Protecting The Hunter-Gatherers and Others Like Them

CNN carried an article recently about the Hazda, an ancient tribe of hunter-gatherers living near the Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania.

The Hadza people live in a remote part of Northern Tanzania. They have lived in the area for thousands of years, and represent one of the oldest lineages of mankind.

Like other indigenous people once living in semi-isolation, they are more frequently subject to intrusion by more civilized  people. Their available hunting area is reduced. Their way of living is challenged. Their very existence is imperiled. Their plight is not unique, as members of Survival International will attest. The NGO (Non Governmental Organization) is a non-profit group whose stated mission is to help tribal peoples “defend their lives, protect their lands and determine their own futures.” Their website claims that there are still 100 groups of what they refer to as “uncontacted.” By this they mean that there has been little or no interaction with outsiders. It may be hard to believe, given global development, but it is hard to argue with the facts that they marshal. When I first read the CNN article, I considered the protection and preservation of these cultures a hard question. Maybe, or maybe not. Read on and make your own judgment.

The movie Avatar provided an extreme fictional example of the exploitation of an indigenous people on an alien planet, but James Cameron admittedly modeled it on the excesses historically visited upon the less developed peoples by those with more advanced weapons and technology whose demands for resources were not to be denied. But what about more “benign” intervention such as modernization in the form of tools, technology, education, medicine, etc. Isn’t that a good thing? Even if it is at the expense of a loss of cultural identity? Why not just let them alone; let them evolve or not at their own pace–a law the first contact rules that the fictional explorers of Star Trek endeavored (not always successfully) to practice?

The reports from the Survival International group seem to indicate that even the benign intervention often leads to not so benign consequences. Integrating people who have been thousands of years behind modern civilization will enter at the very bottom of the social and economic ladder. Where they had a coherent sense of self and community they will suffer anomie. Disease, predation, racism and more are what the near-term, at best, holds in store for them. Is it possible to maintain enclaves or preserves for their way of life as civilization approaches? Is that the better approach? What do you think? But don’t make an offhand judgment, do a little reading and give it some thought.