Cultures that time forgot

28th February 1997 at 00:00
The Wayland Atlas of Threatened Cultures By Piers Vitebsky The Wayland Atlas of Rain Forests By Anna Lewington Wayland Pounds 14.99 each

These two atlases are aimed at the lower secondary age range, but they contain a wealth of authoritative source material and detailed maps which could be used by much older students.

The Atlas of Threatened Cultures features almost 30 different cultures and draws together the research of six expert authors. Each group of indigenous peoples is mapped in great detail.

For example, the opening chapter on peoples of the frozen north has an introductory map detailing the location of 23 indigenous cultures with notes on how the modern world is threatening their survival.

Three of these cultures, Nenets, Inuit and Saami, are then selected for more detailed investigation.

Many geography textbooks refer to the peoples and regions found in this atlas, and its first-hand information, even if only in the locational sense, could be very helpful in avoiding the dangers of stereotyping.

The Atlas of Rain Forests locates lowland and montane rain forest, mangrove, temperate and swamp forests throughout the world.

Each chapter has a regional page, accompanied by detailed maps showing the distribution of the vegetation type. There are then double-page "feature spreads" on selected animals (such as the jaguar and the mountain gorilla), particular types of tree (such as the African oil palm) or the people that inhabit the rain forests.

In places, the desire to catch the interest of young readers results in a tendency towards voyeurism. On the back cover of the atlas, for example, we read: "There are also photographs of specially interesting subjects: a boy dressed as a tree . . ." Inside the photo is used twice, without any serious attempt to put it into context. A close-up picture of a Baka cutting up a tortoise might not be the most sensible choice of illustration.

More worrying is the statement that the Windward Islands were discovered in the 16th century. Similar criticism could be made of the world maps in both atlases which greatly exaggerate the size of the northern hemisphere at the expense of the southern.

Nevertheless, these atlases would be a valuable addition to the school library.

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