Indigenous Peoples Today

Although there is not one international definition of the concept of “indigenous peoples”, these latter are usually described as the peoples who inhabited a land before the invasion and colonization by other peoples. Maintaining their distinctive customs, traditions and cultures, they didn’t mix with the societies that became the product of the “Western” colonialism. In certain regions these populations were massacred and highly reduced, though some were able to survive and pass their habits from one generation to the other until today.

These peoples face an important number of problems in modern times, in particular in developed countries; from Aboriginals in Australia to United States’ American Indians, Maoris in New Zealand or Inuits in Canada, all seem to be plagued by the same afflictions. Despite a growing international awareness to the condition of these peoples, globalization and modernization make it hard for them to maintain their identity and have often push them to adopt standardized customs. More often than not, they are amongst the lowest-ranges of a country’s society, being highly exposed to poverty, lack of education, health issues or troubles with the law.

The question of the land is also a problematic one. Since these peoples did not always have the same sense of property as the colonizing populations, they often found themselves estranged or pushed away from their lands. In some cases, these populations were able to isolate themselves and maintain a community-based way of living, but in others, the populations came to live in cities, losing much of the links they had with their ancestors but hardly becoming integrated with the urban populations. Thus, one of the main issues concerning indigenous peoples today is what is their place in the modern societies.

It is impressive to note that a recent study has found that when one measures the Human Development Index (HDI) of these peoples, they almost always rank lower than the countries to which they belong to! For instance, while Australia is usually ranked 2nd/3rd on the Human Development Report of the UNDP, the Aboriginal people has an HDI that is close to that of El Salvador, which is ranked 100th…

Indigenous peoples are more prone to fall into drug and alcohol abuse, have a harder time to find a job and have lower life-expectancies than the rest of the populations’ of their respective countries. It is common for governments to implement bigger welfare measures in favor of these peoples, in part to appease their historical conscience. Contrary to what could be thought, these create more dependency than anything else.

The place of indigenous peoples in modern societies, in particular Western ones, is not easy to define. Not completely integrated, they stay at the margins, divided between their ancestral cultures and a modernization that can engulf them at any time. The countries to which they inevitably belong to must take serious action to protect the richness that these peoples carry with them, in order to ensure that they will not become just another memory in our collective history.

Read more about the living conditions of indigenous peoples today in this United Nations’ Report on the “State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples“.


The Gorongosa National Park

The centre of Mozambique hosts an amazing wildlife park known as the Gorongosa. Covering around 4 000 square km, it hosts a large array of species, from elephants to lions  and hundreds of bird types, making it an incredible ecosystem.

The story behind the Gorongosa National Park gives a lot to think about. It started in the 1920’s, when the portuguese government decided that the region should be protected and thus allowed the Mozambique Company to establish there a hunting reserve. Rapidly, the protected area, which initially encompassed 1 000 square km, grew to 3 000 square km. In 1940, the reserve passed to the government’s hands, hunting became forbidden and it progressively became a touristic attraction. In 1960, the portuguese government officially declared that the Gorongosa was a national park. The park made an enormous success thanks to the great amount and diversity of animals it had. It was a great opportunity for safari-tourism in Mozambique, which had never been known for that.

However, in 1964, Mozambique got torn apart by the independence war led by the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) against the Portuguese colony. Three years after the 1974 independence, the country got into a civil war opposing the Marxist-Leninist government and the rebel group known as RENAMO, endorsed by western powers (aka Mozambican National Resistance, MNR). From that moment on, until the end of the civil war in 1994, the Gorogonsa suffered terrible losses. In 1983, due to combats near that region, the park got shot down, and animals started to be hunted by the fighters, either for food or for profit (thanks to the sale of elephants’ ivory).

By the end of the war, according to scientists, the animal population of the park had been reduced by 95% compared to the 1960’s (some populations were reduced to numbers of 50, while they had walked the park by the thousands). Fortunately, several international institutions (amongst them the European Union and the African Development Bank) began a project of rehabilitation of the park, in order to stop illegal hunting and reinsert species. More importantly, in 2004, Greg Carr, founder of the Carr Foundation, took the rehabilitation of the Gorongosa into his own hands, looking to bring it back to its pre-civil war state. This project has been a huge success so far, largely thanks to the collaboration between the Carr Foundation and the Mozambican government.

