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"They are almost certain not to understand what the plane is -- perhaps a spirit or a large bird."
May 29, 2008 5:18 PM   Subscribe

"Skin painted bright red, heads partially shaved, arrows drawn back in the longbows and aimed square at the aircraft buzzing overhead. The gesture is unmistakable: Stay Away. The apparent aggression shown by these people is quite understandable, for they are members of one of Earth's last uncontacted tribes."

The unnamed tribe is just one of dozens around the world (though most are located primarily in the depths of the Amazon basin). The discovery comes at a time of increased pressure on these isolated cultures to surrender their lands and resources to loggers and oil drillers, as well as the diseases and other troubles they carry. And while advocacy groups like Survival International campaign to prevent damaging encounters -- ranging from deforestation and urban encroachment to radical "human safari" ecotours -- even the most well-intentioned first contacts can result in violence and death.

Images: One, Two, Three

More news reports

Previous thread discussing a South American first contact

For the Wikiholics: Uncontacted peoples, First contact (anthropology), Cargo cult, and Outside Context Problem
posted by Rhaomi (88 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oops, should be "as well as increased vulnerability to the diseases and other troubles they carry". Apologies for the goof.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:22 PM on May 29, 2008


Fascinating post. The Wikipedia article about the Sentinelese is also worth a read.
posted by pravit at 5:27 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


When they've been standing in their front yard SHOOTING AT THE PLANE BUZZING THEIR HOUSE can we really say they are "uncontacted?". Certainly not unchanged, I'd think.

There are some great pictures around of well intentioned hippies beaming next to natives untouched by the modern world. Part of me finds it insanely ironic and sad - and part of me thinks, "who the fuck gave us the right to decide these folks should be kept out of the modern world, anyway? Why do we get to decide they don't get to watch TV? If they get 'corrupted' by the Modern World, doesn't that mean they *liked* it?"
posted by freebird at 5:32 PM on May 29, 2008


I smell a Realty TV show in the making!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:33 PM on May 29, 2008


Totally 'shopped.
posted by yhbc at 5:36 PM on May 29, 2008


Why am I feeling like this is some hoax?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:39 PM on May 29, 2008


National Geographic found a stone age tribe
Let's feed them their first hotdogs on film
Won't that be a prize to show to the jet set tonight?
Aren't they cute, aren't they pure, muse subscribers back home
Next weekend, the junta exterminates them
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:39 PM on May 29, 2008 [11 favorites]


The article has this: Contact is usually a disaster for these remote tribespeople, who live a life probably unchanged for more than 10,000 years.

I believe this is not true, and has the "noble savage" error oozing out of it. There is some evidence for a much denser, integrated population in the Amazonian region that suffered a tremendous dieback and relatively recent trade network disruption and isolation intensification following European colonisation. 1491 and all that. Frequently, remote, isolationist tribes prove to be descendants of losing factions in dominance struggles (against other local tribes or against outside colonisers) or survivors of severe local disease or environment conditions that migrated elsewhere. Their culture may have been static and isolated for a couple of centuries, or for a couple of millennia (although I'd got for the shorter number). The fact that they share skin decorating behaviour with other cultures within that region demonstrates that cultural diffusion has occurred.
posted by meehawl at 5:41 PM on May 29, 2008 [7 favorites]


Speaking of the Sentinelese, previously.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:44 PM on May 29, 2008


meehawl--might they also have had indirect contact, i.e. several trades or tribes removed, through trading for certain modern artifacts with other tribes who have had contact? Or is it possible they are so isolated that they have no real interaction or trading with other tribes?

Either way, a fascinating post.
posted by ornate insect at 5:45 PM on May 29, 2008


this is amazing, thanks!
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:46 PM on May 29, 2008


"They are almost certain not to understand what the plane is -- perhaps a spirit or a large bird."

Or, maybe they saw it and thought "WTF HUGE NOISY EVIL THING IN THE SKY??!?!?"
posted by Avenger at 5:50 PM on May 29, 2008


Amazing! Great post. Here is a more tightly cropped close-up photo of Image 1 above from the Survival International website.
posted by mrducts at 5:50 PM on May 29, 2008


Simultaneous to this post, tribal story teller Ma'a Te Fil Tah recounted news of the appearance of a large metal bird to the folk. In the ensuing longhouse conversational thread, speculation centred on what the omen meant for Oba Mar's upcoming election to the largely ceremonial role of Commander in Chief of Frog-Hunting, but the conversation was cut short by wise woman Jeh Sar Mi'in, who noted Ma'a was always looking to curry favour by recounting very thin and frankly unlikely tales like this.
posted by Abiezer at 5:51 PM on May 29, 2008 [11 favorites]


You fear me? So you should. All you who are vile. Would you like to know how you will die? The sacred time is near. Beware the blackness of day. Beware the man who brings the jaguar. Behold him reborn from mud and earth. For the one he takes you to will cancel the sky, and scratch out the earth. Scratch you out. And end your world. He's with us now. Day will be like night. And the man jaguar will lead you to your end.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:52 PM on May 29, 2008


Great post. Thanks.
posted by homunculus at 5:53 PM on May 29, 2008


Sounds like someone is trying to reprise the Tasaday hoax.
posted by Crotalus at 5:57 PM on May 29, 2008


It is a conundrum. It seems like contact does often go badly and the diseases are certainly a big problem, but the isolation option comes really close to having a rainforest ghetto or zoo.

