Leapfrogging the Law
Dr John Palmer
1st June, 2003
The economic troubles in Argentina have been widely reported around the world. The impoverishment of the middle classes and the Argentines’ growing cynicism about their politicians have been extensively written up. Less well covered in the news has been the effects of the crisis on Argentina’s very poorest – people who live far from the eye of city-based reporters, the country’s original inhabitants, a people despised and vilified as ‘savages’ by the settler population.
Indigenous hunter-gatherers originally, the Wichí live in northern Argentina’s tropical lowlands, in the central area of what the Incas called the Chaco. To the north and south, the Wichí’s homelands are bordered by the two rivers that cross the Chaco – the Pilcomayo and the Bermejo. Within this area, which is about half the size of England, there are approximately 50,000 Wichí people. The Wichí are, therefore, one of the largest and most widespread indigenous groups of lowland South America. Traditionally, they live in clusters of relatively small, mobile, kin-based communities. They produce their food sustainably through seasonal hunting, gathering, gardening and fishing.
The Wichí are an unaggressive people. In fact, aggression is culturally disallowed by them; they see it as the antithesis of proper personhood and the undoing of human society. Instead, they value the spiritual aspect of human beings, which manifests itself in ‘goodwill’. For the Wichí, goodwill is the essence of social life; it consolidates community relations and keeps the peace. A leader, whom the Wichí identify as the linchpin of collective life, should be a person...
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