October 08, 2007

The last uncontacted tribes

Threats loom for the last uncontacted tribes

In South America and a few other places, a small number of tribal communities have managed to steer clear of modernity. Their time may be running outThis year the Brazilian government increased its estimate of the number of isolated tribes in its part of the Amazon from 40 to 67. But it acknowledged some were reduced to a few individuals. One tribe is believed to be down to one man, known as the Man of the Hole, who digs holes in the forest to catch animals and fires arrows at anyone who comes near.

There is another large group of uncontacted tribes in eastern Peru, where the government has licensed 70 percent of the forest to oil and logging companies. These companies are coming into close contact with groups that were suspected but not encountered. Peruvian officials have tried to deny their presence, but the evidence is now incontrovertible.

"We think there are 15 groups," Hill said. "Many are the descendants of tribes contacted over 100 years ago, during the rubber boom, who fled the prospect of enslavement and decimation by new diseases."

The other concentration of groups is in West Papua, where vast areas of forest and mountain have been barely explored and access is particularly difficult because of the Indonesian military. Little research has been done, but occasional sightings of tribes by missionaries in aeroplanes suggest there could be as many as 40. At least 16 isolated groups are thought to live in the vast, mostly untouched Mamberamo river basin, an area almost the size of Britain.

Elsewhere, there are three known isolated groups in the Andaman islands of India, five in Bolivia, possibly one or two in Colombia and Suriname, one in Paraguay, and maybe one or two bushmen groups in southern Africa. In 1984, the Pintupi, semi-nomadic people, came out of the Australian desert.

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