- Parent Category: News
- Category: International Indigenous Events and News
- Published: 03 June 2008
By Michael Astor
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (AP) 6-08
Brazils 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 during late May.
Anthropologists have known about the group for some 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 coordinates government efforts to protect four uncontacted tribes for Brazils National Indian Foundation.
Shot in late April and early May, the foundations photos show about a dozen Indians, mostly naked and painted red, wielding bows and arrows outside six grass-thatched huts.
Meirelles told The Associated Press in a phone interview that anthropologists know next to nothing about the group, but suspect it is related to the Tano and Aruak tribes.
Brazils 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.
Its 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.
Brazilian officials once tried to contact such groups. Now they try to protectively isolate them.
The four tribes monitored by Meirelles include perhaps 500 people who roam over an area of about 1.6 million acres (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 Brazils environmental protection agency said May 30 it had shut down 28 illegal sawmills in Acre state, where these tribes are located. And logging on the Peruvian border has sent many Indians fleeing into Brazil, Meirelles said.
On the Brazilian side we dont have logging yet, but Id like to emphasize the yet, he said.
A new road being paved from Peru into Acre will likely bring in hordes of poor settlers. Other Amazon roads have led to 30 miles (50 kilometers) of rain forest being cut down on each side, scientists say.
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. Its 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 dont generally have immunity to diseases common to outside society. Colds and flu that arent 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.
Last year, the Metyktire tribe, with about 87 members, was discovered in a densely jungled portion of the 12.1-million-acre (4.9-million-hectare) Menkregnoti Indian reservation in the Brazilian Amazon, when two of its members showed up at another tribes village.