The war of words between anthropologists and foreign missionaries may be ending as both groups realize the importance of preserving endangered tribal peoples.

For decades, anthropologists have accused missionaries of suppressing native religions and even destroying whole societies. Missionaries have faulted anthropologists for ignoring the good that foreign missions do and for competing with them for access to tribal peoples.

Can the parties in this rocky relationship find any common ground? Jonathan Benthall, president of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain, says the plight of tribal peoples requires that all who care about them set aside differences and cooperate before it is too late.

"It is time to stop the sibling rivalry between anthropologists and missionaries," Benthall said last month at the annual American Anthropological Association (AAA) meeting in Atlanta.

Victor Montejo, a Guatemalan Maya with a Ph.D. in anthropology, blasted both groups for their possessiveness toward peoples among whom they work. "Don't any of you refer to us as 'my tribe' or 'my people,' " Montejo said. "We are the property of no one.

"Do we really need the Bible in our languages?" asked Montejo. "Do we really need anthropologists to be 'baptizing' us with their own names for us like 'the fierce people,' or do we instead need missionaries and anthropologists to help us in the most important matter of all—survival?"

BEYOND STEREOTYPES: Human rights for native peoples has emerged as an area of common concern for anthropologists and missionaries. Often, anthropologists avoid advocacy of human rights to preserve the field's traditional observer ...

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