issue 209 - July 1990
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In your struggle to dig up hope for Africa in the 1990s (NI 208) you gave naive solutions. Of course the continent needs greater democracy. But you ignore the power struggles between ethnic groups and the widespread practice of nepotism - which have soured democracy in the past. Democratic rule can only become a reality when African people place their interests as individuals and communities before kinship bonds. This is possible. In the harsh terrain of north-eastern Sudan, the Rashida and the Beja nomads compete for scarce resources. They only survive by acknowledging their common interests and ultimately, by co-operating. The Beja nomads even coin the word silif, to connote this sharing. It might just be that the best way forward in Africa is by building on the spirit of silif.
Aberdeen, Scotland, UK
Your issue on water (Thirsty for life NI 207) is both interesting and horrifying. Even 40 years ago, Thames river police who fell into the river were taken straight off to be stomach pumped. And then the upper Thames seemed relatively sweet. Like many others I have protested in all directions against water privatization. Goodness knows how much rubbish we have already drunk.
Macdonald Daly (Reviews NI 207) should get his facts straight. Oxbridge colleges only display 'closed to visitors' signs during exam time, for the sole reason of allowing students peace and quiet in which to study without coachloads of tourists trudging past the window. To suggest that the signs are up in order to show a 'vigorous contempt for the people whose productive labour pays for all their intellectual endeavour' is not only wrong but reinforces the old stereotype of 'them and us' which at least some colleges are trying to break down.
I beg to differ with J Williams (Letters NI 207) that Sunday is the first day of the week. Ignoring the disagreement between Christianity and Judaism as to which is the seventh day, working people start the week on Monday, and Sunday is their day of reward - however indulged. I just could not do without a diary that starts on Monday.
In an otherwise excellent issue about Global warming (NI 206), I found Jeremiah Creedon's rambling article very unconvincing. In particular it was singularly inappropriate to quote John Stuart Mill as the uncritical advocate of economic growth. Of all classical economists Adam Smith, Ricardo, Malthus etc - Mill was the only one to question the philosophy of growth in his Principles of Political Economy.
The issue on global warming (Turning down the heat NI 206) was full of good information to back its arguments - except, as usual, about nuclear power. Too many people fear this energy. A world energy shortage is far more dangerous and could even lead to wars. Of course we must save 25 per cent of energy through better insulation and so on. And we should develop renewable sources of energy. But we will still need 50 per cent of energy to come from more concentrated power sources. As fossil fuels become scarcer we will have to increase nuclear-power stations. Properly processed and buried nuclear waste will provide less of a pollution risk than the radiation-filled environment which we inhabit at present.
I was fascinated by the article on solar energy (Global warming NI 206) which seems an excellent idea for developing countries, especially in remote villages where there is no electricity. I am originally from Mauritius - a small island in the Indian ocean - and I think the system would benefit a lot of low-income people there.
The article Halfway to liberation (Trade Wars NI 204) might have been written by an IMF boffin. It ignores the major problems facing our planet. 'Growth' is a false and mesmerising idol, a euphemism for greed and lack of global foresight propagated by most industrialists. The depletion of stocks of minerals and fossil fuel is done mainly to satisfy the First World's boundless greed for gadgetry, and to encourage the Third World to follow its degrading example.
I was confused by Nigel Harris's article Halfway to liberation (Trade wars NI 204). An expanding economy can only mean disaster for the world. More energy will be needed, which will increase toxic gases being pumped into the atmosphere; finite resources will dwindle and pollution will rise. Humankind cannot afford to believe that adjustments to our market-orientated economy will meet and solve the problems. As scientist Lester Pearson said, 'There is a need for a revolution in mankind's (sic) thinking as basic as the one introduced by Copernicus, who first pointed out that the earth was not the centre of the universe.
Readers interested in Green consumerism (NI 203) might like to stay with a working-class family in Kerala, India, for a month to discover how a happy life can be lived at very modest levels of consumption. Further information from
Good Life Study Tours.
Institute for Food and Development Policy,
145 Ninth Street, San Francisco,
CA 94103, US.
William M Alexander
(Light Living Consultant)
Contrary to the assumption advanced in Shopping for the planet (NI 203), dealing with diapers is not an impossibly difficult task. During the last two years I have spent a total of 15 minutes a day with my son's diaper bucket and can deal quickly with even the most challenging mess. As for the new US system of having a laundry pick up a bucket each day - the worst is over by the time you have put the diaper in the bucket. With a washing machine very little work is involved.
Thank you for your issue on homosexuality Pride and Prejudice (NI 201). It was waiting for me when I recently returned from Namibia where lesbians and gay men are isolated and unrecognized, and have no solidarity network. The magazine served to reinforce my own feelings that we in the UK must fight to preserve lesbian and gay rights which were so hard won and which Mrs Thatcher seems determined to destroy.
