11 Oct 2007
21 uncontacted Indians were spotted from the air during a flight over one of the most remote parts of the Peruvian rainforest at the start of the month.
The Indians were seen on the banks of the Las Piedras river in the south-east of Peru. They left their shelters on the beach to watch the plane, chartered by Peru’s Environment Agency. ‘This is the most recent recorded sighting of them,’ says Peru’s national Indian organization, AIDESEP.
There are an estimated 15 uncontacted tribes in Peru, all of them under threat due to logging and oil exploration. In view of their isolation, they have no immunity to external diseases and any form of contact could prove fatal for them. Epidemics of measles, smallpox, yellow fever, whooping cough, influenza and malaria have all had devastating effects on indigenous peoples in the Amazon and other parts of the world, with 50-90% usually dying after their first contact with outsiders.
Stephen Corry, director of Survival, the movement for tribal people, has commented: ‘What further proof is needed of the uncontacted tribes’ existence? There they are for all the world to see – Peru’s most vulnerable citizens whose government now needs to do its duty by them. It is time for their rights to their land to be recognized and respected, for oil and gas exploration to be banned from their territories, and for all loggers and other outsiders to be removed’.
He was replying to remarks by the chairman of Perupetro, Peru’s state oil company, according to whom, ‘It is absurd to say there are uncontacted peoples when no one has seen them’. One Perupetro spokesperson compared such tribes to the Loch Ness monster. Only 30 or so years ago, it was believed there were just 12 tribes living in isolation round the world, but now experts estimate the figure at 107.
This year the Brazilian government upped its estimate of the number of isolated tribes in its Amazonian territory from 40 to 67, some numbering only a few individuals. One tribe, indeed, is said to be down to one man: the so-called ‘Man of the Hole’, who digs holes in the forest to catch animals and fires arrows at anyone who comes near.
Other isolated tribes are to be found in West Papua, the Andaman islands off India, five Bolivia, Colombia, Suriname, Paraguay and, possibly, southern Africa. It was only in 1984 that the semi-nomadic Pintupi, people emerged from the Australian desert.
Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP)
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