Stone-aged and primitive are what you call people when you want their land

Last week, Baroness Lady Tonge of Kew brought up the bushmen of the Kalahari in the British House of Lords:

She suggested they were trying to “stay in the stone age”, described their technology as “primitive” and accused them of “holding the government of Botswana to ransom” by resisting eviction from their ancestral lands. How did she know? In 2002 she had spent half a day as part of a parliamentary delegation visiting one of the resettlement camps into which the bushmen have been forced. Her guides were officials in the Botswanan government.

Interestingly, the trip was funded by a company which owns “the rights to mine diamonds in the bushmen’s land in the Kalahari”!

The linked Guardian article by George Monbiot points out some other examples of people being called “stone-aged” when their land looked attractive.

John F Kennedy approved the annexation of West Papua by the Indonesian government with the words: “Those Papuans of yours are some seven hundred thousand and living in the stone age.” Stone-aged and primitive are what you call people when you want their land.

The animal theme comes up quite often too. “How can you have a stone-age creature continue to exist in the age of computers?” asked the man who is now Botswana’s president, Festus Mogae. “If the bushmen want to survive, they must change, otherwise, like the dodo, they will perish.” The minister for local government, Margaret Nasha, was more specific. “You know the issue of Basarwa [the bushmen]?” she asked in 2002. “Sometimes I equate it to the elephants. We once had the same problem when we wanted to cull the elephants and people said no.”

See earlier.

3 thoughts on “Stone-aged and primitive are what you call people when you want their land

  1. Speaking as someone who works in a place where people have very successfully gone ‘from the stone age to the jet age’ in one lifetime, I’ll never understand why 1) people think this is impossible 2) why they continue to believe that these are ‘people without history’ — particularly in the case of the Bushmen! It looks like Google books as a copy of Robert Gordon’s “The Bushman Myth” online for free perusal:

    You don’t have to agree with everything that Gordon writes in order to see how these sorts of prejudices are are — even when unmotivated by cupidity — incredibly poor history and social science.

  2. So what are you saying, Rex? Are you suggesting that southern African Bushmen are like Hawaiians, and need to go “from the stone age to the jet age ‘in one lifetime’?” Personally I don’t think it’s impossible, I just think it’s not necessarily desirable.

    The Botswana government sees the Baroa/Basarwa as obstacles, just as the American government saw the native Indian as an obstacle. Botswana is a rich country, there’s a lot of money to be made. Who do you think is gonna look out for the little kinky-haired man who doesn’t care for money?

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