The scientific understanding of genocide is mostly based on the Holocaust model: mass murder, concentration camps and the immediate and violent destruction of the victim group. But there is also a kind of genocide that lasts for decades or even generations. We are talking about cultural genocide. The victims are slowly and apparently imperceptibly wiped out by destroying their livelihoods, banning the practice of their culture, language and religion and depriving them of the means to feed themselves and to administer their affairs.
Photo: Survival International / starved Aché-Indian, shortly after she was captured and brought out of the forest into the ‘reserve’, Paraguay 1972
In science, especially in the field of genocide studies, there is an intense discussion as to whether the crimes committed in the course of colonialism fall under the concept of genocide. The ‘situation coloniale’ in (but not just) Africa was marked above all by massacres, deportations, oppression and forced labour, as well as the destruction of soil, livelihood and cultural and social institutions of indigenous people. The violent crimes against the Herero and Nama in German South West Africa (known as Namibia) as well as the Aborigines in Australia and the indigenous peoples in North America are mostly classified as genocide.
Picture: creative commons https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/43/Africa1898.png
In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered America – or rather the Caribbean islands; the American mainland was ‘discovered’ shortly after that. It was, however, by no means uninhabited. The American indigenous population, colloquially known as ‘Indians’, colonised the continent more than 12,000 years ago when northeast Asian inhabitants crossed the Bering Strait.
#Colonial power meets Aboriginal People
In 1788, the first fleet of British convicts reached the Australian continent under the command of King George III. The British called Australia ‘Terra Nullius’ (‘land belonging to no one’) and staked their claim over it. However, the continent soon turned out not to be uninhabited – the first settlers came to Northern Australia over 60,000 years ago. Leading up to the British invasion in the 18th century, up to 500 aboriginal tribes with an approximate total of 750,000 people had formed. Each one of these tribes had their own language and traditions.
Over the last few weeks and months, we have witnessed a strong resurgence of the term ‘genocide’ in current political discussion. Right-wing populists and extremists caution that the current refugee crisis is a ‘White Genocide’.
by Corinna Krauß and Matthias Winkler