Nevertheless, in recent times Mozambique has re-experienced some political violences between the old factions. Given that Afonso Dhlakama (i.e. RENAMO’s leader), has chosen the Gorongosa region as his headquarters and has put an end to the peace agreement of Lusaka, we can only hope that the Gorongosa National Park will not become once again a victim of political rivalries.

Read more about the rebirth of the park in this National Geographic article or visit the website of the park, which will give you a better understanding of the park’s history.

Boko Haram

Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors”, that is the motto of Boko Haram, an Islamic jihadist and takfiri terrorist organization based in the Northeast of Nigeria, along the border with Cameroon.

In 2002, Mohammed Yusuf, a powerful Muslim cleric, founded the organization and established a religious complex including a mosque and an Islamic school. Like stated in The JR Chronicle so many times when writing about terrorism, the success of the Boko Haram was deeply rooted in the poverty of its followers.

Indeed, many poor Muslim families enrolled their children at his school, and year by year, the number of Boko Haram’s militants just kept increasing. As Yusuf’s goal was to establish a pure Islamic state ruled by the sharia law, “Westernization” quickly became its archenemy.

Kidnapping and killing Westerners, bombing churches and police stations became their mode of action.

In 2009, following several police station attacks that killed hundreds of people, the Nigerian government captured Yusuf and declared Boko Haram defeated. Unfortunetly but clearly predictable, taking down the head of the terrorist organization did not destroy the network.

The group has continued to stage different attacks and“fuelling tension between Muslims and Christians”, in a region already affected by religious tension as the war in Central African Republic has revealed. Since their establishement, Boko Haram have killed more than 10 000 people.In 2013, they attacked a State School in Mamudo and killed more then 40 students in July and another 40 undergraduates in the College of Agriculture in Gubja.

Strangly, it seems that we hear very little about it. To learn more about Boko Haram you can read this BBC article and take a look at Ed Kashi’s photos in the National Geographic website.

The Dublin Regulation

Racism and xenophobia have always cast their shadow over Europe, sometimes in more disguised ways than others. In modern times, in order to explain that foreigners are not welcome in our space, we use excuses such as the economic crisis, the lack of jobs, and the contribution of immigrants to the rise of crime.

There is an incredible amount of biased ideas from which xenophobic (and often right-wing) populists easily take advantage of to call for stronger immigration policies. Indeed, more and more it looks like immigrants are not welcomed in the European fortress.

More than the general problematic of migrants, today we would like to focus on the particular case of refugees and asylum seekers. Violences, corruption, injustice and wars, push thousands of people to leave their countries every year, who try to reach the lands of “human rights” to seek some relief and find a better life.

States more or less agree that refugees should be welcomed, and even in our collective imagination it would be unthinkable to refuse a right to protection to, for instance, a Syrian national. More than that, since 1951 and the adoption of the Geneva Refugee Convention, States have an obligation to accept and protect refugees.

Nevertheless, the system regulating asylum protection in Europe is far from being the most welcoming for asylum seekers and refugees. Since 2003, Europe’s Dublin II Regulation (Regulation 2003/343/CE) defines that the State where an asylum seeker first enters and is enrolled in the authorities’ files, is the State that is responsible for examining the asylum claim. This means, that if a person seeking for asylum is first registered by the police in Italy and decides to move to Denmark to ask for asylum, she will be deported to Italy, the only country in Europe that can examine her claim. In order for this to be possible, the Dublin system also relies on the Eurodac Regulation. This regulation created the EURODAC database, where the fingertips of all migrants that have reached Europe seeking for asylum, or illegally, are stored.

The Dublin system creates enormous problems, specially for the countries that are on the ramparts of the fortress of Europe like Italy, Greece or Spain. Indeed, these countries receive thousands of claims which they often are not able to examine correctly. This leads to extremely long procedures of asylum, during which the asylum seeker lives in terrible conditions and is ultimately more easily turned down.  It is also terrible for the asylum seeker, who may want to reach a particular country because he has certain family ties there and is not be able to do it. To be capable of passing from one country to the other undetected, people have to resort to human traffickers, which only enhances the problem.

Ultimately, European countries do not really want to bear the responsibility for yet another migrant, whether he is illegal or seeking refuge. This creates a system which is downright excruciating for those who come to Europe in the hope of getting some relief from the horrors they experience in their home-countries.

