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Almost “uncontacted” tribe revealed

May 30, 2008
Courtesy Survival International
and World Science staff

Mem­bers of one of the world’s last nearly un­con­tacted tribes have been spot­ted and pho­tographed from the air near the Bra­zil-Pe­ru bor­der, Bra­zil­ian au­thor­i­ties say. 

The pho­tos were tak­en dur­ing sev­er­al flights over one of the re­mot­est parts of the Am­a­zon rain­for­est in Bra­zil’s Acre state.

Trib­al peo­ple aim­ing bows and ar­rows at an air­plane, re­leased by the Bra­zil­ian gov­ern­ment this week. (Cour­te­sy Funai-Frente de Pro­te­cao Etno-Ambiental En­vira)


Bra­zil’s go­vernment agreed to re­lease the pho­tos of In­di­ans fir­ing ar­rows at an airplane so the world can bet­ter un­der­stand the threats fac­ing one of the few tribes still liv­ing in near-total isola­t­ion, of­fi­cials said Fri­day in Ri­o de Janeiro, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­at­ed Press.

“We did the overflight to show their hous­es, to show they are there, to show they ex­ist,” said un­con­tacted tribes ex­pert José Car­los dos Reis Meirelles Júnior of FU­NAI, the Bra­zil­ian go­vernment’s In­di­an affa­irs de­part­ment. “This is very im­por­tant be­cause there are some who doubt their ex­is­tence.”

Meirelles said that the group’s num­bers are in­creas­ing. But oth­er un­con­tacted groups in the re­gion, whose homes have been pho­tographed from the air, are in se­vere dan­ger from il­le­gal log­ging in per­u. Log­ging is driv­ing un­con­tacted tribes over the bor­der and could lead to con­flict with the es­ti­mat­ed five hun­dred un­con­tacted In­di­ans al­ready liv­ing on the Bra­zil­ian side.

“What is hap­pen­ing in this re­gion [of Peru] is a mon­u­men­tal crime against the nat­u­ral world, the tribes, the fau­na and is fur­ther tes­ti­mo­ny to the com­plete irra­t­ional­ity with which we, the ‘civ­ilised’ ones, treat the world,” said Meirelles.

A tribal settlement in the rainforest. (Cour­te­sy Funai-Frente de Pro­te­cao Etno-Ambiental En­vira)


There are more than one hun­dred un­con­tacted tribes world­wide, with more than half liv­ing in ei­ther Bra­zil or Peru, ac­cord­ing to the London-based ad­vo­ca­cy or­gan­iz­a­tion Sur­viv­al In­terna­t­ional.

All are in grave dan­ger of be­ing forced off their land, killed and dec­i­mat­ed by new dis­eases, ac­cord­ing to the group, which has launched a cam­paign to get their land pro­tected, in­clud­ing a film nar­rat­ed by ac­tress Ju­lie Chris­tie.

“The world needs to wake up to this, and en­sure that their ter­ri­to­ry is pro­tected in ac­cord­ance with in­terna­t­ional law,” said Sur­viv­al In­terna­t­ional Di­rec­tor Ste­phen Cor­ry. “Oth­er­wise, they will soon be made ex­tinc­t.”

Meirelles told The As­so­ci­at­ed Press that an­thro­po­l­o­gists know next to noth­ing about the group, but sus­pect it is re­lat­ed to the Tano and Aruak tribes. Bra­zil’s Na­tional In­di­an Founda­t­ion be­lieves there may be as many as 68 “uncon­tacted” groups around Bra­zil, al­though only 24 have been of­fi­cially con­firmed, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­at­ed Press.

An­thro­po­l­o­gists say al­most all of these tribes know about West­ern civ­il­iz­a­tion and have spo­rad­ic con­tact with prospec­tors, rub­ber tap­pers and log­gers, but choose to turn their backs on civ­il­iz­a­tion, usu­ally be­cause they have been at­tacked. “It’s a choice they made to re­main iso­lat­ed or main­tain only oc­ca­sion­al con­tacts, but these tribes usu­ally ob­tain some mod­ern goods through trad­ing with oth­er In­di­ans,” Ber­nar­do Beronde, an an­thro­po­lo­g­ist who works in the re­gion, told the As­so­ci­at­ed Press.


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Members of one of the world’s last nearly uncontacted tribes have been spotted and photographed from the air near the Brazil-Peru border, Brazilian authorities say. The photos were taken during several flights over one of the remotest parts of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil’s Acre state. Brazil’s government agreed to release the photos of Indians firing arrows at an airplane so the world can better understand the threats facing one of the few tribes still living in near-total isolation, officials said Friday in Rio de Janeiro, according to the Associated Press. “We did the overflight to show their houses, to show they are there, to show they exist,” said uncontacted tribes expert José Carlos dos Reis Meirelles Júnior of FUNAI, the Brazilian government’s Indian affairs department. “This is very important because there are some who doubt their existence.” Meirelles said that the group’s numbers are increasing. But other uncontacted groups in the region, whose homes have been photographed from the air, are in severe danger from illegal logging in Peru. Logging is driving uncontacted tribes over the border and could lead to conflict with the estimated five hundred uncontacted Indians already living on the Brazilian side. “What is happening in this region [of Peru] is a monumental crime against the natural world, the tribes, the fauna and is further testimony to the complete irrationality with which we, the ‘civilised’ ones, treat the world,” said Meirelles. There are more than one hundred uncontacted tribes worldwide, with more than half living in either Brazil or Peru, according to the London-based advocacy organization Survival International. All are in grave danger of being forced off their land, killed and decimated by new diseases, according to the group, which has launched a campaign to get their land protected, including a film narrated by actress Julie Christie. “The world needs to wake up to this, and ensure that their territory is protected in accordance with international law,” said Survival International Director Stephen Corry. Otherwise, they will soon be made extinct.” Meirelles told The Associated Press that anthropologists know next to nothing about the group, but suspect it is related to the Tano and Aruak tribes. Brazil’s National Indian Foundation believes there may be as many as 68 “uncontacted” groups around Brazil, although only 24 have been officially confirmed, according to the Associated Press. Anthropologists say almost all of these tribes know about western civilization and have sporadic contact with prospectors, rubber tappers and loggers, but choose to turn their backs on civilization, usually because they have been attacked. “It’s a choice they made to remain isolated or maintain only occasional contacts, but these tribes usually obtain some modern goods through trading with other Indians,” Bernardo Beronde, an anthropologist who works in the region, told the Associated Press.