The Sentinelese at least make it clear that their choice is isolation - but these guys? Not so clear. (I don't think you can read too much desire for isolation into them busting out the bows when a plane they don't know what the fuck is appears, as opposed to the Sentinelese who tend to shoot at recognizable human beings.)
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:58 PM on May 29, 2008


I found this really interesting as well. Thanks for sharing.
posted by friendlyjuan at 5:59 PM on May 29, 2008


The biggest danger to these isolated peoples may be these fuckers.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:16 PM on May 29, 2008 [9 favorites]


Or, maybe they saw it and thought "WTF HUGE NOISY EVIL THING IN THE SKY??!?!?"

When I read this I was trying to imagine what that would be like. Discarding anything about whether there has never been any real historical contact, I'm just trying to fathom what it would be like to have lived all of your life knowing nothing but nature and stone-age technology and life in the tribe.

It would be like an urban, "modern" person seeing a UFO up close and personal, or witnessing an atomic explosion - or any other technology so sufficiently advanced as to be considered magic. It'd probably feel like the end of the world. Very threatening and bewildering.

Hell yes I'd coat myself in red mud and shoot arrows at it. Are you kidding me? Did you see the snarling, whirling teeth on that thing? It was eating the sky! What the hell, man? We're going to need to make bigger arrows!
posted by loquacious at 6:18 PM on May 29, 2008 [9 favorites]


Hell yes I'd coat myself in red mud and shoot arrows at it. Are you kidding me? Did you see the snarling, whirling teeth on that thing? It was eating the sky! What the hell, man? We're going to need to make bigger arrows!

So you're saying Area 51 was the real reason for the arms race?

what?</small?
posted by rokusan at 6:30 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


html is hrd
posted by rokusan at 6:30 PM on May 29, 2008


The apparent aggression shown by these people is quite understandable, for they are members of one of Earth's last uncontacted tribes.

They're presumably unaware that they're members of one of Earth's last uncontacted tribes. It's not clear how this fact could explain their response.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:36 PM on May 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


If you ever have the chance to see Pirinop, My First Contact, go see it!

I saw it at National Museum of the American Indian recently in the Video in the Villages film festival they hosted. It's a video made by young Ikpeng videographers, based on (and featuring) discussions with their village elders who were young men and women when the group was first contacted by Brazilian anthropologists in the '60s. It's a fascinating, well-told, and moving story.

Also excellent, by some of the same filmmakers, is Marangmotxingo Mïrang/From the Ikpeng Children to the World (which appears to be previewable on google).
posted by dkg at 6:41 PM on May 29, 2008


The biggest danger to these isolated peoples may be these fuckers.

"Wait, so now that you've told me about this great spirit, 'Nailed-to-a-tree-man', I need to worship him or I'll burn in hell after I die?"

"Pretty much, yeah."

"Fuck you. And fuck the great silver bird you flew in on.""
posted by sebastienbailard at 6:47 PM on May 29, 2008 [23 favorites]


Absolutely first rate post. Thanks so much.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:47 PM on May 29, 2008


fascinating stuff. thanks, rhaomi!
posted by CitizenD at 6:52 PM on May 29, 2008


Aaand in the right hand column:

Posh goes for the Amy Winehouse look. . .but fails to pull it off



*Trudges off to make arrows.*
posted by flotson at 7:00 PM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


At play in the fields of the lord.
posted by stbalbach at 7:08 PM on May 29, 2008


The whole thing seems to have worked out much better for the last nine (known) uncontacted Australian Aborigines.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:08 PM on May 29, 2008


"Fuck you. And fuck the great silver bird you flew in on."

Better yet, here's a paraphrase of an actual historical event:

Conquistadors: "Before we light the wood beneath your stakes, rebels, repent & accept the one true lord, Jesus Christ! Kiss the crucifix as we hold it before you!"

Indians: "What good will this do us? We are about to die!"

Conquistadors: "After you die, you will go to live forever in heaven. If you don't repent, you will suffer in hell"

Indians: "And are there Christians, like you, in this heaven?"

Conquistadors: "Why yes, of course!"

Indians: "In that case, we'll take hell"
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:11 PM on May 29, 2008 [10 favorites]


Skin painted bright red, heads partially shaved, arrows drawn back in the longbows and aimed square at the aircraft buzzing overhead. The gesture is unmistakable: Stay Away.

