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new internationalist
issue 312 - May 1999

The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short. They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity. Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : [email protected]

NI magazine 310 - Poverty There is one fundamental factor which your magazine on poverty (NI 310) overlooked. It is landlessness. All life and all wealth derive ultimately from land and in the UK approximately five per cent of people own outright – and tend to exploit possession of – 75 per cent of the land and its natural resources. The remaining 95 per cent of us have to sell our labour in a shrinking labour market.

The way out? Accept the fact that all land and natural resources be regarded as community assets and that we must each, while reaping the full benefit for what we put into the economy, pay for what we take out. The Exchequer should collect the economic rent of all land sites.

This is not a new idea. The American economic journalist Henry George dedicated his book Progress and Poverty in 1879 ‘To those who, seeing the vice and misery that spring from the unequal distribution of wealth and privilege, feel the possibility of a higher social state and would strive for its attainment’.

Gordon Rudlin
Stonesfield, England

Church’s response
I was shocked to read that a magazine of your stature would give credibility to an individual whom many people in the United Church of Canada believe is a serious liability to the cause of justice for the victims of Canada’s Indian residential schools. (‘Update’ NI 309).

Are you so ill-informed about First Nations issues and in particular about the horrendous legacy of residential schools in Canada that it never occurred to you to broaden the scope of your research and to check the status of Kevin Annett’s relationship with the tribunal about which you report? For years Mr Annett has periodically garnered public attention, particularly when journalists have failed adequately to investigate his claims, many of which rely heavily on innuendo, half-truths and conspiracy theories. In responding to these claims the United Church of Canada has said that it fully supports the investigation of all allegations related to residential schools.

While we have grave concerns about the prominence given to Kevin Annett in your report, we do not wish to discredit the story of any person who speaks of their experience as a student of a residential school.

Although it is not clear to us what the role and status of the tribunal is in terms of Canada’s First Nations peoples, we believe it is significant that many of the individuals who were involved in the tribunal have subsequently disassociated themselves from Kevin Annett.

Finally, it is important that your readers know that the United Church has said it recognizes the Church’s involvement in residential schools was wrong and has apologized to Canada’s First Nations peoples. The Church has also actively sought a path of healing for residential school victims and has never attempted to suppress or deny the stories of pain and abuse suffered by individuals who attended residential schools.

The Reverend David Iverson
General Secretary,
The United Church of Canada,
Toronto, Canada

Antidote to misery
With reference to your issue on poverty (NI 310) ‘Poverty’ (ie the centuries-old life of relative frugality, of sufficiency for basic material needs, and a thousand non-material boons), is the only and true antidote to misery (the abject and inhuman condition that I presume you are trying to eliminate). But misery is the inevitable consequence of modern civilization, that peddles the utopia of consumer society through technology, science and ‘efficiency’.

Alfredo L de Romaña
Lima, Peru

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Cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

Hitler/Stalin prize
In your double issue (NI 309) surely Che Guevara deserves to be mentioned among the martyrs of the century; surely the March on Washington should be ranked among the five non-violent direct actions; and surely Suharto with the murder of three million people on his hands should be ranked among the five nominees for the Hitler/Stalin Prize?

Jennifer A Wade
Vancouver, Canada

Danish resistance
I was horrified to read the pamphlet enclosed in The Radical Twentieth Century (NI 309) where for the year 1941 you stated that ‘Denmark joins the Axis powers’.

Denmark certainly never joined the Axis powers but was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1940 along with Norway, Holland and Belgium. I would like to remind you that the Danish population was massively against the invasion and throughout the five years of occupation a very active resistance movement was aiding the Allied forces.

Also, only a handful of Danish Jews were rounded up by the Nazis. The vast majority were helped to hide by non-Jewish Danes and eventually were sent to safety in Sweden.

H Rasmussen
Edmonton, Canada

Editor’s note: The source of this entry was Longman’s Chronicle of the 20th Century, which states on 27 November 1941 ‘riots greet Denmark’s decision, under German pressure, to join the Axis powers’. While this is technically true, our shorthand version clearly misrepresented the mass resistance of the Danish people to Nazi occupation and we apologize.

Easy targets
One can read in the New Zealand Herald that ‘criminals treat immigrants as easy targets’. Some days before, we could read in the same paper the notice: ‘Immigrant gagged by intruders’. There is no doubt in this context that the ‘intruders’ are the criminals. But let us take an article by Gareth Morgan entitled ‘Wrong type of migrant not good for economy’ (New Zealand Herald, 31 March, 1998).

Could anybody ask about ‘criminals’ in this case? I can give you a clue: ‘skills and education are all very well, but what many countries want from migrants is instant money’ (NI 305 p 9). There is no doubt that the criminals are also:
a) creators of the points system,
b) immigration consultants.

Both these groups of people indeed ‘treat immigrants as easy targets’.

Chris Iwan
Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand

Worst performance
While the media here celebrates Lloyd Axworthy and Canada’s new seat on the UN Security Council, much of the world is forming a much less favorable impression of Canada’s international effectiveness.

