52 PM on April 13, 2013


Sovereignty
posted by spitbull at 4:02 PM on April 13, 2013


Yes, ugly cynicim! "It is good that they stress the agency of the Amazon tribes and their relationship with modern history. They are not uncontacted so much as no-desire-to-be-contacted, and that lack of desire is based on good grounds.

But also include something stupid like:
Martínez says that the Indians have a unique view of the cosmos, stressing “the unity of human beings with nature, the interconnectedness of all things.” It is a philosophy that makes them natural environmentalists, since damage to the forest or to members of one tribe, the Indians believe, can reverberate across society and history with lasting consequences.
This is just noble savage bull in new clothes. It is utterly unscientific and borderline racist."
This statement is utterly borderline racist. "noble savage bull in new clothes"? What do you know of Native Peoples ability at science? Ever hear of the Mayan Calendar? Ever hear of their use of mummification? Do you know they use/used astronomy to travel great distances over land and sea? Do you know that our people knew the consequences of Deforestation and how it would effect the future which is today?
posted by SteelDancin at 4:46 PM on April 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


And by the way, dont call us Noble savages.
posted by SteelDancin at 4:51 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the meantime:
Amazon tribe threatens to declare war amid row over Brazilian dam project

Munduruku leaders hit out at 'betrayal' after government pushes on with dam construction without community's consent

An Amazonian community has threatened to "go to war" with the Brazilian government after what they say is a military incursion into their land by dam builders.

The Munduruku indigenous group in Para state say they have been betrayed by the authorities, who are pushing ahead with plans to build a cascade of hydropower plants on the Tapajós river without their permission.

Public prosecutors, human rights groups, environmental organisations and Christian missionaries have condemned what they call the government's strong-arm tactics.

According to witnesses in the area, helicopters, soldiers and armed police have been involved in Operation Tapajós, which aims to conduct an environmental impact assessment needed for the proposed construction of the 6,133MW São Luiz do Tapajós dam.
posted by symbioid at 5:48 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


What gives them the right to deprive their children of access to the benefits and opportunities of modern civilization?

What gives you the right to expose your children to the dangers and risks of modern civilization?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:37 PM on April 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


I was just thinking about this movie last night, which I still remember intensely after more than 20 years. The Kogi are precisely the kind of people being talked about here (though they're not in the Amazon), and I recommend watching the film if you haven't; even though it's kind of painful, it's fascinating. Get past the kind of dramatized, pan-flutey framing of it and watch the way these people live and their beliefs, and I don't think it's that out of bounds at all to say that they "have a unique view of the cosmos, stressing “the unity of human beings with nature, the interconnectedness of all things.” It is a philosophy that makes them natural environmentalists, since damage to the forest or to members of one tribe, the Indians believe, can reverberate across society and history with lasting consequences."
As a group of people, I can't think of any that I respect more.

I found that there was a follow up movie made last year, I'm very curious to see it.
posted by Red Loop at 7:01 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is just noble savage bull in new clothes. It is utterly unscientific and borderline racist.

No, it is not "bull", and it is in fact so scientific that you are alive at this second because of it. (Seriously. Wait a sec, I'll get there.) Interconnectedness is at the heart of all philosophies except the most extremist. All, modern Western ones included. Now, as for science, it would behoove you to take a quick glance at yourself and see whether or not you are made of one single type of molecule or several. Ask yourself if your gut has bacteria that keep you alive. There are, of course, also bacteria and viruses that might not keep you alive, but then, if you die, you will be feeding other stuff.

So, sorry, interconnectedness is so scientific it hurts.

When I was in Australia, a Nyoongar told us a very short bit of the Dreamtime, whose philosophical underpinnings are similar to many others (again, Western included, though somewhere along the line translators and editors under the influence of Biblical interpreters left out Adam getting consequences for his part in the decision to fully experience nature, and turned Eve's consequences into a punishment, thus ensuring centuries of stupidity as opposed to responsibility). I put it on my blog, here's the important excerpt:
In the spirit world — for that was what it was — there were many types of spirits. Tree spirits, animal spirits, fish spirits, flower spirits… and also human spirits. A gathering was held — several, in fact [this is one area in which the story has been shortened] — in which it was debated and discussed and eventually decided who would watch over beings in reality; who would be the caretakers.

Tree spoke first: “We trees stay in one place. We cannot wander the land as a caretaker would need to do.” And the other spirits also spoke. It was decided that humans would be the caretakers, for they had abilities the others did not.

Tree spoke again: “You may use us as you wish, but never destroy us all." In turn, animals and plants alike offered to protect and nourish their human caretakers in exchange for balance. All agreed: “never destroy us all.”
posted by fraula at 12:30 AM on April 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


What about their children? What gives them the right to deprive their children of access to the benefits and opportunities of modern civilization?

What gives us the right to deny their children the forest?

Frankly, I'm fucking pissed that logging and mineral rights have denied my offspring the right to the forests. And that's without having to contend with the "repeatedly enslaved and killed" aspect of this.

"What about the children??" is about the most ridiculous argument to bring up here. It ignores the complex cultural history around rain forest peoples and the treatment they've received at the hands of colonizers and their decedents. I can guarantee you, they are very, very much thinking about their children.
posted by Jilder at 4:08 AM on April 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


What gives any society the right to raise its kids the way it sees fit? Again, the answer is "what business is it of yours?" Do you tell Russians or Bengalis or Tahitians or Amsh how to raise their kids?

