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30 May 2008

First contact: a lost tribe of the Amazon



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.

17 comments:

sonkind said...

Ek wens deesdae al hoe meer ek kan ook iewers op so 'n godverlate plek gaan bly, weg van alle beskawing af. Dis asof ek by die dag meer 'disillusioned' raak met wat ons beskawing noem, maar wat eerder vir my al hoe meer voel soos "dog eat dog". Skuus ek pak hier by jou af, maar jou blog is een van my gunsteling plekke.

Mooi loop.

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

Anytime. Beskawings kom en gaan, maar daar sal altyd godverlate plekke wees.

jason evans said...

As much as I'm fascinated and am richer by having seen the images, the publication of these photographs makes me uncomfortable. It's like picking that rarest of orchids and having it die in some shoddy conservatory.

Given the history of 50% mortality after contact, I can understand why they are shooting arrows.

I understand that the photographs were only taken to prove the existence of the tribe. People (who probably want to develop that part of the forest) denied that they were there. Now, the world will know if they disappear.

Lisa said...

Did you read GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL? Whenever I read about a tribe that's had no contact with the modern world it seems incredibly surreal, like a unicorn sighting. Then it makes me sad because I wish they could be left alone, but I know they won't be. I try to imagine what our world might look like to someone who is living in a stone-aged culture, but of course it's impossible.

Aine said...

I wish there were a way for anthropologists to gather info about these "pure" tribes without disasterous results. I am so curious about how human culture evolves when there is such severe geographic isolation.

Claire said...

You are really bumming me out EOH, :(
I just read a little article in Scientific American about how blogging is theraputic, but I don't know about any of that when I read this kind of stuff...
:)

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

jason: yes, the pictures weren't published to be sensationalist, but to help them and bring awareness to their plight.

lisa: I must admit that I only read part of it (it is a rather voluminous tome). Check out Collapse, his book on why civilaztions come to an end.

aine: sampling is invariably destructive. I'm fascinated by human diversity too, but am always struck by how similar we are, in the end.

claire: aww, Claire, I don't mean to! I try to share what interests me, which is diversity and change. But sometimes change comes rapidly, and at the cost diversity, it seems.

Shimmerrings said...

These pics are totally fascinating, been seeing them around all over the net, sure wish they weren't so fuzzy. I'm so intrigued by their houses, wish I could figure out their garden. But, I hope we never find out more, as that will mean they are safe. They appear to be very healthy, eh.

SleekPelt said...

Hi, Teoh. What must they have thought of that helicopter? What a sight. I'm sure they see airplanes high in the sky regularly, but to see a floating machine hanging out above, watching ... their instincts just told them to shoot.

Did they know they were hidden away from such a world? How much did they know?

ChrisEldin said...

It's a fascinating yet tragic story. It seems inevitable, given the population growth of the planet. But I would hope that some kind of medical transition could be planned for. Some way of providing vaccinations... if that's even possible. It's sad, all the same.

Karen Little said...

I always think, if we'd all just leave each other alone and mind our own business, and be satisfied with just enough, the world would be such a much better place.

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

shimmerings: let's hope they stay healthy.

sleekpelt: I believe they know enough to not want anything to do with us. And rightly so.

chriseldin: when you have prime adaptedness, such as this tribe, you sacrifice adaptability. Such is the ways of the genes.

karenlittle: wise words. Yet so many people can never have enough - enough land, enough money, enough power. How did we become so ravenous?

beth♥ said...

Having grown up in Africa I tend to be a bit of a 'Discovery Channel' geek. That is a mild description. Still, I was fascinated when I read about this tribe and then immediately fearful for them. So they are there. Cool. Now - let them be.

*dalyn said...

so sad... i can't imagine what was going through their heads. if we can't protect the trees around them, how then will they stay protected? *dalyn

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

beth♥: now if only the loggers will take heart. Kudos to the Brazilan government for handling the situation really well.

*dalyn: protecting the forests should be our primary objective. What to do when we can't see the wood for trees? Or, in fact, just wood, and no trees.

Rositta said...

I wonder how long they will be "allowed" to remain secluded in their lifestyle before they are forced to joint the rest of the world? That would be a tragedy...ciao

singleton said...

When are we ever going to understand the world is big enough for all of us? The trees, the butterflies, the people? Jason is right, these people, their lives, their world....the rarest of orchids.....
Give them peace.....