Is it good to civilize indigenous peoples?

Primitive peoples


Primitive people, primitive people or indigenous?

There are only estimates of how many indigenous peoples there are and they vary widely: from just 70 to 5000 peoples worldwide. This is not due to a lack of love for statistics, but above all to the many different terms that are used.

Whether primitive peoples, indigenous peoples, indigenous peoples, tribal peoples, indigenous peoples, to name just a few - the dispute among ethnologists about the "correct" designation is very old. And: Each term basically means something completely different. It is the same phenomenon in other languages: They are called Native Americans, First Nations, Aborigines, Autochthonous peoples and more.

At the international level, the term "indigenous peoples" is now used. This refers to peoples who were the first to colonize a certain area, who voluntarily preserve their cultural particularity, who see themselves as a closed community that differs from others and is also perceived or recognized as such.

Seen in this way, there are 350 to 400 million indigenous people worldwide, who make up around five percent of the world's population. These include the North American Indians, the Inuit in Greenland and Canada, the Maori in New Zealand as well as the completely isolated peoples who sometimes only consist of a few hundred people.

The discovery of primitive peoples

With the discovery and colonization of other continents, the decline began for many indigenous people. They were seen as "savages", later also romanticized as "noble savages", as primitive, as people who had to be civilized.

The term "natural people" as opposed to "culture people" was coined and that is precisely why it is still frowned upon today. But precisely with a view to the fact that these same peoples deal particularly efficiently with nature and its resources, the term primitive people is still used today or again - without being meant derogatory.

Attempts to protect indigenous peoples were made early on. In South America, for example, in 1609, pressure from missionaries banned the enslavement of the Indian population for a short time. For a long time the Jesuits tried to protect the natives until they were expelled in 1755.

In 1724 the cross-cultural work of the Jesuit missionary Joseph François Lafiteau was published, who stated that primitive peoples by no means lived in a chaotic state of rulelessness, but had their own order - even if not a Christian one.

But prejudices, once they exist, persist. Until the 1960s - also in German school books - there was talk of natives, primitive collectors and others who could not yet be incorporated into the respective states.

The habitat is dwindling

Without their ancestral and intact habitat, the indigenous peoples have no chance of surviving. But for them it is getting tighter every day: Large areas of forest are being destroyed worldwide, the best-known example of this is the Amazon region.

But also in African countries, in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world, trees are not only felled for the export of wood, but also for the creation of pasture and cultivation areas.

Gold prospectors contaminate the soil with mercury residues, oil and natural gas production threaten, for example, the Lubicon Lake Cree Indians in Canada or indigenous peoples in Siberia. The construction of reservoirs and roads is destroying or cutting up habitats in many countries.

Often it is not the companies from their own country, but international corporations that overexploit nature and rob the actual inhabitants of their living space. They receive the concessions for this - against their better judgment - from the respective countries.

In addition to the damage it causes, illegal entry into areas, for example to cut forests, is still widespread in many places.

The tourist plague

Those who wanted to enjoy a bit of the exotic in the past either had to be content with clear reports and pictures, or attended special shows like those offered at the turn of the 20th century.

In 1896, for example, there was the "Negerdorf" at the trade fair in Berlin, where Africans had to show off their clothes and customs.

Four years later, at the World's Fair in Paris, a pygmy woman was exhibited like an animal in a cage. And for years the animal dealer Carl Hagenbeck in Hamburg and Berlin showed exotic groups of people from all over the world in the zoo - show program included.

Until well into the 20th century, only a few people were able to travel and look at foreign things on site. But with the advent of tourism, this changed. Almost every destination in the world has become accessible and affordable for the average person.

Mass tourism was followed by individual and adventure tourism. Adventurous tourists flock to the furthest corners of the world in large numbers, lured by offers such as "With the chief through the jungle" or encounters with peoples "who have almost never seen a white man". A pleasant adventure between all-terrain vehicles and air-conditioned hotels.

But the damage to many indigenous peoples is enormous. They receive souvenirs from the industrialized world with which they have little use or which, as in the case of alcohol and sweets, are harmful to health.

Visiting a native people like in a kind of open-air museum has long been part of international tourism. Some governments have also adjusted to this, knowing full well that the human exotic attracts wealthy visitors. The indigenous peoples themselves rarely benefit from it.

The cross with the cross

With the conquerors came the missionaries - and they are still in the process of bringing Christianity to people today - whether they want it or not. But in contrast to earlier centuries, it is not the big churches today, but Christian sects that take the unsuspecting pagans by surprise.

In some countries they work together with the governments, but they are often illegal and despite clear bans in the deepest jungle. They not only condemn the previous beliefs that the peoples traditionally have. They divide communities and begin to forcibly educate people.

And: They often unintentionally bring death. Introduced viruses, against which the indigenous peoples have no natural defense, can be fatal, as in the case of the Zoé Indians in Brazil, who were infected with influenza and malaria viruses by a group of missionaries in the late 1980s - 45 people died.

Author: Martina Frietsch