chapter  4
19 Pages

Indigenous peoples’ rights: Anthropology and the right to culture


Well after a string of political commentaries on the vanishing worlds of American Indians in nineteenth-century North America, Claude Levi-Strauss mourned the displacement of peoples situated on even more remote frontiers. Returning to Europe with only ‘a handful of ashes’ (Levi-Strauss 1973: 48), Tristes Tropiques is his contemplative farewell to the Indians in Brazil. The peoples of the savannahs, river estuaries and plains of South America found the lands that sustained them and the worlds they created from these lands were the edges of another world. Their efforts to protect themselves, as elsewhere in the Americas, rarely halted the intrusions. Even within the last 40 years, Amazonian Indians such as the Yanomamö have been uprooted from their lands by Brazilian government policies, including military actions, and their numbers have been substantially diminished by the exported diseases of miners, loggers and farmers (see Chagnon 1992; Rabben 1998; Survival International 2000).