Leave The “Uncontacted” People Alone!! (Updated)

(1:30AM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

cross posted from The Dream Antilles


The “Uncontacted” Village

CNN  has reported that an “uncontacted tribe” has been sited in the Peruvian-Brazilian Amazon.  The story isn’t really surprising:

Researchers have produced aerial photos of jungle dwellers who they say are among the few remaining peoples on Earth who have had no contact with the outside world.

Taken from a small airplane, the photos show men outside thatched communal huts, necks craned upward, pointing bows toward the air in a remote corner of the Amazonian rainforest.

The National Indian Foundation, a government agency in Brazil, published the photos Thursday on its Web site. It tracks “uncontacted tribes” — indigenous groups that are thought to have had no contact with outsiders — and seeks to protect them from encroachment.

More than 100 uncontacted tribes remain worldwide, and about half live in the remote reaches of the Amazonian rainforest in Peru or Brazil, near the recently photographed tribe, according to Survival International, a nonprofit group that advocates for the rights of indigenous people.

Look at the photo and notice the obvious harmony of the tribe with its environment.  Do they need our help?  Do they need our influence?  Do they need us to be flying over them in our airplanes?  Do they need us to be driving them from where they are?

Illegal logging in Peru is threatening several uncontacted groups, pushing them over the border with Brazil and toward potential conflicts with about 500 uncontacted Indians living on the Brazilian side, Survival International said.

Its director, Stephen Cory, said the new photographs highlight the need to protect uncontacted people from intrusion by the outside world.

I know we’re all curious about these people, but would it be too much to ask that they be left alone?  What, I wonder, is the huge rush to be in “contact” with these people we’ve “discovered”?  Can’t we let them continue without our impending, destructive intrusions, including our overflights, and free of our “superior” culture, technology, and diseases?   Can’t we protect these people from their biggest danger, which is us?

It’s all sadly reminiscent of Alejo Carpentier’s masterpiece The Lost Steps.  As the narrator, a musicologist looking for primitive, indigenous musical instruments, progresses further and further up a South American river into the jungle, he recedes further and further into civilizations and times long past.  He ends up living and loving Carpentier’s version of “uncontacted” people.  But, ultimately, when an airplane arrives in the jungle to “rescue” him, Carpentier’s protagonist doesn’t choose to remain in paradise.  He returns to civilization, leaving behind him his new, simpler, peaceful life for his former, complicated, academic one.  He’s far poorer, I think, because of his choice.  Why, I always wondered about the book, couldn’t he say to those on the plane, “Go away.  Leave me alone.   I’m fine.  I like it here.  I’m not coming with you?”

The “uncontacted” people here don’t have the same choice.  Is it to much to ask that we just leave them alone, that we respect them?

Update (5/31/08, 2:50 pmET):  AP has a longer article that has some definite information from experts about topics that arose in the comments.  Excerpts:

Brazil’s National Indian 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.

“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,” said Bernardo Beronde, an anthropologist who works in the region.


While “uncontacted” Indians often respond violently to contact – 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 percent of the tribe to die in months after first contact,” said Miriam Ross, a campaigner with the Indian rights group Survival International. “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.”

Survival International estimates about 100 tribes worldwide have chosen to avoid contact, but said the only truly uncontacted tribe is the Sentinelese, who live on North Sentinel island off the coast of India and shoot arrows at anyone who comes near.


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  1. Thanks for reading.

  2. I don’t know if I ever told you, but I lived in Peru for the first seven years of my life, in the jungle not too far from Pucallpa for the first three and then in Lima. I wrote about it a bit here.

    It was only a few months ago that I even began to want to incorporate that part if my life into my consciousness, I’ve always been so ashamed of what my family was doing there. So it helps me to read your essays like this. It is a part of me that I can’t completely ignore.


    • Edger on May 31, 2008 at 01:06
  3. democracy, a refrigerator, and a freakin’ Bible. What is with our zeal to spread like a decease our culture our ways even our science. Zoo’s, anthropologists, and missionaries have always weirded me out. They start the incursion into territory that soon becomes fruit for the colonialists who declare that they own this, nowadays they even patent what no one owns.  Leave them alone is what we should do.


    • Edger on May 31, 2008 at 03:09

    Someone might decide one day that we deserve the same favor…

    • pico on May 31, 2008 at 08:17

    although I should preface this by saying I have no training whatsoever in anthropology, so this might be wrong on all counts.  But I’ll at least throw it out.

    I understand the desire to allow a tribe to maintain its cultural homogeneity by not polluting them with the outside world, but I’d much prefer if that decision were left up to the tribe rather than a top-down decision to leave them ignorant of the world outside their own.  That seems more like a deliberate withholding of information “for their own good”, which comes across as patronizing in its own right.

    I guess you could make the argument that, because this particular tribe hasn’t made a huge effort to explore outwards, it likely doesn’t have any interest in contact.  Fair enough, although that could just as easily be due to circumstances beyond their control.  The decision not to contact them at all takes away their ability to choose whether they want to act on that new information or not.  In essence, you’re choosing for them.

    All that being said, the outside world doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to respecting indigenous rights, native culture, or anything else that’s at stake in this case.  So I definitely understand the hesitation.

  4. The next thing you know, someone will be dropping cell phones to those ‘uncontacted’ people (remember the coke bottle in The gods must be crazy’?

    Everyone should leave them alone.

  5. peoples of the Amazon, who, like the native American Indians, have preserved their environment and live by it.  To this day, I have a photo (National Geographic) of a young lad (of a tribe) in the Amazon — an unbelievable innocence in his face — endearing!  

    John Perkins, in his book “Confessions of an Economic Hitman,” also came to understand this “innocence” and attempted to try and save it.  

    But, we continue to destroy the Amazon wetlands and forests — vital to their existence and to our own.

    Can’t we leave anything on this planet alone to exist in its own harmony?

    I am with you, davidseth — leave these tender souls alone!!!

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention.  

  6. Once they are contacted, it`s too late to un-contact.

    The ones in the image, changed there appearance from the first sighting to the next on the plane`s return. They had painted their bodies ritually(?) & were displaying defensive/aggressive(to us) stances. Contact immediately subjects them to fatal disease, as stated. And as far as we know, after  10`s of thousands of years, they may not have a concept of ‘hell’.

    That, to me, is a good thing.

    There is no analogy, nor anecdotal example that can be applied to these people, that has any weight on a decision to contact them or not.(IMO)

    That could only happen after contact.

    I`ll contradict myself by this story, by using a similar problem.

    Here in the US, they wanted to cut roads into wilderness areas that would after a certain period of time be removed & the wilderness restored. Luckily that idiotic concept of “creating” wilderness failed.


  7. Holy infections, Batman!!

    • Mu on June 2, 2008 at 11:18

    braces for their teens’ teeth and 160 GB iPods to store 32,985,102,735,883 bad songs to listen to while power-walking off that extra 12-60 pounds around each of their respective “core”s.  Summer’s upon us – gotta look good for the beach.

    Mu . . .

    • Zwoof on June 2, 2008 at 13:59

    or in the immortal words of Forrest Gump,

    “I’d didn’t know ah was supposed to be lookin’ for him.”

    I’m sure the missionaries are packing their Bibles as we speak.

      • kj on May 31, 2008 at 03:45

      i might just show up!  had a little training with Michael Harner, Tom Cowan and others less well-known some years back.  🙂  

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