In 2011, there are 100 uncontacted tribes worldwide

After a remarkable picture of an isolated people was unveiled, Joanna Eede tells of another newly discovered native group

It was once thought that all Yanomami Indians of the Brazilian Amazon had been contacted during the latter half of the 20th century, after which almost a fifth of their people died from diseases carried by gold-miners. Now, days after aerial photographs and footage of a threatened tribe living in the Brazilian rainforest on the border with Peru were published by Survival International, the organisation has revealed that there is a group of uncontacted Yanomami still living in Roraima state, northern Brazil.

The Moxatetéu people live in an area with the highest concentration of illegal gold miners. If the miners are not expelled urgently, they could come into contact with the Yanomami and pose a threat to their lives. "There are many uncontacted Indians," Davi Kopenawa, spokesperson of the contacted Yanomami people told Survival recently. "I want to help my uncontacted relatives, who have the same blood as us. They have never seen the white man's world."

An international campaign resulted in the creation of the Yanomami Park in 1992. José Carlos Meirelles, who works for Funai, Brazil's Indian Affairs Department, told Survival, "These people, the Moxatetéu really exist. Those empty spaces of the Yanomami Park are not as empty as people think. I'd go as far as saying that there is not just one uncontacted group in this area."

The Moxatetéu are one of more than 100 peoples worldwide who live and thrive in isolation from society. Exact numbers are unknown: there could be up to 70 isolated peoples in the Brazilian rainforest, according to Funai, and an estimated 15 uncontacted tribes in Peru. Gauging how many such tribes there are in West Papua is difficult, because its treacherous terrain, and militarisation of some areas, prevents easy access.

Little is known about uncontacted tribes, but it is easy to imagine what they don't know: of cars or banks or telephones, the concept of government, the internet or the administration of Barack Obama, or why loggers would want to denude their forests. "We didn't know about deforestation," said a man from Brazil's Enawene Nawe tribe, after they were first contacted in 1974. "We didn't know that tractors existed and we didn't know about chain saws that cut down trees." Everything else about their lives – their languages, their names, what they hope for and to whom they pray – is mere speculation. But photographs such as those published last week put an end to speculation about their existence.

"The images show irrefutably that they are alive and healthy," said Fiona Watson, field and research director at Survival International. "And they negate the notion put forward by some that they have been 'invented' by environmentalists opposed to oil exploration in the Amazon." The images will help those campaigning to ensure that the limits of uncontacted territories are defined and protected under international law.

Stephen Corry, director of Survival, believes that a change in attitude will help tribes sustain their lifestyles. "So often, uncontacted tribes are referred to as 'backward' or 'uncivilised' because they choose to live in a different way from industrialised societies," he says. "It's the idea that's backward, not them."

Wade Davis is an American ethno-botanist and explorer-in-residence at National Geographic. "Just to know that such cultures exist is to remember that the human imagination is vast, fluid and infinite in its capacity for social and spiritual invention," he says.

Diversity has never much mattered to those determined to get their hands on lands rich in resources. When Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492, it is thought there were several million tribal people living in Brazil; today, there are approximately 650,000. Most died from diseases to which they had little or no immunity; it is still common for at least half of a tribe to die after first contact.

Joanna Eede is author of 'We are One – A Celebration of Tribal Peoples'



Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower