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Anthropologist Wade Davis

Full Interview with the National Geographic Explorer in Residence

Listen to John Burnett's Conversation with Anthropologist Wade Davis

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Wade Davis, right, and John Burnett in West Africa. Josh Rogosin, NPR News hide caption

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Josh Rogosin, NPR News

Wade Davis takes photos at an Egungun ceremony. Josh Rogosin, NPR News hide caption

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Josh Rogosin, NPR News

John Burnett:

What have been your impressions of our first week of exploring voodoo here?

Wade Davis: I think the thing that's most interesting over here is the extent to which you see the fundamental principles of African worship consistently invoked throughout a range of ethnic groups, a range of geographic areas, and yet in each of those areas it becomes manifested in slightly different ways. Sometimes it's hard when you're right in the midst of the phantasmagoric elements of ritual to discern the deeper patterns as to what is actually going on, and one of the things that is so clearly going on in all African worship that we've witnessed is this marvelous dialogue between the living and the dead. And just as the dead are born from the living, so the living can invoke the dead to return to earth to momentarily displace the spirit of the living.

There is a notion that this is a religion that is not talked about, but that is lived. That the people move in and out of their spirit realm with an ease and impunity, with the notion that there is this complex hierarchy of gods beneath the umbrella of the greater god, but with those gods the people have an ongoing constant dialogue, so that you must serve the gods, you must sacrifice to the gods. But by the same token, you can demand that the gods give something to you in exchange for your devotion. Rain, good crops, good health, well being for your family, whatever, but the key thing is you have this constant active dialogue, and that's why I think Africans say that white people or "Europeans go to church and speak about God, we dance in the temple and become God."

JB: Start with that point and explore a little bit because that's one of the things that I think that we saw about worshipping God or becoming God.

WD: When people witness spirit possession they tend to have two reactions. When we first came here, I mentioned to you our first night, when we were listening to that marvelous music, I suddenly said I understood the roots of racism -- which are jealousy -- and I was only being slightly tongue in cheek. I think when you come to West Africa, one of the things that you witness is this extraordinary living dynamic, happening faith, which is not just a set of religious beliefs but encompasses the entire being of the individual, it becomes not just a voodoo faith, but a voodoo society. And within that world, you find completeness.

And when you see spirit possession for the first time coming from a world, which, as Saul Bellows said, "Science has made a house cleaning of belief," I think your tendency is to have two reactions as an outsider. One is fear -- which finds its outlet in disbelief and cynicism and dismissive attitudes towards the faith, dismissing it to the realm of phantasmagoric -- or awe for those of us who don't know our gods in this direct way. And it's amazing to see because it's not just a moment of psychological or even spiritual transformation, it really is according to the belief the moment when the divine comes into the realm of the living. It is that moment of spiritual epiphany for which all voodoo ritual at some level is dedicated.

And of course, we've noticed in particular that the spirit possession does not occur in privacy, it's not like the revelation of a Jesuit priest or perhaps the journey to the Bodhisattva realm of the Tibetan monk, it is quintessentially a public display. And it's a display of joy, even as it's a display of incredible profundity, as the people around the person possessed take care of them. You notice at Epe Ekpe, when a woman would become possessed, her sisters would come to her, hold her gently, make sure that her valued jewels were taken off her so they wouldn't become broken, there was this amazing sense of the community enveloping the spirit, "to protect the horse from the rider," as you might say, as some Africans might say, but also just to almost envelope the person in the embrace of community. And so that the actual spirit event, the moment of epiphany becomes not just an individual act, but in some sense a prayer for the well being of the entire community.

JB: Getting back to what you said about this moving in and out of this realm and the spirit realm, I told you an anecdote that Godfried and I observed when this woman had her twin doll there, and we gave her some money for letting us shoot pictures in her shop and she said, you know, "Look what they have offered us," and she had a little conversation with her twin doll, the spirit of her dead twin sister. Is this what you're talking about, just sort of always dwelling in those two realms simultaneously?

WD: I think Joseph Campbell was once asked to name a place where people really live their religious beliefs as opposed to just spoke about them, and he didn't hesitate to say Equatorial West Africa. And what he was talking about is the idea that this is an absolutely living dynamic, a multi-dimensional faith…you walk through this dimension of reality, you walk through towns, you walk through resorts, or you walk through the streets of the national capital, but then you begin to peel away the layers of the onion. You realize that everybody in this nation is infused with this intuition of the spirit and whether someone has chosen to manifest that fundamental impulse through the celebration of the celestial church or even though devotion at a traditional catholic church. If you scrape the surface of even those Christian traditions, you will find the pulse and rhythm of ancient Africa.

