Lost in the World, Not at Home


There’s a certain allure to the people of the world who refuse, choose to, or just simply have not engrained themselves into the society we have created today. They are so interesting, and different from the status quo that it is hard to understand them on a social, pyschological and physical level. These indigenous populations around the world that we would consider ‘uncontacted’ are slowly disappearing, either because we have established contact with them, or they are dying. I’m referring to the tribes of the Amazon or the forests of Asia that are literally, lost in society; tribes that we have no idea about because they have only recently been spotted or are too aggressive to meet with. They’re dying because the further advancement of industry has left their homes in South America, Asia, and the South Pacific in danger, because these workers tearing down the forest to mine for gold kill indigneous people when they are in the way, and because when they are contacted something as small as the common cold can ruin a population. I find this problem fascinating because its amazing to think in our age of globalization that these tribes have still yet to be fully contacted, if it all. Why do we seem to think we have the right to choose if they should be contacted? Is there even a “right” way to solve this problem?

 

There are arguments for both sides. Some agree contact is bad, while some agree a mild form of monitoring and intevention in extreme cases only is better, and some believe these uncontacted people will die on their own without immediate and full intervention. Contact brings new political and social problems, and potentially debilitating disease to the tribe. Non-contact leaves them to fend for themselves against the men and businesses deforesting and illegally mining the lands, and they begin to run the risk of genetic problems because they can only support a population of a certain level in their current state of technology, and surrounding living conditions. Some say these tribes will be ‘contacted’ by miners, or people exploring anyway, so why not do it in a formal matter which could end in less conflict, disease, and problems.

uncontacted

Businesses do not seem to be the answer here. I believe this problem transcends to something more akin to a world affair than a social problem that can be changed, solved, or worked at by multiple parties. A business that works in or for social purposes usually does something like commit a portion of profits, help an already existing NGO, or something along those lines. Unfortunately, I don’t see how these traditional methods could help the situation right now. If a tribe gets contacted and they begin to work with people in our sector of society, then some of these methods could be of use, such as giving money for medicine, education, if that is what they want, or other problems the tribe may need help with. Right now, however, the problem of uncontacted people seems to be of a higher level, that we do not have an answer for. It may be too late until we decide to go with either of the approaches described above, or maybe, as grim as it may sound, have to be done through a trial and error. It doesn’t appear to be a black and white problem. In the end, we will most likely have to go with a “what will do the least amount of damage” approach, because the idea of the optimal solution is not something that exists here.

 

Personally, and currently, I am in favor of non-contact strategies. Not because I think this is the “correct” way to do it, but because I don’t feel we have the right to determine what we think is best for them. If they want to remain in the culture and lifestyle they have made for themselves then so be it. They should be able to make the choice on what they want to do, and what they feel is best for their people. This, of course, also brings up the idea of these uncontacted people not fully knowing what our society has, includes, and thinks and believes. Like I said, there does not seem to be an optimal solution. Regardless, I still believe we do not have the right to make that choice for them. It had been done before during the times of the ‘encounter’ and led mostly to oppression and slavery. They could very well be scare, simply, because of the past, and the idea of the ‘whiteman’ they may be accustomed to. For now, however, they know who they are and what they want. They can decide, for themselves, the best course of action among their own group of people.

Comment any ideas you may have to deal with this type of problem if you would like.

 

Featured Image: Claude Levi-Strauss during his fieldwork in the Amazon Rainforest. He is by many considered the father of modern anthropology. The people he studied for over a year are called the Nambikwara and would be considered an uncontacted tribe at the time of his study. His memoir Tristes Tropiques describes his time in the rainforest.Levi-Strauss would be in favor of a non-contact approach and believed ‘progress’ for these indigenous people would be the downfall of their societies.

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4 thoughts on “Lost in the World, Not at Home

  1. I was happy with your conclusion and I was thinking the same while reading your blog. It is not up to another society to determine what is best for these uncontacted peoples. I would hope that businesses that infringe upon these peoples land for mining purposes, etc. would consider out viewpoint as well. However, this will continue to be a problem and I wonder how many uncontacted people that have been affected that we do not know about due to a lack of reporting. This was quite an interesting blog and was something that I would have never thought about otherwise. It sparked some debate between a few friends of mine.

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  2. I was happy with your conclusion and I was thinking the same while reading your blog. It is not up to another society to determine what is best for these uncontacted peoples. I would hope that businesses that infringe upon these peoples’ land for mining purposes, etc. would consider our viewpoint as well. However, this will continue to be a problem and I wonder how many uncontacted people that have been affected that we do not know about due to a lack of reporting. This was quite an interesting blog and was something that I would have never thought about otherwise. It sparked some debate between a few friends of mine.

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  3. Well said to you too, Ben. Challenging thoughts. It’s interesting to apply your critical thought about this to the desire I wrote about to go back to West Virginia and “Change things.” I think it’s a little more messy in that case, but there’s definitely value in questioning whether my wanting to help people will translate into just telling an isolated, and highly insulated culture to “do it this way, because I say it will help.” So thank you for the perspective.

    My family is also part Cherokee according to oral tradition, and I’ve thought the same thing of many of the Native American Reservations I’ve been on. Talk about challenging situations to address without changing or altering those intrinsically valuable cultures and traditions (this is obviously different from uncontacted populations in the fact that in many cases American Indians are dealing with “White-influenced” issues, particularly alcoholism, and we are trying to apply our solutions to those since we feel like they would work, but end up unsettling ways of life). As to the question of whether contact is preferred or not, I see you’ve already addressed the idea that without knowledge of other cultures, these populations have a somewhat limited version of free “choice.” That is what makes it tricky for me… Also, measuring the cost of what they lose when so often the focus is entirely on what they gain.

    I’m curious as to what sparked your thought about this?

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  4. Too often, we think that capitalism is the universal medium in which all societies can function and understand. This may be true from a fundamental standpoint where trade is signified with monetary value, but today’s society oftentimes juts “modern” capitalism into situations and demographics that capitalism would just be the wrong “tool” for. Even for places in America where more rural states (like the one I wrote about) aren’t even geographically conducive to the typical standard of capitalism, this misunderstanding that the world needs this one mode of commerce is flawed and I’m glad to see that in your conclusion.

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