Robbins Chapter 9 Indigenous Groups and Ethnic Conflict



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Robbins Chapter 9

Indigenous Groups and Ethnic Conflict


Overview 1

  • At one time Indonesia was under the colonial rule of the Netherlands; at the time it was called the Dutch East Indies (or the Spice Islands). In fact, it was to here that Columbus sailed in his search for riches.

  • Java is the dominant island, both economically and politically.

  • Robbins begins with a description of a Javanese wedding photo in a museum in Jakarta, Indonesia.

  • Each member of the wedding party is dressed to represent a different ethnic group (there are hundreds in Indonesia).

  • Tolerance in part of the education system; hate speech is a crime.

  • Indonesia is one of the most ethnically diverse nations, and it is also among the most tolerant of this diversity.

  • While inclusiveness is the standard script, there are limits to how this plays out:

  • It is true that minorities are “invited” into the nation; even when they do not want to come (think, East Timor and West Papua).

  • But, they have to bow to Javanese standards.

  • One causality of the expansion of the culture of capitalism is cultural diversity.

  • One goal of the capitalism is to integrate the minority (peacefully if possible) into the common culture.

  • When integrated, at best, their culture is retained by dress, dance, music, and food.

  • These are thought to represent the complexity of the original culture.

  • This process is particularly poignant in Indonesia where tolerance is spoken, but where there is a systematic destruction of indigenous peoples.


Overview 2

  • One causality of the expansion of the culture of capitalism is cultural diversity.

  • In Indonesia there are 1.5 million members of what the government calls ‘isolated populations’.

  • Most are scattered mountain settlements.

  • A program, called the Management of Isolated Populations, guides ‘the direction of their social, economic, cultural, and religious arrangements in accord with the norms that operate for the Indonesian people”.

  • One example, described by Anna Lovenhaupt Tsing, in her book, In the realm of the diamond queen, documents the case of Meratus Dyak people (Dyak Meratus is actual name).

  • The Meratus Dyak are a mountain farming group, who trade out for goods with others

  • The Indonesian government sees them as uncivilized and contributes this to their semi-nomadism.

  • They are further labeled as runaways from state discipline and a threat to national security.

  • One strategy is resettlement, so the Meratus Dyak reorganized their villages to match the government’s expectations.

  • Nutrition programs push the villagers to adhere to the norms of eating behaviors so the Meratus Dyak shift behaviors when the Indonesian government officials come to town.

  • Family planning programs were introduced and the Meratus Dyak were shocked. They hung the birth control pills (BCPs) from their rafters.

  • Another disturbing development, in addition to governments engaged in normalizing cultures, is that some indigenous groups are enjoying an economic advantage over another and the result can be genocidal violence.


Fate of Indigenous Peoples 1

  • Who are the indigenous (or tribal) people?

  • They include the aboriginal peoples of Australia, the Native Americans in the New World, and the peoples of most of the African continent.

  • The World Council of Indigenous People defines as follows:

  • “Indigenous people be people living in countries which have populations composed of different ethnic or racial groups who are descendants of the earliest populations which survive in the area, and who do not, as a group, control the national government of the countries within which they live.”

  • The late David Maybury-Lewis, the late founder of Cultural Survival argued that this definition assumes that if these people can control of their government they would no longer be indigenous.

  • Either way, these are people who are native to the country in which they reside, can claim to be the first there and so have the rights of prior occupancy to their lands

  • Further, they have been conquered by people ethnically or culturally different from themselves.

  • They tend to maintain their own languages.

  • They are dominated by the states that claim jurisdiction over them.

  • They are largely defined by their relationship to the state.

  • Maybury-Lewis estimated that 5% of the global population fits into this category.

  • The cultures of indigenous people are vulnerable to destruction from capitalist expansion, in part because their ways of life differ so much form the culture of capitalism.


Fate of Indigenous Peoples 2

  • Some characteristics of indigenous peoples

  • There are 5 characteristics that tend to group indigenous peoples together.

  1. They are mobile and so transect national lines or they are shifting agriculturalists who need large tracts of land to survive.

  2. There is communal ownership of valuable property. For the culture of capitalism this poses problems:

  • Banks can not lend to an individual and hold land as collateral.

