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vendredi 29 juillet 2011

The Destruction of Languages and Cultures.. our role in it

My friend MunChing who looks through The Brunei Times daily and selects articles for me (and other friends of hers) and emails them. I truly appreciate this effort of hers. This morning she sent me an article about the impending disappearance of some of the languages of Indonesian province of Papua.

For an anthropologist it is a continuing sad saga of Indigenous peoples and here is my reply to her.

Dear MunChing
To destroy a Culture, you only have to destroy the Language.Landa in Mexico in 1520 recognized that and burnt the entire Library of the Mayans, but not before recording all their customs and nuances of the language. Mayans of Yucatan today have no memory of their ancestral culture of such magnitude.
It was at first the European conquerers, The British were the worst because they imposed strict religious forced conversions. The greatest of indigenous language losses have been in the two continents conquered by the British: USA and Australia. Currently in the USA, many of the languages of the indigenous people are on the verge of disappearance.
To give the Spaniards and Portugese their due, they imposed religious conversions but were tolerant of their indigenous practices. That is why in Central America and Brasil and also in the former spanish colonies of south america notably in Peru and Bolivia, the culture and the language has survived well. It was not the Portuguese conquerors that did the most damage to Os Indios do Brasil but the latter day adventurers looking for land and gold. 
When I was studying Anthropology, I also was under the impression that Racism, cultural genocide were exclusively Western Domains, until I visited the !Jung/?Wasi in the Kalahari. For them the threat to their culture (including virtual enslavement of the women) came not from the Europeans but Black  Ovambos and especially the Herreros, who introduced Alcohol to them.
Now as you can see in the article, Indonesians are also not averse to treating the Indigenous people in a very similar fashion to those of the Western Colonialists. The western part of Papua/New Guinea is not Indonesian in culture or context but was annexed by Soekarno when the Dutch left. Travel to this area is not easy, except to the capital city of Jayapura (the old soekarnopura, before then Kota Baru and ancient founding name of Hollandia). But let us get in touch with the anthropologist at the local university which would make traveling into the interior easy enough. 
I have always wondered why the arriving populations have been so inimical to the indigenous populations, even from a historical point of view. India, a country all of you know very well, has an indigenous population of Millions, the largest of whom are the Gonda of Orissa but they are scattered all over the centre of the country. If you are interested in the attitude of ordinary Indians towards Adivasi or the Original People you can read a travelogue of that great master Norman Lewis through Orissa, The Godess in Stone.  My own visit to the Malayan/Kada adivasis of Kerala is documented in :
My friends in Cochin could never understand why a foreigner would be interested in the Adivasi since they themselves, including the educated ones had no knowledge of them nor any interest in them.
I would be very much interested in hearing why Outsiders have this  dislike for the Indigenous peoples. When they are on the verge of extinction or when their culture is destroyed there is an increased New Age interest in them .(such as Shamanism, Sweat Lodge or Indian communal dancing)

Good Morning to all of you in Quiberon and have a lovely weekend.