Peruvian authorities say they are struggling to keep outsiders away from a previously isolated Amazon people who began appearing on the banks of a river popular with environmental tourists.
The advocacy group Survival International released photos on Tuesday showing members of the Mashco-Piro tribe on the river bank, described as the most detailed sightings of uncontacted indigenous people ever recorded on camera.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Survival International’s Rebecca Spooner said the release of the photographs comes on the back of increased violence as the tribe looks to steer away outsiders, including curious onlookers and logging and mining companies who are trying to force them off their land.
The UK-based group provided the photos exactly a year after releasing aerial photos from Brazil of another tribe classified as uncontacted, one of about 100 such groups it says still exist around the world.
“We really want to highlight this volatile situation so as to put pressure on the Peruvian government to do something," Spooner said.
“They were known to be a peaceful tribe up until 2001 but there has been an increasing level of violence when they started shooting at people with bows and arrows because they started coming under increasing threat as their land became encroached upon".
Tribe members have been blamed for two bow-and-arrow attacks. One badly wounded a forest ranger in October. The following month, another fatally pierced the heart of Nicolas "Shaco'' Flores, an indigenous person from the Matsiguenka tribe, who had long maintained a relationship with the Mashco-Piro.
One of the Mashco-Piro photos was taken by a bird watcher in August, Survival International said.
Others were shot by Spanish archaeologist Diego Cortijo on November 16, six days before Flores was killed.
The Mashco-Piro tribe is believed to number in the hundreds and lives in Peru's Manu National Park.
The part of the Mashco-Piro tribe that showed up at the river is believed to number about 60, including some 25 adults, according to Carlos Soria, a professor at Lima's Catholic University who used to run Peru's park protection agency.
The Mashco-Piro live by their own social code, which Soria said includes the practice of kidnapping other tribes' women and children.
"Isolated tribes never show themselves," Soria said. "But if this group is doing so it is because they have a certain capacity to defend and protect themselves. They don't fear people from outside."
Valuable land targetted
The Mashco-Piro are believed to be one of about 15 uncontacted tribes in Peru that together are estimated to number between 12,000 and 15,000 people living in jungles east of the Andes.
Beatriz Huerta, an anthropologist who works with Peru's agency for indigenous affairs, speculated that the tribe left the relative safety of their tribe's jungle home because their habitat was becoming increasingly encroached upon.
"To the west of the territories of the Mashco-Piro in Madre de Dios is the basin of the Urubamba river," Huerta said.
"That's where the oil and gas drilling project of Camisea is located. We are very worried because there is a great possibility that the helicopters flying over are scaring the animals away. These animals are the source of food for indigenous people."
Experts were concerned the tribe may be decimated by a disease borne by outsiders, as has occurred with other uncontacted peoples, but it is still a mystery to them why the Mashco-Piro have appeared in an area so heavily trafficked.
After the first sightings, and after tourists left clothing for the Mashco-Piro, state authorities issued a directive in August barring all boats from going ashore in the area. But enforcing it has been difficult as there is no effective policing.
A number of tribes exist in parts of the Amazon and Andes range that have little to no contact with the outside world. The government in their respective nations try to keep tourists away from these areas, both for the quiet of the tribes and the safety of tourists, though they seem to be finding this increasingly difficult. As the article points out, it is unclear what is driving these particular native groups from their usual grounds into confrontations with other people that get too close to their lands.
What are your thoughts? What should be the stance towards these kinds of groups- I'm not sure if other countries experience similar 'isolated' groups to the degree of these, though the US does have people like the Amish and certain FLDS who are more or less big on keeping themselves separate from the going ons around them.
The Star Trek-like non-involvement approach seems strange to me. It may be true that contact with civilization is going to mess them up for a while, but in the long term they'll probably benefit. As it is they live like cavemen in a hostile environment in groups which are so small as to almost ensure incest and with no access to healthcare.
Anyone who would isolate their children like that in almost any western country would end up in prison.
In my opinion the only reasonable thing to do is to contact them, explain to them their situation, tell them what happened to other tribes in similar scenarios, tell them what they are missing out on and let them choose for themselves.
I wouldn't be surprised if this noble non-involvement policy is really the result of some criminal elements bribing politicians to take advantage of the natural resources in the area that belongs to those people.
Voice of joy and sunshine
26th May 2003
The groups should be brought into line, by force if necessary. Even if the adults have a philosophy that promotes that sort of lifestyle, their children certainly do not. If the kids grow up and decide they want to go and live like that, that's fine, but keeping them in those conditions - keeping them ignorant - is nothing more than child abuse.