detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Saturday, June 28, 2003


: . Savage Inequality:

From James Hamilton-Paterson's review of Invented Eden: The Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday by Robin Hemley:
    From the outset the Tasaday's true identity had been obscured by private motives, wishful thinking and journalistic labels...They are not a stone-age tribe, but a remnant of a much larger group which at some point during the past centuries (not millennia) fled deeper into the forest to escape a measles epidemic that is still part of their folklore. In this way they became isolated long enough for their language to have acquired mutations and for them to have forgotten their farming habits and reverted to hunter-gathering. When they hit the headlines in 1971, the Tasaday were what Lévi-Strauss calls "pseudo-archaics": true marginals, even slightly feral...
    The Philippines is full of forgotten citizens, marginalised by isolation and poverty, landlessness and illiteracy, by loggers and prospectors, armed thugs and corrupt local officialdom. [The Tasaday] are not exemplars of unspoiled innocence but victims of circumstance: baffled by duplicity, still poor though mostly clad in rags rather than leaves, and now in possession of tobacco and alcohol...
    Right from the beginning everybody wanted something from these people who owned nothing. Manda wanted limelight; the Marcoses wanted virtue; anthropologists wanted a career exclusive; media folk wanted dewy pictures and stories of prelapsarian free love; depressed townies wanted a frisson of primitive transcendence; missionaries wanted them for Jesus; and a rabble of loggers, prospectors, Islamic and Christian guerrillas wanted their land...
    Language was always a problem with the Tasaday. They never could comprehend the incessant barrage of questions, neither its meaning nor purpose. They were not great talkers, there in their patch of jungle loud with silence and insect noises. There was little to discuss among themselves but their monumental lack; but they must not have been conscious of this until Manda's helicopter descended and their lives were suddenly overwhelmed by devouring 20th-century voices.
    Joseph Roth got this right in his essay Passengers with Heavy Loads, watching refugees arrive in Berlin from remote rural areas after the first world war: "And what do the forest people talk about? They speak in half sentences and stunted sounds. They keep silent not from wisdom but from poverty."

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