Can We Save The Amazon's Uncontacted Tribes?

Aerial photos revealed the existence of an uncontacted tribe in the Brazilian state of Acre in 2008. www.uncontactedtribes.org/brazilphotos

Ben Taub 08 Nov 2017, 09:53

Occupying the remotest depths of the Amazon rainforest, some of the most vulnerable communities on the planet may soon be facing extinction after surviving virtually unchanged for thousands of years. Some of these groups live in such extreme isolation that their existence was only discovered in 2008, when aerial photographs revealed the presence of a completely uncontacted tribe in the Brazilian Amazon.

However, as the tentacles of globalization reach ever further into this mysterious territory, the contamination that it brings poses the greatest threat these people have ever faced, sparking debate about how the rest of the world can help to ensure their survival.

Until now, the official policy of South American governments has always been one of "no contact", meaning interactions with forest-dwelling indigenous groups are never attempted unless initiated by the tribes themselves. Alarmingly, however, this is currently happening with greater frequency than ever before, as increasing numbers of native communities appeal to outsiders for help against disease epidemics caused by the infringement of these same outsiders on their land.

Subsequently, while some of the more remote tribes still have virtually no knowledge of modern lifestyles and technologies, others have begun requesting items such as machetes, clothing, and food, after discovering them during interactions with outsiders.

This has led to calls for a change of policy, with some academics claiming that the outside world is now too close to tribal territories for no-contact to be sustainable. Accordingly, certain factions have begun encouraging governments to proactively initiate contact with these communities, in order to ensure the process is as controlled and safe as possible. Others, however, disagree and claim that attempting to contact these tribes can only end in disaster.


Some tribes live in extreme isolation, although more needs to be done to keep outsiders off their territory. Gleilson Miranda/Governo do Acre via Wikimedia Commons 

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