Last tribes on col­li­sion course with mod­ern so­ci­ety

The China Post - - LIFE -

Threat­ened by dis­ease and de­for­esta­tion, the world’s last iso­lated tribes in the Ama­zon are on a col­li­sion course with mod­ern so­ci­ety like never be­fore, ex­perts say.

En­tire cul­tures of peo­ple are the verge of be­ing wiped out in Peru and Brazil, ac­cord­ing to a se­ries of pa­pers pub­lished this week in the jour­nal Science.

“We are on the thresh­old of large ex­tinc­tions of cul­tures,” Fran­cisco Estremadoyro, direc­tor of the Lima-based non­profit ProPu­rus, was quoted as say­ing.

“There is no ques­tion that this is a his­toric mo­ment.”

While it is dif­fi­cult

to know pre­cisely what is go­ing on in­side re­mote tribes, re­searchers say danger­ous en­coun­ters with mod­ern peo­ple are on the rise.

And not only be­cause of the risk of vi­o­lence — com­mon ail­ments like the flu or whoop­ing cough, trans­mit­ted accidentally by log­gers, news crews, drug traf­fick­ers or well-mean­ing an­thro­pol­o­gists, can be even more deadly.

In one case, a fish-bone neck­lace left by a Ger­man re­searcher decades ago was blamed by vil­lagers along the up­per Cu­ranja River for be­ing poi­soned. Soon af­ter it was found, a sore throat and fever ill­ness killed around 200 peo­ple.

“We were so weak, and some van­ished into the for­est,” re­called Marcelino Pinedo Ce­cilio, who grew up plant­ing pota­toes and corn and us­ing bamboo ar­rows, and who re­mem­bers run­ning away with his mother the first time they saw peo­ple from the out­side world in the 1950s.

While other re­gions of the world — such as the moun­tains of New Guinea and the An­daman Is­lands in the In­dian Ocean — are home to re­mote tribes of peo­ple, “by far the largest num­bers are found across the Ama­zon,” said the Science re­port.

“And it is in Peru that the sit­u­a­tion ap­pears most dire,” it added, de­scrib­ing what ex­perts be­lieve are 8,000 peo­ple scat­tered in small bands across the rain­for­est.

The Peru­vian gov­ern­ment has set aside three mil­lion hectares of pro­tected land, but it may not be enough.

“A surge in sight­ings and raids in both Peru and Brazil may be a sign that some of the world’s last peo­ples living out­side the global econ­omy are emerg­ing,” said the re­port.

As Many as 100 mil. Per­ished

The col­li­sion of cul­tures be­gan in 1492 with the ar­rival of Christo­pher Colum­bus in the Amer­i­cas, and has killed an es­ti­mated 50 mil­lion to 100 mil­lion na­tive peo­ple, the re­port said.

But even mod­ern tech­nol­ogy and knowl­edge may not be enough to stop wip­ing out even more peo­ple, mainly due to dis­eases for which tribes­peo­ple have no im­mu­nity, as well as the lack of enough for­est land for food, medicine and ma­te­ri­als.

The iso­lated tribes “are some of the world’s most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple,” said Beatriz Huer­tas, an an­thro­pol­o­gist based in Lima.

In Brazil, where ex­perts were hor­ri­fied to see 50-90 per­cent of tribes be­ing killed by dis­ease af­ter en­coun­ters with the out­side world in the 1970s and 1980s, the gov­ern­ment did its best to stop such con­tacts un­less ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary.

But while the plan by Brazil’s Na­tional In­dian Foun­da­tion (FU­NAI) be­came a model for the re­gion, some say the jug­ger­naut of the world’s sev­enth largest econ­omy is too much to rein in, as de­vel­op­ers push ever deeper into the Ama­zon to dig mines and build dams, pipe­lines and high­ways.

From 1987 un­til 2013, FU­NAI made con­tact with five groups. But in the last 18 months, three tribes have sought out con­tact, in­clud­ing the Xi­nane, the Koruba and the Awa Guaja.

In one case, four Xi­nane men en­tered a vil­lage and took ma­chet- es, pots and cloth­ing, which can be a source of in­fec­tion.

So far, FU­NAI is aware of 26 iso­lated in­dige­nous groups in Brazil, and be­lieves as many as 78 more groups may be in hid­ing or on the run.

But money and staff is per­ilously short at FU­NAI, which has two spe­cial­ized field teams but says it needs 14, at a time when ex­perts be­lieve con­tacts with iso­lated tribes will only in­crease.

“FU­NAI is dead,” lead­ing Brazil­ian ethno­g­ra­pher and for­mer FU­NAI em­ployee Syd­ney Pos­suelo is quoted as say­ing.

“But no­body told it, and no­body held a fu­neral.”

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