The FOREST AND INDIANS
In a late text written at dawn of his life, Robert Jaulin shared with us his ultimate feelings on the difficult and painful relationship between the Indian world and the Western one. Priceless testimony loaded with emotion, we published his never finished manuscript. Jean-Patrick Costa had the heart to dig into Robert Jaulin writing to deliver its essence, giving us the opportunity to pay a striking tribute to one of the most talented anthropologist of this century.
« Indians Ban, among which I stayed many years have protected their territories for centuries with bows and arrows. They generally had to choose between warfare or invasion and then disappearing. Though they wanted peace and were ready to leave their isolation. From 1963 and 1970, I did all what I could to keep them away from a world unable to show respect to their culture and identity. I was not acting that way to encapsulate a society but to keep it open to life despite surrounding threats. Indian wanted to believe in peace: close to half of them died (around one thousand) of disease imported by an Old World they never approached, those who survived have seen 2/3 of their territory confiscated.
30 years have gone by and Robert Jaulin still thinks about those fragile moments when two world fundamentally incompatible meet. “Would it be at last possible to settle in a plural universe respectful of different cultures where none of the partners would be authorized to exterminate the other nor to live entrenched?” On the eve of the next millennium, with a booming globalization such question remains. It underlines the shape of a future still to come in which peace is obtained through diversity, understood as a unity in its difference. Last legacy of Robert Jaulin, the Indian conception of the world made of alliance with the universe contains may be the key to deliver ourselves from these powerful oppositions.
For centuries the relation of the Western World with the Indian one was lawless. Only a few rules reminded to settlers and Indians, the authority of the central power and the necessity of abiding to an administration, an ideology convinced of its own rights. These rules far from enabling a fair relationship settlers/Indians, set a loose legal frame to a determined exploitation of the new found lands. If Indians welcomed the Other in their land and thus defining themselves as allies, the vision of the invaders was the opposite. They were setting foot in a hostile environment, conceived as a mess of natural resources to be exploited one by one. It was nevertheless a unity settlers were facing, unity between men and nature. Opting for a relation of possession and not of alliance, the conquest tended to erase this unity, to reduce a universe, a culture to an object to be possessed and transformed to better serve. Such an attitude was leading to a colonial relationship, even more the forest seemed bottom less.
Despite the self perceived legitimacy of its doing the authority could not nevertheless keep denying the Earth, forest, men without denying itself meaning the universe where such wealth was extracted. Indians could not be beheaded unless it was to set an example, what was needed was to subdue them. It was quickly understood that the massive assassination of the first period, once terror prevailed, was not cost effective. Depending on the areas, one could afford to outrun progressively or entirely the capital represented by the Indian population, or make it grow to better exploit it. Either way destruction prevailed. And this destruction was justified by the possibility to go deeper into the forest, considering environmental preservation could only make sense to Indians (not to settlers), whom were not to be considered.