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Posted on 29/6/13

Western societies understand man as an entity separated from nature. In industrial societies everything that composes the world is seen as “things” in the service of men, who can use them when they want and how they want, provided they have built the necessary instruments for doing so. This way of thinking led to destruction and devastation everywhere, trough the exploitation of nature by man, and also of man by man. This world view built and was built by modern western science that tamed nature trough its classification in categories. From there, much of modern science work through the “know to conquer.”

The destruction in its turn generated a reaction, an almost desperate attempt to try to protect what’s left. The problem is that much of this reaction was based on a shallow critique of the issue, continuing to see the world from the separation of human and natural, between nature and culture, understanding all men as enemies of nature. The guiding principle of these ‘environmentalist’ attitudes is based on the idea of an ‘untouched nature’, that the human being is to change the entire biosphere, being necessary to preserve pieces of the ‘natural world’ in its ‘original condition’. According to this view the best way to ensure the preservation of the forests would be the express prohibition of any human activity in these areas.

However, the populations who do not understand the culture as separate from nature, see the forests, seas, rivers, etc, as lived spaces, transformed and lived by them, without necessarily causing harm to ecosystems. On the contrary, human action, depending on the social and cultural organization, can maintain the integrity of ecosystems or even help to increase biodiversity. The traditional knowledge, nowadays is seen as an alternative to the prevailing technological solutions in the debate on sustainable development. The recognition of the importance of indigenous knowledge is one of the most important ways of establishing a dialogue with the people involved in conservation practices.


In addition to the separation between man and nature, in the Tupinambá case, just like many other traditional populations, Western knowledge has operated another separation: the man in relation to their own culture. This separation of man from their culture is the basis of the history that says that the Tupinambá people were extinct, or the claim that there are, in fact, indigenous in Olivença region but that these Indians were ‘acculturated’.

On the basis of these statements is the scientific discourse that claims for itself greater legitimacy than that of all other speeches. In this context, all other ways of seeing the world are placed as mere beliefs or opinions. Following this set of thinking, both the State and the scientific and public community, consider the anthropologists as the ones who are really able to translate the ‘truth’ about indigenous peoples. However, in our journey trough the Tupinambá terriory we experienced a radical critique by the Indians themselves to this position, reiterating in various ways the importance of self recognition. No one doubts that the anthropological discourse was necessary for the ethnic recognition process and the demarcation of the Tupinambá territory. But it is necessary to emphasize the criticism by the Tupinambá people that the academic discourse does not have any more legitimacy than all the others. As also is important to emphasize that this criticism has been incorporated by a particular part of anthropology, which has at its base an anthropological turning anchored in the indigenous movements.


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