Either that, or "Hoo, boy! We'll eat for a fucken YEAR if one of us manages to shoot down that fucker!"
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:17 PM on May 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


At play in the fields of the lord.

Daryl Hannah. Naked. That is all.

My warrior did not remain untouched.
posted by maxwelton at 7:35 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Conquistadors didn't always fare so well...
posted by homunculus at 7:59 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I smell a Realty TV show in the making!

Previous MeFi thread: A British TV crew have been accused of spreading flu to a remote Peruvian tribe of 250 members, leading to 4 deaths.

And while advocacy groups like Survival International campaign to prevent damaging encounters...

Also mentioned in the previous thread FWIW.
posted by ericb at 8:31 PM on May 29, 2008


It would be like an urban, "modern" person seeing a UFO up close and personal, or witnessing an atomic explosion - or any other technology so sufficiently advanced as to be considered magic.

I wonder what their word is for "swamp gas"?
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:24 PM on May 29, 2008


loquacious: It would be like an urban, "modern" person seeing a UFO up close and personal, or witnessing an atomic explosion

It's even harder to imagine than this because we've been raised in a culture that includes a rich tradition of literature that tries to imagine exactly this sort of thing. We actually regularly contemplate and publicly discuss how we might behave if we were to encounter a truly alien civilization. There may very well be some future encounter so bizarre that we currently lack the language and foresight to even describe it. But the fact that modern artists often try to capture (even feebly) such ideas in story makes a huge difference in how we might feel upon encountering something truly alien and how these "uncontacted" tribes must feel.

I agree with Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America on the contradictory projection in the article. If they've truly had no contact with the outside world, then how could they possibly be motivated by the outcomes of other tribes' contact.

It's a tricky situation, of course. On the one hand, if they are aggressive towards a seemingly peaceful approach of normal-looking (to them) people, then it's pretty clear that they want to be left alone. You can hardly blame them for shooting at an airplane or anyone that looks threatening. On the other hand, they may at some point in the near future be threatened by some other outside force (loggers, hurricane, etc.) that they aren't in a position to see coming. In such a situation, should we continue to maintain separation out of respect for their current decision to keep us out, one that they based on the best information they had at the time? Would they change their minds if they knew that some outsiders were trying to stop other outsiders from razing their homes? It doesn't seem possible to know until after full-fledged contact.
posted by ErWenn at 9:53 PM on May 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


The Jarawa are not so isolated nowadays. I have a small clip [self link] from a French documentary about the contact.
posted by tellurian at 11:43 PM on May 29, 2008


More pictures of people shouting - "Get the fuck out of our airspace! You Fucks!"
posted by From Bklyn at 1:05 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is the kind of thread in which a semi-famous anthropologist shows up and posts 2000 words of incisive commentary that blows everyone's minds.

And if that doesn't happen some time soon, then I'm going to be forced to come back to this thread and start making shit up. So think on.
posted by Jofus at 1:42 AM on May 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Curiously absent from these photos is their chocolate waterfall.
posted by jbickers at 2:35 AM on May 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


I know what they want. They want an internet connection. "Stay away" my butt.
posted by ewkpates at 3:56 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


If they are indeed un-contacted where did they get the longbows? Now I can see the painted bodies, and thatched roofs developing from natural observation, but longbows are real technology.

And jbickers everyone knows Oompah Loompas are extint in nature, having been whisked away to the Wonka factory to save the remaining population from the vicious knid.
posted by Gungho at 4:18 AM on May 30, 2008


loquacious: It would be like an urban, "modern" person seeing a UFO up close and personal, or witnessing an atomic explosion

Erwenn: It's even harder to imagine than this because we've been raised in a culture that includes a rich tradition of literature that tries to imagine exactly this sort of thing.

Nifty observation, Erwenn.

When a small bunch of previously isolated Central American Indians were brought to the USA in the 1920s (part freak show/part "scientific study"), the newspaper reporters covering the story got very pissy indeed by the incredibly jaded reaction of the "savages".

The expectation - probably already fed by adventure fiction and movies - was clearly of stupefied stone age innocents gawping at civilization in gratifying awe.

Instead the reporters were left irritably describing how the natives appeared unmoved by the New York skyline!

From reading all these (offline) reports, I got the impression the "natives" also apparently adapted to the shock of the new much faster than their sophisticated hosts expected.

(The natives in question weren't an especially dour or impassive people, either. Putting it crudely, their crushing reaction to New York seemed more "yeah, right, whatever!")
posted by Jody Tresidder at 4:51 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


If they are indeed un-contacted where did they get the longbows? Now I can see the painted bodies, and thatched roofs developing from natural observation, but longbows are real technology.

They didn't spontaneously generate in the Amazonean jungle, you know, and their ancestors, when they arrived there, probably already knew the longbow.

