These images were published today by officials of the Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI), the Brazilian government's National Indian Foundation. Taken from a passing helicopter, the photographs show a tribe of Amazonian Indians, covered in bright bodypaint, taking aim at the helicopter with bows and arrows. This instantly piqued my interest.
It is estimated that there are almost a hundred tribes left on the planet who choose to have little or no contact with the outside world. Half of these are said to live in the dense Amazon rainforest of Peru and Brazil. Often so-called 'uncontacted' tribes have actually had encounters with the outside in generations past, usually in the form of prospectors and loggers. Since these experiences are almost invariably violent, the 'uncontacted' tribes are forced ever deeper into seclusion. According to Miriam Ross, spokesperson for Survival International, "First contact is often completely catastrophic for 'uncontacted' tribes. It's not unusual for 50 percent of the tribe to die within months after first contact. They don't generally have immunity to diseases common to outside society. Colds and flu that aren't usually fatal to us can completely wipe them out."
Now, their way of life is being threatened - not by helicopters, but by encroaching development. The forests are shrinking. As logging continues unabated in Peru, which has placed less emphasis on protecting areas for indigenous people than Brazil, these and other groups are forced across borders. Imaginary lines drawn in the mud by people they have never met, for reasons they do not understand. Distress. Disinheritance. Disease. Death. Welcome to the modern world.
For more on this fascinating story, visit Reuters or The Associated Press.