The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective

By Robert Gellately; Ben Kieman | Go to book overview

6
Genocides of Indigenous Peoples
Rhetoric of Human Rights
ELAZAR BARKAN

Perhaps in time the whites will suffer in the knowledge of what they have done. But they cannot expect forgiveness.

Peter Read, A Rape of the Soul So Profound

Indigenous peoples the world over have suffered various forms of extermination ever since they were “discovered” by Europeans. This is particularly true with regard to the “New World” and the Pacific Islands. Africans too have suffered, if in different ways. The extensive calamities of colonialism and imperialism have been second to no other calamities. In many places populations have been totally and purposefully exterminated, in others they have “died out” and disappeared, and in still other sites only a few remain as a memory, anexhibit, of a lost world. Many of the victims, such as the Caribs or the Arawak of the Caribbean Islands have not only been exterminated but have also largely been erased from memory. When Hitler reputedly dismissed the Armenian genocide, he did not even mention the Herero of South West Africa who were the victims of Germany's first genocide of the century. These are the victims that few even remember. The actual horrors of the colonial wars are too often overlooked. Indigenous peoples have only recently become candidates to be considered victims of genocide, rather than merely vanishing peoples. Perhaps one of the most recent cases to capture Western attention was of the Yanomami, whose destruction began in the 1960s and 1970s.1

The magnitude of colonial and imperial destruction, with its multiple manifestations, poses special difficulties in understanding or even studying these historical and, in different ways, ongoing contemporary events. Far

____________________
1
The extensive destruction of native peoples in the Americas outside the United States unfortunately could not be dealt with here. While there is substantial discussion about Brazil and many other Latin American countries, Argentina for one is hardly ever featured. The demography of the country may suggest it ought to. See, e.g., The Center For World Indigenous Studies . For the controversy, see Patrick Tierney, Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon (New York, 2001). Clifford Geertz, “Life among the Anthros, New York Review of Books, February 8, 2001. Judith Shulevitz, “The Close Reader: Academic Warfare, New York Times, February 11, 2001. David L. Chandler, “Looking into the Heart of Darkness, Boston Globe, January 23, 2001.

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