"Uncontacted" is perhaps not the correct word. "Long isolated from other human societies" is probably more accurate. I find the rarity of such still-isolated communities somewhat scary, as it reveals the enormous degree of interconnection within the rest of Mankind. "Hive Mind" indeed...we are monkeys masquerading as social insects.
posted by Skeptic at 5:02 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, if I ruled over a previously unknown tribe, I would start a crash ground-to-air missile development program. Goodbye shiny god-bird! Stop confusing my people!
posted by Kikkoman at 5:03 AM on May 30, 2008


They are almost certain not to understand what the plane is - perhaps a spirit or a large bird.

I've just looked at the quote from the article used by Rhaomi as the post's title.

I wonder if that's also an example of muddled/cliched "sophisticated" assumptions?

Wouldn't these forest-dwellers know better than many of us exactly what a bird looks like in flight?

(Or maybe I'm over thinking how I think we think they think!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 5:22 AM on May 30, 2008


How do you get to be the guy that paints himself black?
posted by Pollomacho at 5:40 AM on May 30, 2008


We need to drop LOLCATS posters on these people, stat.
posted by Mr Bismarck at 6:13 AM on May 30, 2008


Great post.

pravit: "Fascinating post. The Wikipedia article about the Sentinelese is also worth a read"

After posting on my website about the Sentinelese, I got an ace email from a helicopter pilot who helped to rescue some sailors who'd run aground off the Andaman Islands in the early '80s, encountering Sentinelese people in the process. Must chase him up about the photos he has of the event.
posted by jack_mo at 7:16 AM on May 30, 2008


If you look really closely, those people are actually just Richard Dreyfuss and Jenna Elfman.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:35 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


The unnamed tribe is just one of dozens around the world (though most are located primarily in the depths of the Amazon basin)

An untapped market!
What we'll do, see, is we'll give 'em all logging jobs so they'll have money to spend at the Amazonian Starbucks.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:48 AM on May 30, 2008


The apparent aggression shown by these people is quite understandable, for they are members of one of Earth's last uncontacted tribes.

They're presumably unaware that they're members of one of Earth's last uncontacted tribes. It's not clear how this fact could explain their response.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 8:36 PM on May 29


Huh?

It may not have perfect construction, but the sentence is quite easily understood. I'm surprised you and others had trouble parsing it.

Let me try to word it differently:

"The apparent aggression shown by these people is quite understandable, for they are members of an isolated tribe uncontacted by modern society. In fact, they are one of the Earth's last uncontacted tribes."

See?

They are aggressive because they are uncontacted, and just saw something scary and literally inexplicable fly over their huts with a menacing sound. They probably do not have even basic metalworking, and a damn plane buzzes their house?

It is not possible for us to imagine what this would be like. Even a UFO is easily imagined by all of us. It would have to be something that we literally could not even imagine. Something that if we saw it would be incomprehensible.

Of COURSE they don't know they are uncontacted, or certainly that they are among the LAST uncontacted. Come on.

As far as contacting them, I think it is our duty to extend modern technologies to all people. These people live in mud and grass huts because they HAVE to, not because they WANT to.

It should be a moral and ethical imperative for us to give them all of the benefits of modern society, to the extent they want to participate. Antibiotics, for instance. Water filtration. Agricultural technology. Pest elimination. Poison antidotes. We don't have to give them TiVo's. But hell, why not, if they want it?

For god's sake, their entire lives would change with access to a flashlight. Or some fucking matches.

This whole "don't disturb the savages in their jungle habitat" thing annoys me to no end, and is profoundly racist and elitist.

Give them access to modern society, and if they choose to live "off the grid" hell then let them. We have those here in America too, they are just called "Amish".
posted by Ynoxas at 8:17 AM on May 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Ynoxas,

Why the off-putting aggression in your comments?

When does our "duty" to improve their lot trump their unambiguous desire to be left alone?

I'm no fan of noble savage worship.

But your whole tone is so shouty and - dare I say - black and white, I thought at first you were writing satire!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:37 AM on May 30, 2008


It would have to be something that we literally could not even imagine. Something that if we saw it would be incomprehensible.

The Pintupi Nine I mentioned above saw airplanes and apparently thought of them as ghosts. Close enough to an American seeing a UFO.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:40 AM on May 30, 2008


One part of me says, "Man, I hope they just leave those people the fuck alone."

The other part of be says, "Please let this be the beginning of viral advertising for Spore or Civilization V."
posted by Pollomacho at 10:07 AM on May 30, 2008


Kikkoman: Man, if I ruled over a previously unknown tribe, I would start a crash ground-to-air missile development program. Goodbye shiny god-bird! Stop confusing my people!

"It'll have to go"
posted by saintsguy at 10:25 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


When does our "duty" to improve their lot trump their unambiguous desire to be left alone?

I'm no fan of noble savage worship.

But your whole tone is so shouty and - dare I say - black and white, I thought at first you were writing satire!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:37 AM on May 30


That's an incredible assumption and gigantic leap of logic on your part.

What exactly makes you think they have an "unambiguous desire to be left alone"? The fact they took up arms against a magical flying contraption? Hardly conclusive.

