Guest Post by Robin Hanbury-Tenison: The devastating effect of 'development' on tribal people

Robin Hanbury-Tenison

Today’s guest blogger is Laura Tenison’s uncle, the great explorer, Robin Hanbury-Tenison. He is also a co-founder of Survival International, an organisation that tirelessly champions tribal peoples around the world. Survival International works to protect the world’s tribes from exploitation by industrialised society through education, research and campaigning. To learn more about the struggles of these indigenous people, and how you can help support this extremely worthy cause, please read on…

 

Watch this short, satirical film, written by Oren Ginzburg and narrated by actor and comedian David Mitchell, which tells the story of how tribal peoples are being destroyed in the name of ‘development’.

Around the world ‘development’ is robbing tribal people of their land, self-sufficiency and pride and leaving them with nothing.

The government of Ethiopia, which is one of the biggest recipients of American and British overseas aid, is forcibly resettling 200,000 self-sufficient tribal people, including Mursi, Kwegu and Bodi, leaving thousands with no land, cattle herds or livelihood. Unable to sustain themselves they say they are now just ‘waiting to die’. The Prime Minister justified this plan, in a country renowned for famine, by claiming it will give the tribes ‘a modern life’.

The beneficiaries of this ‘development’ are being arrested, beaten and raped. Their grain stores are being destroyed in an effort to force them to give up their lands and their ways of life. The result will be a humanitarian catastrophe.

ethiopian tribal family

Source: survivalinternational.org

Happy and Thriving
Tribal peoples living on their own lands generally thrive. Research shows that the world’s richest billionaires are no happier than the average Maasai herder. However, many governments view tribal peoples’ self-sufficient ways of life as ‘backward’ and embarrassing, often coupled with a desire for the tribes’ lands. Tribal people are forced to comply with other people’s notions of ‘progress’ – usually by becoming settled farmers and having to join the mainstream market economy.

The Dongria Kondh from India grow over 100 crops and harvest almost 200 different wild foods, which provide them with year-round, rich nutrition even in times of drought. They have rejected attempts to be assimilated into the mainstream.

Forced to Change
Tribes, such as the Penan of Malaysian Borneo, are pushed into alien settlements and told to practise ‘modern’ agriculture, despite having an encyclopaedic knowledge of their own environments, which have sustained them, and the biodiversity of their forests, for generations. They are moved to make way for giant dams. These moves are justified by the notion that a transition from hunting and gathering to farming is ‘progress’.

Tribes, such as the Penan of Malaysian Borneo, are pushed into alien settlements and told to practise ‘modern’ agriculture, despite having an encyclopaedic knowledge of their own environments, which have sustained them, and the biodiversity of their forests, for generations. They are moved to make way for giant dams. These moves are justified by the notion that a transition from hunting and gathering to farming is ‘progress’.

Devastating Consequences
Tribal peoples forced to abandon their traditional food growing, hunting and gathering practices lose their self-sufficiency and are left at the mercy of markets they do not understand and which often exploit them.

Source: survivalinternational.org

As in the There You Go film, tribes faced with this sort of ‘development’ go from independent, thriving communities – kings of their own land – to scraping a living at the very margins of society. Faced with these pressures, and the up-rooting of their ways of life, tribal societies often break down, leading to devastatingly high rates of addiction, suicide and chronic disease.

Land and Choice
This does not mean that tribal people don’t want change: like all peoples, they are constantly changing and evolving. But they must choose and control the direction of this change, not have it imposed upon them by outsiders. The most important factor, by far, for tribal peoples’ well-being is whether their land rights are respected. Once their land is secured they are in a strong position to make their own choices about their ways of life and what ‘development’ they want.

To find out more about supporting this cause, please visit www.survivalinternational.org

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1 comment for “Guest Post by Robin Hanbury-Tenison: The devastating effect of 'development' on tribal people

  1. 12/02/2014 at 3:07 pm

    Survival International has long been one of my favourite charities. As an intrepid 19 year old I did a spondored solo parachute jump (in the days everyone thought I was mad), raising a small fortune to fund some projects.

    I have enjoyed reading about their achievements over the years and taken inspiration from their ethos when working on out own charity’s targets and ambitions.

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