Civilisation hasn’t stopped trampling on tribes….

Perenco arrives in the Peruvian rainforestIf you’re of the mind that our civilisation is more civilised than past civilisations, you’re probably right — especially if you consider the full definition of civilised (which includes the tendency to exterminate, exploit, oppress, imprison or immiserate everything that isn’t) proposed in the post after this. Not convinced?

The following three examples (from Survival International) are surely evidence enough of this full definition — as applied to our globalised, capitalist civilisation.

The government of Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of Borneo, is ignoring a recent court ruling recognizing the rights of the tribes (including the Penan, the only remaining hunter-gatherers in Sarawak) to their land, according to a local indigenous rights lawyer.

The ruling gave hope to the Penan tribe that they could resume their natural livelihoods, but while the Malaysian government denies there is any interference, a representative of the tribe claims that ‘the fact and the truth is that the people’s land, in particular, the natives’ customary lands have already been taken’.

On the other side of the planet, Peru‘s government has given the green light to Anglo-French company Perenco to drill for oil in the Amazon, just thirteen days after more than 30 people died in protests against the exploitation of the rainforest.

The project is on land inhabited by two tribes of uncontacted Indians and is believed to be Peru’s biggest oil discovery in thirty years. Until recently, Perenco had been blocked from entering the area by local indigenous people desperate to protect their land. Helped by Peru’s armed forces, the company has since forced their way through. Survival reports that while protests against the company took place, Perenco’s chairman, Francois Perrodo, an Oxford graduate and member of one of France’s wealthiest families, met Peru’s President Garcia in Lima and pledged to invest $2bn in the project.

Perenco intends to build new platforms and wells and admits this may entail ‘contamination of soil’, ‘contamination of water’ and the flight of game and birds. All these are essential to the survival of the Indians who live there, who also face the threat of severe illness and death from diseases to which they have no immunity.

In India, a court ruling has put a recently-contacted tribe at greater risk from swine flu, according to campaigners. The court in the Andaman Islands has ruled that a buffer zone around a reserve created to protect the Jarawa tribe is invalid. The decision gives the go-ahead to a tourism resort (owned by Barefoot India) inside the buffer zone and others are likely to follow. The Jarawa are expected to have little immunity to outside infections and Survival believes that Barefoot’s resort poses a serious risk to their health.

And what’s going on in Honduras? While many are saying that the recent military coup that resulted in the removal of elected President Zelaya has the hand of the US behind it somewhere, there are also claims that the official reasons for the coup are nothing but a smokescreen for the real motive: which is to prevent indigenous and other minority peoples in the country from securing equitable rights, as they stood a chance of doing under Zelaya. If both these theories apply, we can see ‘Western’ civilisation spreading its tentacles in covert military and political ways, as well as by the overt capitalist means above.

…but tribal urges are simmering, even re-emergingProtector of Innocence, 2007 by Jolene Nenevah Yazzie

Efforts to preserve and revive native tribal languages – without which entire worldviews, philosophies and specific knowledge about local ecosystems will wither – are growing. Minority languages among the indigenous Sami people of Finland, such as Skolt and Inari, are critically endangered but initiatives to keep them alive and evolving are showing some success, while also having a positive effect on their speakers’ self-esteem.

Similar initiatives are underway across the USA to allow the survival of the many hundreds of endangered Native American languages, and in parallel some Native American communities are injecting new life into their traditional cultures and beliefs. This article describes the ‘re-awakening of the Mi’kmaq culture’ in Canada; community members believe that bringing back Mi’kmaq knowledge and wisdom will change their society for the better and offer a meaningful route to dealing with local social problems.

The indigenous protests against oil exploration in the Peruvian Amazon have been heard: the Peruvian government has withdrawn the decrees that allowed the oil exploration to go ahead – for now.

The transition town movement is still growing fast. OK, it’s not quite tribal, but it is a clear assertion of a desire to reinstate community at the heart of society – and it could be argued that community is the antidote to the more destructive forces of civilisation. (According to Wendell Berry: “The way that a national economy preys on its internal colonies is by the destruction of community.”)

Also on the rise are initiatives like Radical Routes, ‘a network of radical co-ops whose members are committed to working for positive social change’ and the Freeconomy concept, which says it is the ‘fastest growing alternative economy’ and that its ‘philosofree’ is different from other alternative economy models because ‘whilst others are still focused on the concept of exchange, Freeconomy is based on ‘Pay-it-forward’ principles … every time you help someone you just ask him or her to ‘pay the favour forward’ [to someone else].’

This, say the proponents, builds trust and friendships in the communities that inevitably form when someone does something ‘just for the love of it’. It’s highly reminiscent of the gift economies of a number of indigenous cultures.

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