Monday, October 10, 2005

The Kayapo Resistance

(note: Here I said that I would be posting more articles related to relevant topics that I had written for school. The following post is one of these articles.

To read another, click
Here)

In his essay, entitled The Kayapo Resistance, author Terence Turner outlines how the Kayapo Indians of the Brazilian jungle formulated a resistance against the industrial forces that threatened their home. The article was first published by the author in the journal Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, vol. 36, No. 3, in the spring of 1993. Using the example of the Kayapo resistance, Turner concludes that not only are indigenous forest people capable of reforming political policy, their knowledge is essential in understanding the hidden mechanics of humanity’s dependence on ecological balance.

The Kayapo maintain a profound sense of identity with the natural environment. Their subsistence behaviors consist of a fusion of slash and burn horticulture, hunting and fishing rituals, and flora foraging techniques. The farmland takes approximately fifteen years to recover its nutritional fertility, and the Kayapo sow, harvest, and burn their farmlands to perpetuate the regeneration of the soil. The Kayapo division of labor splits down a strict gender based function. Men do all the work that doesn’t require attending to children, such as hunting, fishing, farming, and construction. The Kayapo women, on the other hand, are solely responsible for raising children. They perform other tasks, such as maintaining gardens or managing domestic animals, but only if that task allows them to attend to the needs of children.

The Kayapo also engage in a curious ritual of territorial trekking. During trekking, units of villagers venture into the forest for periods of up to one to three months in a seminomadic pattern of travel. The groups vary in description. The whole village may leave, or just the eldest men. Women, children, or a mix of individuals will depart on treks, only to return again after a variable amount of time. Anthropologists often think that this behavior is influenced by the culture’s subsistence patterns, but Turner suggests that this is not the case. The environment around the base village provides an ample nutritional diet, and in fact, subsistence behavior doesn’t change to a great degree when a group embarks on a trek. Turner believes that the trekking behavior of the Kayapo represents a social function that operates to enhance the production of well-cultured Kayapo individuals. Turner refers to the strict division of gender labor, and concludes that while the Kayapo men are responsible for producing food, the Kayapo women are responsible for producing people.

According to Turner, the Kayapo believe that all humans are “beings” of nature. They equate the “being” of human with the plethora of “beings” in the natural environment. Through this paradigm, the Kayapo have created a unified identity with the Amazonian world they live in. However, the influences of industrialization were encroaching on their world, and threatening their very existence. Logging companies were buying up land and cutting down trees. The companies would burn large swaths of land to prepare the forest for logging and mining. The forces of modernity brought pollution and drove away the indigenous fauna that the Kayapo has identified with for so long. The Brazilian government ignored pleas from the Kayapo for assistance, and sided with the parties who sought to exploit the environment for economic gain. One Kayapo rebel leaked the plans for a government project to construct a series of dams to generate electricity to the press. The dams would’ve toppled the natural ecosystem, and killed much of the fish that constitute parts of the Kayapo diet. The Brazilian government, on the other hand, wouldn’t acknowledge the potential harm of the dam project. This placed the Kayapo in a precarious position. Overall, the industrial consumption of the Amazonian forest resources represented a dire threat to the Kayapo who identified the destruction of the forest as a fatal attack on the self.

The Kayapo fought back. They attacked and murdered “outsiders” who intruded upon their land, and eventually, the land prospectors learned to keep away. They petitioned their government and engaged in nonviolent protests and sit-ins. They issued pleas of assistance to anyone who would listen. They gained assistance from anthropologists, indigenous advocacy groups, and American congressmen. When the international media reported the stories of the Kayapo conflict, the world rallied behind their cause. Protests and awareness groups popped up around the globe. Kayapo leaders worked with outside advocacy groups to plan a large conference that would shed international light on the Brazilian government’s devastating dam project.

The conference at Altimira was the pinnacle of the Kayapo resistance. For five days, the Kayapo and other indigenous Amazonian people met with representatives of the Brazilian government, the World Bank, national and world media outlets, human advocacy groups, and corporate leaders. Together, they celebrated Amazonian cultures and discussed the significance of ecological balance. The World Bank, which had been debating a loan to the Brazilian government to pay for the dam project, decided it wouldn’t lend any money after all. The Brazilian government stated that it would re-examine the details of the dam project and suspend any construction plans. The Kayapo had won the life of their land and their people, at least for a time, and demonstrated the power and wisdom of indigenous cultural knowledge.

The Kayapo Resistance became a blueprint for environmental activism. It revealed that the knowledge of the Earth’s forest people is necessary to fully understand ecological balance. It also revealed how potent an indigenous people and their collective allies can be at shaping political policy, increasing awareness, and inducing change. The Kayapo Resistance strengthened the cause of ethnic self-assertion in the face of industrialization, and gave the modern world a glimpse at the great value of traditional cultural knowledge. Mass media markets have established a global forum for the communication of ideas, and the Kayapo Resistance set the precedent for global mobilization.

41 Comments:

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i had to read the kayapo resistance and i really didn't want to, so i googled it and your blog came up and i got a real nice summary of it. Thanks man!

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haha same as the first commenter. i had to read Turner's essay and it was super long so i ended up here the same way as them. thank you!!

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