  • Communal lands tend to be more ecologically utilized.

  • Communal resources that are not incorporated then to be.

  1. They have kin-based social structures.

  2. They tend to be relatively egalitarian.

  3. These groups control resources the culture of capitalism wants.

  • The process of ethnocide (the killing of a culture)

  • In his book, Victims of progress, John Bodley described the various ways nation-states acted to transfer the rights of resources from indigenous peoples to settlers.

  • The process occurs in stages, starting with the establishment of a frontier settlement, advanced with military intervention, the extension of the government, and then gradual destruction of indigenous culture through land takeovers, cultural modifications, and economic development.

  • Step 1: The frontier situation (I call this the “merchant phase”)

  • The colonizers move into an area which is considered to have abundant resources.

  • The local rights are considered irrelevant.

  • Brutality was common and remains common today.

  • A modern example is that of the Yanomami Indians of Brazil and Venezuela

  • The building of a road into the Amazon opened up the jungle.

  • Gold miners came, bringing diseases and they also massacred the indigenes.


Fate of Indigenous Peoples 3

  • The process of ethnocide (continued)

  • Step 2: Military intervention (I call the “military phase”)

  • Military force is another means to destroy indigenous peoples.

  • Some examples include attacks on the Maori of New Zealand, the Native Americans, and the Hawai’i.

  • Step 3: Extension of government control

  • This is a continuation of the military phase; pacify the natives was a common way to phrase these efforts.

  • Once subdued by the military, the next step is extension of government control.

  • The nation-state sees this as the bringing of the advantages of civilization to the natives.

  • Instead these practices are for the advantage of the nation-state and are intended to establish political control. Various techniques are used:

  • Appointment of a government official to control the indigenes is a form of direct rule.

  • Indirect rule is where the role of traditional leaders is maintained or strengthened or creating new leaders when they did not exist.

  • The base camp program used in Australia is where a base camp is set up in a controlled area and then is the staging group into isolated areas, slowly, using trade as the incentive for more and more encroachment.

  • Step 4: Destruction of indigenous culture (I call this the “missionary phase”; the “save their souls efforts)

  • Land policies

  • International law and most governments have acknowledged that indigenes have some rights to the land.

  • As soon as these agreements became inconvenient they have been ignored.

  • Example is the situation for most Native American tribes.

  • The Dawes Act (where land was ceded to white settlers) resulted in the loss of huge quantities of land by indigenes.


Fate of Indigenous Peoples 4

  • The process of ethnocide (continued)

  • Step 4: Destruction of indigenous culture (continued)

  • Cultural modification policies

  • Now, to modify the culture, so that any native custom considered immoral, offensive or threatening was abolished

  • Anthropologists, often unintentionally, played a part in ethnocide.

  • We tend not to think of others as being forced to change, but instead as seeing the light and following it freely (Margaret Mead)!

  • The pull of modernization is strong and most anthropologists have been members of the culture of capitalism

  • Education for progress:

  • Formal education is a strong method of modifying cultures; tt has been used to integrate groups within one’s own borders as well as a tool of colonialism.

  • Often the first efforts at education have come from missionaries. Among the well-known efforts have been boarding schools for Native Americans (and other groups, globally).

  • American Indian boarding schools (1879)

  • By 1879 there were two competing white American views concerning the “Indian problem” (the idea that Indians were in the way of the more advanced Euroamerican).

  • One solution that was often employed was genocide (ethnic cleansing) and is well represented by this quote, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” by General Sheridan of Civil War fame.

  • More well-meaning whites took the stance of ethnocide (kill the culture) and are represented by this quote by Capt. Richard C. Pratt (founder of the first American boarding school at Carlisle, PA), “Kill the Indian, save the man”.


Fate of Indigenous Peoples 5

  • The process of ethnocide (continued)

  • Step 4: Destruction of indigenous culture (continued)

  • American Indian boarding schools (1879)

  • Education for progress

  • The idea was to take the most vulnerable (children) and acculturate (forced cultural change, also called assimilation) them into white ways to avoid having their own people enculturate (teach one’s own culture) them into their “primitive” Indian ways.

  • The stories of emotional, physical and sexual abuse are widespread. Some children ran away, others died during hunger strikes.

