Before the Bulldozer: The Nambiquara Indians and the World Bank

Before the Bulldozer: The Nambiquara Indians and the World Bank

Before the Bulldozer: The Nambiquara Indians and the World Bank

Before the Bulldozer: The Nambiquara Indians and the World Bank

Excerpt

This book is about an attempt to defend a small traditional society from the onslaught of Western civilization. The protagonists are the Nambiquara Indians--just a few hundred souls--and the nation of Brazil, aided and abetted by the World Bank. In 1967, when I first met the Nambiquara, they were a free and proud people, and I was an intruder in their domain, dependent on their sufferance for my very survival. Thirteen years later the tables were turned; the Nambiquara had been overwhelmed by Western society, of which I am a member, and I did what I could to assure their survival.

The problems of the Nambiquara are not an isolated case. All around the world, the advance of Western civilization brings suffering to tribal people. Nations grow strong by swallowing up the original inhabitants of their territories and usurping the resources. Traditional societies too small to fight back are swept aside; survivors are surrounded and left behind. Free people become captive in their own homes, lucky if their conquerors let them keep a tiny piece of their own land. Modern nations on six continents and three oceans contain residual ethnic minorities.

My efforts on behalf of the Nambiquara were focused on the World Bank, whose sponsorship of a multimillion-dollar development project threatened to deprive them of their lands and their livelihood. My experience as a consultant to the Bank affords a glimpse of the way in which it evaluates such projects, and this forms another part of my story. I do not pretend to give a full and balanced account of the Bank, nor do I need to. Competent social scientists such as Cheryl Payer have written about the Bank as an institution, standing back far enough to paint the big picture. But there is also a rationale for case history, which can provide insight into the human activities from which sociological generalizations are drawn.

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