Human history – and Western history even more – is filled with discoveries, explorations, settlements and colonizations. Territories and regions were claimed in spite of the indigenous populations living there. Development of industrial culture and mass tourism endangered – and condemned – the people struggling to protect their heritage, hanging on locally neglected international laws.
There is an unwritten law in the field of intercultural relations which says if two different cultures get in touch one of them gets wiped out. I fear that may be true, but I also hope acting with more sensitivity and consciousness while travelling may lead to a less devastating relationship.
Here are a few ethnic groups which got endangered by the spread of democracy and civilisation. A complete list would be much, much longer. But here is the good news: there is no chance it will get any longer. On the contrary, several indigenous people dropped out since they already disappeared.
Usually known as San or Bushmen – terms which do no not grasp these tribes’ real complexity – this people counts about one thousand individuals. Their culture is thousands of years old and has its roots in the Kalahari desert. In 2002 the government of Botswana evicted the San people from their land. The reason apparently was to allow the tourist exploitation the area, but evidence of a huge diamond field also emerged by the time. Botswana’s High Court judged the treatment of the San people as “demeaning”, but the government still violates their most basic rights.
Between Kenya and Tanzania live about one million Maasai people. Thanks to their complex culture and their proximity to many popular sites, they are one of the best known African groups. They were fierce warrior ruling over extended territories, but today the Maasai are threatened by tourism industry, which sees them as a colourful attraction or even worse a hindrance to big game hunting. In Loliondo (Northern Tanzania) whole villages were destroyed and thousands of people have been deported to allow room for Otterlo Business Corporation and its hunting trails. Most places where Maasai used to hunt and shepherd are now farms or private reserves. Moreover, local government tried more than once to ‘modernize’ this population which still lives on a land sharing basis.
One of the first indigenous people getting in touch with Europeans 500 years ago. Today there are about 46.000 Guaranì in Brazil and many more in Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina. They are split in several tribes, the larger being the Kaiowá, the “forest people”. Traditions expects them to be constantly in search of a land revealed to them by their ancestors – “the land without evil” – where they will live for ever in peace. During the centuries, private and national companies stole the territories where they used to live. In Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, agricultural and ranching activities led to deforestation, leaving the Guaranì to live in overcrowded reserves, while being subjected to discrimination and racism by the authorities.
In Australia there are about 500 different aboriginal people, each one with its own language and homeland, for a total sum of 670.000 individuals. Before the Westerners’ invasion, most of them lived farming on the coast or hunting in the inland. Today half of the Aborigines lives in towns in extreme poverty condition. Until 1992, Australian law deemed the Aborigines’ lands ‘no man’s land’, therefore available to be occupied by settlers. For most of the XX century, after finally stopping the killing spree, the authorities tried to annihilate the indigenous culture by removing the children from their family and trusting them to Western families.
The Innu people lived for millennia in the subarctic region of the American continent – Nitassinan, ‘our land’, as they called it. Today the remaining 18.000 individuals are relegated in Eastern Canada, between Québec and Labrador. In French they are called montagnais and until last century they were nomadic hunters used to travel in small groups of two or three families. During the Fifties and the Sixties the Canadian government and the catholic missionaries forced them to live in permanent communities. This led to alcoholism, violence, suicides and drug addictions. Many Innu are still fighting to protect their culture, but the government keeps misusing their territories for mining and industrial installations.
Siberian indigenous groups
A 300.000 strong population split in 30 different tribes. Some of these people are nomadic deer shepherds living in tundra, others live in settlements in Siberia’s forests and practice a combination of shepherding, hunting and collecting. The largest groups are Sakha and Komi and they obtained from almost full independence from Russia, but during the soviet government their lands have been confiscated by the national companies. Industrialization and external interference intensified and Russian authorities tried for a long time to extinguish tribal languages and traditions.
For more information about the indigenous populations all over the world visit Survival International.