  • At its height as many as 100 such schools were active. This practice was not limited to the U.S. It was practiced in Canada, Australia, and South Africa, for instance.

  • The impact remains today.

  • Here is a YouTube.com post of a PSB documentary called “In the white man’s image”.

  • Another famous portrayal is found in “Rabbit proof fence” (Australian story).

  • Economic development

  • Next, integrate the indigenous group into the national economy

  • Done in a variety of ways: slavery, forced labor or through economic development

  • The term development is highly ethnocentric, transformation is a more appropriate term.


The Guaraní: The Economics of Ethnocide 1

  • Overview

  • It is hard for members of the culture of capitalism to take an unbiased view of indigenous people

  • The biases are deeply embedded and of long standing.

  • For instance read the quote of Theodore Roosevelt (p. 259):

  • The settler and pioneer have at bottom had justice on their side; this great continent count not have been kept in nothing but a game preserve for squalid savages”.

  • Ouch!

  • In the 19th (and early 20th century) ‘scientific’ debates on racial superiority (based on eugenics (remember social Darwinism) permeated society and the academic fields as a consequence.

  • Even as many of the earlier views are altered, indigenous people are still seen as needy dependents or victims largely incapable of helping themselves.

  • A different view:

  • If one sees indigenous groups as conservators, in for the long haul, then we see how the culture of capitalism is a threat.

  • Environmentally and socially responsible corporations tend not to fare well in the capitalist system

  • Read about the Pacific Lumber Company.

  • History and background of the Guaraní

  • About 15,000 Guaraní are settled in the rainforests of E. Paraguay, in about 114 communities.

  • They are a minority population in the country, but at Western contact they had been widely distributed.

  • They had been long-distance traders.

  • They were relatively egalitarian and kin-based; they engaged in European style markets, but maintained swidden farming and foraging practices.

  • Fishing also provided protein.

  • To earn cash, they collected the yerba mate leafs, skins, oils and food and traded them

  • They were engaged in agroforestry, using animal skins, yerba and honey from the forest.


The Guaraní: The Economics of Ethnocide 2

  • History and background of the Guaraní (continued)

  • Agroforestry differs from exploitative forestry in several ways

  1. The systems are diverse, drawing from several niches without overusing them.

  2. They use the resources directly, rather than drawing from the soils (such as is done with ranching).

  3. A pattern of social relations is allowed where individual autonomy is respected and the division of labor does not lend itself to a status hierarchy.

  4. It is neither labor- nor technology-intensive.

  5. Allows autonomy from the global market.

  • So the Guaraní tap into the global market, but are not dependent on it.

  • Contemporary development and Guaraní communities; the Guaraní way of life is being threatened.

  • Since the 1970s, deforestation in Paraguay was accelerated and the government is experiencing economic growth of about 10% annually.

  • A number of things are contributing to rainforest destruction.

  1. Roads allow easier access to the area by outsiders and bring disruption and disease.

  2. Large-scale energy-intensive agriculture is displacing small farmers.

  3. International finance promotes roads, dams, and other culture of capitalism projects.


The Guaraní: The Economics of Ethnocide 3

  • Contemporary development and Guaraní communities

  • Sequence of events:

  1. One Guaraní group, the Itanaramí, were encroached on in 1972 when a road was built into their forest.

  2. Loggers followed.

  3. Impoverished Paraguayan families in search of land became squatters.

  4. Then agribusiness cleared more forest to plant soy and cotton.

  • The rate of deforestation was huge.

  • Between 1972 to 1976, 2.6 million hectares were destroyed.

  • Another 2.1 million by 1984

  • Each year another 150,000 – 200,000 hectares falls.

  • Today the Itanaramí are a small island in an ocean agricultural fields.

  • The Guaraní had no legal right to the lands they had inhabited for at least centuries

  • The nation-state took claim.

  • The indigenes were allowed home plots.

  • They became cash dependent.

  • They became wage earners on their own lands.

  • Disease, suicide and poverty followed.


Disadvantaged Majorities & Their Revenge 1

  • Overview

  • Indigenous majorities are often hit as hard as indigenous minorities under the culture of capitalism.

  • One such example were black South Africans under apartheid.