We have no reason to believe that they WANT to be left alone. They could detest their lifestyle and long for a life of easily available food, water, and shelter. If they have no knowledge of the outside world, how could they EVEN HAVE AN OPINION on if they want to be left alone or not?

As the link to the Pintupi Nine showed, they were angry with others for "leaving them out in the desert" when plentiful food and water were available seemingly on demand.

As I said, we have a duty to share modern medical science with them, if nothing else. What if many of their numbers are still dying from malaria and polio? We let them die, because we don't want to "spoil" them? What the fuck?

These are not pets. They are people. They deserve access to everything that we have.

If they are approached, given access to modern technology (again, I'm talking medicines and farm implements, not iPods) and then CHOOSE not to participate, then so be it. But leaving them out in the jungle, alone, without even giving them the opportunity to choose whether to become part of a larger society or not, is downright evil.

I will admit to being a little shouty, and apologize. But it is because again this strikes me as profoundly, insultingly, assaultingly racist and elitist. Metafilter never fails to surprise me, because if we were talking about restricting internet access in rural schools to encourage traditional farming methods, most MeFites would be up in arms. But then you have an entire people isolated in the rainforest, using wooden implements and natural housing, and somehow they become an exhibit, and we're not supposed to interfere?

Real life is not Star Trek.

But I'm not sure how my declaration that we give them CHOICE, both above and here, is black-and-white.

When Pollomacho above says "I hope they leave these people the fuck alone", I cannot even fathom this kind of thought process. How can you imagine, even for one moment, that they are somehow "better off" being left as primitives than having access to what makes modern life more comfortable?

If the "primitive" state were so fucking cool, society would have never evolved past that point.

If this were a group of white natives somehow discovered in the Alps living in lean-to's and harvesting animals for food and hides for warmth, I doubt sincerely the approach by any would be "leave them out there".

As I said, how can you deny these people antibiotics or even a goddamn shovel? Why do YOU get to choose whether or not they remain "unspoiled"?
posted by Ynoxas at 10:45 AM on May 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Funai says it does not make contact with the tribes and prevents invasions of their land, to ensure their total autonomy.

Looking at the photos of the people brandishing bows and firing at the airplane, it looks like contact has indeed been made; what kinds of stories will they make of this?

And are they looking for a better ground-to-air defense system? Hopefully some good-willed arms dealer can seek them out and provide them with alternatives to keeping those big, shiny, growling bird-spirit-things away.*

*I copied this comment from the double of this FPP, which I saw first.
posted by not_on_display at 10:53 AM on May 30, 2008


If the "primitive" state were so fucking cool, society would have never evolved past that point.

But see, that's the problem. Culture is not a living organism. It does not "evolve." The belief that one culture or way of life is inherently superior to another is called social darwinism and went out of fashion after the Nazis (sorry to go there, but it's true) took it to its (il)logical conclusion that one culture is so vastly superior that they have more right to exist.

To say that these people have had "no contact" is false. From the article and pictures, you see many technological advancements that they either, shockingly developed completely on their own or received from others. Bows and arrows, agriculture, fire, pottery, basketry, weaving these are just some of the things I see in the photos. Also, it looks to me like one of the guys has a machete, and the trees do not have the appearance of having been cut by being girdled (they have stumps meaning they were actually cut while alive, but the cut on the stumps are strait across, not jagged as if cut by stone axes, stone aged cultures didn't tend to cut large trees, they killed them and let them rot in place)

But here's the thing that really makes me want to leave them the fuck alone. Thier fate is not going to be a "choice" between antibiotics and iPods vs. clubbing monkeys for warmth in their lean-to's. I've seen first hand what happens to indigenous peoples. They don't get the "comforts of modern life." They get stuck in slums. They get shitty medical care if any at all. They have fundamentalist missionaries bombard them with indoctrination. They break up their family groups over alcholism and money problems. They die young from the diseases of third world povery and hunger. They learn what greed and jealousy are. In short, they get all of the horrible horrible things from modern life and very very little of what is good.

Alone, in the jungle, they have food, the jungle provides quite well actually. Disease is actually surpisingly rare (most early agriculturalists die of old age and accidents, not illness). Their collective band takes care of its members needs. This isn't some hoity-toity noble savage bullshit, this is the dark reality of "civilizing" these people in the 21st century.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:31 AM on May 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


We have no reason to believe that they WANT to be left alone. They could detest their lifestyle and long for a life of easily available food, water, and shelter. If they have no knowledge of the outside world, how could they EVEN HAVE AN OPINION on if they want to be left alone or not?

Ynoxas,
You seem to be making most of the assumptions here.

You ask - rhetorically - why does society evolve past a primitive state if primitive is "so fucking cool".

Well, for some reason, this little tribe has survived! Isn't that - even on your terms - an indication that their environment/adapted lifestyle has been somewhat "cooler" than you assume?