If you look for example at the celestial church, which we visited when we first arrived, yes, it looks superficially to be a quintessentially Christian service, a church, a cross etc. But scrape down a little and suddenly remember that this was born out of the vision of an individual who is Yoruba, and that the idea of a direct relationship between a distant God is not there. Gods hover above them, but in place of the realm of the spirits, which you would find in more traditional African voodoo worship, you have a realm of the angels. But it's essentially the same dynamic, and the key strength of that church was the ability of the people to reach directly into that realm of the angels. What for? To be healed. It was fundamentally a healing cult. And that of course is quintessentially what happens in the voodoo tradition. Because, remember that in our society, in our tradition, we create a firm line not only between the secular and sacred, but between priest and physician. With the priest being delegated affairs of the soul, with the physician being responsible for the well being of the body. But critically in West Africa as in so many parts of the world, priests and physicians are one, for the well being of the spirit, not only is related to the well being of the body, it often determines the well being of the body. So the celestial Christian church is very much coming out of that African tradition, and of course the rhythms of the choir, the fact that people go into trance, these are all of course African as opposed to Christian ideas. So peel away the surface and you will still find the throb and the heart of voodoo even in that liturgical moment.

JB: But what do we do with the age-old tendency to ignore the earnest attempts of a narrated script, of a cut line to explain these events in ways that allow humans to touch each other, but for people to see only the bizarreness of the image -- because there were so many at the Epe Ekpe festival -- and for them to relegate this to the "other," the freakish.

WD: One of the things that we try to do in anthropology is try to make sense out of sensation, and, of course, when you first see voodoo you can be overwhelmed by the elements of phantasmagoric, but if you break down the iconography, the sacred stone for example at the Epe Ekpe, how is that really different than Moses revealing the Ten Commandments on a slate of stone? You look at the iconographic elements, you go into a church -- we have the same thing, we have an altar, we have sacred items, we assume that those items have a certain amount of power and authority.

What about even more exotic elements like the fact that there is sorcery in the voodoo world view? Well, to ask why there's sorcery in voodoo is to ask why there's evil in the universe. And when Lord Krishna was asked that by a disciple, he said, "To thicken the plot." In other words all religions have this notion of light and darkness. Again in Christianity we have it in the image of the fallen archangel who has become the devil and the Christ child, who is the Son of God. So the effort of Christianity is not to ignore evil in the universe, but to make it manifest such that good can always triumph over evil.

That fundamentally is what is going on in African worship in the sense of the role that sorcery does play. The whole point is to make manifest the darkness so that the goodness can overwhelm it, such that all can be maintained in equilibrium. That's why for example you'll often hear, "Isn't this a religion of fear?" and of course that's what the Christian missionaries will say, "Isn't it a religion of fear?" People are always worried about what's going to happen to them. It creates a psychosis of fear that we in our evangelical gestures break, isn't that wonderful? No. It's not an issue of a circle of fear, it's really an issue of causality…

JB: The fact that there is fear -- of what another adept might want (to do evil to me) or if I don't do exactly what the fetish priest says to do, then I am afraid of this happening to my family, or of the social pressures of sending all your children to become initiates, and if I am out of money, I can't afford to do it -- there is fear in this.

WD: But there was fear in Christianity until we actually made a housecleaning of belief and basically became a secular world. I mean, the fear of going to hell, the fear of the wrath of the priest, the fear of committing sin, the very notion of primordial original sin, the idea that we had in the Christian tradition, not only that you could encounter sin in your life, but that you were by definition born sinful. If this was not an ideology of fear, I don't know what is. You see the people, the fact that they worry or can be concerned if, for example, some person sins, it's only because they understand the overall matrix within which they live. It's not as if the need to propitiate the gods to respect the priests is somehow some kind of tyranny. On the contrary, it's a system of order and control and of religious revelation that allows the people to have comfort and understanding in their lives. It's critical that the issue we keep focusing on -- "Is it fear that drives it?" -- and I maintain that it's not fear as much as an inherent intuition about the absolute meaning and power of causality.