  • In her book, World on fire, Amy Chua discusses where the disadvantaged compromise the majority of the population, but where a minority controls most of the wealth.

  • While the market can concentrate wealth into the hands of market-dominant minorities, democracy empowers the impoverished majority.

  • One example of a minority controlling the wealth is the Chinese in SE Asia. Others are whiles in S. Africa, the Lebanese in W. Africa, the Ibo in Nigeria, Indians in E. Africa, Croats in the former Yugoslavia and Jews in post-communist Russia.

  • Often, political leaders pit the majority against the minorities; scape-goating is a powerful tool of colonial governments, for instance.

  • This can cause a backlash against democracy.

  • It can result in genocides.

  • Chau gives the example of her aunt’s murder as one where these conflicts surface.

  • The Chinese minority drives much of the market in the Philippines and her ethnic Chinese aunt was murdered by a Filipino man.

  • The police, in their report, labeled it as revenge.

  • All over SE Asia (and in the Solomon Islands) ethnic Chinese compromise a market-dominant minority.


Disadvantaged Majorities & Their Revenge 2

  • Leveling crowds

  • In this section, Robbins talks about the power of the mob.

  • Spurred on by poverty, hunger and conflict over capitalism and democracy, crowds can explode

  • Robbins discusses several examples on p. 266.

  • When Stanley J. Tambiah looked at the characteristics of the crowds he found:

  • The crowd was a cross-section of the society.

  • Even if the riot started over a specific incident, the actions soon became organized and purposive.

  • Always involved an ethnic group seeing itself as economically disadvantaged as compared to the ethnic group being attacked.

  • There was an element of performance, routine and ritual that gained public acceptance and gave the participants a degree of prestige and legitimacy.

  • Genocide as an externality of the market

  • Overview

  • We expand on Tambiah’s ideas in this section.

  • It is not just a conflict between two ethnic groups that sparks riots.

  • An economic dislocation of one sort or another always precedes the riots.

  • There is a tyranny in the market.

  • The extent to which all goods and necessities are available only through the market, each person’s life must be directed to making money.

  • They who refuse to, or who cannot, make money are delegated to poverty.

  • The next two examples, Yugoslavia, and Rwanda illustrate the effects of the market on genocide.


Disadvantaged Majorities & Their Revenge 3

  • Ethnic cleansing” in Yugoslavia

  • History

  • Yugoslavia was formed after WWI by combining 6 republics: Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Macedonia.

  • A socialist economy developed, partly modeled on the Soviet Union.

  • After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, the nation-state of Yugoslavia began to dissolve.

  • The results of the dissolution

  • Slovenia seceded first (it was the wealthiest).

  • Croatia also seceded at this time, but as it had a large Serbian minority and an important coastline, the Yugoslav National Army stopped them.

  • In Bosnia-Herzegovina, 43% of the population was Muslim and 35% orthodox Serb, 18% Roman Catholic, became a major area of disagreement.

  • Even as 95% of the people in Bosnia-Herzegovina voted to secede they were stalled.

  • Serbs wanted to secede to make Bosnia-Herzegovina a part of the Greater Serbia boycotted the vote.

  • The Yugoslav army teamed with a local Bosnian Serb forces to create a Bosnia Serb army of 80,000 soldiers.

  • The war

  • The Bosnian Serb forces began to round up Muslims and Croat intellectuals, musicians and professionals, either beating them or executing them.

  • The Serbs also prohibited non-Serbs from hunting or fishing, selling real estate, gathering into groups, or exchanging homes.

  • Then it escalated into war atrocities as described on pp. 268-269.


Disadvantaged Majorities & Their Revenge 4

  • Ethnic cleansing” in Yugoslavia (continued)

  • The reforms that had set this up (Tambiah hypothesis).

  • Economic differences between Slovenia and Croatia in the north and in Serbia.

  • The Serbians were a majority, but poor.

  • Explanations, distanced from the economics were proposed, including that the war is the result of an aggressive nationalism in the Balkans.

  • Neoliberal reforms (privatization, monetary revaluation, bank reforms, and so on) were initiated in Yugoslavia in 1980.

  • A result was a reduction in economic growth.

  • Firms went bankrupt.

