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Hollywood places tribal lives under threat

A new film may have dangerous consequences for small hunters, writes Mari Marcel Thekaekara.

‘Kill the hunter-gatherers’, the last surviving people in Africa who still subsist through foraging and hunting, appears to be a new fad doing the rounds. Put like that it sounds exaggerated, but examine the jargon, the sophisticated plea to be ‘firm’ with poachers. The call to crack down on African tribespeople is allegedly being made via a new Hollywood film, warns Survival International.

Last Days of Ivory, says Survival, is ‘being used to bolster the move towards a more violent conservation effort that criminalizes tribal peoples for subsistence hunting’.

In reality this is a call to crack down, to shoot the small hunters.

The real culprits are the big-time poachers who arrive in helicopters armed with extremely sophisticated weapons that can decimate a herd of elephants with machine-gun rapidity. They escape with the sawed-off, gouged-out elephant tusks, leaving back a tragic, unbearable, gory mess. And they do so with total impunity.

Attempts to crack down on these well-connected gangs, Africa’s ivory mafia, have been abysmal failures, largely because the poachers are backed by powerful vested interests and can pay their way past the highest authorities in the country. Corruption, as everyone knows, continues unabated. There is little political will to punish the perpetrators. So everyone involved can go laughing all the way to the bank.

But as always, the politicians and police who walk the corridors of power have to make the right noises and jail a few people to prove they are fighting for Africa’s elephants and honour. What better way to do this than to incarcerate, torture and punish? All, of course, to show that they are on the job, setting armed anti-poaching squads to shoot the poorest hunter-gathering tribespeople. There will be an impressive body count to prove they mean business. To prove governments in and around game reserves are working effectively to counter the ivory trade.

Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, has asked for the film to be withdrawn. Its director, Stephen Corry, says:

‘The militarization of conservation is gaining momentum, and it is increasingly fuelling the brutal persecution of hunter-gathering tribes.

Tribespeople who hunt to feed their families face arrest and beatings, torture and death at the hands of heavily armed park guards. Survival points out that the premise of the film, that Somalian Islamist group Al-Shabaab is funded by the ivory mafia, is flawed.

And recent investigations by respected think tank the Royal United Services Institute, and the UN and Interpol, ‘have found that this [premise] is “largely wrong” and “highly unreliable”.’

The mafia behind the elephant massacres should definitely be hunted down. But predictably, it is the poor and powerless who will pay the price for high-level corruption and complicity. All over the world, whether in Africa, Australia, Asia or South and North America, tribespeople are being ruthlessly evicted, victimized and decimated to enable different kinds of mafia.

In the name of development, they are pushed out of their ancestral lands and forests to make way for tourism, mining, conservation, or to save tigers and elephants.

People working closely with indigenous people know without doubt that these are the only people who have consistently lived in harmony with nature, forests and animals. Theirs is the only civilization that treated the earth with respect, though our history books teach children to glorify ancient Egypt, Greece and other empires which grew rich on the blood, sweat and tears of slaves and exploitation.

We continue to sneer at ‘primitive’ people, though they are the only ones who practise a sustainable lifestyle while we hold conferences in Paris and New York to talk about saving the planet, something they have done since time began. All over the world, small groups of activists fight for tribal rights.

Our thanks to Survival International for warning us about this new attack on vulnerable people. And please do alert all concerned people to the ongoing battle for tribal rights.

Published under a content share agreement with New Internationalist

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