The other day when we were speaking, I mentioned, "If a tree fell on us right now while we were doing this interview, what caused it?" Well, we would say in a scientific sense, well, the roots were rotten. No, no, why right now when John and Wade sat down to do an interview -- we in the West would say, "Well it's coincidence, chance." But these are ultimately meaningless euphemisms that don't really answer the question, but critically allow us in the scientific worldview to avoid having to answer that question, because ultimately there is no answer except a mystical or a magical answer. That gives us the "out," but at the same time, as it frees us from the confines of absolute causality, it also leads us adrift in a world without total explanation.

In African societies, that "no-event" has a life of its own, and the falling of that tree would have been of course by some magical thing. Now that can be seen as a tyranny. It can also be seen as a comfort, a blanket of comfort that insulates the individual, gives meaning to the individual. We forget the profound moment when we liberated the individual from the constraints of community, but in sociological terms, when that event happened somewhere in the Renaissance or Enlightenment, that was the sociological equivalent of splitting the atom, it was incredibly profound, not for better or for worse, but a shift in human affairs.

We forget that for most of the world, the community remains more important than the individual because without the strength of the community, the individual would perish. So take that notion of community involvement, expand it to a metaphysical or a religious level, and you begin to see that this realm of constant causality, this realm in which no event has a life of its own, can conceivably create a web of belief from which the believer cannot escape. At the same time it gives a power of comfort to a people who, like all people throughout all histories, are fundamentally attempting to make sense out of sensation, find order in an unknowable universe, come to terms with the consequences of being a conscious species, which is that we're aware of our mortality, we're aware of the fact that we will, at one point, we will cease to exist.

JB: In voodoo there are no coincidences?

WD: There is no such thing as a coincidence in voodoo. No event has a life of its own.

JB: So the idea to try to bring order out of disorder -- is there a link between poverty and voodoo?

WD: That's a terrific question because everybody assumes there is. You know, you go to a place like Haiti, or you come to West Africa and you look around you and you say, "Oh my god, look at these conditions of life," where there's material scarcity and poor sanitation…

JB: You're looking at Favelos, and you go into the Barrios in Havana, Santeria…

WD: Wherever…But that's like blaming the church for every social pathology in North America. You know the reason these countries are impoverished is not because of their religious values or their religious beliefs. It's because of historical issues of colonization, exploitation, the fact that they've been ruled by a spate of abominable rulers. Take a country like Togo where we've seen…

JB: You're heading off in a direction I didn't mean to go with that question, and that is not that it somehow is causing it, but somehow that it is a more potent salve for poverty because there is so little control over the life of someone who has so few resources. Voodoo helps explain their lives.

WD: I would say quite the opposite, that kind of analysis to me is quintessentially Western analysis along the lines of Marx's statement that "Religion is the opiate of the masses." I think that's just one of the most glib statements in history. Religion exists because people have inherent spiritual needs, inherent psychological needs to find order in their universe. I think if we look at these ceremonies we've been privileged to witness, I did not see the slightest evidence that the religious set of values in any way created a tyranny over the minds or souls of the individuals. What we saw was community celebration, we saw laughter and humor in a religion that has no problem fusing entertainment and theatre, with devotion and the spirit. You know, to say that voodoo somehow holds people down, which is the implication of a question like that, I think, is really to do a disservice to the people and to the wonder of the religion. I don't think voodoo holds people down in any way whatsoever. I think it elevates their spirit and allows them, in the midst of what are demonstrably difficult material conditions, to aspire to the divine. I don't think it's wrong to say that there are literally different forms of poverty. This is not to dismiss the challenges of those who are hungry or those who are without homes or those who are adrift in a sea of misery that we find in much of the Third World, but at the same time, there is within the communities that we've seen, I have not seen evidence of that kind of wretchedness. On the contrary, I've seen communities which seem to be remarkably cohesive, in which the family seems to be remarkably together and that the religious beliefs are just moments of great celebration. I just haven't seen anything that suggests to me that the religion is in anyway responsible or even reflective of the actual level of material well being.

