Aerial Photos of Uncontacted People at the Brazilian-Peruvian Border

Survival International, the non-profit organization that helps tribal peoples defend their lives, protect their lands and determine their own futures has released new aerial photos of uncontacted peoples at the border of Brazil and Peru. The photographs are remarkable, the people are depicted shooting at the aircraft with arrows and throwing stones. You may have also noticed that they appear to have body paint, which is not Photoshopped — the males are painted in a redish-orange color and the female(s) are painted in black.

I don’t really appreciate how the press is handling this news. There’s a lot of conjecture being spun, such as absurd captions that read, “The tribespeople are likely to think the plane that took this photograph is a spirit or large bird.” Really? How do you know for sure that they think the plane is a bird or a spirit, Michael Hanlon? Perhaps they are just scared out of their minds that there are people in the air? I think it is pretty pitiful that outsiders really belittle tribal peoples, especially in scenarios like this where we know little to nothing about them!

Anyways, it is pretty phenomenal news. The irony is that last year, almost to the date, another previously uncontacted tribe in the Amazon was discovered — the Metyktire.

19 thoughts on “Aerial Photos of Uncontacted People at the Brazilian-Peruvian Border

  1. Ok, I will make some wild conjectures:

    1. They are either afraid or vexed by the helicopter.
    2. If I were to come in contact with them, the results might well be fatal to them (due to disease transmission).

    and I’ll ask a question: what would be the ethics of contacting this tribe? Would it be more ethical for others to just leave them in peace, or would it be more ethical to attempt to make contact (in some sort of safe way)?

    I am sure that this is a rookie question in your circles.

  2. Ollie,

    Maybe you can find some answers here:

    Magdalena Hurtado, Kim Hill, Hillard Kaplan, Jane Lancaster. The Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases Among South American Indians: A Call for Guidelines for Ethical Research. Current Anthropology June, 2001 Vol. 42 (3): 425- 432.

  3. How does conjecturing that the newly discovered peoples treated the helicopters as large birds belittle them? Methinks you are too sensitive. People are free to make any conjectures they like. Just so long as they do not act on unfounded conjectures, they are simply using their imaginations. Frankly, I conjecture that they were TERRIFIED of a large bird that apparently ate humans and made very loud noises. Just how do YOU imagine they interpreted the interchange?

    I also count 6 men and 2 women. Presumably and hopefully, the rest of the women and children were hidden away inside the buildings. Otherwise, things are not going well for this tribe and, indeed, some of their buildings are in need of repair.

  4. Immediately after seeing these pictures where the members of the tribe are throwing spears and whatnot at the passerbys, as well as having read your comment about how they most likely are aware of that there are people who are not part of their world, I think that they know the aircraft is not an animal of any kind, just a bringer of bad news that they wish for to disappear as soon as possible.

    I am curious, if you have any information on the topic, what happened to the Metyktire tribe after they had been discovered – if they were allowed to live on in peace or if they were pressured into mergining with surrounding societies?

    I am curious, as I have read a few texts about how tribes similar to these have been assumed to desire to lead a “civilised” life, like having their children go to school and the adults earn their economical livelihood (something I consider to be highly immoral and unethical as it imposes on ever aspect of their lives and cultural history).

  5. These people’s “discovery” will probably set in motion a series of unexpected events (or very obvious ones like some Robert Young Pelton type trying to make a name for himself by bringing back images from there) that will have unexpected consequences. One sure thing is that Funai’s and Survival’s decision to show these images in a very paradoxical move. Now that millions of people around the world know that they are there, the changes of them keeping their peace has just dropped incredibly.

    It might be a good idea to talk to groups living near that area and which might have already heard of them and try to know why they have chosen to avoid sustained contact with outsiders.

    Everybody’s assuming that these people have never had contact with outsiders, but we have to consider that they may have had contact while being deguised. By this I refer to other people on the other side of the world, the Hmong or Mao of the mountains of south east asia. One of my professors works with some Hmong communities who work very hard to avoid contact and when they do mix they desguise themselves. That is they dress like ordinary people from the majority population thus avoiding being singled out as Hmong.

