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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Counsel of Despair

The Sentinelese people of the Andaman Islands are one of the world’s few remaining uncontacted tribes. Essentially nothing is known of their culture. Their fate became a news story during the 2004 tsunami: nearby Andaman Islanders had moved inland prior to the flooding, despite a lack of any advance warnings, and in their unknowable way it seems the Sentinelese too were able to take evasive action. They made the news again in 2006 when two fishermen strayed into their waters and were killed by the tribespeople. No attempt has been made to recover their bodies.

When the anthropologist Bruce Parry visited a remote Brazilian tribe, the Matis, for his television series Tribe, he had to sail past the territory of another such uncontacted tribe, the Korubo, known to their neighbours as the ‘headbashers’. Long may they remain uncontacted, he hoped. Rather than endure the Matis’ disastrous history of contact with people like him, presumably.

It is too easy to dwell on the contradictions of our concern for things that, in our well-meaning way, we nevertheless conspire to destroy. A more constructive solution might be to take steps not to find out about things like the Sentinelese in the first place, or failing that, to wipe them from our memory. The Iberian lynx. A dying Aboriginal Australian language. Choose something endangered every day and purge it from the servitude of our impotent concern. Forget to visit the fragile Alaskan ecosystem. Forget to visit the zoo to ponder the fate of the caged Siberian tiger. Let us ignore the world into a state of wellbeing. Ignorance has brought us to this and only ignorance will set us free.

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