You speculate they'd prefer "easily available food, water..". This assumes they're short of these basics? Are you sure? And do you mean so "easily available," that they promptly join the rest of us desperately jogging off our big fatty burgers?

And these funny folk who live off the grid in the USA? They're not just the picturesque, preserved-in-amber Amish - dreary poor people without the right skills live off the grid too here.

What baffles me is that your comment just ignores the often deplorable record civilized countries have towards so many native people. (I blame Teddy Roosevelt - that's a joke, by the way. Sort of!).

But when have "we" ever called a responsible halt at antibiotics and shovels?

And quit assuming people like me - who simply wonder why you don't at least temper your remarks with some nod towards cultural conservation - are motivated by racism!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:41 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just seen yours Pollomacho.

Well said (but I would say that:))
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:44 AM on May 30, 2008


Actually, I take back the not jagged cuts comment. There is a different angle on one of the felled trees I thought was a flat cut and the stump is quite jagged (though the detail isn't good enough to see what sort of cuts there are). Though, I still think the sword-like object in the ocre-brown painted fellow next to the bright red guy with the bundle of spears in the third photo down.

Frankly, to me they don't look like they are in an automatically aggressive stance anyway. They look scared and curious. They look like they are talking to each other saying, "what the fuck is that big, noisy flying thing, it's been circling around for a while so I don't think it eats people."

One last thing about contact. Another obvious sign that they have had contact is that they painted themselves up. If you don't have people coming over, do you dress up at home? If you never ever had people coming over, why would you bother coming up with protocol on what to do when they do (and already have it ready at a moment's notice).
posted by Pollomacho at 11:48 AM on May 30, 2008


One last last bit to add to Jody:

You speculate they'd prefer "easily available food, water..". This assumes they're short of these basics?

The cultural evolution you spoke of, adaptation, comes becuse there is a need, not becuase of spontanious mutation. That's the difference in organisms and cultures. When something is missing, like water, humans tend to find it or they die. They don't just sit there and say, "well, crap, no water." So, if these people have it so bad, why have they not changed their behavior for tens of thousands of years? To use the evolution analogy though, just as lemurs in madagascar never faced the environmental pressures that made them evolve into higher primates, hunter gatherers and early agriculturalists don't face the pressures that make them need to develop large scale agriculture, pasturalism, cities, cell phones, etc. because their needs are met by their present environment.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:58 AM on May 30, 2008


Thanks, Pollomacho. I was writing a reply to Ynoxas and found myself mired in trying to find references and such.

Suffice it to say that exposure to civilization tends to kill off people like this. They may thrive in isolation for some presumably long period of time and then, upon contact with technological civilization, poof - they're gone, or nearly so. Their habitat becomes overrun, they can't compete, and they get pushed out by people who know how to make technology work in their favor. They lose what had been a healthy, sustaining life, in which they occupied a distinct place in a world they understood, and become mired in disease, poverty, and exploitation. Prime example: the Mbuti pygmies of central Africa, possibly the oldest culture on Earth. Their population, once in the hundreds of thousands, is down to a few tens of thousands and falling. I believe the story is similar for Australian aborigines, Alaskan Inuits, south African bushmen, and many other hunter-gatherer populations.
posted by Greenie at 12:10 PM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


One last thing to add to both Pollomacho and Greenie.

Ynoxas wrote: But then you have an entire people isolated in the rainforest, using wooden implements and natural housing, and somehow they become an exhibit, and we're not supposed to interfere?

Isn't your assumption here that the tribe's isolation is an accident to be righted?

What if it's a significant, adaptive cause of their survival?

(Pollomacho's comment about the possible significance of the body paint prompted this; maybe it has developed as a warning to others to keep away. Which seems to have worked rather well - until the duty-minded civilized folk came along!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:36 PM on May 30, 2008


How do you get to be the guy that paints himself black?

In this photo, the black one looks like a woman.
posted by mattbucher at 1:37 PM on May 30, 2008


But leaving them out in the jungle, alone, without even giving them the opportunity to choose whether to become part of a larger society or not, is downright evil.

why do you assume that they don't have the opportunity? i would say it's probably sure that they know of "civilization" and its existence. i'm sure they've seen planes before, too. (i have a pretty hard time believing that there's a single place on the planet that's not crossed by airplanes.) and i'm betting pretty hard they know they're full of white people. or disease. or whatever.

if this tribe wanted to have contact with "civilization", they could walk to it. i don't believe for one instant that they aren't aware of that fact.
posted by RedEmma at 1:44 PM on May 30, 2008