    This could be the case for these people. Without their bodies painted red what “markers” do we have by which to identify them as “uncontacted tribespeople”.

    Simply a couple thoughts.

  6. Amazon tribe sighting raises contact dilemma
    Some quotes:

    Rather than being “lost,” they have likely had plenty of contact with other indigenous groups over the years, said Thomas Lovejoy, an Amazon expert who is president of The Heinz Center in Washington.

    “I think there is an ethical question whether you can in the end keep them from any contact and I think the answer to that is no,” Lovejoy said.

    Jose Carlos Meirelles, an official with Brazil’s Indian protection agency who was on the helicopter that overflew the tribe, said they should be left alone as much as possible.

    “While we are getting arrows in the face, it’s fine,” he told Brazil’s Globo newspaper. “The day that they are well-behaved, they are finished.”

  7. Call me cynical, but some of the pictures looked staged to me, so I was not surprised that there was more to the story. As the story demonstrates, though, the world will intrude whether we wish it or not. I think they have a choice and that choice should be honored. I’m sure the motives for the flybys were noble but in the end it only damaged the cause the stunt was trying to further.

  8. How can anybody debate about weather to contact people who might not have had contact with the “technological” an “economical” or “documental” world? If we don’t watch them, or make contact with them, in a way of study, we may aswell kill them all. By that I mean that they are of little relevence if nobody knows about them to be able to document it.

    Also, from making contact we could learn more about human thought in a more raw way. These people have little entertainment expect hunting and socialising as well as their other jungle activities. So thought could possibly still be about witch craft, spirits, demons, or whatever they choose to believe in without scientific understanding of the world around them.

    Reading about people like this on wikipedia is what took me here, and this is actually one of the most interesting things I have ever been reading about. If you think about it we’re born into a society were living of our lives gives us so many possibilities, even the choice to live in a different country half way around the world, were they speak the same language as we do. But for people like this all they have is their familys, the tribe, the jungle to live off, and their thoughts.

    Making contact to educate ourselves is what we should be doing. But NOT diluting and changing their own culture with our own religious beliefs, or scientific knowledge. However they are as interested in who we are if not more, as we are in them. They will obviously ask questions about us when contact is made, and we will be morraly abliged to enlighten them about how the world as we know it now works. They will want metal to use to make their labour easier, and techniques for farming and eventually will loose that essence of pure rawness as cave men type humans.

    It just amazes me that there are people still living life like this.

  9. Greetings from the Peruvian Amazon! This has only been touched on so I thought I would bring it up. Anthropologists have been trying to contact many of these tribes in the Amazon for years. What they have discovered is that THESE PEOPLE WANT NOTHING TO DO WITH US. The isolation is self imposed. For more on this subject, check out Amazon Tribes. Just my 2 cents.

  10. After watching Avatar, my eyes have really been opened to tribes like this. I have more of a respect and appreciation for their lifestyle.

  11. It appears to me that assuming anything about these people is futile. And im talking ANYTHING! These folks are obviously scared as shit to see any of us approaching… especially with all of our crazy looking machines and shit. Animals get all freaked out too. So do we in wierd situations. It doesnt even make sense to assume they have any particular way of viewing us categorically in any way, weather they believe in anything remotely similar to what we call “witch craft”, or even if they wish to be bothered or not. Now, this is going to sound kinda funny, but, I think we assume too much by saying “they dont wish to have anything to do with us” just because they try to kill us everytime we get in range. Who knows? They still appear to be humans with higher brains. How can we assume what they want when we dont know shit about communicating with them? Its not their fault theyve not figured out metalworking for the thousands of years theyve been farting around in the jungle… their land must not be conducive to it… I say we throw some bio-isolating armor on and go in. Figure out whats really going on down there. Then after some peace attempts at close range if they keep trying to dart our necks, then we peace out on em. They still need to know that they cant go around killing us for accidentally fishing or crossing into their neck of the woods. Now thats just not very nice… Maybe they are throwing stuff at aircraft because they want to ground it so they can check it out? Doubt it, but who really knows?

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