Isolated Tribe Initiates Contact with Villagers near Peru-Brazil Border

July 21, 2014:

Update: Members of the tribe that initiated contact with villagers on Brazil’s Envira River contracted influenza during contact. They were treated by FUNAI medical personnel and have since rejoined the rest of their tribe in the forest. FUNAI reports that the tribe sought contact to escape recent violent attacks by narcotic traffickers who use these remote borderlands to transport coca paste from Peru to Brazil.  See Survival International’s website for more information.

See UAC’s original post from July 15th below.

July 15, 2014:

In June, a tribe of voluntarily isolated people, also referred to as “uncontacteds,” emerged from the forest and entered a remote Ashaninka indigenous village on Brazil’s Envira River. The group of approximately 60 men, women, and children approached the village peacefully. The Envira is across the border from Peru’s Alto Purús region, where UAC has been working to protect isolated tribes for the past decade. This incident on the Envira highlights a recent increase in encounters between isolated tribes and villagers in these extremely remote borderlands.

Complejo Purús_EnviraBrazil’s agency in charge of isolated groups, FUNAI, immediately responded by sending a commission of translators, health workers, and experts in isolated tribes to assist the villagers and carry out a contingency plan for such incidences of contact in order to prevent any transmission of disease or violence. Since then, the tribe has remained in the area and expressed a desire to end their isolation. This is the first contact initiated by isolated tribes in Acre, Brazil since 1996.

Isolated tribe photographed near the Envira in 2010 (Gleison Miranda / FUNAI / Survival International).

Isolated tribe photographed near the Envira River in 2010 (Gleison Miranda / FUNAI / Survival International).

It is believed that most tribes in isolation have had at least some contact with the outside world. The type of contact could range from verbal communication with villagers from across a river, or the tribe raiding an empty village or logging camp for manufactured items. Some may even have trade relations with other semi-isolated groups that have sporadic contact with the outside world. Most have acquired some manufactured items, such as machetes and metal pots, and seek contact when they need new ones. These tools give them a considerable advantage over other rival isolated groups without such items. In fact, the group on the Envira carried a shotgun. It is not known whether they have ammunition or know how to use it.

Experts are speculating on why the Envira group may have chosen to end their isolation. Some blame illegal logging across the border in Peru’s Alto Purús National Park and Murunahua Territorial Reserve for Isolated Tribes, which could have forced the tribes to flee into Brazil. However, recent river investigations and overflights conducted by UAC and its Peruvian sister organization, ProPurús, found a decrease in illegal logging in these protected areas. Stricter enforcement of regulations related to Mahogany exports have reduced the demand for illegal timber.

Unfortunately, narcotic traffickers are still active in the more remote areas of the Peru – Brazil borderlands, in the exact areas where the isolated tribes live. It is quite possible that the tribes have been forced to change their migratory routes or leave certain watersheds altogether in order to avoid conflicts with the smugglers who are always heavily armed.

While Brazil’s response to the Envira situation should be commended, the future of these tribes depend on both Brazil and Peru’s ability to prepare villagers living in areas with isolated tribes to avoid direct contact, and for the government to respond immediately with contingency plans when the next contact occurs. Entire tribes have been wiped out by common illnesses, and misunderstandings and fear from both the villagers and tribes often leads to violence.

Within the past few days, two different isolated groups have appeared near villages on the Alto Purús River. Neither tribe initiated contact, however, and returned to the forest without communicating with the villagers.

UAC is working with Peru’s park service, ministry of culture, and indigenous federations to protect the isolated tribes living in and around the Alto Purús. In May, we completed a comprehensive assessment of threats and the status of isolated tribes in the Murunahua Territorial Reserve. Results are being used to develop the Reserve’s first ever protection plan.


FUNAI press release

 Article in Science

Camps made by tribes across the border in Peru (C. Fagan, UAC, 2008).

Shelters made by an isolated tribe on the Curanja River, Peru (C. Fagan, UAC, 2008).

Possessions of an isolated tribesman left behind after an encounter with villagers on the Yurua River, Peru. The bag was sewn from clothing taken from the  village during an encounter the previous year (C. Fagan, UAC, 2014).

Possessions of an isolated tribesman left behind after an encounter with villagers on the Yurua River, Peru. The bag was sewn from clothing taken from the village during an encounter the previous year (C. Fagan, UAC, 2014).

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