And my god, you look in the west, you come back home, to America, a nation so inordinately wealthy that the 30 million African Americans have more wealth than the 30 million Canadians, a nation where we spend more money maintaining our lawns than the federal state of India collects in tax revenue, a nation whose military budget is larger than the economy of Australia. Part of our problem is we have trouble understanding a world where most people don't have that kind of money. At the same time, if you flip the anthropological lens toward our society, not in a judgmental way, but in simply a critical way, you suddenly see that on the level of social structure or social conditions, we're not the paragon of humanity's potential. My God, we say we revere marriage, yet half our marriages end in divorce. We say that we revere our elders, but only six percent of Americans are prepared to have elders live in the home of children. We say we love those children, but we are prepared to accept an obscene slogan like "24/7" implying total dedication to workplace at the expense of family. Then we wonder why the average American father spends so little time with his children, or why the American youth by the age of 18 has spent two full years passively watching television. This isn't to be gratuitously negative about America, it's simply to suggest that we certainly aren't the paragon of humanity's potential.

And over here in Togo, there's material scarcity, of course there are difficult conditions of sanitation, education -- whatever your criteria are of development -- but at the same time, voodoo hasn't created those conditions. On the contrary, in spite of those conditions voodoo and the strength of the tradition allows the community to nevertheless, in the midst of those conditions, flourish.

JB: And to put voodoo in the context of the rest of African traditional religion… African traditional religion thrives in a multitude of forms all over the continent. Is there something different about voodoo, aside from the connotation the name carries in our culture? Is there something that's more intense or with more public expression with more gods that you see and shrines beside the houses? It's really struck me, whether driving down the highway or walking down the street, the shrines are everywhere, the paintings of the gods are everywhere. It's quite remarkable how prevalent the religion is.

WD: When people in America think of voodoo, they're thinking of New Orleans, of Haiti, and of course in both places, the voodoo as it became manifested -- distilled from any number of traditions that came over during the tragic Diaspora -- and so the voodoo of the Americas in some sense reflects this collage of an entire continent. By contrast, by coming to Togo and Benin, we've come to the very heart of one of the particularly strong fountains of voodoo. And so for example, and this is what I think has most impressed me about the trip, we've seen the way that the traditional religion -- and let's remember that voodoo has multiple meanings, the word itself means just "spirit" or "God" in the language of the people of Dahomey, it's also been synonymous with the word "spirits." So when we talk about the voodoo religion, it's a little confusing. You almost think, whatever this West African religious worldview is, it's more like the religion of the ancestors of the spirits. We've seen how it becomes manifested in so many ways.

You know, we've listened to a living king, the king of the Guen people describe what it means in a political, social way. We've seen the palace of the kings of Dahomey and seen how they manipulated the beliefs in order to maintain their authority even as they were participating so actively in the slave trade. We've seen specific cults or practices like the Epe Ekpe which we can trace in a kind of amazing way back 350 years to Akra where people moved through geography to reestablish themselves here in the place of the sacred forest, in the place of the stone of the sacred forest. And so what we've seen is evidence of what ethnography suggests, which is that this is a nation, a continent of multitudes, a continent of many different ethnicities, of many different hierarchical relationships between kingdoms and tribal societies, between village and the nation, but fusing it all together is this fundamental philosophical set of beliefs about the relationship between the living and dead, and this ability of the dead to have a dialogue with the living, and vice versa.

It's a little bit like traveling around Europe, and of course you'd see as you travel around Europe at the turn of say, the Twentieth century, you'd see all kinds of diverse cultural manifestations. You'd see poverty in the streets of Naples as you saw wealth in the streets of Rome. But over the entire continent lay this remarkable dream of redemption, which were the ideals of the Christian church. I think it's somewhat like that. And by coming not to Haiti where you'd see this kind of curious and wondrous amalgam that's come out over the last 300 years since the beginning of the slave trade. Here you see the actual primordial roots and the vitality of the original origins of these beliefs…and I think that's tremendously exciting.

JB: But as far as a more intense display or prevalence of the religion here in this part of equatorial West Africa compared to the rest of the continent, do you have any feel for that?

WD: I think that you would find the fundamental ideas of what we have witnessed being pretty prevalent all along equatorial West Africa, certainly south, well into the Congo and beyond. If you go to a place like Haiti, for example, you can see clearly evidence of traditions that come all the way from Senegal all the way through the Yoruba of Nigeria, all the way through the Congo, literally right around to Mozambique. But there's no question that we are at one of the major fountains of voodoo faith. The Fon people of Dahomey, the Ewe people, the gods that we have been in the presence of, are some of the more primordial gods of what one thinks of as the voodoo pantheon.

JB: To kind of bring this into your project, the Ethnosphere, why should we care about the practice of voodoo in this place on this planet?

