Officials in Paraguay say that they have found evidence of a never-before contacted tribe living in a remote region of that country’s Chaco forest. The discovery came about as two Brazilian ranching companies moved into the region and began encroaching on the tribe’s space. Now there are fears that these indigenous people could be unfairly forced off their land due to increased deforestation and a growing number of cattle ranches.
Experts believe that the tribe belongs to the Ayoreo Totobiegosode culture, which is a reclusive group that has had violent encounters with the outside world in the past. While this particular tribe has yet to be spotted, authorities say they have found numerous footprints, broken branches and traps designed to capture turtles. Those traps resemble the ones used by other Ayoreo tribes encountered in other parts of the forest.
Brazilian companies River Plate and BBC recently purchased the land on which this tribe lives. Those two organizations have been systematically logging the forest to create more land for grazing cattle and both were cited for illegal deforestation in the region just last year. As these two companies continue to remove trees from the Chaco forest, they force the natives living there onto increasingly smaller plots of land or into a situation where they can no longer avoid contact with outsiders.Because these tribes haven’t been touched by the modern world, first contact must be handled very delicately. The indigenous people lack immunities to diseases and infections that we take for granted and something as simple as the common cold can have a devastating effect on a tribe. It is also not uncommon for them to react violently against interlopers in their territory, particularly interlopers that they don’t understand very well. It is because of these dangers that the United Nations has passed a treaty that makes it illegal to contact these people unless communication is first initiated by members of the tribe.
The Paraguayan government hasn’t decided how it will proceed yet, although there have been calls to investigate how River Plate and BBC came by the plots of land they are now clearing of trees. It is highly possible that the government will step in and prevent further encroachment on the land in order to protect the natives who are living there, but that outcome is far from certain.
When I read stories such as this one I can’t help but wonder what those tribes think of us when they encounter us for the first time. Clearly we are of the same species but we have technology that must seem like magic to them. I can’t imagine how that makes them feel.
[Photo credit: IIosuna via WikiMedia]