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
While countries and citizens everywhere decry the rape of rainforest in Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia and so on, Canada is actively pursuing massive deforestation to fuel equally massive pulp-mill projects. In the province of Alberta alone, public timberlands almost the size of the UK have been leased to a dozen firms. In fact two Japanese firms Mitsubishi-Honda and Daishowa - have received rights to tracts which cover 15 per cent of the province.
These deals, made largely in secret, ignore the fact that pulp prices are plummeting and US legislation requires newspapers to be printed on recycled paper. How ironic that Canada criticises Third World nations for environmental insensitivity, while simultaneously planning to destroy the world's largest untouched boreal forest.
'Killa Wail' is an idea for television being developed by Headless Wonder Productions on behalf of the 'Television Trust for the Environment' and the Dutch Government. 'Killa wail' is a drama series about 16-30 year olds who want to do something to save the planet. I would be interested in hearing from any of your readers who would like to take part. Ideas about T-shirt design, Third World debt, safe sex, biodegradable plastic boots, dolphins and so on, would be all welcomed. And we especially want to hear from youngsters who want to make a short piece of film themselves. Please write to me at this address:
1-11 Ironmonger Row,
London ECIV 3QN.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
The real heavy music
Susanna Rance meets a musician who has discovered
the musical weight in traditional bamboo pipes.
Are you stoned or just stupid?' reads a sticker on the back window of the red jeep. We pull up at the door of the drum player's house in a middle-class suburb of La Paz. Sun streams into the upstairs room as I step gingerly through a maze of wires and find a comer to sit in amidst the jungle of electronic equipment.
Miguel, in pony tail and purple-embroidered shirt, opens his Yamaha synthesiser case and takes out three sets of bamboo pan pipes. These are put on one side for his evening rehearsal with a native music group. Now it's time for Wrack 'n' Ruin to start their afternoon practice session. The speaker behind my left ear starts to howl and bark like a dog, and the room shakes with the vibration of rock rhythms.
'I was 11 when I started saving pennies to buy my first guitar', remembers Miguel. I grew up listening to rock. The chords and melodies seemed more complex and exotic than those of Bolivian music. By the time I was 18 I had my first group - all kids from my neighbourhood. Our idols were Santana, Kiss, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin. For us that music really was magic. I guess we were quite alienated: in a way we had no real identity of our own.'
For most Bolivian town-dwellers, rural life represents poverty and isolation. The cultures of some 40 indigenous peoples are considered backward and irrelevant to the values of the modern, free-market state. Social progress means heading for the city, dropping Aymara or Quechua in favour of Spanish, adopting modem dress and weakening ties with the countryside.
Music is an integral part of life and ritual in the Andes. Dressed in ponchos with colours and stripes that announce their village of origin, troupes of pipe and drum players frequently converge from distant villages to celebrate local religious and agrarian festivals. Their shrill sounds and pounding rhythms echo through the valleys, calling communities to unite and appease the natural forces which could damn their crops. To play music in this way is considered both a privilege and an obligation, an expression of pride in the ancestors' memory and their own heritage.
The most renowned of these pipe bands travel periodically to the cities, where they perform in night spots for tourists. The foreigners admire, applaud and take photographs. The musicians are paid a pittance, eat out on the street at night and pay for floor space to sleep in a garage until they are turned out at dawn. When their moment of glory is over, they merge once more into the mass of peasant farmers who speak broken Spanish and for whom the city is alien territory.
Not surprisingly, the younger generation find more prestige in imitating the Northern fashions and rhythms which monopolize films, TV and radio programmes. Like many Bolivians, Miguel only started to discover and appreciate his own cultural roots when he went abroad. 'I was 20 when the change came,' he recalls. 'I went to study in Brazil where people called me "Indian". I felt quite shocked, and I said, "I'm not Indian, I'm Bolivian". But I realized I was different from the Brazilians, and that was when I started to rediscover my own identity.'
Three years later, when Miguel got the chance to go to Sweden, he still got called "Indian". 'But there, it seemed more like a compliment', he says with a grin. 'And I started telling them, "I'm not an Indian, I'm Aymara. We have our own name, our own language and culture." I started to feel stronger as a person. And I came to the conclusion that we ought to develop our own music, and let the natural children of rock - the Europeans and North Americans - do their own thing. These days, I only play rock to keep up friendships and meet the new generation. It's not a burning interest like it was before.'
Now Miguel belongs to two groups: Wrack n' Ruin, and Marka Laika, a large band playing native instrumenis. His dream is to combine the two to produce a Latin-ethnic-rock fusion. 'I'm a sort of bridge between the two,' he says. 'Both have their value, and they can enrich each other. Right now my idols are the sicuri players of Nina Corin, not Santana any more. I say to my rock-musician friends: "What could be heavier than 15 people all together, blasting out on those bamboo tubes? They make the ground shake and you shake with them. This is the real heavy music".'
Susanna Rance has lived and worked in Bolivia for several years.