The Tribe and the Indigenous Community : A Short Note on Political Language


The word ‘tribe’ is now considered politically incorrect and even derogatory. Indigenous culture is now the more sensible term. I think it is clear what we’re talking about so let’s move on. In a previous post I wrote a small paragraph on the romance of the indigenous. This is an extension of those ideas.

What I want to do hear is examine the nomenclature – indigenous. The connotation is quite clear. The word is meant to signify the natural, the original and, importantly, pure – that is uncorrupted. An indigenous culture inhabits a particular territory and is seen as having the first and most often sole right to that place. The place belongs to that culture and the culture to that place. Both cannot exist without the other. The culture is born in and around the uniqueness of its habitat. The uniqueness of the habitat is nurtured and protected by that culture. Therefore, the relation between the culture and its territory is seen as natural or organic. Any attempt, consequently, to alienate one from the other, specifically by altering the relationship between the people and their home-space, will lead to a degeneration of both. Finally, and very importantly, the culture is seen as wholly contained and complete within itself. there is very little need for the culture to interact with the outside, especially with the vast ocean of capitalist consumerism that surrounds it, except for what the culture needs to maintain itself.

In the above paragraph I have not only defined what we mean by indigenous culture, especially in critical academia, but also brought out its difference with the previously used term – tribal culture. The key difference, for me, is that while a tribal culture connotes a pre-modern state of existence an indigenous culture is inherently anti-modern. Both would be significantly altered, if not destroyed, by modernizing change. This change, however, might not be such a bad thing for a tribal culture. It might even be encouraged. For an indigenous culture modernizing change is seen is annihilatory and corrupting.

We must be clear that this shift of terminology does not come from within these cultures but from the way we, the outsiders, view them. And, in fact, it is due to the fact that we see these cultures from a new light because of our different perspective on modernity. Modernity is no longer synonymous with progress. The march of man, we now realize, leaves in its wake a trail destruction. The indigenous culture was once seen as a relic of the past. Now, it offers us a prospective path to salvage our future. If only we could live in harmony with nature like they do!

From savage to saviour has been a rather interesting journey. An encouraging change in perspective.

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