South American tribe labelled backward by BBC hits back 14 December 2012

"Marr’s TV series re-enacts Ibore and Parojnai’s (pictured) first contact in 1998."
"Marr’s TV series re-enacts Ibore and Parojnai’s (pictured) first contact in 1998."
© Survival

A South American tribe whose way of life was labelled backward in a major BBC TV series has hit back at the programme.

The moment in 1998 when members of the Ayoreo tribe in Paraguay first made contact with outsiders was re-enacted in Andrew Marr’s History of the World. According to Marr, it was the same as ‘early humans [being] suddenly confronted by modern humanity’, and the moment the Ayoreo ‘came face to face with the 20th Century’.

The damaging and false assumption that the tribe lives in much the same way as prehistoric man, tens of thousands of years ago, has dismayed the Ayoreo.

In a statement the tribe has defended its way of life, saying, ‘We gather that some cojñone (white people, literally ‘weird people’) say that we, and our relatives still in the forest, live in the past, that we’re not modern, that we’re backward.

‘But we, the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode, live as we choose. Our culture has taken its own path. Those of us who know the cojñone know how they live, and what they consider ‘progress’. And we are going to continue living as Ayoreo.

‘We are all modern, because we exist [today] as Ayoreo, just as the cojñone exist [today].’

Although Marr described the 1998 contact as a ‘chance encounter’, in fact the Ayoreo group had been forced out of the forest as it was being bulldozed around them, a process which continues today.

"Land theft has destroyed Ayoreo land, forcing uncontacted Indians to flee their homes"
"Land theft has destroyed Ayoreo land, forcing uncontacted Indians to flee their homes"
© Survival

Survival has also written to the BBC as the programme’s narration directly contravenes its own guidance, which states, ‘Care is also needed to avoid confusing a people that are not industrialized with one that is not part of the modern world or 21st century.’

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘It’s inexcusable for a flagship BBC programme to assert such prejudices. Their descriptions strongly suggest the Ayoreo are like the first humans, and consequently further behind on the evolutionary chain, ‘backward’, ‘primitive’. Such language has been used for centuries to underpin the destruction of tribal peoples’ land and the theft of their territories and resources. It’s shameful the UK’s public broadcaster can openly use such discriminatory language.

‘Besides being discriminatory, it’s also plain wrong. The Ayoreo live nothing like the first humans, and have been through a whole series of extraordinary adaptations and changes stretching back millennia. Mr Marr thinks that, just because the Ayoreo are hunter-gatherers, they must live as early man once did – but there is absolutely zero evidence to support this argument, which is simply rubbish.’


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Act now to help the Ayoreo

  • Write a letter or email to Grupo San Jose asking it to hand back the Ayoreo’s land to its rightful owners.
  • Write a letter or email to the government of Paraguay asking it to demarcate the Ayoreo’s land in line with the country’s laws and treaties.
  • Donate to the Ayoreo campaign (and other Survival campaigns).


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