The death of John Allen Chau at the hands of a protected Sentinelese tribe in India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands has brought into the spotlight the issue of civilization. He tried to preach Christianity to a people who have been totally cut off from the outside world for thousands of years and who live a primitive life. The tribe is out of bounds legally – Indian law prohibits contact with it or even going near the island. Chau tried to approach the tribesmen as though they were like other humans, who can communicate via a known language – and as though they might somehow understand the concept of Christianity.
Social media and other online debate on his effort has been raging over the past few weeks – one view being that Indian officials should allow people to contact the tribe to “civilize” them and make them aware of what benefits civilization and the modern world have to offer.A.K. Singh, a former lieutenant general in Andaman and Nicobar, says one school of thought says we should make available “the fruits of development” and “a more modern way of living” to the tribespeople. This argument is specious because modern civilization may not benefit the tribe, who live in complete harmony with nature and their environment with no signs of existential trouble and environmental degradation.
Modern humans, on the other hand, are civilized on surface. But they are more prone to destroying their environment and indulge in violence toward each other. The primitive aboriginals are better off in several ways as far as the environment and their interrelationships are concerned.
The dictionary defines civilization as “an advanced state of human society, in which a high level of culture, science, industry, and government has been reached.”
Advanced society is not necessarily better than primitive tribes
• Advanced humans are greedy and destructive: They have little concern for the environment – they settle for convenience and profits at the cost of the earth. Scientists have been warning us that destruction of biodiversity and ecological loss and climate change caused by environmental damage could spell disaster sooner than we think.
Use of plastic globally and palm cultivation in Asian forests are killing animals or ruining their habitats.
On the other hand, the Sentinelese are healthy and content and live in harmony with their environment. Survival International, an NGO that lobbies for tribes’ survival, “Many officials were beginning to question the wisdom of attempting to contact a people who were healthy and content and who had thrived on their own for up to 55,000 years.”
• Advanced humans are violent. Think about the wars in modern history or the current armed conflicts between nations or the cruelty of terrorists. These acts of violence kill thousands of people apart from crime that happens on the road, in the street, or inside buildings – for instance, the rage of a mob blinded by passion and irrationality.
Anthropologists say the Sentinelese tribe isn’t savage. The islanders fiercely guard their territory with bows and arrows, but give enough warning before launching an all-out attack. Chau was also given warning. And there is nothing to indicate the tribespeople indulge in violence among each other. By all appearances, they live peacefully. According to anthropologist Dr. Vishvajit Pandya, it would be a “wrong assumption and a stereotype” to think the Sentinelese are violent or cruel.
It would be a wrong assumption to think the Sentinelese need the intervention of modern, advanced humans. Just let them be.