I’m an archaeologist. For me, and for most archaeologists trained in North America that means that I’m also an anthropologist. One of the benefits of an anthropological education is an awareness of the historical and current circumstances of the world’s indigenous people. I’m haunted by this awareness. And I feel indirectly responsible for the depredations visited on the indigenous peoples of the earth over the past several centuries, whether or not the oppression was direct and brutal, in the way of earlier generations, or allowed to persist by means of the tacit approval of, disassociation from, and malign neglect of the contemporary descendants of European invaders. For the oppressed, the reality is the same.
For those of us who feel ashamed, in the present, for the present-day circumstances of the world’s indigenous people, accounts such as this one published in today’s Guardian are particularly disheartening for the abhorrent acts that they chronicle.
Andaman Islands tribe threatened by lure of mass tourism: Jarawa people at risk from disease, predatory sex and exploitation as tourist convoys crowd the road through their jungle.
This story is almost too much for my heart to bear. And the behaviours documented are so far beyond the pale as to be incommensurable to me.
When I hear someone tell me that they needn’t feel ashamed for the despicable acts of previous generations, I usually give them a piece of my mind [as pathetically insignificant as that might be]. And anyone who suggests that my ire is misguided or paternalistic or inherently racist or post-colonial or condescending, I invite to examine their own conscience.
I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t done much to improve the lives of those whose enforced cultural assimilation has resulted in an existence that any feeling person would find deplorable. But I can at least remind other beneficiaries of the dominant culture how they came to be on top and comfortable, and of the everyday circumstances of those whose only inheritance is unimaginable grief and deracination.
‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.’