Consider the following critiques of our growing tendency to long for the indigenous:
– There is always a risk of “appropriating” the indigenous cultures, meaning that the unique identities and expressions of these become part of our larger, commercialized systems, which in turn can harm the self-distinction and dignity of minorities.
– If tribal cultures are fetishized, large swathes of majority populations will “want something” from them, and this something may not even be there to begin with. This can be excruciating and frustrating.
– Our longing for the indigenous can often be expressed as “token” representation, either through musical performances at festivals or with just a few people brought in to the summit. This kind of artificial interpretation turns people into a kind of living museum objects to be collected. Gotta catch ’em all, right?
– The grasping to reconnect to the indigenous subtly ignores what they want — while refocusing on how we want their qualities to save us.
– Our engagement with postcolonial values (through universities mostly) can make Westerners (or other moderns) into the spokespeople for indigenous causes, supplanting their own voices (the “sub-saltern”, to use Spivak’s term).
– And, again, the very notion of “the indigenous” arguably makes the Mursi and the Tsaatan and the Inuit invisible to us: we just see our own concepts that smash them together, not them.
– We infantilize our fellow human beings by projecting upon them an aura of innocence, purity, and authenticity. The lives and ways of life of the multiplicity of animist and tribal cultures contain all the struggle, strife, evil, manipulation, violence, tragedy, and brokenness of human existence along with those qualities we find enchanting. It’s not for kids.
– We disrespect whole cultures and ways of life when we “want the cake and eat it too” by wishing to keep the perceived (or imagined) coziness of and magic of animist life, but at the same time not wishing to dispense with the comforts and freedoms of modern life. How is this disrespectful? It fails to see that these cultures are responding to the real pressures and demands of life, and that their unique beauties and communities have grown from that. If you rip out the nice part but ignore the challenge, you disrespect the suffering and hard work that goes into creating and upholding the beauty of that particular culture.
We are right to re-approach our indigenous origin, but we treat it as much too foreign and exotic — it’s closer to home than we think
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