Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.

Freedom's Fidelity

Friday, February 04, 2005

That Tribe Belongs to Me!!

Here's an article from yesterday's LA Times that I came across. It caught my eye because of my girlfriend's education in anthropology and some discussions we've had regarding how anthropologists often treat 'their' subjects of study.

The key grafs:

HUT BAY, India — Nine days after giant waves struck Little Andaman island, a child was born in a soccer stadium and the Onge tribe of hunters and gatherers took a step away from extinction.

The rain forest that surrounds the tribe, along with traditional Onge wisdom, saved it in a catastrophe that killed more than 150,000 people across southern Asia. Now some experts fear that the tsunami's aftermath will prove more dangerous than the waves.

Notice the language – they took a step away from extinction, but, BUT! the aftermath may prove more dangerous than the waves that took close to 300,000 lives. What is this dangerous aftermath? Flooding? Massive erosion of the fertile soil they depend on? Guess again.
The birth of a girl, at a makeshift relief camp at the stadium, raised the Onge population to 97. Although the outside help that arrived after the tsunami may have improved the odds of survival for the anemic mother and her newborn, activists fighting to protect the archipelago's indigenous people say the aid, including inappropriate shelter, food and clothing, is among several post-disaster shocks that have endangered the ancient societies.

"As far as the aboriginal tribes are concerned, they don't need aid," said environmentalist Samir Acharya, who runs the Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology in Port Blair, the Indian territory's capital. "It's a mindless thing to do. That's how we're spoiling them."

As far as Samir Acharya is concerned, he is the official spokesmen for the Onge tribe, and he will decide if they need aid. He'll make sure it's appropriate and mindful too. After all, why save people in need? If they want to live an antiquated lifestyle, why "spoil" them with our modernity?

There's more:

The deaths of Indian settlers in the tsunami, and the tribes' struggle to survive the aftermath, reminded Mukerjee of a young Onge man she met during her visits with the tribe in the late 1990s.

He was rare among the Onge because he spoke his mind to an outsider. He talked about what it meant to be a man in a forest on a small island in a vast ocean. Soon after Mukerjee finished her work there, her new friend drowned in the sea.

"He clearly had the sense of being very trapped," Mukerjee said. "He felt that there was this large world outside that he couldn't enter, not so much because he wasn't allowed to, but because he knew that the stakes were stacked against him."

I suppose, as long as they live in the jungle naked they will never join the larger world. And that is their choice, but what is striking about this story is that it never occurs to anyone to see what the Onge may actually want, they are merely mascots for a larger cause. It seems that the anthropologists are determined to freeze them in time, to preserve what they see as the purity of their culture even if it is a detriment to some individuals living in that culture. In other words, the Onge are nothing more than their own personal living museum exhibit, and don't you come messing with it!


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