Cultural Survival?

Bret Diamond (diam9018@TAO.SOSC.OSSHE.EDU)
Mon, 8 Jan 1996 10:13:42 -0800

pausing to reflect on the purpose of the discipline of Anthropology and
my respective place within it.
Lately, I have found myself saddened and angered upon the
realization that the "salvage anthropology" that was being
frantically conducted here in the states in the the early 1900's,
continues today throughout the world. As the few remaining undisturbed
indigenous groups are silently assimilated, Anthropologists for the most
part seem content with merely gathering and preserving data (albeit an
important task) rather than taking an active role in seeking to protect
the groups that we study. For the past 100 years or so, our discipline
has been inextricably linked with indigenous cultures, and yet today we
do (IMHO) little or nothing to aid cultural survival.
There are of course several examples of anthropogists working
very hard to protect the ways of life of the people they have come to
know through their research; a short list would include Terrence Turner's
work with the Kayapo, John Marshall's (and most of the Marshall family's)
with the Kung!, and others.
But for the most part, we seem content in gathering our data, and
frankly, somewhat egocentric in the knowledge that when these cultures
are long gone, we will be credited with presrving their languages, their
rituals, their ways of life. But must we be limited to protecting only
aspects of culture instead of the culture itself? What obligation do we
have to act as activists an help preserve those that we study? What are
the consequences of a more "activist approach" to Anthropology (i.e.
being blackballed by governments, universities, etc.,) and how far can we
go without damaging ourselves and/or the discipline itself?
The word "activist " has so many negative connoctations the I
hate to even use it, but activism does not necessarily mean protesting,
getting arrested, etc. Sometimes activism can be very subtle--yet
extremely powerful.
A perfect example of the potential we have to protect indigenous
peoples would be the 1993 filming of the Korowai people of Irian Jaya.
Anthropologist Paul Taylor and director Judy Hallet set out to film the
Korowai whom, even in 1993, remained very isolated to the outside world
(Judy Hallet was allegedly the first white women that the Korowai had
ever seen) The film was very entertaining, and informative, and it was
particularly noteworthy because it dispelled the widely held belief that
thy're really aren't any native peoples left that don't have frequent
contact with modern society. What they failed to mention in the film (at
all) was that the Korowai's land were slated to be logged (clearcut
actually) in the next year, and they would be forced from the lands
that they had inhabited for arguably thousands of years. So there wwas a
golden opportunity to inform the world of the plight of the Korowai, yet
not a word was said about their impending doom.
I apologize for rambling so, I guess the bottom line is that I'd
like to know what others feel about this. What do you think about groups
like Cultural Survival, and what role should Anthropolgy play in preserving
and protecting culture instead of our continued "salvage anthropology?"
And lastly, if our discipline and those who work within it won't work to
protect the peoples that we study, who will?

Bret Diamond