The Business of Hunting Dolphins

We have all received one of those e-mails condemning the slaughter of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands. The animals are driven ashore where a mob awaits them with hooks and knives. It is a tradition, they say, and fishermen harvest the meat which, today, is eaten by only a small number of people. That number has been decreasing, and so have the the number of places in Europe where this type of hunt is tolerated. Much of this has to do with international pressure credited, in part, to videos such as the one below that are shared online.

This hunt is not unique to the Faroe but, for some time, most of us thought it was. Why? “Out of sight, out of mind” and, in this case, “out of the news”, seems to me the most accurate answer.

In the small village of Taiji, in south-eastern Japan, dolphins have been hunted, in huge numbers, for decades. The method is similar to that employed by the Danish: the animals are driven towards a cove, they are stranded near the beach with nets that cut them off from the rest of the ocean. Fishermen then choose small packs, drive them ashore and kill them.

For quite some time this hunt was kept from the world because Japanese authorities realized that if the world knew, they would be forced to stop. Science has taught us that dolphins are among the most intelligent beings on the planet, they are self-aware and, last but not least, they are cute. They fill children and adult’s imaginations as good and friendly animals. People would not tolerate the poor treatment of an animal such as the dolphin. Knowing this the Japanese kept their dolphin hunt a secret. They barred any who tried to photograph or film it and harassed the few reporters that ventured to the remote village. It took a documentary crew and specialized equipment to shed some light on the subject and to show the world what was really happening (see the trailer of the documentary The Cove (2009) below).

Japan had been hiding the hunt under the coat of tradition when in fact very few people knowingly ate dolphin. Not only because the habit is not that widespread across the country and because it can bear health hazards, given the high levels of mercury these animals have in their bodies.

So the hunt had less to do with tradition and more to do with the dozens of animals that were captured and sold to marine mammal parks everywhere. One dead dolphin is worth about $600, whereas a live one can be sold for as much as $150,000 dollars. Multiply that by 50, at least, per year, and you have a multi million dollar good that can be exported to any place in the world. This is one of the reasons why the hunt was kept a secret. Marine mammal parks themselves are a lucrative business, especially if they have dolphins. Associating that business with the capture and slaughter of these animals would destroy the industry.

Besides the captures, the kills were, in part, subsidized by state, to keep the industry alive. The meat harvested in Taiji was later sold as meat from other whales that the Japanese people actually eat. Animals that are not as easy to capture because of the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling, that has been in effect since 1982.

Since the documentary was released, dolphin hunting in Taiji has decreased, from 2,000 every year to roughly 800. World awareness is increasing every year, especially since mainstream media started reporting on the subject. However, a huge portion of the population is still not aware of what is happening and of how dolphins appear in the above mentioned marine mammal parks. One good indicator of that is the fact that the number of captured animals at Taiji cove has actually gone up.

I recommend you watch the Oscar winning documentary The Cove and check Sea Sheperd‘s compilation of facts on the Drive Hunt.

India’s walking dead

What if you were alive and well, but discovered someone had declared you dead? After getting over the ludicrousness of such act, you would naturally call on legal services to sort out the misunderstanding, right?

Well, not in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state and where thousands of people have been declared dead by devious relatives who bribe officials in order to seize their land. Once someone is deceased on paper, the resurrection process is subject to a complex, corrupt system, not to mention the fact that there are no legal services available for the officially dead.

Land shortage appears to be the main cause of this bizarre phenomenon. As families grow larger – India’s population is now over 1.2 billion – land properties, the only way for most residents to make a living, become smaller after getting subdivided among heirs. Many unsatisfied farmers turn to corrupt government officials and often pay as little as 50 rupees (around US$1) to obtain a false death certificate and take over the deceased’s land. They usually pick a vulnerable, an absentee or an uneducated relative for this easy process of land grabbing, and the victim can then spend a lifetime battling in court to reverse the action.

That’s what happened to Lal Bihari, founder of the Association of Dead People, who was first informed of his own death when he applied for a bank loan in 1975. Bihari was particularly annoyed to hear it from a dishonest bureaucrat with whom he had recently had tea. Determined to get the government’s attention, he decided to publicise his case in unique ways, including trying to get arrested, suing people, running for office, and even staging his own fake funeral along with other living dead fellows. Nearly 19 years later, in 1994, he finally got both his life and land back.

