Thinking & Acting
In Latin-America lived many different tribal groups before the Spanish conquest. They had a cosmic vision that was completely different from that of the invaders, whose predatory plundering was not limited just to mineral resources like gold and silver, but aimed also to “brainwash” the supposed “uncivilised” peoples. Although there were some voices already early on which condemned the genocide of the indigenous people and defended their “otherness” (for example, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas in the famous dispute of Valladolid), they changed little in preventing the de facto subjugation of the indigenous people. The slave labourers dragged in from Africa likewise brought in their very own languages, religious and cultures with them to Latin America. However, the languages of the conquerors, Spanish and Portuguese, do not cover many of the areas of experience of the indigenous people. For example, for the Pirahã of the Brazilian Amazon, the only thing that counts is the here and now. That comes through in their language, too: their grammar has neither the subjunctive nor the passive mood.
All of this overlaps in present-day Latin America. The anthropologist Wade Davis created the concept “ethnosphere” for this in order to describe these multi-facetted living spaces analogous to the “biosphere”. The concept is an appeal to call into question the dominant Western world-view, to confront it unprejudicially with other world-views about human social life. It is therefore a question of the intellectual superstructure of human civilisation.
We want to shine a light on it, interrogate its assumptions, reveal its lines of conflict and report examples where some people are already interposing new concepts.
One of these people is Alberto Costa, who is engaged not only theoretically and as a writer, but has also tried to legally anchor this in the new constitution of his homeland Ecuador. He is no ethnologist but rather a classically trained liberal economist, something which enables him to have quite a special clear-sightedness. Under his leadership as chairman of the Ecuadorian constitutional assembly (2007-2008), for the first time the indigenous concept of “Buen Vivir”, of Good Living, was established in a constitution.
But how can one attain Good Living which is therefore in harmony with one’s fellow-beings and the environment? This is no simple subject, as it introduces profound political and economic changes. Indeed, just changing habits which one views as self-evident is absolutely one of the most difficult things. We visited a village in Ecuador where a courageous mayoress has nevertheless taken it up.
For the indigenous peoples, territory is not simply forest, water and a reservoir of mineral resources. It is also not a designed space for ‘wilderness’. Rather, it is a part of their cosmic vision and stamps their thinking, their language, their life-style. They are deeply rooted in a particular region. If they lose the forest and their ancestral habitat, their very livelihood is destroyed.
Yet indigenous peoples do not always have to be the losers. How they can succeed in defying the interlopers and in defending their land, resources and culture is related in this story from Ecuador.
The struggle for land is thus the core conflict between the Western and the indigenous civilisation. These worlds collide particularly hard at present.The Amazon is one of the last regions not yet completely connected with the capitalist economic system. But the pressure grows unceasingly. One driver of virgin forest destruction in gold.
But the pressure is growing relentlessly. The main reasons for the destruction of the rainforest are gold, cattle breeding and, above all, the cultivation of soya for export. Lobbyists are currently trying to soften the protection of indigenous reserves and open them up for economic use by means of legislative initiatives.
Indigenous people demonstrate in Brasilia in the summer and in Argentina in November 2021, all of whom would be affected by the filibustering of territorial laws.
The Brazilian protests were directed against three plans that directly threaten their territories and autonomy.
The PL490 bill was passed in the Congress in March 2022, is one of them. It does not abolish the reserves, but allows mining in indigenous territories.
PL337 was newly in May 2022 introduced to the Brazilian lower house, is still pending and aims at legally separating the state of Mato Grosso from the Amazon region.
The third is the process known as “Marco Temporal” in which the Supreme Court must have final jurisdiction. “Marco Temporal” is a legal figure of speech, and it signifies that only those indigenous people who have also lived in their tribal area from the time of the disbandment of the Brazilian constitution in 1988 may claim this as indigenous territory.
Meanwhile, in Argentina, Indigenous Peoples are also being targeted by the filibustering of a proposed legislation. Contrary to what the name suggests, this law has so far been an effective brake on the economic development of indigenous protected areas.
However, many indigenous people switch back and forth between the two worlds, Western and indigenous. This is not always easy. Sometimes they too succumb to the temptations of money. This lure is particularly glaring in illegal gold mining along the Amazon rivers.
For decades various indigenous tribes have been attempting to organise themselves around the world. They are attempting to structure their communities, that are organised around the strong rules of the cosmic vision, in such a way that they can be perceived also from the outside. I
Indigenous social influencers are increasingly on the move on the internet.
Kay Sara, -an indigenous actress of the Tariano people from the Rio Negro area in the Amazon, was to open the 2020 Festival weeks in Vienna. Due to the pandemic she was unable to travel there. However, here she has published her impressive opening speech on Youtube.
Some are also trying to break into white-dominated politics. But this is not as easy as the case of Cacique Marcos of the Xukurú.