Forced into the Modern World

An Amazonian tribe’s insight into our Western world

I recently watched this video, in which an Amazonian tribe reacts to the western world—in the cultural interpretation, of course, not directional. If you’re uninformed and need a definition for that, please consult other sources ( For the record, I cannot find more background on this video after a brief search. The Sciences of Religion and Myth on FB claims it is a Xingu tribe named Kamayura. Regardless of how much is based in current tribal philosophy, the subject matter and speakers strike a chord with me, and hopefully also with everyone else who gives their attention. One always has the best insight and criticism into their life and work from a third party observer, which is exactly what these men are sharing.

More times than not, I consider what it’d be like to live completely at harmony with the Earth as in these tribal communities. From my understanding, there would certainly be some tradeoffs. You wouldn’t have a phone or the internet through which you’d communicate to my friends and family, but instead you’d walk over to their home. You wouldn’t expend gas and contribute drastically to atmospheric change, because you could work in a community farming plot or forage and hunt from the forest. Your possessions wouldn’t add to the world’s harvest of plastic—however, there’s a greater risk for infection, any number of easily treatable diseases, and who knows how many microbes that aren’t filtered/purified out of the water. One works for survival, personal fulfillment, and to be at harmony with the Earth and Her cycles, not for money to pay taxes that, while they do fund roads and schools and libraries, also get caught up in criminal activity, embezzlement, and political corruption. I would be free to show respect to all manner of flora and fauna, yet be hindered by gender roles and expectations of marriage and child-rearing. And the list goes on.

The end result may seem ideal to some, or at least, more ideal than our current culture. Here is a people, whose rush lined houses, scant clothing, and sun bronzed skin utterly define what most people consider primitive. They, who face untold dangers of disease and natural predators on a daily basis, possess a philosophy that singing in front of a crowd is bravery worth respecting. The modern world has us so trained to think that artists are there only to make money, that many forget art is expression. It’s sharing one’s interpretations, hopes, dreams, vision with complete strangers, who mighty make fun of them, criticize without any real knowledge of the message, write them off as another money hungry abstract painter. There are even those who want that attention, no matter how nasty or derogatory, because it gets them in the lime light for fifteen minutes, and so dedicate their “hard work” to spectacular failure. Centuries in the future, what is a crucial medium through which we understand long extinct cultures and civilizations? Art. What story will you leave behind? What song of yours will the Kamayura listen to?

Now granted, I’m not standing behind all their views, because 1) I don’t know them, and 2) they might have a lot of misguided rituals that inappropriately treat conditions like infection or menstruation. That research would take me more than the 10 minute Google search that people count as “research” nowadays. In the same breath, the human race is overpopulating and stripping nutrients from the Earth to the point that colonization of other planets will be necessary, which is the end result of why we went to the moon. Studies show properly guided tree trimming, controlled burns, and researched irrigation can improve the health of the land that we’ve damaged, even though the French gardens exhibited there is probably over doing it. Loss of life in the course of self-defense is sad yet sometimes necessary, but the degree to which we have advanced our methods of killing each other is disgusting.

The commentary on care of the elderly hits me just as hard as disgracing the Earth, because truly, both are part of my (and everyone’s) ancestry. To quote another friend of mine, the reason we have so many health issues is because we’re not dying like we should. When non-Kamayura humans get to the age where our minds depreciate, caretakers and medical professionals are usually the only ones with training enough to handle those conditions. I watched my mother take care of my grandfather as best she could, but both of us had to work and couldn’t be at home all the time to watch him. When you have a diabetic with memory loss and borderline dementia, they’re a bit of a danger to themselves. I know eventually when I approach the elderly category and try remain self-sufficient, I hope I have the grace to admit I’m older and accept help. The best among each generation that has to make that decision for their parents agrees with the tribe—it’s hurtful to watch, and even worse to experience, especially when you feel like you’re being forced. If we weren’t expected to earn money to pay taxes, if mom didn’t need to work in order to provide for her own retirement, if demands of modern society weren’t around, then maybe the care we show to our elders would be different. Do I think there are solutions, though? I certainly do.

How does one determine which set of attributes is “better?” Would a shorter, fuller lifespan be worth more to one’s consciousness than a longer one where the evils are thinly veiled and swept under the rug? My choice thus far is obvious, but I always have this debate in the back of my mind whenever media like this comes to my attention. In the end, I personally determine that giving up scouts, my family, and Dagorhir is too great a price for such a life. With that in mind, though, I try to make as small of an impact on the ecosystem as possible. How can you do that, you say? Walk or bike instead of drive. Purchase used instead of new—furniture, electronics, clothing (I’ll leave underwear to the reader’s discretion), rescued pets instead of from a breeder—in order to create fewer things and get more use out of said things already out there. Fix what can be broken before scrapping or recycling. Refuse bags for takeout items that you can carry—including from restaurants—or reuse bags for larger shopping trips. Buy as few prepackaged items as possible, and make your own foods. Keep silverware in your glove box so you don’t have to use plastic ware when eating out. In essence, reevaluate the impact of every single action you usually take for granted, from typing on a keyboard to putting on socks. Act as if it has detrimental impact on the Earth.

Because it does.

What’s most important to take from all of this is the type of culture the Kamayura perpetuate. Their young and middle aged men echo the same sentiments of their elders, without signs of sarcasm or insincerity. It’s not that they simply have a generation that will keep their ideals sacred, but rather one that feels their importance, and will instill that in their children and grandchildren—misguided and valid information alike. Viewers look through their computer and TV screens into the confident eyes of tribesmen half a world away, and hear them describe a culture whose survival they will fight for, against all comers now and 100 years from now. Their tears, in the black paint that runs down their cheeks, ask us: what will you fight for?