Out of the Amazon: isolated jungle tribe emerges in Brazil asking for tools

Members of isolated tribe, possibly disturbed by drug traffickers in Peru, try to make contact but may be at risk from diseases, groups say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2014, 9:44pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 July, 2014, 4:31am

One of the world's most isolated tribes has started to emerge from deep in the Amazon and reach out to settled communities.

The rare contact by the tribe, which is part of the Jaminawa ethnic group, has raised fears that drug traffickers may be driving the nomadic people from their forest homes as Brazil's border with Peru becomes an increasingly important route for coca leaf smuggling.

The Jaminawa normally shun populated areas and have been known to shoot arrows at intruders, but local sources said that in recent weeks a group of as many as 30 members had repeatedly approached settlements along the Envira river to ask for tools and machetes, and to collect turtle eggs.

Before Indians were killed by loggers. Now they are killed by drug traffickers

"They tried to make contact and they appeared friendly. We don't know if they want to make full contact," said Francisco Estremadoyro of Propurus, a Peruvian organisation that sets up protection areas for such groups.

Such appearances are unusual, but not unknown. They also carry considerable dangers of contagion. Cold and flu viruses have proven deadly in the past to remote tribes with no immunity.

The Brazilian government's protection agency for indigenous groups has sent a team to assess the causes of the interaction and to minimise the disease threat.

"The team made contact with seven isolated indigenous peoples. They received medical treatment and were eliminated as a possible risk for spreading contagious diseases," said Madeleyne Machado of the agency's communications department.

The Peruvian government said it was also looking into the issue and would step up monitoring of areas in its directory of uncontacted tribes.

Both governments have told local communities to keep away from the tribespeople so as to avoid spreading infections, but non-governmental organisations say the advice is largely ignored.

"Most people try to talk to them and give them tools and things to help them, and clothes. The clothes you wear are full of germs. The tools you have at home look clean, but they have germs, so the possibility of spreading germs is very very high," said Estremadoyro.

The reasons for the increased contact are unknown, but speculation has focused on growing drug trafficking activity across the border.

Peru has overtaken Colombia as the world's biggest producer of coca leaf, the primary ingredient for cocaine and crack. Brazil is the second biggest market for the drugs after the US.

"Before uncontacted Indians were killed by loggers. Now they are killed by drug traffickers," said anthropologist Beatriz Huertas.

Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples' rights, expressed alarm about the serious risks posed by the latest approach, which it said may also be caused by illegal logging on the Peruvian side of the border.

"Both Peru and Brazil gave assurances to stop the illegal logging and drug trafficking, which are pushing uncontacted Indians into new areas. They've failed. The traffickers even took over a government installation meant to monitor their behaviour," said Survival's director, Stephen Corry. "The uncontacted Indians now face the same genocidal risk from disease and violence which has characterised the invasion and occupation of the Americas over the last five centuries. No one has the right to destroy these Indians," he said.



Send to a friend

To forward this article using your default email client (e.g. Outlook), click here.

Enter multiple addresses separated by commas(,)

For unlimited access to: SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive