Perhaps we should all learn from the story of 27-year-old adventurer and Christian missionary (read colonialist) John Allen Chau, who was killed by the Sentinelese tribal people earlier this week.
Some people are best left alone, and seeing as though the Sentinelese have existed without outside interference for the best part of 60 000 years, I reckon they’re onto something good.
Over the years, there have been a number of instances where attempting to make contact with remote tribes has ended badly, often for the tribes themselves.
There around 1 000 such tribes worldwide, defined by CNN as “people on earth whose way of life remains entirely undisturbed by modern civilisation”, and Jonathan Mazower of Survival International, which campaigns for the protection of isolated tribes, spells out why they should be left alone:
“Sometimes they will have in their collective memory a massacre, a violent incident, or a disease or epidemic — so very often, there are well-founded reasons for these tribes to not want to have anything to do” with the outside world, Mazower told CNN.
Let’s start with the Kawahiva tribe:
Often on the move through Mato Grosso, Brazil, this tribe left tools and pieces of their homes as the only clues to their existence for decades. But in 2013, a Brazilian government employee made a chance encounter with the group, capturing them on video for the first time. In the clip, members of the tribe walk through the forest naked and holding arrows, before fleeing when they sense an outsider nearby.
But this wasn’t the only contact the Kawahiva have had with people from the outside world. “There are thought to be probably no more than 30 left, the others having been massacred by campers and loggers,” Mazower explained. And their future is an uncertain one, with the area surrounding their territory rapidly being cleared for agricultural work.
Here’s the footage filmed back in 2013:
Then there’s the Javary River valley tribe:
In August, another uncontacted tribe in the Amazon were caught on film for the first time. A drone camera caught tribespeople in the Javery River valley, although none appear to notice their observer. One of the figures carries a spear or pole, while four or five others stand near what seems to be a thatched structure.
The area along the Brazil-Peru border is home to many of the world’s uncontacted groups.
You’ll have to look closely, but there they are:
Next up, the Xinane tribe:
Unlike most uncontacted tribes, this group initiated a first-ever encounter with the surrounding world themselves. An extraordinary video released by Brazil’s National Indian Foundation FUNAI shows the tribesmen, who live in Peru, leaving their dwellings to request bananas from nearby villagers.
“One of the young men asks the Brazilian officials, “rani mi mulher?” (where are your women?),” explained Giancarlo Rolando, an anthropologist at the University of Virginia who has studied the tribe. “In those videos, it is also possible to see a young man holding a rifle that apparently was seized from a group of outsiders that went into their territory.”
…Since that encounter, the Xinane have been relocated by FUNAI agents to a nearby settlement.
Time for that extraordinary video:
When it comes to the Waorani tribe, things went less pleasantly:
In 1987, a Roman Catholic bishop and a nun intending to spread the word of God met a fate similar to that of Chau at the hands of the Waorani, a group of native Amerindians in Ecaudor. Bishop Alejandro Lavaca and Sister Ines Arango were sacrificed by the tribespeople in brutal fashion, their bodies pinned to the ground by 21 wooden spears and their wounds stuffed with leaves to stop the blood flowing…
Most of the tribe have since been contacted and many have been forced to relocate due to oil exploration on their land, Survival International says. The group has occasionally clashed with the nearby Taromenane, a small section of the Waorani which has continued to remain uncontacted — especially in 2013, when two Waorani tribespeople were murdered by a member of the Taromenane group.
To finish, there’s the Ayoreo tribe:
While most of the thousands-strong Ayoreo tribe [pictured below] have been contacted and have assimilated into mainstream society, the last few members who have remained isolated represent the last remaining uncontacted tribe in South America outside of the Amazon, Survival International says.
Much of the group was forced out of their forest by American fundamentalist missionary expeditions in the 1970s, who would spot their camps from afar and make contact. “In those encounters several people died, and many Ayorea died later due to diseases,” said Mazower.
The missionaries came to save, and they ended up doing harm. Wow, hands up if you’ve read that script before:
Disease is a major threat to uncontacted tribes around the world. “We’re talking about things like flu or measles, because they have no antibodies or immunity, so they are very often fatal,” he added. Dozens of Ayorea died from respiratory diseases in the 1980s.
The biggest threat to these uncontacted tribes, especially those who reside in the Amazon, remains the threat to their land:
While the Sentinelese are protected by Indian laws which make it illegal to intrude on their island, most uncontacted people do not have the same fortune, their habitats instead being encroached upon by unwelcome outsiders.
“The most important challenge, by far, is to protect their land,” Mazower said. “That is the absolute essential. If their lands are protected, which is their right under international law, then there is actually no reason they should not continue to survive and thrive.”
Sadly, it seems that human greed will ultimately win out, and these tribes will be forced to suffer the worst fate of all – the modern world.
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