Belmont Club

The Human Zoo

The Agence France Presse news agency reports that human rights activists are outraged at a video showing tribal people putting on a show for tourists in exchange for food:

Rights campaigners and politicians Wednesday condemned a video showing women from a protected and primitive tribe dancing for tourists reportedly in exchange for food on India’s Andaman Islands.

British newspaper “The Observer” released the undated video showing Jarawa tribal women — some of them naked — being lured to dance and sing after a bribe was allegedly paid to a policeman to produce them.

Under Indian laws designed to protect ancient tribal groups susceptible to outside influence and disease, photographing or coming into contact with the Jarawa and some of the Andaman aborigines is banned.

It’s a wonderful kind of altruism which protects people from the dangers of literacy, computers, antibiotics, cars, indoor plumbing, and food preservation technology. But the Indian authorities are probably not alone in their desire to keep people in a museum state for the benefit of the curators. Recently, a campaign was launched in Sydney reminding its residents that 4 out of 5 aboriginal children in certain places did not know how to read or write.

Was that because there were no schools in Australia? Or no books? Or no teachers? Or is it at least partially because of the obsession among some of those who style themselves protectors to keep them on reservations — the better to maintain “their connection to the land” and “authenticity” — and who are quick to douse cold water on the very first signs of “acting white”?

One former Australian minster told a small audience in confidence — I was there — of a time when he went to an aboriginal community and was taken aside by an elder who was an old personal friend. There, perched on a rock far from inquisitive ears the elder told the minister: “You know, we could solve a whole lot of problems if you would just treat us like white fellas.”

What a suggestion. How incredibly politically incorrect. Such a statement — even in jest — would never be tolerated in public. Perish the thought.

Once, after watching aboriginal dancers perform a traditional dance on TV coverage of a sporting event, I turned to one of the viewers and asked: “Do you suppose they could convince the Chinese immigrants to Australia to do that?” I was met a by a hoarse laugh: “Hell no. But you might convince them to drive around in their sports cars to show them off.”

And yet many of those Chinese would have hardly spoken a word of English when they arrived in Australia. How come the aborigines, who’ve lived in Australia for tens of thousands of years, can’t read and write in a country which has one of the highest literacy rates in the world?

The difference between the Chinese and the aborigines was not that one was superior to the other. It was simply that one was an inmate in the zoo while the other was free to act like “a white fella.” And it’s all done in the name of caring, sensitivity, moral superiority, and political correctness.

Of course, sometimes the inmates of the zoo play tricks on the visitors. In Mindanao, one tribal group used to sell wicker baskets to visiting tourists. But privately all the tribesmen used plastic baskets at home. Curious, I asked why they didn’t use the wicker baskets. They said: “Ever try to fetch water from a river using a wicker basket?”

Good point.

Maybe the the problem with all the treehuggers and ethnic preservationists is that they haven’t spent enough time in the woods and in the villages. Where you sleep on a mat with the dusk because there’s no lighting, watch your child die because there’s no medicine; where you’re trapped for days in your hut while the monsoon rain turns the trails into rivers of water so strong they can carry you off or kill you from hypothermia in the tropics. Because if they had to and could never leave, then they too might think of asking the next visitor to fantasy island: “Why don’t you treat me like a white fella?” Or better yet, “please treat me like a Chinaman.”

But it will never happen. There is money to be made by pandering to the self-righteousness of others. The last thing they would ever like to learn is that all men are created equal and that each person has been endowed by His Creator with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Which, if anything, means that if you can have an iPhone in Paris, there is no reason in principle why you can’t have one on the Andaman Islands.

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