Getting To Know The Amazon Then And Now

I don't suppose many of my readers have ever seen the Amazon River and have no interest in disputes between the tribal Indians and outsiders who are invading their territory to drill for oil, raise cattle, export their lumber, and mine for gold.

No one will ever see the Amazon as I saw it. In the early 1950s when I cleared a couple of acres of jungle and built a house for my family the Peruvian rainforest was virtually untouched by civilization. Our Jivaro neighbors were as primitive as they had ever been in the thousands of years of their existence.

Documentaries about the rain forest that I watch on TV distress me greatly. They glamorize the indigenous culture as though it were something sacred that should be left untouched by civilization.

The aboriginals do not need White Man's intervention. They don't need education. They don't need westernized clothes. They don't need doctors and hospitals. They don't need a different religion. The message is, stay out of the rainforest. Leave those people alone.

Who is to blame for the inevitable changes that are drastically affecting the primitive cultures around the world? I lived with those Indians for several years as a missionary and I get a lot of the blame for changing their way of life.

I saw first hand how their society functioned. The pain, the suffering and the needless death saddened my heart. What I saw was not the happy people you see depicted in the documentaries. Why should we blame anyone for taking a better way of life to those people?

Who should I blame for the changes in my culture? The gaslights and the fragile gas mantels have been replaced with electric lights. Instead of our icebox we have a side by side refrigerator freezer. The smelly outhouse is gone. How would we live without supermarkets and superhighways?

I am not sure whom to blame for the changes that someone caused in the Ohio River valley where I was brought up. What I am saying may sound facetious, but this is how I see what is happening to primitive cultures in places like the Amazon.

Yes, I built a nice house and they learned from me about electric lights and how an American family lives. I am responsible for bringing some changes to the Amazon rainforest, but they are the same changes I see here in America that makes 2012 different from 1912.

I cannot imagine why people think it would be better to leave those primitive people in the practices of their heathen culture. People ask me: "What right do you have to disturb their way of living?" No one denies that bathrooms are better than outhouses; or that electric lights are better than oil lamps. However, there are intelligent, educated people who fault me for introducing civilization to people who should have been left in their primitive state.

In future articles I am going to deal with the challenges involved in developing the Amazon.

Harry Flinner is a retired missionary of the Church of the Nazarene who spent several years living and working with the Aguaruna tribe of Jivaro Indians in the Peruvian Amazon. He established his mission on the MaraƱon River in the early 1950s when the Amazon rainforest was virtually untouched by civilization.

Harry Flinner is a graduate of Asbury University, The Alliance Graduate School of Missions and BIOLA School of Missionary Medicine. He has done graduate work in Linguistics and Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Kentucky.

My website is not political. I have no cause to defend.
I simply want to inform and stimulate interest in Amazonia.

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