“In pursuing my battle, I had developed quite an identity. I became the leader of a movement. I knew I had other dead people to save,” he told the New York Times.

It’s not clear how many people Bihari has helped to resurrect through the association, and although his effort is admirable, it is clear that in order to put an end to such frustrating occurrences there would have to be tighter policies and substantial changes in the legal system.

If you want to find out more about India’s living dead, check out photographer Arkadripta Chakraborty, who has been documenting the plight of India’s living dead.

“The Evolutionnary Road” – The Middle Awash

Ethiopia, one of the countries of the Horn of Africa, has a regional state known as Afar. Through here travels the Awash River and lies part of the Afar Depression. Ethiopia, and this particular area, are well-known for archeologists and in particular for being one of the places on earth that has given us the most details about the human evolution, to the extent that the National Geographic calls it “The Evolutionary Road”.

The Middle Awash, is an area covering around 5 000 km, that has been known since the 1960’s for some amazing archeological discoveries. There can be found fossils dating back to approximately 6 million years ago (the Miocene period) to approximately 200 thousand years ago (the Middle Pleistocene period). It is thought that it was one of the places of separation in the hominid group (group that includes all modern and extinct Great Apes, e.g. chimpanzees, humans, gorillas etc.), and where the hominin (group that gathers all species of humans, from our latest ancestors, e.g. Homo, Australopithecus, Paranthropus and Ardipithecus) lived in continuity for the longest period of time. Indeed, there have been found approximately 260 fossils of hominids, including of Ardipithecus, some of the latest ancestors of modern humans, but also Australopithecus, Homo erectus and even of our species, Homo sapiens. The fossils of “Ardi” or “Lucy” were found there.

It is also an important area because paleontologists are able to observe the changes that occurred in the paleoenvironment, showing that the area progressively turned into a desert. Observing these changes could help explain why hominins evolved the way they did.

Ultimately, the Middle Awash presents an enormous interest because as the National Geographic puts itThe Middle Awash area of Ethiopia is the most persistently occupied place on Earth. Members of our lineage have lived, died, and been buried there for almost six million years.”. Therefore, there is no better place to understand where we came from.  Read more about it here.

Our New Collaborator: Madalena Araújo

We are thrilled to announce that every Saturday from now on, you will be hearing from London-based trainee reporter Madalena Araújo. She will touch on a wide range of topics, from inspiring figures to hot political issues that affect real people. We are very glad that she is joining us, and thank her very much for believing in our project.

Read about Madalena here!

“I was born and raised in sunny Lisbon, Portugal, but decided to turn my life around when I turned 18. I moved to London to study journalism, a masters in history of international relations followed and now it’s time to take up the real challenge and pursue a journalism career full-time.

I had always been fascinated by stories of people who lived abroad, but the turning point came after I spent two weeks at a summer school outside London at 16 years old. I hated the weather but loved the city and the idea of studying in a country that has some of the best universities in the world. The more I learned at journalism school, the more I recognised my passion for international affairs, so four years later I feel really fortunate and still think it was the best decision I ever made.

The transition from journalism to international history was the outcome of my ambition of becoming a more informed and thorough reporter. The internships I took on were great to learn and network, but they made me realise that I was not familiar enough with contemporary political issues and debates. As a masters student I studied the big wars, such as World War I or the Gulf War, diplomatic decisions that influenced the course of history and key figures. This was crucial to understand our world (a bit) better.

As for hobbies, I seem to spend most of my spare time exploring London’s vibrant cultural scene, from the arts to good food, which I end up writing about here pretty often. I also love film and travelling whenever I can.”

1. Why did you decide to join our project?

“I personally love your idea of sharing knowledge on all kinds of interesting subjects in this format. I always learn something new when I read the J.R. Chronicle, you cover such a wide range of topics and I enjoy that surprise element. The more I read the more article ideas occurred to me and I am happy to contribute – it’s a win-win situation, I hope.”

2. What are the issues that motivate you to write? What can readers expect from your chronicles?

“I’m driven to all kinds of stories that have an impact on ordinary people, whether they’re being affected by government policies or unforeseen circumstances, shedding light on intriguing issues – with many of them overlooked in the mainstream media – is what drives me. Readers can also expect chronicles on interesting figures and events.”

Madalena also has a very interesting blog, The View From Beyond, that you should make sure to check out!