(1:30AM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)
cross posted from The Dream Antilles
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.