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A Western fantasy [Oct. 24th, 2010|02:14 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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One of the things that confuses and annoys me is people in rich countries romanticizing the tribal life. If you're well off, the least you can do is be thankful for books and roads and medicine and all the conveniences of modern life, and respectful of the hardships faced by people who live simply, rather than pretending that they inhabit in some kind of rustic paradise and you're the one that needs a break. I think it comes from the tendency to idolize nature, which is something I vehemently oppose as well.

Consider this text from Three Cups of Tea, in turn quoting Fosco Maraini:
The Balti really seem to have a flair for enjoying life, old bodies of men sitting in the sun smoking their picturesque pipes, those not so old working at primitive looms in the shade of mulberry trees with that sureness of touch that comes with a lifetime's experience, and two boys, sitting by themselves, removing their lice with tender and meticulous care.

We breathed an air of utter satisfaction, of eternal peace. All this gives rise to a question. Isn't it better to live in ignorance of everything—asphalt and macadam, vehicles, telephones, television—to live in bliss without knowing it?
Fortunately, the author doesn't share the opinion expressed in the quotation (unsurprisingly, I should add, given the topic of the book and the role of the author therein, which is humanitarian aid in Pakistan). The very next paragraph reads:
Thirty-five years later, the Balti still lived with the same lack of modern conveniences, but even after a few days in the village, Mortensen began to see that Korphe was far from the prelapsarian paradise of Western fantasy. In every home, at least one family member suffered from goiters or cataracts. The children, whose ginger hair he had admired, owed their coloring to a form of malnutrition called kwashiorkor. And he learned from his talks with Twaha, after the nurmadhar's son returned from evening prayer at the village mosque, that the nearest doctor was a week's walk away in Skardu, and one out of every three Korphe children died before reaching their first birthday.
I'm still near the beginning of this book, but I think it's going to be a good read.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: paper_crystals
2010-10-24 09:35 pm (UTC)
From my understanding the view of the noble savage is a product of western colonial settlement. Probably also partially a product of serfdom as well. (In western culture there is a tradition of people who have a lot of money pretending to be poor. A modern example being Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I can't speak to not-Western cultures although I am pretty sure this didn't go on in China. But that is because social status holds slightly different significance than it does in say the United States. Although just because I haven't heard of it doesn't mean it didn't happen.)

The idea of romanticizing the people who are not as privileged or do not have very good access to natural resources has a really interesting history in Western culture.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-10-24 11:23 pm (UTC)
Oh, that's interesting. I'd assumed it was a very modern notion, but apparently it goes back centuries and has a storied history. I clearly have a lot of reading to do. (But I was vaguely aware that the view stemmed from colonial guilt, which the article seems to confirm.) Thanks!
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[User Picture]From: paper_crystals
2010-10-24 11:28 pm (UTC)
No problem.
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[User Picture]From: cubby_t_bear
2010-10-25 01:44 am (UTC)
I don't know ... I think the conception of the noble savage more or less predated large scale colonialism. It has a pedigree at least as far back as Rousseau and all that speculation about the state of nature, which is very 18th century.

I'm not very familiar with the Christian thinkers of the middle ages, but there must've been discussion about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden as a perfect place, which might make this trope older than dirt :)
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[User Picture]From: paper_crystals
2010-10-25 02:35 am (UTC)
I think you are probably right about the noble savage concept pre-dating wide spread colonialism. There are all those stories of explorers coming back and telling fantastic stories about the savages from far away places etc.

I remember the Garden of Eden being a perfect place because of the one on one with god, not because of its rural character. People don't like to think that they are similar to "savages." That is why people are constantly trying to justify that they are better than them.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2010-10-25 02:59 am (UTC)
While it is certainly true that the "fall of man" and the mythification of the past is a concept as old as religion, or at least Christianity, the question I'm more interested in is when it became fashionable to view contemporary tribals as inhabiting a state of primitive bliss. I think the popular embrace of this latter notion — scholarly speculation aside — has a strong parallel with the rejection of and guilt over colonialism.
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