I was flipping through news channels a few days ago and came across and interview with a white European anthropologist who was commenting on the "uncontacted Indian tribe" story that broke in late May.
The anthropolgist, whose name I unfortunately missed, commented that the Indians in the picture were firing arrows at what they thought was a giant bird.
Yeah broer, I am not making this sh*t up. A giant bird in 2008 flying over "uncontacted" Indians somewhere in the "jungles" of Brazil. What a 'discovery' hey?
How far have we come since Livingstone and Kipling huh?
Anyway, the other white man who took the pictures, Carlos Meirelles (61) has admitted that the story is a bunch of .... ummmmmm, crap.
Meirelles works for the Brazilian Indian Protection Agency (Funai) and is said to be one of only a few seranistas, or indigenous tribes expert.
He knew that the folks he was picturing were not newly "discovered", in fact they have been known about since 1910.
The story he sold to the world was intended to 'protect and save' the Indians from outsiders (he says loggers) who threaten the "uncontacted" Indians. Just how much of this 'discovery' was staged is not fully disclosed but it makes me wonder about the notion of "uncontacted" tribes.
What does "uncontacted" mean? Who is supposed to be doing the 'contacting'? And how is "uncontacted" tied to the myth of 'discovery' by white 'pioneers' (now researchers)?
I am not questioning the humanitarian need to repsect and guard the rights of peole to live in remote areas and outside of the contrived rationalization of the nation-state and its purported modernity.
What I am pointing at here is the manner that the story of being "uncontacted" is seated in the architecture of racism and its institutional appendages.
Meirelles used what he knew would grab attention. He spoke to the colonial impulse to discover, plot, and catalog, tribes (savages). And for a spell it worked.
Will this be the last 'discovery'? Hell no! 'Discovery' is a mainstay of whiteness and the travel industry, in particular, knows that too well.
I mean have you watched the Travel Channel? See those kids from whiteburbia 'discovering' exotic peoples in India, Cambodia, Kenya, while expressing the Western ideal to 'learn and take back' (read appropriate).
Lonenly Planet travel guides are assembled to make the way for this kind of post-colonial 'contacting' and 'discovering'. And if you think this is a one-way exchange you would be absolutely wrong.
The tribes in India, Cambodia, Kenya, understand the penchant to romanticize and infantalize (Orientalize) them.
Nonetheless, this capitalized transaction is destructive and absolutely racist. Like the "uncontacted" tribes, the 'contacted' ones are stuck in the imagination of whiteness.
And so Columbus, Polo, Drake, among other 'discoverers' and 'contacters', live on blissfully entrenched in their racist delusions.