the-south-asian.com February 2003
FEBRUARY 2003 Contents
Page 3 of 4
Information on the following pages was provided by Survival - a London based organisation supporting tribal people worldwide. Survival's contact details appear at the end of the article.
What does Survival mean by ‘tribal peoples’?
People who have lived in tribal societies for many generations. They are usually the original inhabitants of the places they live in, or at least they and their ancestors have lived there for a very long time. They provide mainly for themselves, living off their land by hunting, fishing, gathering or growing vegetables, or keeping animals. They are usually ‘minorities’: fewer in number than the other (non-tribal) peoples who are often their neighbours.
Their societies are distinct from those of non-tribal peoples – they often have a different language, customs and culture inherited from their ancestors, and think of themselves as being different from neighbouring peoples. They usually have a very strong spiritual attachment to their land.
Tribal peoples live in more than 60 countries, and number over 150 million individuals – this is a huge number, equal to more than half the population of the United States.
Are tribal peoples the same as indigenous peoples?
Not necessarily. ‘Indigenous peoples’ are all the original inhabitants of a country, but ‘tribal peoples’ are only those who live in distinct tribal societies. For example, all Aborigines in Australia are ‘indigenous’, but only some still live in tribal societies and see themselves as tribal people.
Laws about ‘indigenous peoples’ are concerned with indigenous minorities and always apply to tribal peoples.
What are the threats to tribal peoples?
Their land ownership rights are ignored, and all too often their lands are invaded: by settlers; by businesses such as oil, mining or logging companies; by cattle ranchers; by private or government ‘development’ schemes such as road-building and dams; or for nature reserves and game parks.
Disease can follow such invasions, and often proves fatal. The loss of their land can lead to hunger, ill health and depression. Tribal people are sometimes even imprisoned, attacked or killed to get them off their land.
This happens because some people wrongly see tribal people as ‘primitive’ or ‘backward’, and have racist beliefs that tribal people should not have the same rights as others. Such views are often behind attempts to ‘integrate’ peoples forcibly – almost always a disaster for the tribe. This happens all over the world – but tribal peoples are fighting back.
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