What I’ve said is that the members of aboriginal tribes, wherever they’re encountered by anthropologists, express complete contentment with the way things are done in their tribe. The fact that the style of a particular tribe doesn’t suit you (or anyone else) is irrelevant; it only has to suit them.
In a sense, they’re like species: if they’re here, it’s because they’re successful. No species (or tribe) comes into being by failing. If the life lived by the Yanomami of today is not identical to the life they lived five thousand years ago (something that is obviously unknowable), I frankly can’t see what difference it makes. Wherever tribal life is untouched by outside forces (like ours), it is extremely stable, which is why they invariably perceive that it has been this way from time out of mind.
You speak of practices being voluntarily “eliminated” in tribes. I guess I have ask for some examples of this. The closest I can come to an example is that of the Plains Indians, who at some point in their history, became agriculturalists; but when horses became easily available to them (after being introduced by the Spanish), they abandoned agriculture for the easier life of hunting and gathering.
Some “practices” associated with the agricultural life doubtless fell into disuse (since they were no longer relevant to their lives as hunter/gathers), but neither these practices nor agriculture itself were “eliminated” and they were certainly not perceived as “destructive.” In other words, it wasn’t a matter of “eliminating destructive practices,” it was just a matter of adopting an easier way of making a living.
It should be noted most emphatically that, while culturally stable, tribal peoples are highly adaptable to changed conditions (as this example shows)—and they wouldn’t last long if they weren’t. The point is that adapting to changed conditions doesn’t mean changing their cultural identity.
updated: 02 Nov 2003