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Friday, May 30, 2008

Those Isolated Tribes

The initial documentation of an isolated Brazilian tribe's existence (articles and photos @ survival-international & dailymail) has electrified the world as had other news in the past about the rest of the 100+ surviving "uncontacted" tribes.


As an Indigenous Person (IP) myself, I have followed the developments of this report with great interest but with mixed feelings. I don't know whether to rejoice or grieve for this find, for I don't know where it will lead us or them.


As I think of this newly discovered tribe, I am reminded of the story of Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe of Northern California, and of "Nell," the girl raised by her aphasic mother in an isolated cabin somewhere in the boondocks of North Carolina who was eventually discovered by outsiders. Just like that of Ishi and Nell, will this South American tribe's fate be caught in the tug-of-war between those who view them as laboratory specimens or museum articles and those who regard them with a sense of kinship and with deep respect for their pristine conditions? Will the story of this indigenous group have a tragic ending just like that of Ishi and his tribe, or will it have a happy ending just like that of Nell?


Should they be left alone? I doubt that they will be left alone. That question is just the same as asking somebody who had just uncovered a treasure hoard in the heart of a jungle "to leave the thing alone." Will the insatiable appetite of the media for the strange and spectacular leave them alone? Will the ichthyologists, botanists and other biologists leave their flora and fauna alone? Will the ethnolinguists, anthropologists, and other scholars leave their culture alone? Will prospectors of all sorts leave their natural resources alone? Will those imbued with their contemporary version of "manifest destiny" leave the "sorry state" of these "half-devil(s) and half-child(ren)" alone? Will the rest of us who are titillated by the primitive, outworldly or the exotic leave them alone?



To leave them alone or not? -- That is not the question.

To let them live with their own sense of dignity or not? -- That is the question.



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