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Vanishing heritage PDF Print Email
Rapid industrialization is making it difficult for ethnic minorities in China, Bolivia, and Thailand to preserve their cultural identity. Part one of a three-part series.
By John Kaplan / China and Tibet
Monday, October 3, 2005

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Three nations on opposite sides of the globe are linked by indigenous culture and the threat of industrialization to its preservation.

In China, Tibetans have for decades struggled to regain their freedom. But now, for the first time, Tibet's people are becoming a minority in their own homeland as their culture is quickly evaporating into the Chinese landscape. To many there, political freedom is no longer a realistic quest but the freedom to preserve a centuries-old cultural heritage remains in question.

In Bolivia, the autonomy of more than 300 minority ethnic groups is threatened by the rapid modernization of Bolivian society. Tibetans and the people of Bolivia's largest minority community, the Aymara, share a striking physical resemblance; some anthropologists claim that an ancient migration across the continents may in fact connect the cultures by blood.

In Thailand, the society of the Akha minority group is now losing its cultural identity. As electricity comes to each village, in turn, its inhabitants begin to realize the homogenized and idealized life portrayed on satellite television. The young often choose to leave the simple village life behind, in search of work and the other lures of city life.

As a documentary photographer, it is my goal to document the traditions of rapidly fading indigenous cultures before they completely disappear; it is my hope that viewers may consider assisting in their preservation.

For information on obtaining prints from the Vanishing Heritage series, please contact John Kaplan at kaplan-at-writeme-dot-com.

Editor’s note: John Kaplan’s essay about the Tibetan, Aini, and Tumu societies follows. Please look for his work photographed in Bolivia in the November issue of InTheFray. Finally, the segment showing the culture of the Akha people of Thailand will be featured in InTheFray magazine in December.
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