Naturacist

Read the following story about a “real life Mowgli.” 

tippi_degre_mowgli_01

As you may know, Mowgli is the main character in The Jungle Book written by Rudyard Kipling, and popularized by Walt Disney Co. In that story Mowgli is lost as a baby and raised by jungle animals. There are some similarities to Tippi, the girl in the story. She calls an elephant her brother and has many animals for playmates. She wears minimal clothing and her tan skin and light blonde hair indicate exposure to the outdoors. However there are some key differences between her life and Mowglis. She was actually raised by humans.

I am referring not only to her parents, but also to the many humans in the series of photographs: the indigenous people of Africa. For some reason, it is still ok to call traditional villages in Africa “the wild.” Tippi’s story seems special because she grew up in close contact with animals, the outdoors, and ostensibly, places not so overwhelmingly manipulated by man. However, up to 350 million people live in this way throughout the world. Calling a human civilization other than your own wild, savage, uncivilized, or any other variation on the term implies that some human are not part nature, and others are more or less the same as nature. As Jennifer Price wrote in her essay “Looking for Nature at The Mall,” you can buy “Zuni fetishes and Zulu baskets” at The Nature Company stores along with anatomically correct animal models and geodes. Likewise, many sports teams in America traditionally used Native Americans (Indians, Braves, Illini, Redskins, Chiefs, Braves, Blackhawks, etc.) interchangeably with predatory animals. Fortunately that tide is now turning.

Though I think Tippi Degre probably had a wonderful and interesting childhood, it’s only extraordinary because of her race. It is encouraging that people want to strengthen their relation to nature. I think the author had good intentions and depicted Tippi’s childhood as something to be envious of, but they could have more respect for the people that have raised their children that way for generations.

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