WD: Well, one of the things that we're trying to do with the Ethnosphere project is not to simply lament the loss of cultures, the loss of languages, but to the contrary -- celebrate the wonder of what we are by trying to suggest to people that culture is not just decoration, but it's the reflection of the essence of a people, and to suggest that various practices that they may not understand and which they may dismiss, once understood are revealed in all of their glory. We came to West Africa because the voodoo faith more than any other has been dismissed in an almost explicitly racist way as a "black magic" cult, a dip into the realm of the phantasmagoric, but when you come to West Africa, and you see the wonder and beauty of the practice, you see the contribution of the well being to the faith of the community at large, you realize that this is hardly a black magic cult. On the contrary, it is what it is, a remarkable religious worldview that deserves to be recognized and acknowledged, and certainly respected.

It's interesting, if you ask yourself to name the religions of the world, there is always one continent left out. Sub-Saharan Africa, the tacit assumption being that black people of this part of the world have no religious beliefs. Well, of course, by ethnographic definition they did. And so our idea with the Ethnosphere is how do you fundamentally change the way we think about culture, because that is the essential thing we must do if we're going to address this challenge of the fact that within a single generation, we're losing by definition, by any scientific definition, half of humanity's legacy. You know when you recognize that half of the languages, half of the six thousand languages spoken in the year that you and I were born are now no longer being whispered into the ears of children, and when you recognize that a language isn't just a body of vocabulary or a set of grammatical rules -- it's a flash of the human spirit, it's a vehicle through which the soul of each particular culture comes in the material world. Every language is like an old growth forest of the mind, a watershed, a thought, an ecosystem of spiritual and social and intellectual possibilities. To recognize that half of that legacy has been lost in a generation which nobody disputes is to suggest to my mind that this is really the hidden backdrop of our age. So how do we try to at least bear witness to this process?

Well as storytellers in the National Geographic, we feel that the best contribution we can make is by bringing our readership, viewers, to those points of wonder in this web of cultural life that envelops the planet. Where the beliefs and practices are so inherently dazzling and wondrous that just to know about them is hopefully to come away not only impressed but with a new appreciation for what you might call the key revelation of anthropology -- which is the idea that the world in which you were born does not exist in some absolute sense, but is just one model of reality, the consequence of one particular set of choices that your lineage made, however successfully, generations ago. So what we're trying to do is pull back the curtains to reveal the beauty and wonder of voodoo so that next time someone in your audience begins to judge something, of which they know nothing, they may hesitate.

One of the key misconceptions about anthropology is that we anthropologists embrace an extreme relativism, that every cultural trait can be rationalized -- as if you could somehow rationalize the heinous acts of the Nazis because they had an ethnicity, language, ideology. It's so important to recognize that no serious anthropologist calls for the elimination of judgment. What anthropology calls for is the suspension of judgment, so the ethical judgments we're obliged to make can be informed ones. No anthropologist would fail to condemn the heinous acts of the Nazis. But the anthropological lens becomes more usefully brought into focus when it's turned towards some cultural practice -- in this case, voodoo -- which has been unjustly pilloried for so long by those who simply know nothing about it.

JB: Should anthropologists bring judgment to bear on the practice of bo? On the active practice by a few fetish priests or by the botonos to cast evil on certain people, which does not exist in many of the worlds religions?

WD: Again I go back to this idea -- is there sorcery and witchcraft in the African tradition? Yes, of course there is. But in some sense what is going on is that the overall worldview is giving form to evil. To ask why …there's sorcery and voodoo is to ask why there's evil in the universe. It exists. Darkness exists. And many religions in the world try to deal with that by giving form to it so that it can be overwhelmed, dominated by the good. Indeed we do that in Christianity. And so I think there's a chasm between an anthropologist quite properly judging in the most critical way possible the heinous acts of atrocities that occur throughout the world in virtually all cultures. Whether it is genocide, or ethnocide. But the actual existence and manifestation of sorcery in West Africa I actually think is part of the overall structure whereby the worldview brings together the dichotomy of existence, the dark and the light and brings it together in union.

JB: To get back to how this fits into the Ethnosphere project, the good news is that this is thriving here. And also as Godfried told us yesterday over lunch, there are like 80 languages, if you go from the South of Benin to the North, every 5 miles you can have a different language, and he knows many of them also, it's phenomenal.

