Sunday, February 13, 2011

Early this month, I visited a city north to where I live for the first time. Purpose: to do something for the tribal population who are right now living on the cusp of change, so to say. Not yet “modern”, but sufficiently smart to live life their way. They are amused by entertainment: every other week they have some festival to celebrate. Either it is the change in weather, onset of a season or plain, birth of a new animal. Given this appetite for entertainment, it is an easy guess what they would pick up from the modern amusement arsenal. Yes, it’s the bloody idiot box. But, on their terrain, there’s no power. Tribals have even found a way out: they run TVs on batteries. Honestly, I never would have been so innovative.

By the way, they are also fine singers and hummers, with ease. Their sonata resonates through the ears very well and hits the right chord, often. Often, their taxonomy of animals they live with is classified according to the chirps, crackles, hums, buzz, rattles, squawks and many more.

There were many stunning scoops in the air. Tribals do not milk the cows as they think all the milk belongs to the calf. Quite different from my misguided sense of all that is in the world is meant to be used by me. Of course, polygamy is prevalent and wives are bought and sold. I reserve my comments.

I was reminded of a semantic controversy that was on the air recently. What should we call these people: isolated (to be neutral) or uncontacted (a neologism); or ‘previously unknown’ or ‘recently discovered’? Uncontacted it seems was the term preferred by Survivor International, a group that documents and helps such people survive. But “the term plays into the hands of powerful actors who wish to deny that these groups exist at all. The public can become confused when they learn that the tribes are not really ‘uncontacted,’ in the strict sense, and think then that the groups don’t even exist or don’t need protection.

Unfortunately for the isolated groups…not only live in rainforests with prized trees, some also sit atop oil reserves…”

“In truth, our reactions to and perceptions of these people reveal far more about us than about them. We easily believe that a band of hostile [tribes] confronting an airplane from a clearing do so out of ignorance and fear. But the likely truth is harder to face: The tribe might have threatened the observers precisely because they had encountered some of the worst aspects of our culture before, and suffered grievously. These images of a people courageously standing against us are not symbols of their ignorance, but of ours.”

Why can’t we just plainly accept that we are far more ignorant than we assume we are?

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