Tuesday, August 04, 2015

the last free-living humans

Three years ago, I read Mario Vargas Llosa's fictionalised biography of Roger Casement, The dream of the Celt, both for fun and for reasons linked to family history. Now the book has come in very handy for the intro of my latest feature, which is on native tribes in the Amazon.

A memory that stayed with me years after reading the novel is that of the shocking abuses committed by rubber companies in the Amazon who captured Natives and exploited them as slaves to harvest rubber in the wild. Sanctions for missing the productivity targets ranged from whipping to murder. (Incidentally, I find it intriguing that the neoliberal politician Mario Vargas Llosa, who ran for Peru's presidency at one point, appeared to be unaware of the novels his alter ego writes!) This happened well within the 20th century and 50 years after Peru officially abolished slavery.

Considering this background, I find it understandable that some of the surviving indigenous tribes in the Amazon aren't all that keen on making contact with our civilisation. Some US academics have argued that if they had the "full information" about our civilisation, they would want to take part. My nagging suspicion is that the Natives have better memory than the academics, and even with full information they might still want to remain as they are, the last free-living humans.

My feature on all this is out now in Current Biology:

How to protect the last free-living humans

Volume 25, Issue 15, pR635–R638, 3 August 2015
Open access

Uncontacted MashcoPiro Indians on a riverbank near the Manú National Park, Peru. (Photo: © Diego Cortijo/Survival International.)

PS (7.8.2015) A comment obviously meant for this post was made under the next post, where it wouldn't make sense, so I didn't publish it. Essentially, one of the anthropologists in this story said they "could have set me straight" if I had contacted them beforehand (I didn't because they had their say in an editorial in Science magazine, no less). Seeing that our disagreement is not about the native tribes as such (ie their area of academic expertise), but over how benign or not our western civilisation really is, I really don't want to be set straight by them. I have enough life experience to judge our civilisation by myself, thank you very much.

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