Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The Last of the Tribes

This is quite interesting.  It came as a surprise, not that there are still isolated communities that keep up a hunter-gatherer way of life, but that other people still exploit them and bump them off with measles and the common cold.

One isolated tribe, the Jarawa, are in the news again because of a murdered five-month-old baby. It is apparently Jarawa practise to murder what few bi-racial Jarawa babies are born, and a Jarawa man is believed to have killed one recently. He has not been arrested because local, non-Jarawa, police simply do not know what to do. (Nobody seems to be arguing that India does not have sovereignity over the Jarawas' island home. Interesting, nobody seems to be referring this to Jarawa legal authorities, either, e.g. a tribal leader. Are the Jarawa anarchists?)

It's terribly sad about the baby although it is hard to wring one's hands over him or her convincingly when 11,777 abortions were performed in Scotland (pop. 5.2 million) in 2013.  Many people would, of course, say that the moral status of a 24 week old (or younger) fetus is not as great at that of a five-month-old child, but it's something to think about anyway. (Paging Peter Singer.)

Another thing to think about is the difference in attitude towards isolated tribes of African or Latin American origin and close-knit groups of European origin, e.g. Mennonites, the Amish, and other historical groups whose culture clings to the lifestyle of 19th century farming communities. Of course, Mennonite kids aren't literally going to die of measles if they're put in foster homes--but then this little half-Jarawa baby DID die, drowned like an unwanted kitten.

Whether or not it is good or bad, well-meant or self-serving, paternalism towards to other groups is full of moral conundrums. It is very likely that very good people were among those who thought First Nations children in Canada--and Sami children in Scandanavia and the Baltics--would be better off assimilated into mainstream, modern society. The good people seem to have been wrong: mainstream, modern society is not all its cracked up to be. On the other hand, the contemporary reservations seem pretty horrible. 

Update: One commentator pointed out that the young mother of the murdered baby is not an animal. True, that. As tempting as it is to see the islands inhabited by the Jarawas and other pre-urban peoples as wonderful wildlife preserves, the Jarawas are not actually wildlife. However, they do get medical treatment, so presumably if the woman wants outsider justice, or to leave the island, she can ask for help.

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