Indigenous People

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 21 September 2016

Indigenous People

The term indigenous has caused controversy across the world as some people see it an offensive name to describe people, the name is not the only thing that has caused a controversy also the people that this name applies to. Hence there have been many definitions of this word to try and make it more euphemism. Kuper (2003) agrees that this term causes a lot of debate. He argues that however most people prefer the word indigenous because it’s more euphemism than the term native and primitive, he also points out the fact that the name of the people that are seen as indigenous have also changed.

We now have for example, Saami for Lapp, Inuit for Eskimo and San for Bushman” (Kuper, 2003:389). According to Kenrick and Lewis (2004) there are four principles that should be considered when defining indigenous people which are; “priority in time, with respect to the occupation and use of a specific territory, the voluntary perpetuation of cultural distinctiveness, self identification as well as recognition by other groups and state authorities , as a distinct collectivity and an experience of subjugation, marginalization, dispossession, exclusion or discrimination” (Kenrick and Lewis, 2004:5) .

Indigenous people across the world are constantly fighting for recognition, they want what is rightfully theirs that is their land they also want their culture back as they are forced to adapt to the culture of the majority. This essay will look at debates around the efforts that they have made to try and bring back their culture. “Indigenous people are constrained to present their culture in ways that reinforce the dominant society’s worldview” (Kenrick and Lewis, 2004:9).

As stated above indigenous people are fighting for recognition as they are treated unfair by their governments, as a result of colonization they had to stop practicing their rituals, hunt and gather food because they were forced to adopt to the western way of doing things. Even Kuper (2003) agrees to this when He states that indigenous people “demand recognition for alternative ways if understanding the world, but ironically enough they do so in the idiom of western culture theory” (Kuper, 2003:395).

An example would the Bushman of Botswana and the Abatwa people of KwaZulu-Natal. The San of Botswana were forced to move from where they were staying because according to their government they were living there illegally. They were placed in the Central Kalahari game reserve where they were not even allowed to hunt for food because it is against the law (Kuper 2003). Even “Environmentalists complained that that residents were keeping donkeys that interfered with the game and that they were engaged in poaching” (Kuper, 2003:393).

They found themselves restricted by rules as to what they should and should not do; they were restricted by the law when they had to practice their rituals and culture. It became worse when the “Botswana court refused to order the government to continue to provide services to people living in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve” (Kuper, 2003: 392). They found themselves working which was something that they were not used to do. It can be argued that this change must have affected them emotionally as one now had work to support their own family.

Bushman rely on each other on almost everything as sharing is one of their characteristics; they share things like Tobacco, meat and plant food that was gathered. The Botswana government was unfair and inconsiderate in a way; what happens to households where there is an elderly person who can’t look for work? Or households where people have been trying to look for work and have no luck? Because people now used money to satisfy their needs and wants they no longer depended on natural resources that they used to share, sharing what you’ve worked hard for is hard.

The Bushman of KwaZulu-Natal usually known as Abatwa were facing similar problem to that of the San of Botswana. They were also restricted by law when they had to perform their rituals, especially from the provincial heritage organization called Amafa. According to Francis (2010) “Amafa has acknowledged that the Abatwa people are the descendents of the painters, but limits their access to their heritage. By dictating who could enter and when, Amafa impinged on the community and what it felt was their rights” (Francis, 2010: 48).

As stated above the Abatwa people are not in control of their heritage there are people who make decisions for them regarding what is rightfully theirs. Francis (2010) states that there is a fence around the paintings and rocks that belong to the Abatwa people. He states the Abatwa people “feel ostracized from their heritage and dread future dealings with Amafa, already their general access to the rock art sites is restricted and as such they rarely visit the main caves. ” (Francis, 2010: 48).

The Amafa use the Abatwa heritage to attract tourists and make money, they also use them for educational tours where students studying archeology come and study those rocks (Francis, 2010) That doesn’t end there Francis (2010) also point out that their rituals are a public thing instead of private as they are people guarding them when they perform them, they are also ordered not to touch these rocks. There are also a limited number of people that must attend rituals. Despite of all the challenges that these people face they still did not given up on trying to assert their indigenous identities.

An example would be again of the Abatwa people of KwaZulu-Natal. According to Francis (2010) these people are Zulu speakers who decided to “reassert a San/Bushmen ethnicity in a region where all San are supposedly extinct or fully assimilated” (Francis, 2010: 41). They live in the Drakensberg Mountains and have done so much to re-event their culture, they do that with help of archaeologists, anthropologists, they read and also their memories by remembering the pieces of their past (Francis, 2010).

