Moral Low Ground


Uncontacted Tribe Discovered in Brazilian Amazon

FUNAI, the Brazilian Indian affairs agency, has confirmed the existence of a previously unknown indigenous tribe in the western Amazon. According to National Geographic, the tribe is believed to number some 200 members and was originally discovered by examining satellite photographs of jungle clearings and confirmed by flyovers.

Those flights over the Javari Valley Indigenous Reserve revealed three clearings and four large communal buildings called malocas. The inhabitants have planted corn, banana and possibly peanuts or cassava.

According to National Geographic, the Javari, which is the size of Florida, contains the largest concentration of uncontacted tribes on earth, with at least eight such communities and possibly as many as 14.

The Brazilian government will be very careful not to contact this tribe; uncontacted groups are highly vulnerable to communicable diseases like the ones that wiped out indigenous populations when the first European explorers and settlers arrived in the New World in the late 15th and 16th centuries. In addition to diseases, the danger of culture shock is very real.

This discovery is another remarkable achievement for FUNAI, which has found more than two dozen such tribes in Brazil. The Brazilian Department of Isolated Indians has unconfirmed reports of dozens of other uncontacted groups. Fourteen or 15 uncontacted tribes also inhabit the Peruvian Amazon as well. But with loggers, gold prospectors and energy companies penetrating deeper and deeper into once uncharted territory, it is unclear how much longer these tribes will remain blissfully unaware of the modern world that is creeping in on them.

An uncontacted tribe looks up in awe as a Brazilian aircraft flies over their settlement in Acre state. (Photo: Gleilson Miranda/Acre government)

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