Uncontacted Amazon tribe meets modern world in Brazil

An isolated Amazon tribe has made contact with Brazilian authorities after illegal logging in the rainforest where they live.

Contact believed to be linked to illegal logging

Uncontacted aboriginal people have made contact with a settled indigenous community close to where this isolated Amazon community was photographed from the air in 2010. ( Gleison Miranda/Funai/Survival)

An isolated Amazon tribe has made contact with Brazilian authorities after illegal logging in the rainforest where they live.

Brazil's Indian Affairs Department, Funai, announced last week that the "uncontacted" tribe emerged from the rainforest near the Brazil-Peruvian border and made peaceful contact on June 29 with a "settled" indigenous community known as the Ashaninka.

The tribe met with a local environmental group, Frente de Proteção Etnoambiental Envira, and with an indigenous adviser to the local state government, the Brazilian government said. The local environmental group had been tracking the tribe as it moved closer and closer to the Ashaninka settlement in recent weeks.

According to Survival International, a London-based group that advocates for the rights of tribal peoples, uncontacted tribes are groups that generally have no contact with the outside world, although they may have had occasional, brief contact in the past. Although most are aware of people beyond their tribe, they typically avoid contact by hiding or shooting arrows at outsiders. 

Following contact with the isolated tribe at the Ashaninka settlement, a medical unit has been flown in to treat possible epidemics of common diseases, since isolated tribes usually lack immunity to those illnesses, Survival International reported.

The group said it and the Brazilian government had been warning there was a risk of such contact happening due to illegal logging on the Peruvian side of the border.

'Genocidal risk'

Stephen Cory, director of Survival International, expressed concern about the development.

"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," he said in a statement. "The uncontacted Indians now face the same genocidal risk from disease and violence which has characterized the invasion and occupation of the Americas over the last five centuries.”

Funai estimates there are at least 77 isolated groups in the Amazon rainforest, Survival International reported.

Funai has a policy of not contacting isolated tribes, but has a contingency plan for when such groups seek to establish contact with the modern world. The department has been tracking four distinct isolated tribes in the region for more than 20 years.