New Internationalist

Primitive media

April 2006

Survival International launched a campaign on 31 January 2006 to end the portrayal of indigenous groups in the press as ‘primitive’ and ‘Stone Age’. It is being supported by several prominent journalists. According to BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson: ‘There is nothing primitive about tribal peoples except our view of them. Their intricate societies, their extraordinary abilities to exist in and use the environment around them, are things for us to wonder at.’

Bushman Roy Sesana says: ‘We are not primitive. We live differently to you, but we do not live exactly like our grandparents did; nor do you.’ The Bushmen of Botswana are being evicted from their ancestral land by a President who has called them ‘Stone Age creatures’, who ‘must change or otherwise, like the dodo, they will perish’.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said today: ‘The argument that tribes are “backward” or “primitive” leads directly to their persecution, and is frequently used to justify dispossessing them of their land or forcing them to “develop”, supposedly “for their own good”. When this happens they are almost always reduced to poverty and dependence, or wiped out completely.’

The Survival initiative is certainly valid but should surely also reconsider its own routine description of language groups or particular peoples as ‘tribes’ or ‘tribal’, words which have a similarly negative and reductive effect.

Chris Brazier

This column was published in the April 2006 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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