Peru sends investigators into the Amazon jungle to find 'uncontacted' indigenous tribe after farmer is fatally shot in the chest with an arrow

The team trying to locate the Mashco-Piro people includes anthropologists and conflict managers in an effort to prevent more contact and violence

Simeon Tegel
Tuesday 05 May 2015 18:46 BST
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Members of the Mashco-Piro tribe in the Peruvian rainforest
Members of the Mashco-Piro tribe in the Peruvian rainforest (EPA)

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The Peruvian government has sent investigators into the Amazon after a man was killed by an “uncontacted” indigenous tribe.

Leonardo Perez, 20, was shot in the chest with an arrow on Friday as he worked on his family’s subsistence farm in the Madre de Dios region, near Manu National Park.

His attackers are thought to come from the Mashco-Piro people, one of a dwindling number of tribes in Peru still living in what anthropologists call “voluntary isolation”. Using stone-age technology and maintaining their pre-Colombian culture, they usually flee from any potential contact with outsiders.

It is unclear why the tribe approached Mr Perez’s community, who are from the indigenous Shipetari group, but who have already adopted aspects of western culture, including speaking Spanish, wearing “modern” clothes and settlement farming.

A Mashco-Piro camp on the Las Piedras river, south-east Peru
A Mashco-Piro camp on the Las Piedras river, south-east Peru

Lorena Prieto, who heads the Peruvian culture ministry’s bureau for uncontacted indigenous peoples, said: “They may have been looking for food, especially bananas or cassava, but maybe also have been after machetes or metal pots. But it could even be climate change making some of the species they depend on unavailable.”

The investigations are not criminal – the team sent by the authorities includes anthropologists and conflict managers in an effort to prevent more contact and violence.

There have been many similar conflicts in other parts of the vast Peruvian Amazon. In some cases, experts believe the tribes may be suffering from illness or hunger, or fleeing intruders, such as illegal loggers and gold miners.

Yet that is thought unlikely in the case of the Mashco Piro, given that the rainforest territory they roam is largely pristine.

Under the International Labour Organisation’s Indigenous and Tribal People’s Convention, of which Peru is a signatory, outsiders are prohibited from making contact with indigenous people.

Yet the Peruvian government has for decades allowed extractive industries, including oil and gas drilling, even in Amazon reserves declared off-limits to prospective uncontacted tribes.

Three quarters of the country’s biggest upstream hydrocarbon development, the Camisea gas project, is actually inside one such reserve.

Half the local population is thought to have died from illnesses such as the common cold, since Shell began drilling there in the 1980s.

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