Isolated tribe discovered in Paraguay

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]

New photos released of remote Brazilian rainforest tribe

Survival International, a UK-based rights group dedicated to protecting indigenous communities worldwide, has just released new photographs of an “uncontacted” group of indigenous people living on the Brazilian-Peruvian border. This is only the second time in two years photos of the isolated Indians have ever been released.

FoxNews reports the photos were taken by Brazil’s Indian Affairs department, which monitors various indigenous tribes by aircraft. Uncontacted tribes are so described because they have limited interactions with the outside world. Survival International estimates that there are over a hundred uncontacted tribes left globally.

The organization came under fire for creating a hoax when the first photos were released in 2008; the president of Peru even hinted that such tribes were an invention of environmentalists opposing Amazonian oil exploration. The myth of “first-contact” tribes also prevails amongst unscrupulous companies catering to tourists. Survival International’s website quotes Marcos Apurinã, Coordinator of Brazil’s Amazon Indian organization COIAB as saying, “It is necessary to reaffirm that these peoples exist, so we support the use of images that prove these facts. These peoples have had their most fundamental rights, particularly their right to life, ignored … it is therefore crucial that we protect them.”


The Brazilian government is a believer, however, and has dedicated a division to helping protect uncontacted tribes. Many indigenous peoples of the Amazon have been the victims of disease or genocide (due to war or, uh, “eradication”) or displacement by petroleum companies. The Brazilian government is concerned that an increase in illegal logging in Peru is forcing uncontacted tribes over the border into Brazil, which could result in conflict.

Survival International reports that the Brazilian Indians appear to be in good health, as evidenced by their appearance (FYI, their skin is dyed red from the extract of the annatto seed), as well as that of communal gardens and a plentiful supply of food including manioc and papaya. The tribe was also recently filmed (from the air) by the BBC for the television series, “Human Planet.”

While there is admittedly a certain hypocrisy in buzzing uncontacted peoples with planes, the bigger picture is the necessity of proving their existence in order to save them, as Apurinã points out. Look for my forthcoming post on my stay with the remote Hauorani people of Ecuador, who had their first contact with the outside world in the late 1940’s. Over the last twenty-plus years, they have waged legal land rights battles against various petroleum companies in order to preserve both their land and their existence.

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