For many of the world’s trouble spots, peace will only come with a reasonable chance of development and economic opportunity. Unfortunately, Canada’s development assistance budget is slated to fall to a quarter of one per cent of GDP this year, less than half of the international target of 0.7 per cent. Of this amount, less than 20 per cent will be spent on basic social services like primary healthcare, basic education, clean water and nutrition programs.

This is Canada’s worst performance in development aid in 30 years. We now rank in the bottom half of donor countries, belying our international humanitarian reputation. The sad truth is that while Canada may still be seen as a leader in high-profile matters such as the United Nations Security Council, our record where it really counts for the world’s poor has become an international disgrace.

Blaise Salmon
Victoria, Canada

Awards for the NI

The New Internationalist was delighted to be nominated for the US-based Utne Reader 1998 Alternative Press Awards. We won not only the International Coverage section where we were singled out as ‘offering a consistently unique and important perspective on global culture’ but also for the General Excellence section where we won for our ‘monthly reminder of our common humanity’.

The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

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A sheep for the Shaman
Few people have heard of Tuva, a small country at the heart of Asia.
Still fewer know that Tuvans are Shamans.
Louisa Waugh
meets the people who communicate with the spirits...

Tuvan is the most beautiful language I’ve ever heard. Words and phrases linger in my mind like bars of music and I repeat them just for the pleasure of the sound they produce.

Here in the far western mountains there are more Tuvans than anywhere else in Mongolia. Tuva, Mongolia’s north-western neighbour, is an obscure country, best known for its quirkily named capital, Khyzl (pronounced Kizul), where an obelisk marks the absolute centre of Asia. The Tuvans first crossed the Altai range to Mongolia because this seeming-barren landscape in fact offers good grazing for their livestock. Today, they herd their animals alongside Mongolian nomads.

But there is a difference between them. While the Mongolians worship Buddha and the local Kazakh community pray to Allah, the Tuvans have no God. They are Shamans. Shamanism is not a religion, but a practice, with the Shaman being the link between the animal and land spirits and those who revere and pray to these spirits. Only the Shaman can communicate between these two worlds.

My colleague and friend Gansukh was giving me a Tuvan lesson when her brother Dorj arrived with a host of relatives from these nearby mountains. No-one schedules visits here; hospitality is endemic. Crumpled grandparents, florid husbands and wives and wiry children poured into Gansukh’s wooden home, greeting and gossiping as they crowded round the wood-burning stove, the older people crouching on the few narrow stools, the youngsters kneeling on the floor.

Gansukh brewed a vat of salty milk tea, as Sansar-Huu took his dagger outside to slaughter a sheep. A resigned-looking ewe had her throat cut and was instantly skinned, as the guests blew on their scalding tea and warmed their stubby hands.

I helped Gansukh clean the warm internal organs, the stomach and the intestines, which would all be eaten. Everything is used. The head and hooves are boiled and the flesh scraped off and chewed. Every ounce of fat is saved and the skin sewn into the lining of winter clothes. For an ex-vegetarian, I’ve come to appreciate sheep.

The organs were simmered on the stove for several hours, while the guests settled down. Sansar-Huu splashed potent local vodka into a shallow wooden bowl, dipping his left ring finger into the clear liquid three times and spraying the drops around us, to toast in turn the spirits, the mountains and the land. I frowned, bemused, as he passed the bowl to a young woman: the men are always served first here.

‘Why is she so important?’ I whispered to Gansukh.

[image, unknown]
Illustration by SARAH JOHN

‘Because she’s the Shaman,’ she hissed. My eyes bulged. I’d heard much about Enktuya, whose spiritual inheritance descends from nine generations of female Tuvan Shamans. I’d been told she was just 23, but her age was impossible to determine: her face was youthful, but she had the gait of an older, more tired woman. Enktuya would spend just one night in the village – a Shaman, Gansukh whispered, can rarely leave the mountains. Now I understood why the ewe had been slain. It was in honour of Enktuya’s visit.

When the sheep was finally tender Gansukh took a knife and silently tossed a small section of bone, meat, dried blood and a slither of the heart into the stove flames. Tuvans believe there’s a spirit in all fires and this was an offering. They never burn soiled or blood-stained papers or rags, which are instead buried outside.

We feasted, washing down the chunks of dripping meat with more tea. The grandparents relaxed, inhaling snuff from tiny stone bottles and smoking pungent shredded tobacco wrapped in strips of old newspaper. By evening the guests were drifting off to visit other homes and relatives.

Gansukh and I finally finished my Tuvan lesson and began her English revision (I am training her to take over as the teacher in the school when I leave in a month’s time).

‘So many visitors!’ she sighed.‘Some of them will come back here and stay, so we’ll be up late and I’ll be tired at school tomorrow.’

‘Don’t you want them to return?’

She smiled in the candlelight. ‘Of course I do, Louisa. I couldn’t ever live in a place where people don’t visit and wouldn’t be welcome to stay as long as they wanted. This isn’t just our home; it’s also theirs.’

Louisa Waugh lives and works in Mongolia and is writing a book about Mongolian life.

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