I think the true issue is not whether or not to contact them, but whether or not we can contact them in a way that is not truly damaging. If we could easily offer them all the benefits of being in contact with the rest of the world without killing most of them off, then the solution is just as obvious as Ynoxas implied. We do not have a good track record with this sort of thing. First contact often immediately brings a whole host of diseases the isolated group is not prepared to fight. That alone is a reason to be very careful about any contact. There are other, more complex issues as well that might come into being if we just built a road from the nearest large town to them and then left. The resources they live off of might suddenly become attractive to their neighbors and there would be a scale of competition that they weren't already accustomed to. Ideally, I agree with Ynoxas in that there's no reason to assume they don't want contact, but anyone who would initiate contact is taking on an enormous responsibility to ensure that it's done properly.
posted by ErWenn at 2:01 PM on May 30, 2008


wow. what a poorly written article.

also, you know, of course they're acting with aggression. just like we'd act with aggression if a big fucking alien ship came down and started doing fly-bys. people are surprised by this?
posted by misanthropicsarah at 2:21 PM on May 30, 2008


Jody: First, I want to be clear that I'm not accusing you, personally, as having racist outlooks on this, I was using the collective "you" but I still should have been more clear. Sorry I wasn't.

And yes I'm aware that these things have gone badly in the past, but certainly not always, or practically everyone who was not Persian would be "uncontacted", or dead.

Also, how much of this has there been in the post-colonialism era? Have we tried to make contact with tribes like this in say the last 30 years? We're a bit smarter, and a whole lot more tolerant, than we were in the early 1900's when most of this sort of "lost tribe" thing seemed to be happening.

I'm not going to argue over access to food and water. I am making a basic assumption about human nature that humans would prefer safe access to clean, reliable food and water sources over not. No one can convince me that any people, of any era, would prefer having to carry water from sometimes distant, sometimes dangerous, often unreliable water sources as opposed to simply turning a faucet on. If no one wants to grant me that assumption, then really there's nothing else left to discuss.

As I said, simple items such as a metal shovel, a flashlight, matches, a waterproof tarp... basically what a hiker might carry in their backpack... could literally revolutionize their existence.

All I'm trying to say is that these people are not pets. It is not our prerogative to "leave them alone". They are members of the human race, possible participants in the world community, and they deserve to be "found".

And as far as respect goes, in my mind, I am showing them much more respect than anyone else here. I respect them enough to consider them equals, and offer them the bounty of the last several thousand years of technological progress. Are there negative parts to modern life? Absolutely. But I'm not proposing moving them to Manhattan like some bad 80's movie plot. I'm talking just introducing them to the basics of agriculture, metalworking, medical science, etc.
posted by Ynoxas at 4:43 PM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Ynoxas,

Also, how much of this has there been in the post-colonialism era? Have we tried to make contact with tribes like this in say the last 30 years? We're a bit smarter, and a whole lot more tolerant, than we were in the early 1900's when most of this sort of "lost tribe" thing seemed to be happening.

Seriously, if only that were true!

Look, I'm a paid up rotten capitalist - not a drippy hippy purist -but I've read Patrick Tierney's (2000) "Darkness in El Dorado" (subtitled How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon) - capsule description: "Tierney explores the hypocrisy, distortions, and humanitarian crimes committed in the name of research...").

Yes, it's an angry - if stunningly readable - screed (it takes as its focus the rotten plight of famed "fierce" tribe, the Yanomami of Brazil and Venezuela, who were rediscovered in the 1960s - they have not fared well at "our" hands). So I also read Robert Borofsky's "Yanomami" (2005) - which revisits the Tierney book accusations- and is more balanced (but a bit duller), but still not at all upcheering.

In short, no we haven't come nearly as far as we like.

We don't do carnival freak shows with the natives anymore - but we do blunder horribly.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 5:46 PM on May 30, 2008


On a more trivial note Ynoxas (or a bittersweet one, I guess):

One of the Yanomami woman married one of the American PhD researchers who had been working in the Amazon. He took her home to New Jersey - where they had 3 children. Then she returned to the Amazon on her own - very reluctantly leaving their kids with her husband in America. She couldn't stand her new country's obsession with "shopping and TV" and was last seen - by Tierney - in 1994, remarried and very much happier in the "jungle".
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:16 PM on May 30, 2008


Jody: I see what you're saying, but I think you've hit upon what I'm skeptical of, and what I would hope to avoid.

I don't want to "study" these people, I want to dig wells for them. Maybe that's a fundamental misunderstanding. It seems a given that when we find something like this our first inclination is to put it in a sealed container and study it. That's not what I'm proposing at all.

Regarding the Yanomami woman, that's precisely what I was warning of in my last paragraph. I don't want to displace them, or even incorporate them into modern culture. I want to make modern technology available to them, and then they can do what they want with it.

In other words, I want to teach them how to use pulleys and metal tools. If they choose to use those items to construct large idols to their moon god, eh, so be it.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:10 PM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


"Uncontacted tribe", by definition, must now refer to anybody who didn't see these same images on at least 4 different media outlets, crossing multiple channels, yesterday. Incredible to think those few hundred people were probably the only ones on the planet not to be exposed to those images in that 24hr period.