Since they cannot remember all the ceremonies that their ancestors use to do they came up with new ones, these ceremonies follow up “from other cultural practices and beliefs and oral memories that can be traced back six generations to a point when the ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers” (Francis, 2010:42). The most practiced ceremony that they made up is called the eland ceremony which is to honor the crossing of the dead into afterlife where they live with their ancestors (Francis, 2010).

According to Francis (2010) the eland ceremony “has a central figure in San cosmology long before the advent of colonialism” (Francis, 2010:45). This ceremony shows the struggle that the Abatwa are going through in trying to reclaim their identity, as some of them have left their culture and followed the dominant ethnic group (Francis, 2010). These ceremonies that they perform are a “defiant refusal to give what is gone” (Francis, 2010:49). The Abatwa do so much to claim their identity back, they feel that regardless of what they lost the little they have is worth keeping (Francis, 2010).

One of the major challenges that indigenous people have face is the fact that people expect them to behave like their fore fathers. According to Besten (2011) there has been a debate going on about how indigenous people have changed. In nowadays many of them do not practice their rituals, they do not wear their traditional clothing and they do not speak the languages of their ancestors. Besten (2011) argues that there has been a lot a stereotyping of the indigenous people, many scholars still expect them to do exactly what their ancestors were doing.

He states that “Popular image suggest definite and unchanging markers of Khoe-Sanness, such a being short in stature, having yellow-brown skin, using click languages, hunting, gathering or herding and wearing clothing made from animal skins” (Besten, 2011:176). It can be argued that the fact that indigenous people have changed and adapted to western ways of doing things might have an impact on them not taken serious in trying to reassert their identities. As stated in the first part of this essay indigenous people were forced to lose their identities by adapting to the western ways of thing and according to Besten (2011) that has backfired.

Besten (2011) states that indigenous people “are not likely to be taken seriously if they do not conform to, or approximate their primordialist and essentialist expectations” (Besten, 2011:179). According to Besten (2011) indigenous people who are lacking the qualities mentioned above are called fake. The above statements suggest that if indigenous people want to be recognized and taken seriously by people they must go back to their ancient ways of doing thing which is not easy as their lands and identities were taken and there are laws now that restrict them from doing their rituals.

Indigenous people do not need to conform to certain labels that are put on them in order to be recognized. The media and scholars have played a major role in this stereotyping of indigenous people. “A primordalist and essential discourse about the Khoe-San has manifested itself at various sites, notably in museums, the media and school history books” (Besten, 2011: 177). In almost all museums around the world San people are projected as “Quintessential human beings of nature” (Besten, 2011: 182). They are shown with grass house, wearing animal skins or half naked children with big tummies.

Besten (2011) argues that westerners longing to see Bushman led to exploitation of these people. He made an example of the Khomani people who lived in Kagga Kama how they were stereotypically presented in the media (Besten, 2011). To help market the Kagga Kama Khomani were asked to demonstrate a “vulnerable , natural hunter-gathering way of life with the help of reserve owners” (Besten, 2011:186). These people were asked to fake who they were so that they can attract tourists, they were asked to wear their traditional clothing and grass houses were built to live in (Besten, 2011).

These people used the San culture for their own benefit, they portrayed them the exact same way that people expect them to be. In an effort to claim their identities and to be recognized, indigenous people have managed to take the stereotyping to their advantage. They have decided to embrace those stereotypical characteristics. In every conference or public gathering that they were invited to they would wear they traditional clothes and speak their languages. According to Besten (2011) in a conference on Oudtshoorn a Bushman who spoke !

Xun language opened and closed the ceremony with prayed He pointed the fact that this prayer not only “reflected the religiosity of conferee, but were also significant acts of cultural, linguistic and psychological affirmation” (Besten, 2011:184). Also in a conference that was held in South Africa Cultural and History Museum a Khoe-Khoe chief was wearing his eye-catching traditional clothing which was a veil and headband bearing leopard design (Besten, 2011) , telling people to take pride in their culture and origin.

When Sara Baartman the Khoe-San woman whose body was displayed in a museum in France’s remain came to be buried in South Africa the Neo-inqua chief performed traditional Khoe-San ritual which included burning aloes and sprinkling water all over her coffin (Besten, 2011). The above scenarios illustrate the efforts that they have tried in claiming back their identity and how they have taken these stereotypical characteristics that people have about them and embraced them. In conclusion indigenous people have done a lot to try and reclaim their identity but it seem like their efforts are falling on deaf ears.

They are not taken seriously by their government and they are expected to fit in a stereotype in order to be recognized. Their efforts are exploited and misused by their governments. They are used as tourist attraction by some people their governments are fully aware of that but they are not doing anything about it. When they want to perform their rituals they are not given privacy that they deserve not only privacy but they cannot even access their heritage. But they still do not give up, each and every day the struggle continues.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 21 September 2016

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