Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Uncontacted Amazonian Natives in Peru

An article in my daily Google Alert: Peru brought to my attention that there are still a number of uncontacted natives in Peru, and that the sanctity of their lifestyle has been under attack by various logging and development. There were rumors circulating that Peru's Culture Ministry might abolish the Murunahua Reserve, an allegation they have vehemently denied in recent days.

I was shocked to discover that there are a number of uncontacted tribes in South America,  in fact, 15 uncontacted tribes are documented in remote areas of the Peruvian Amazonion Rainforest.

Many, in fact, possibly all of the "uncontacted" tribes have had contact at some point in their history with missionaries, loggers, developers, other more modernized tribes, etc., but have voluntarily chosen to withdraw and avoid contact at all costs, which makes sense in a way when one considers that usually roughly 50% of the tribe members die after first contact due to diseases or violence. 

The Isconahua tribe was first contacted by missionaries in 1959, who encountered 25 Isconahuas living near the Brazilian border and lived with them for a year doing ethnographic research.  They documented that the tribe lived in the nude, adorning themselves primarily with jewelry and piercings.  A study in 1995 located 80 Isconhuas still living in seclusion, and in 1998 the Peruvian government created the Isconahua Territorial Reserve, consisting of 275,665 hectares (about 1,000 sq. miles).  However, anthropologists failed in making contact in 2004 and 2005, concluding that the Isconahuas fled to the Brazilian side of the border to avoid illegal miners and loggers who had trespassed into the reserve.  To make matters worse, the reserve was sold to  Pacific Rubialas Energy, giving foreign oil companies the ability to drill in the reserve.

In 2007, remarkable photographs were captured of the Mascho-Piro tribe, while a reconnaissance team was scouting the Alto Purus National Park for illegal loggers.  21 uncontacted naked natives were spotted on the river bank, as well as 5 recently construction palm leaf shelters.  Previous knowledge of this tribe was obtained when 100 members of the Mascho-Piro attacked members of nearby "contacted" tribes, who reported the incident. 

Although there are international and Peruvian laws in place to protect the natives, their existence is still endangered by illegal logging and oil-mining operations. It is devastating to think that the few remaining relatively untouched tribal groups are endangered by the greed of others. I hope Peru's laws are more strictly enforced and that these indigenous people's rights to live life in the manner they wish, free from the threat of outside diseases and violence, is upheld. 


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  2. Great article! Anthropologists believe that there are about 70 different isolated groups living in the Brazilian Amazon. There are probably more than 100 untouched groups living in Latin America.

    We have a lot to learn from these people. The Amazon has the largest diversity of plants in the planet. More than 50% of prescription drugs are derived from chemicals identified in plants. Shamans that live in the rainforest know a wide variety of herbs that can be used to cure diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer. When a shaman dies he/she carries to the grave a body of knowledge that could be transmitted to our modern world. Future generations depend on us acting to protect indigenous people and their culture.


  3. Ethnonomad offers an interesting & important perspective, but the ironic juxtaposition of gaining these insights from indigenous peoples without threatening their current way of life is beyond the "enlightened" man of this age, simply because we are incapable of exibiting a patience slower than the processing speed of the latest Intel micro-chip. Fight the fight, keep your perspective, but don't lose your sanity.

  4. Thanks for the comments, everyone! I wrote a bit more on this topic in a recent post: http://armchairtravelingwithnikki.blogspot.com/2011/07/recent-reader-comments-thanks-everyone.html

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