  • The IMF and the World Bank came in 1990 and ever more companies went bankrupt.

  • There was a shedding of surplus workers right through the civil war.

  • Summary

  • Some of the economic inequalities were due to collective violence.

  • But ethnic differences and economic inequalities were not enough.

  • The problem emerges when economic differences that exist are exaggerated out of proportion by the expansion of neoliberal policies.


Disadvantaged Majorities & Their Revenge 5

  • Genocide in Rwanda

  • Robbins suggests that Rwanda is a powerful example of state killing.

  • Colonial history and global economic integration combined to produce genocide.

  • Pre-contact History

  • Belgium colonized Rwanda.

  • The Twa-speaking people first inhabited the area as foragers and dominated the area until about 1,000 C.E.

  • Then the Hutu settled in the area to farm and their clan-based monarchies began to dominate the Twa.

  • Then, around the 16th century, Tutsi cattle-ranchers migrated in from the Horn of Africa.

  • They set of their own monarchy.

  • The Hutu became ‘clients’ and the Tutsi their patrons.

  • The physical differences between the groups were minor and it was hard to separate them.

  • In fact, Tutsi became to mean the wealthy lineages, and Hutu became those without wealth or who were not tied to the wealthy.

  • Intermarriage was not uncommon and many Hutu could attain power and influence.

  • Post-contact History

  • The Germans annexed the area and applied racist categories on the local populations. They believed the lighter-skinned, taller Tutsi were the natural leaders.

  • The Hutu were innately servants.

  • So, the Germans increased the Tutsi’s influence.


Disadvantaged Majorities & Their Revenge 6

  • Genocide in Rwanda

  • Post-contact History

  • After WWI, Belgium took over Rwanda and continued to expand the split between the groups

  • They brought the Tutsi into the colonial system as middle management.

  • Changed economy from subsistence to cash economy based on coffee, and other crops.

  • That coffee grows on land not otherwise useful becomes an important component of the genocide.

  • In the 1950s the Tutsi begin to campaign for independence.

  • In 1959 conflict broke out between the Tutsi and the Hutu.

  • Thinking the Hutu would be easier to control, the Belgians helped the Hutu gain control.

  • Independence was gained in 1962, after a death toll between 10,000 to 100,000 and with 120,000 to 500,000 Tutsis fleeing the country.

  • In 1973, a military coop d’état brought Juvenal Habyarimana to power and he promoted national unity.

  • Some of his projects were successful.

  • Others not and he ruled harshly and as a dictator.

  • The genocide

  • In 1989, coffee prices fell.

  • This drop in price sent small-farm owners into poverty and into famine.

  • Coffee, tin and foreign aid had been propping up the elite ruler.

  • Now coffee and tin resourced dried up.

  • Only foreign aid was available, so it became more important.

  • In 1990, the IMF imposed a restructuring that collapsed the education and health systems.


Disadvantaged Majorities & Their Revenge 7

  • Genocide in Rwanda (continued)

  • The genocide (continued)

  • As the economy was collapsing, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a group of Tutsi refugees from Uganda, invaded the country to overthrow the Habyarimana regime.

  • In an effort to prop up the regime, the French provided the government with arms

  • A 50,000 person march for democracy was crushed by the government.

  • Habyarimana introduced death squads within the military: the Interhamwe – those who attack together and the Impuzamugambi (those with a single purpose).

  • Both groups were trained with an anti-Tutsi indoctrination.

  • It was these groups that would control much of the killing that followed.

  • The human rights groups were trying to warn of the existence of these death squads and that Habyarimana had set up a radio station to broadcast anti-Tutsi propaganda.

  • Civil war broke out and killing spread from both sides.

  • Post-genocide

  • The victims were blamed by the journalists and Western governments.

  • The RPF took over the government, but the killing continued.

  • Refugee camps were set up and 80,000 Hutu died of cholera; only in 1996 were refugees returning to Rwanda.

  • A total of 800,000 Tutsis were killed.

  • Documentaries:

  • Watch the Ghosts of Rwanda here (be warned, it is hard to watch).

  • Watch The reckoning (warning: also hard to watch).

  • Watch this film about genocides and why they occur: Worse than war (warning: also hard to watch




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