Wild Abandon

Wild Abandon

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April 8, 2012

A few years back, I was surprised to learn of the growing hostility and discrimination against indigenous Irish Travellers — once known as Tinkers — to the degree it has in many respects come to resemble the 1960s Civil Rights struggle in the US. Travellers, as they refer to themselves, are neither Roma (Gypsies) nor foreign in either origin, appearance or religion, and merely migrate throughout Ireland and Britain and sometimes Europe — picking up work here and there — but are distinctly Irish, although they speak an old dialect of the language that includes some ancient words from druid culture.

Now semi-settled, the one thousand out of four thousand Traveller families in Ireland who still live on the road in trailers and carts, find their country less and less accommodating of their lifestyle, despite intervention on their behalf by the Catholic church. (Travellers are devout Catholics, albeit more into the magical aspects like miracles than your average believer–something they share in common with Roma.) Violence, however, toward Travellers — settled or otherwise — is not uncommon, and parents have been known to remove their children enmasse from schools that admit Traveller children.

At the Traveller cultural center in Dublin, some younger adults have taken it on themselves to become literate for the express purpose of advocating for Traveller’s civil rights, and a greater acceptance of and tolerance for their way of life. Lacking a printed history of their culture or origins, their library includes a lot about other nomadic ethnic and cultural groups who’ve come into conflict with settler culture, especially that of the American Indian, and Travellers are quick to point out that they both were initially oppressed by British colonizers trying to control their respective landscapes and everything that roamed therein.

My attention most recently having been drawn to the issue of borders and migrants and xenophobia, I couldn’t help but think that there must be something to the notion of settled peoples universally resenting the freedom of wanderers, and persistently looking to nomads and other subcultures as scapegoats for everything that goes wrong in their lives. Perhaps it is a sign of the times, that under the malign neglect of market economies, people in general are simply growing less charitable, while at the same time worshiping the wild.

When you think about the logic of states, settled populations are more easily controlled. Which is why one of the first things colonial powers do is to confine Indigenous peoples to reservations. Then the assimilation and indoctrination can begin in earnest.

While most media don’t openly use the term nomadic as a pejorative, it is often insinuated, as though people who move around within their ancestral homelands or Indigenous territories are less legitimate as a society than those that are more settled. Which is ironic in that their moving around is usually oriented toward sustainable food production, environmental conservation, or highly cooperative and reciprocal international trade.
Looked at in this way, the Kiowa, Kurds, Saami, San, Tuvans and Tuareg are highly advanced civilizations, well-adapted to their environs. Compared with industrialized societies, they are in many respects superior.

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