A Commentary (Oct 1935)
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272 ] A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 15 (Oct 1935) 65-69 On the leader page of The Times newspaper for August 14th is a very interesting account of what is called a “lost” tribe, but might as well be called a “found” tribe, of Papuans of unknown Asiatic race, dwelling in a fertile valley protected, or hitherto protected, by high mountain ranges.1 This singular people, unlike any other hitherto discovered, failed to make any demonstrations of joy at the advent of Australian explorers, who unexpectedly found themselves in a situation more usual in Europe or North America, namely, “starving in the midst of plenty.” “By gestures the natives ordered the patrol to be gone,” says the Australian correspondent; and the leader of the “patrol” himself remarks: “the treatment meted out by these people was the worst I have experienced, for they did not act through fear or food shortage.”2 Yet they were mostly friendly, which shows an intuitive grasp of a principle not overtly recognized in Europe: that the better two peoples become acquainted, the more cordially they dislike each other, and that the best way to preserve friendliness is to keep one’s distance. These Tari Furora, as they call themselves, have other characteristics which distinguish them from Europeans and North Americans: for they have a remarkable interest in afforestation, and they live not in towns or villages, but in “park-like farms,” each family having its separate habitation. Again, “every acre appeared to be under cultivation,”3 which indicates the absence of grouse moors and deer forests. What is of more immediate interest than the discovery of this backward race, is the leading article which The Times devotes to comment on the report of its Australian correspondent. The Times is actually concerned about “the possibility of preserving this self-contained and apparently happy community from the disasters which usually overwhelm primitive peoples brought into contact with Western civilization.”4 It perceives that the financial and industrial system of the civilized world may bring disaster to people who at present are “producing all they use for themselves.” Now, one does not expect the leader-writers of The Times to be themselves leaders ; one does not expect them to be voices in the wilderness, one does not demand of them that they should be ready to be stoned in Jerusalem. One [ 273 A Commentary (oct) expects The Times to be the voice of the people, of the twopenny public. So when The Times’s first reaction to the discovery of a new race of possibly 100,000 souls is one of apprehension of the harm that it will suffer from civilization, we may assume that there are many thousands of enlightened readers who not only share that view in secret, but are willing to hear it expressed in public. And this is a remarkable thing; for it indicates a lack of confidence in our civilization which is widespread and which must be pretty recent in history. It indicates also, no doubt, an increased sense of responsibility toward inferior races. I would not belittle the latter: yet I feel that the lack of confidence in our civilization is a good deal stronger than the sense of responsibility. For after all, there is nothing in the Times leader to cause panic among those men of enterprise who may be anxious to spread the benefits of exploitation among the Tari Furora. The Times does not really hope for more than the preservation of some decencies of behaviour. We may be about to eat up the Tari Furora, but we must not gobble. “In the end” says the leader-writer, the Tari Furora will lose, it is to be feared, everything which their isolation has hitherto preserved for them. . . . Sooner or later their discovery must mean the end of their idyllic self-contained existence. It may be laterratherthansooner,forSirHubertMurray,theLieutenant-Governor of Papua, is a man of wisdom and understanding . . . [H]e has, on the whole, been loyally supported by successive Australian Governments. Strengthened by this support, he may be trusted to do what he can (italics mine) to protect the Tari Furora from disintegrating interference. But why, we ask, are these disasters inevitable? Why should we take for granted that all we can do is to delay them? I am not horrified so much by the prospect of the future for the natives, black as that may be, as by the prospect of the future for us. For if...


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