What part of a desire for sovereignty is unclear to the white man?
posted by spitbull at 6:03 AM on April 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Whenever there is an article like this, inevitably someone in it refers to these tribes as "lonely." Franco does it, for all his "leave them alone" talk. (As he doesn't leave them alone, natch.)

It's like it's impossible for us to see it from their perspective. And somehow I believe they don't think they're lonely at all. They have their families. They have their culture. And in fact, they might even think they're the opposite of lonely--i.e. please go away. I mean, how much more clear can you get that that is their message?

I recognize that they're "isolated" from us. But what really brings loneliness is the death and damage of colonization. Then there's no one left who speaks your language.
posted by RedEmma at 7:25 AM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


And by the way, dont call us Noble savages.

You, of course, realize you're using some form of tcp/ip to access http://www.metafilter.com, no?

You might want to rethink the whole second person plural thing there....
posted by digitalprimate at 11:34 AM on April 15, 2013


The foreigners seem so desperate to contact the indigenous people, but they are in voluntary isolation. Why don't they just leave them alone?

Another interesting read on native protection of jungles is To Get The Gold They Will Have to Kill Every One of Us.

Oh, and from what I've seen (admittedly limited), indigenous people in general and native north and south americans do in fact seem to have a "a unique view of the cosmos, stressing “the unity of human beings with nature, the interconnectedness of all things.”".

That they have a unique view is a given, what exactly that view is requires engagement with their culture and and a genuine desire to learn. Unfortunately, the engagement with their culture has historically varied from "enough to try to convince them their views are wrong" to "violently oppress them". It's sad. It also means that there is a lot we still don't know or understand about the many different native worldviews. Anyway, don't take my word for it, do some reading (please not on new age sites, though) and hear what some actual native americans have to say.

Bobby C. Billie, the spiritual leader of the Independent Traditional Seminoles, and Leon Segataro, the spiritual leader of the Traditional Navajos, explained to about 50 people how the sanctity of nature is being ignored. "You have to care for all creations of life, including all cultures, all types of trees, all types of grass," Billie said.

Billie said mankind's industrial age is destroying the planet, and therefore it is important to protect the earth by teaching people about the environment. "We are just like a bunch of little kids running around disturbing and destroying things," Billie said. "We need to grow up."

Segataro explained mankind's role on the planet and the responsibility people have towards nature. Segataro, said all living things are connected by the sacred cycle, an ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust explanation of how the forces of nature work. The cycle is the great circle of life, he said, and it can also be seen in the changing landscape of the planet and, on a smaller scale, the evaporation and condensation of water.


There were also a few interesting stories I read recently about Nilson Tuwe Kuni Kui, who is from a remote tribe in the amazon. He is currently in America on a grant with the intention of learning English and making films to educate people around the world on his tribe’s culture and the issues they face. He also manages to both embrace technology in certain forms while still emphasizing the importance of his cultural heritage and his tribe’s right to continue to live in those ways…at the same time! LIKE A BOSS! (I still don't understand why this is so mind-boggling to certain people.)

Mr Kui said: ‘Through technology you can learn about the world and the world can learn about you.

‘I’m working on a movie about the people who live in voluntary isolation. I’d like to become a professional filmmaker to help my people.’
Arriving in New York in September last year, Mr Kui has grappled with culture shock, learning how to use the subway and take in the vast array of different people from all over the world, the American food and the ‘very, very cold weather’.

He said: ‘People may think that richness is about money but for us in the rainforest being rich is something else. We are rich in biodiversity, in culture and in spirituality.’
It takes five days travel by boat to reach his village from the nearest town. The people prefer an isolated existence and avoid contact with the outside world.


“I am coming straight from the forest to New York with a very important goal”, said Nilson Tuwe Huni Kuĩ, representing the Huni Kuĩ Kaxinawá peoples of the Acre State in the Brazilian Amazon, as he shared his experiences advocating for the rights of the Kaxinawá peoples. “We are working for our empowerment, our autonomy,” he said.

He also described how wealth is looked upon differently within his community. There is an appreciation for nature, biodiversity, quality life and living in harmony with nature. “But above all to have the freedom to do what you want. That is the true wealth for us,” Tuwe explained.

Or let’s ask native activist Russell Means:
RT: Many journalists paint a picture of your program as a return to wigwams, fires and ritual dances, is it not true?

RM: Some would probably find this picture quite attractive, but this isn’t a possibility. We have to proceed from the reality. By returning our culture we mean using all the opportunities. […] The United States doesn’t even have opportunities for culture; it is only focused on money and on those forms of culture that yield money. Any art that sells is the kind of art that generates profit. It’s a terrible fodder turned into a machine for generating profit.

[…] We don’t want to see any further Americanization, but are no revisionists either – we aren’t calling people to going back to the Stone Age, to isolation, to an ethnographic museum type of life. Or to perform paid rituals, a kind of a spiritual prostitution that’s been involving Indians under the pretext that this is our way to preserve our identity by publicly performing our sacred dances.

So they say, if you don’t like Columbus, and progress, and democracy, you should give up using electricity, and computers, and phones. This is exactly what we will do immediately, as soon as those strangers and immigrants get on their boats and go back to their countries.

And by the way, dont call us Noble savages.

You, of course, realize you're using some form of tcp/ip


Am I missing something, or are you implying that these are mutually exclusive?

posted by nTeleKy at 2:18 PM on April 16, 2013


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