The Fate of the Isolated

Author: Andrew Rushby
Published: August 05, 2011 at 5:09 am
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It may be difficult to believe that in this era of globalized culture, telecommunication and corporatism that there are places on our little planet that remain untouched by our worldwide civilization. Places where human beings exist completely outside of our realm of influence. But these people do exist in many parts of the world, from Asia to South America, Australia to Mexico and even the United States. These societies are anachronisms of a time long past, a window into the lives of our ancestors; their entire knowledge and existence, their microcosm universe and everything they know is completely alien to us, and we to them. Everything you know, everyone you have ever met, every technological comfort, philosophical or religious belief and every single word you think or speak is utterly, completely and entirely alien to these people. All of our trivial issues, our politics and meaningless everyday routines are incomprehensible to groups of humans that are alive today.


States containing uncontacted peoples (Wikimedia).

Uncontacted tribes exist in nations across the world, from South East Asia to North Sentinel Island off the coast of India. However, most isolated peoples inhabit the vast expanse of the dense Amazonian rain forest.  

In February 2011, the Brazil National Indian Foundation (also known as Funai), aerially photographed for the first time an isolated Amazonian tribe living in a protected area on the border between Peru and Brazil. These are extraordinary humans who have had extremely limited, if any, contact with any other humans or society; they are completely isolated and insulated from our way of life: our science, technology, politics, our celebrity fetishes and economics. They exist in a world separate to the one that you and I share. Bounded by vast expanses of pristine Amazon rainforest but still spatially contiguous with ours, their world is separated culturally, linguistically and religiously from our own.

   
A village of uncontacted indigenous people in Brazil, 2008. (Funai/Gleison Miranda)

We know very little about these people and how their society is structured. We can gleam some superficial information from these remarkable images, mainly regarding their diet, which seems to consist of bananas, papaya and manioc sourced from communal gardens. Whilst there is some evidence from the images of inter-tribal trading, contact with outside peoples is unheard of. We know nothing of their religious beliefs and have no means of uncovering the intricacies of their language or culture. We should not consider these tribes to be 'primative' however. They appear healthy and, from what little can be inferred from the images, are thriving in one of the most extreme and hostile environments on Earth. Given the availability of resources, their weaponry is impressive and effective; some bows up to 4 metres long with 2 metre arrows have been recovered from abandoned villages. They are adorned in red dye (known as urucum) from the annatto shrub, which presumably has some cultural signficance. We should therefore recognise the universal adaptability of the human species to all environments and our common desire for survival and persistence.

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Article Author: Andrew Rushby

Science writer and PhD student at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, U.K.

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