June 07, 2008

Uncontacted tribes in Eden?

Looking into the rainforest and seeing salvation

As last week's dramatic pictures of uncontacted Amazonians attest, 'primitives' remain a Rorschach"There's so much worry about global warming, about oil, about all these kids of things that seem to be cataclysmic, and here are these people, somehow, embodying the things people would like to believe the world either is or could be," says Slater, a professor of Spanish and Portuguese who wrote the book Entangled Edens: Visions of the Amazon.

"It's the untouched," she says, "the timeless, and in there the hope that somehow, things can still be saved. I think the Amazon continues to be something that is thought of as timeless, authentic, original...and even if you have one Indian tribe that's untouched, there's a sense that these are things that remain."

A myth, probably-–and a myth based on myths.

It is highly unlikely, Slater, anthropologists and activists say, that the tribe in Brazil has never had contact with other groups, highly unlikely that it was completely unaware of Western civilization until the April flyover.

The tribe is probably a remnant of a larger tribe that was decimated during the rubber boom about a century ago, says Fiona Watson, a Brazil expert and campaign co-ordinator for Survival International, a group that lobbies for the rights of tribal peoples.

"And in the rubber boom," Watson says, "there were all sorts of atrocities-–massacres, killing, enslavement, and many Indians died from disease...There's this very strong historical memory, and that kind of memory is handed down. I think that accounts for the fact that they clearly don't want contact."
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Indiana Jones and the Stereotypes of Doom.

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