Rare video released this week shows the emergence of a previously uncontacted tribe near the Brazil-Peru border, with members of the tribe saying they were fleeing violence in their territory, an organization dedicated to protecting tribal peoples around the world said Thursday.
The uncontacted Amazon tribe had been pushed across the border from Peru by violence that critics believe was carried out by illegal loggers and drug traffickers operating in their territory. Members of the tribe were filmed meeting at the Envira River with representatives of FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous affairs department.
“We’ve been aware for many years that there is illegal logging and drug trafficking in this region of Peru,” Rebecca Spooner, campaigner for Survival International, told Al Jazeera.
Dressed in loincloths and carrying bows and arrows, several of the tribe told the FUNAI representatives that non-Indians had massacred elders from their tribe, and homes had been set on fire, according to a Survival International press release.
The few members of the tribe who made contact reportedly had a much larger group with them that had stayed behind in the forest, Spooner said. Items including a t-shirt were given to the tribe that may carry diseases they have no resistance to. Spooner said she worried they may have transferred it to the rest of their community after returning.
“For uncontacted tribes, any contact can result in widespread disease immediately, which can result in these tribes being almost entirely wiped out,” Spooner said. “It’s happened time and again. They don’t have any immunity to these diseases.”
Survival International called on FUNAI to send representatives to the area and be ready to respond in case the group returns asking for medical attention.
Uncontacted tribes reside deep in remote areas of the Amazon largely because of a long history of violent interactions with outsiders — beginning with European colonizers and continuing until today with outsiders looking to exploit resources such as lumber found on their land.
“They’re basically the survivors of genocide,” Spooner said.
In the 1980s, an uncontacted tribe called the Nahua, who reside in the southeast Amazon, was almost wiped out as a result of oil exploration activities in their land. The oil company had constructed roads that attracted illegal loggers who contacted the Nahua, Spooner said. The interactions ended in bloody violence, and many in the tribe contracted diseases like the flu.
Though uncontacted tribes are shrouded in mystery, they are known to be nomadic, moving across vast expanses of the Amazon. They are hunter-gatherers who occasionally farm seasonally before moving on.
“They share an extremely strong connection with the land. That’s where their ancestors are buried, that’s where their gods are. For them, the land is everything,” Spooner said. “Not only for survival; it’s a profound spiritual connection. Once they lose that, it’s the end of their existence.”