5.31.2008

uncontacted people seen in brazil, peru

An amazing story has emerged from South America. One of the world's few remaining uncontacted indigenous tribes has been photographed on the border between Brazil and Peru. Survival International, an international movement to support tribal peoples, says that more than half the world's remaining uncontacted tribes live in Brazil or Peru.

The group's director, Stephen Corry, says such tribes will soon be wiped out if their land is not protected. The people revealed in these photos are at risk from illegal logging. Corry described the threats to such tribes and their land as "a monumental crime against the natural world" and "further testimony to the complete irrationality with which we, the 'civilised' ones, treat the world".

The photos were first revealed by BBC News, but I thought the Globe and Mail did a better job with it today.
Brazil's government agreed to release stunning photos of Amazon Indians firing arrows at an airplane so that the world can better understand the threats facing one of the few tribes still living in near-total isolation from civilization, officials said yesterday.

Anthropologists have known about the group for about 20 years but released the images now to call attention to fast-encroaching development near the Indians' home in the dense jungles near Peru.

"We put the photos out because if things continue the way they are going, these people are going to disappear," said Jose Carlos Meirelles, who co-ordinates government efforts to protect four "uncontacted" tribes for Brazil's National Indian Foundation.

Shot in late April and early May, the foundation's photos show about a dozen Indians, mostly naked, wielding bows and arrows outside six grass-thatched huts. Mr. Meirelles said in a phone interview that anthropologists know next to nothing about the group, but suspect it is related to the Tano and Aruak tribes.

The foundation believes there may be as many as 68 uncontacted groups around Brazil, although only 24 have been officially confirmed.

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.

The four tribes monitored by Mr. Meirelles include perhaps 500 people who roam an area of about 630,000 hectares. He said that over the 20 years he has been working in the area, the number of malocas, or grass-roofed huts, has doubled, suggesting that the policy of isolation is working and that populations are growing.

Remaining isolated, however, gets more complicated by the day. Loggers are closing in on the Indians' homeland. Brazil's environmental protection agency said yesterday that it had shut down 28 illegal sawmills in Acre state, where the tribes are located. And logging on the Peruvian border has sent many Indians fleeing into Brazil, Mr. Meirelles said.

A new road being paved from Acre into Peru will likely bring in hordes of poor settlers. Other Amazon roads have led to 50 kilometres of rain forest being cut down on each side, scientists say.

While uncontacted Indians often respond violently to contact - Mr. Meirelles caught an arrow in the face from some of the same Indians in 2004 - the greater threat is to the Indians.

"First contact is often completely catastrophic for uncontacted tribes. It's not unusual for 50 per cent of the tribe to die in months after first contact," said Miriam Ross, a campaigner with the Indian rights group Survival International.

More here, with some information about the people themselves.

It's almost overwhelming to think of uncontacted people surviving into the 21st Century - and possibly no further.

Illegal logging is not a simple issue. The loggers themselves are usually poor Andean people. They work for criminally low pay, under extremely dangerous conditions, reporting to a chain of middle-men that ends with a multinational corporation. But they themselves are offered few alternatives (if any) for their own survival. Because I met Andean people in Peru, I think about how stricter logging enforcement would effect them. It should be done, of course, but what will the Brazilian or Peruvian governments do for its victims?

For more information on tribal people - including these recently recently aerial photos - see Survival International. Survival's blog is here.

6 comments:

redsock said...

Seven pictures also here.

L-girl said...

Thanks Allan! I thought I linked to that, but now I realize I had a different BBC page.

kim_in_to said...

I like this, from the Star article:

Jose Carlos Meirelles, an official with Brazil's Indian protection agency who was on the helicopter that overflew the tribe, said they should be left alone as much as possible.

"While we are getting arrows in the face, it's fine," he told Brazil's Globo newspaper. "The day that they are well-behaved, they are finished."

L-girl said...

That is really cool. And a lesson for all activists, too. :)

Joe Grav said...

Wow

MSS said...

I had missed this story. Till now. Yes, simply amazing.

Thank you.