Wurundjeri people at the signing of Batman's Treaty, 1835.

The Rights of Primitive Peoples


IN the contemporary climate of opinion, all peoples of the world are claiming the right of nationhood, with all its perquisites-sovereignty, economic self-sufficiency and membership in the United Nations. Within this situation, the condition of "primitive peoples"-peoples who only recently lived a self-sufficient life without script or any relationship to script- occupies a peculiar place.

The world may be roughly divided into: modernized nations, some of which are also new nations, in the sense that they were colonized from Europe within the last five hundred years and are dependent upon a European tradition-for instance, the United States, Australia, Argentina; old, traditional or exotic peoples with traditions antedating those of the high cultures of Europe, currently struggling with problems of absorbing new economic and political forms-China, India, Burma, Thailand; and new nations within which the earlier forms of cultural life, while often elaborate and highly organized, lacked script and depended upon an oral tradition-for example, many of the countries of Africa south of the Sudan, Tonga, Samoa, etc., where political power has now passed or is passing to the immediate descendants of peoples who were substantially primitive until they came in contact with modern European or Asian cultures.

Furthermore, within many of the countries dominated by a European or Asian tradition there are minorities which have preserved in their present-day forms of life considerable traces of the unsatisfactory compromise relationships worked out when they encountered the high cultures of Europe, Asia or Africa and were pushed into undesirable land, isolated in special occupations, made dependent and deteriorated wards of the state or were converted into an uneasy peonage, peasantry or proletarian labor force. The word loosely applied to such groups is "tribe," a catchall term for ethnic groups that preserve an internal organization which is both somewhat independent of and indifferent to the superordinate forms of organized state government with which they come in contact.[i] They continue to rely on a spoken form of their

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