I just found an article by author David Maybury-Lewis, where he
described the confrontation with people who are different, "others".
Meeting the other is combined with lots of prejudices in patriarchal
societies. Patriarchal people are not open for something new.
(See differences between matriarchal and patriarchal views.)
Here is a part of Maybury-Lewis' adventure: I wanted to study a
central Brazilian tribe that had a dual organization that was not
breaking down. The only sure way to do that was to study one that had
very little contact with the outside world. But such a people might not
and they probably would speak only their own
language, so it was not clear how one could talk to them. I
thought I could solve these problems by studying the Xavante. They
had moved away from the settlers in the nineteenth century by burying
themselves in the heart of Brazil and were in the process of being
recontacted. They were also thought to have been one people together
with the Xerente, who had stayed behind when the Xavante disappeared
into central Brazil.
The Xerente had therefore had long contact with Brazilians and
some of them were sure to speak Portuguese. My wife and I planned to
work among the Xerente, speak to them in Portuguese, and learn their
language. Then we would go off to work among the Xavante and hope that
they could understand us when we spoke to them in Xerente. All of this
took a while. By the time we had studied anthropology, lived with the
Xerente, learned their language, and received some funds to go and work
among the Xavante, we already had a baby son. We decided to take him
with us into central Brazil, but with some misgivings.
After all, the Xavante had a fierce reputation and many of
their communities had not yet made peace with the Brazilians. We were
not sure what sort of a welcome we would get when we sought them out. I
had nightmares in which I was surrounded by strange Indians to whom I
could not talk. And the Xavante were not just any Indians.
They had acquired a reputation in Brazil for being especially
ferocious. Settlers avoided their territory. The Brazilian Indian
service had sent an expedition to make peaceful contact with them, but
the Xavante had killed the expeditionaries. Only their Xerente
interpreters escaped to bring back the news. The Indian service had
persisted and eventually established posts in Xavante country. We hoped
that the Brazilian air force would fly us to one of these. After that,
it would be up to us.
My mentor, Herbert Baldus, defended the Xavante. He wrote a
controversial article in a major Sao Paulo newspaper entitled "Are the
Xavante Bellicose?," arguing that they were not particularly fierce.
All they were doing was defending themselves, and they had good reason
to fear the arrival of outsiders.
We agreed with him, but it was one thing to agree and quite another
to test our opinions by dropping in on the Xavante to see whether they
could easily distinguish between friendly outsiders and unfriendly
ones. Besides, the Xavante were shrouded in myth. Everybody was agreed
that they were tall and tireless. Some said they slept like bats in the
trees as they wandered over their lands. Others insisted that their
feet were fixed backward onto their legs, which is why people had such
difficulty following their trail.
We tried to keep our perspective. Bound by the romantic tradition of
the West, we could not just visit the Xavante. We had to organize an
"expedition" to them. The Brazilian authorities insisted that we should
constitute ourselves an expedition, which could be duly authorized to
proceed by the National Council for the Fiscalization of Artistic and
Scientific Expeditions into the Interior.
We felt a little incongruous - graduate students with minimal funds,
no equipment to speak of, and a small son now approaching his first
birthday - to be offering ourselves as an Expedition to be Fiscalized,
but that was the only way it could be done. Our one special item of
equipment was an army surplus radio transmitter and receiver, which we
hoped to use to call for someone to come and get us out if our son got
sick. It was impounded by the Brazilian customs and delayed us for
months while we tried to get it out. We finally liberated it a day or
two before we were to leave for the interior. It never worked properly
in the field.
It was in 1958 that we found ourselves, at long last, in a Brazilian
air force Beech craft, flying to the airstrip that supplied the Indian
post named Pimentel Barbosa, on the Rio das Mortes. The names were not
auspicious: the post was named after the leader of the expedition whose
members had been killed by the Xavante, and it was located on the River
of Deaths. We were appropriately apprehensive, but our nervousness gave
way to excitement as the plane flew over the great horseshoe village
and we saw our first Xavante come running out of their beehive-shaped
We landed at the airstrip and the crew flung our baggage, rather
hurriedly we thought, out onto the rank grass. They took off hastily as
the Xavante came loping toward us.
It was the young men who arrived
first, running easily like athletes, with their long hair streaming
behind them. They were well built and stark naked, except for small
white cylinders that they wore in their earlobes and tiny palm-leaf
sheaths that they wore on their penises.
We waited for them, feeling an immense loneliness. Our gear, which
now lay in a litter around our ankles, looked pathetically inadequate
to sustain us for a year in the wilderness. Even our two tin cabin
trunks, containing presents for the Xavante, gathered with care and
(what was for us) great expense, now seemed puny and insufficient.
The Xavante gathered around us, eyeing our belongings with interest
and pointing out the Xerente sling, woven from palm fiber, in which my
wife was carrying our son. Hesitantly, spoke to them in Xerente.
"Let's go," I said. "Let's pick this stuff up and take it to your village."
To my relief and amazement they burst out laughing. They had never
expected anyone who literally dropped in on them from the sky to speak
to them in an intelligible language. My Xerente was understandable, but
it sounded so funny to their ears that they doubled up with laughter
every time I opened my mouth.
This was disconcerting but, I thought, it was better to be welcomed as a figure of fun than not to be welcomed at all.
We were among the Xavante at last. After all those years of anxious
preparation we had reached the edge of our world. We were finally
living among the "other."
Anthropology has always claimed that we learn a great deal about
ourselves from studying the "other." But, in order to differentiate
between self and other, there has to be some common background against
which difference is conceived.
For anthropologists, this common background is the notion of
humanity itself. In learning about the other, about many "others," our
conception of humanity is enlarged and enriched. We gain insight into
the plasticity of human culture. We begin to see that our way of life
is determined not so much by nature but by culture and history.
Only then can we see that our way of life is just one of many possible ones.
Only then can we pass informed judgment on our own way of doing
things. In studying the other, we begin to learn how to separate fact
from fantasy, not only about ourselves and others but also about
David Maybury-Lewis, Millenium
Indigenous Peoples, Ethnic Groups, and the State