Genocide of ''Good Intentions'':
The Near Extinction of Indigenous Tribes
I want to tell a story. It isn’t really my story, but instead the story of a man who inspired me. There are two places in the world where you can see Orang-utans in the wild, Sumatra and Borneo. On my way to Bukit Lawang in Sumatra, I found myself alone in a local bus fearing for my life as we whipped around corners on narrow gravel roads packed like sardines in a tin box. On this bus there was only one other foreigner and as you do when you travel on your own you start up a conversation with the only person you are likely to meet for however long that understands what you’re saying. It just so happens that this man had an incredible story to tell.
Sociologist by background, photographer through talent, and self proclaimed explorer through passion. As a teenager he had been bitten by the travel bug, and as a grown up it had devoured his life and existence. He had at this point in his life decided to devote his life to documenting extinction.
Documenting extinction… what does that really mean? He had opened his eyes to what most people choose to ignore. The world is in trouble, and not only are we being faced with the real possibility of the extinction of our wildlife, such as the Orang-utans, but also the extinction of ethnic races, tribes and their way of life.
His main focus is the documentation of the last surviving indigenous tribal people whose extinction is an imminent possibility. Our conversation travelled around the causes of this, and the only explanation we could come up with is that it is a real mix of good intentions gone wrong and an increasingly globalised world expanding its frontiers and forcing a global reformations of lives and traditions.
So what do I mean by good intentions? This stems from a western arrogance that seems inherent in modern civilization. Our ”western” way of living in the ”best” way of living, and if someone is not as ”fortunate” as we are, then they must be pitied and helped. Another form of bad/good intentions comes from missionaries whose own personal crusade involves ”saving souls” and spreading the word of God. However, by doing so they must implant themselves within these Tribal communities often to the detriment of the Tribe itself. This of course ties in closely with the impact of increasing globalisation.
Without globalisation and the ability for populations to traverse borders the ”movement” of good intentions would not have such a detrimental impact on indigenous people. Globalisation has forced a near extinction of indigenous culture. The greed and arrogance of the West has propelled large parts of the world into an accelerated development that many are not ready for often creating more harm than good.
When I met this explorer on my way to Bukit Lawang he had recently come back from an expedition to the Korowai Tribe in Papua Indonesia, a place where he has been to multiple times over the past few years, and each time he visits he said his heart breaks for them, as each time more of their identity has been stripped away from them. The Indonesian government has been cutting down the rainforest, building roads and slowly destroying the identity of the Korowai Tribe. Mixed together with the missionaries who make promises of “magic” and miracles, the indigenous tribes are rapidly becoming extinct.
It is easy to make opinions about what is right and wrong. I have been to tribal villages in places like Laos and Indonesia. The affect of “good intentions” is very evident. In Laos, the chief of a Khemu village told us that the Laos government was trying to relocate them. Why? So that they could get electricity. After which he told us very adamantly that he was happy and he didn’t want electricity. It was a ploy to get their land, he was sure of it. There is no doubt in my mind that “good intentions” have the capacity to destroy human lives the same way that war does. It has the capacity to ravage culture, destroy sustainability and devastates humanity.