I must add, Rhaomi, you have outshone all other reports I read with far more interesting context and background notes. Everywhere else featured "Wacky savages!". Great post and thanks for not just reprinting the Metro.
posted by davemee at 11:02 PM on May 30, 2008


Reminds of an Evans-Pritchard story about (I think) a Nuer cattle-herd who, in the early part of the 20th century, as the British bombed their livestock for tactical reasons, brought down a biplane with a spear into the engine block. I wonder what would have happened if these guys had pulled off the same trick.

"Stone age" is an insult, incidentally. Let's not.
posted by imperium at 3:35 AM on May 31, 2008


"I think it is our duty to extend modern technologies to all people. These people live in mud and grass huts because they HAVE to, not because they WANT to."

Meanwhile, in modern industrial society, billions of people are awakened every morning with a loud buzzing sound, get up and go to a building where they spend eight hours a day making useless widgets for other people to buy.

Because they want to?
posted by crazylegs at 4:39 AM on May 31, 2008


Pollomacho writes 'Another obvious sign that they have had contact is that they painted themselves up. If you don't have people coming over, do you dress up at home?'

Yeah, funnily enough, I wear exactly the same clothes when alone as when I'm having people over. Why do you suppose that these folk, or, eg. the Himba in Namibia only started painting themselves red when they encountered other peoples, or only paint themselves red when receiving guests? Doesn't make a bit of sense. The body painting 'protocol' might just as easily be one required for everyday contact with others in their own tribe, or for some ceremony interrupted by the arrival of the plane, &c.. Unless you were joking? In which case, sorry!
posted by jack_mo at 6:28 AM on May 31, 2008


I think they least was can do is offer them free satellite tv.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 3:13 PM on May 31, 2008


Ynoxas: "As I said, simple items such as a metal shovel, a flashlight, matches, a waterproof tarp... basically what a hiker might carry in their backpack... could literally revolutionize their existence."

I disagree. Giving them these things will do them no good at all. I'm going on the same principle here as, "give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will never go hungry again."

I think, in fact, that giving them the things you suggest could do more harm than good.

If you only give them one of each, then the shovel will rust or break, the flashlight will die, the matches will run out, the tarp will get holes in it. But now they have come to rely upon these things, and are now worse off for not having them, and not having the means to re-create them.

If you plan on supplying them with more, then you have now made them reliant upon your supplies. Eventually, however, the supplies will run out and they will be forced to integrate with modern society because of that reliance.
posted by CrayDrygu at 4:11 PM on May 31, 2008


Eventually, however, the supplies will run out and they will be forced to integrate with modern society because of that reliance.

And how exactly is that a problem?

Look, the "limited contact good, no contact better" argument ... Come on, you ivory tower jackasses! I know you're not that stupid.

Life is not The Matrix. We are not Agent Smith, playing with humans in a dream world. Because that's what you'd be doing by taking steps to avoid reaching out to these people -- keeping them locked in a dream world that is not real.

These are people. Not animals in a zoo, to be studied, respected and admired inside their cage. There's a great big beautiful world out there. Let's show it to them. If they want to go back, fine. At least they'll have the choice to do so.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:53 PM on May 31, 2008


Cool Papa Bell: "And how exactly is that a problem?"

The key word in my sentence was "forced." And I would think you'd understand it, given your own emphasis on choice being important.

You want to talk about "Agent Smith" playing with humans in a "dream world"? Give these people a taste of modern technology, let them structure their lives around the benefits it gives them, and then take it away or allow it to break. That is playing with humans.

If you actually want to improve their lives, you'll teach them how to develop these tools on their own, so they can benefit from the ideas without becoming reliant upon outsiders.

Then they'll get what you yourself seem to want them to have -- benefits of modern tools and technology with the choice to integrate, or not.
posted by CrayDrygu at 10:30 PM on May 31, 2008


...keeping them locked in a dream world that is not real.

Yeah, who are we to deprive them of the reality of sitting in front of computer screens, inflicting our opinions on one another? Poor sops, stuck out their in that imaginary jungle, forcibly divorced from the reality of mowed lawns with plastic birds on them, the reality of American presidential elections, the reality of Desperate Housewives, the reality of going to church, the reality of REALITY TV SHOWS!

Let's get those people outta there, STAT!
posted by crazylegs at 1:24 AM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


These are some of the people that I have had experience with and intereaction with the outside world over the last 30 years has been devistating to them.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:21 AM on June 3, 2008


Secret of the 'lost' tribe that wasn't
posted by Artw at 2:10 AM on June 23, 2008


thanks for the update, Artw.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:27 AM on June 23, 2008


Yeah thanks, Artw, this had kinda gone off my radar.
I thought this line was ridiculous: "But he is determined to keep the tribe's location secret – even under torture, he says." Big deal, who's going to torture him to find the tribes location? He's just indulging in hyperbole to distract from the fact that he should have his arse kicked for misrepresenting the situation.
posted by tellurian at 4:53 PM on June 23, 2008


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