WD: I think this is why to come to Africa is not only to come home for all the human race, it's also to come to a place where you only can leave exhilarated and inspired. And as I mentioned, we at Geographic with the Ethnosphere project, we're not interested in just doing a lament for the end of the world, for the end of culture, we want to celebrate in the most intense way possible the wonder of who we are. So we came here to West Africa precisely because this is a place where despite a 100 years of colonization, the movements in evangelization of the Christian church, these ancient traditions are not only alive, they're vibrant, they're strong. This is not a place like Australia that has lost 120 languages in the last century or Brazil that's lost an equal number. Here's a place that despite all the complexities of the modern era, the ancient still flows, and I find that one of the most exhilarating things about being here.

We have within a mere week witnessed a dozen extraordinary ceremonies that by definition reach back to some kind of mystical past. To know that they're alive, to see how vibrant they are, to see how enmeshed in the community, to see the looks on the faces of the children when the masks would come at them -- and these masks were not metaphors, these were not symbols of something -- these masks were living spirit beings in the eyes of those children. And more than any other image, I will carry away from West Africa the look on the face of some of the children particularly at the Egun ceremonies, when suddenly the spirits were all over the streets of Cove and suddenly the sound and the music of the faith and the chants and the laughter – it was just everywhere, and for that incredible day, the spirits walked the Earth.

JB: It's amazing to me also because so many people have talked about the objects that they have, whether it is the sacred stone, or well, the sacred drum, which was a sort of subchapter that we went into. The sacred stone – more than 300 years old. Time here, it's like the ocean, and who's to say that 300 years from now they won't still be doing it?

WD: One hopes that they will, and the word sacred has been very much overused in the West, but what we always have to remember when you come to West Africa, when you hear the word sacred, the sacred stone, the sacred grove, the sacred drum, it really is sacred -- this is not metaphor. And I as an anthropologist and writer who has traveled in many parts of the world, and in so many parts of the world you keep cutting in the edge of modernity, you keep filtering the present for vestiges of the past. Sometimes you feel like you're doing salvage archaeology in the soul of humanity, and to come to West Africa, and have it all here, all in tact and in front of us, all celebrated in all of its glory, is to not only inspire, it's to kind of fill yourself with a kind of a redemptive sense of hope.

JB: And the thing that strikes me is that I haven't traveled as much as you, but I have a lot in Latin America and whether you go to Tarahumar in the North, throughout the continent, you find groups of people, you get a sense, you can just feel the powers that are closing in from all sides, that are coming in from television, that are coming in from logging roads, that are coming in from people who can't make a living in the forest anymore, and they leave, and they bring crime and drugs into it. You can see the society coming unraveled before your eyes and all that goes with it, and I didn't get a sense of that here.

WD: I think you're absolutely right. You travel in Latin America or South East Asia, I mean in the Amazon, I've been with tribal societies that were first contacted in the 1950s and ‘60s, in the ‘70s I was able to work with shamen who by definition evoked the primordial past, and I've gone back a decade later and found the shaman dead from some introduced disease, his descendants working as prostitutes in an oil camp. In the forests of South East Asia, I've lived with the Penan who for generations were nomadic people of that rainforest and with in a single generation have been reduced to servitude in the logging camps.

This brings up an important point, that we tend to view these cultures as quaint and colorful, as if destined to fade away as if by some natural laws, as if they're failed attempts at being us, failed attempts at being modern. Nothing could be further from the truth. Change is no threat to the integrity of the ethnosphere, all cultures through all time have constantly been adapting to new possibilities for life. Technology is no threat to the integrity of culture. You know, the Lakota Sioux did not stop being Sioux when they gave up the bow and arrow in favor of the rifle. Any more than an American when he gave up the horse and buggy in favor of the automobile, any more than, than a person at the Epe Ekpe festival gave up being African because he uses a cell phone! It is not change or technology that threatens the integrity of culture -- It is always power. It is always the crude face of domination. Wherever you go in the world, these aren't cultures destined to fade away, these are active, dynamic peoples being driven out of existence by identifiable forces -- whether it's egregious forestry practices or the diseases that sweep in, in the wake of the gold rush.

But that observation is not a pessimistic one, it's actually quite optimistic because it suggests that if people indeed are the agents of cultural destruction, we can be the facilitators of cultural survival, and that's the challenge that lies before us. Not to sequester these people like some kind of zoological specimen, not to create a rainforest park of the mind, but to find a way that all of us can find a way to live in a multicultural world of pluralism, where all peoples can benefit from the genius of human technology, the genius of the human mind, without that engagement having to imply the eradication of who they are as a people.

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