The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice: Mounting Drama for Uncontacted Tribes

Mounting Drama for Uncontacted Tribes

Posted by Scott Wallace on January 31, 2012

Why Would Isolated Indians Kill Their Point of Contact with the Outside World? 

Authorities are scrambling to establish security in a remote Amazonian frontier region following recent attacks by isolated tribesmen that have left one man dead and another wounded in the wilds of southeastern Peru. The attacks — in October and November of last year  – come amid an upturn in the number of sightings of nomadic Mashco-Piro Indians along major waterways in the dense forests bordering the Manu National Park, posing an increasingly volatile situation for communities, travelers, and the isolated tribespeople.

Isolated Mascho-Piro Indians on the Madre de Dios River in the Peruvian Amazon. Photograph by: Diego Cortijo/Survival/

The rights group Survival International released dramatic photographs earlier today of the same group of Mashco-Piro that is believed to have launched the November attack. Witnesses say the victim, a Matsigenka Indian named Nicolas “Shaco” Flores, was killed when struck in the heart with a bamboo-tipped arrow as he tended a garden on an island in the middle of the Madre de Dios River, just outside the community of Diamante on the edge of the Manu Park. Survival described the photos as the most detailed, up-close images ever taken of uncontacted Indians.

Rights activists familiar with the local dynamics and players involved in the area described Flores as a kind-hearted “go-between” who had long played the role of intermediary between the nomads and the outside world. Flores had facilitated access to trade goods for the tribe, such as machetes and cooking pots, and was tending crops he may have intended to share with the Indians at the time of his death.

Anthropologist Glenn Shepard, who experienced a hair-raising brush with the Mashco-Piro in the same region 1999, was puzzled by the attack. Flores was an old friend, he said, who had married a Piro woman and spoke enough of her language to make himself understood in occasional conversations shouted from a distance with the Mashco-Piro. He noted that various theories that may account for the heightened volatility of the uncontacted Indians in the area, including a growing epidemic of illegal logging and an notable increase in low-flying air traffic linked to expanding oil and gas exploration. Additionally, he said, the Indians — who were decimated by illnesses introduced by outsiders — may have gotten spooked by Flores’s persistent efforts to make contact.

Natives of  Diamante told Shepard they believe that possible discord among the Mashco-Piro — between those who want more contact with the outside world and those who fear it — may have triggered the attack. The faction resistant to contact, Shepard says, “may have cut off the ‘point-man’ who was pulling them closer to decisive contact.”

With a population estimated in the hundreds, the Mashco-Piro are among 14 or 15 isolated tribes still roaming the Peruvian Amazon. They have long been considered among the Amazon’s most implacable warriors, resisting contact and subjugation. Most of the tribe was slaughtered on the upper Manu River in 1894 by a private army in the employ of the notorious rubber kingpin Carlos Fermin Fitzcarrald, lionized in German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s classic movie, “Fitzcarraldo.” The survivors of those bloody engagements retreated into the most impenetrable reaches of the western Amazon’s upland forests. As outsiders pry their way deeper into these last redoubts in pursuit of timber and other riches, the descendants of those previous traumas are now coming under mounting pressure themselves.

“Their history of contact,” says Shepard, “has always been fraught with the fear of violence and exploitation.”

Recent sightings of the Mashco-Piro include an appearance along the Manu River videotaped by tourists and released to the public last October by Peru’s Ministry of the Environment (see“Peru Releases Dramatic Footage of Uncontacted Indians.”) A park guard suffered an arrow wound in the shoulder as he traveled along the Manu River last October, around the time the videotape was released. Authorities have since tried to limit access to outsiders and have embarked on a campaign to educate residents about the dangers of attempting to make contact with the isolated tribes.

Scott Wallace writes about the environment and indigenous affairs for National Geographic and other publications. He is the author of The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes (Crown, 2011). For more information about his work, please visit

Source: National Geographic

New Sighting of ‘Uncontacted’ Peruvian Tribe


New photographs believed to portray members of the “uncontacted” Mashco-Piro tribe near the Madre de Dios River in the Peruvian Amazon were released Tuesday by the London-based advocacy group Survival International.

The Mashco-Piro stand out as one of the planet’s dwindling number of “uncontacted” peoples, Indians who have maintained no peaceful contact with Western society, though their existence has been known for more than a century. Mashco-Piro tribesmen are believed to have killed a man living the region who was trying to initiate contact with the group by leaving out steel machetes and other items.

‘Uncontacted’ Tribesmen In Focus

See the photos released by the London-based advocacy group Survival International.

The photos were taken in November by a Spanish archaeologist working in the region, Survival International officials said. Sightings of the group have become more frequent in the last year; adventure tourists navigating the river have posted photos and videos of the group on the Internet in recent months. These photos, shot with the aid of a telescope, stand out because their level of detail, including facial expressions.

Diego Cortijo, an archeologist and member of the Spanish Geographical Society, took the photos while working in the area on recently discovered hieroglyphs found in the area.

“It’s really difficult and complicated to understand why the Mashco-Piro are coming out of the forest more often,” Mr. Cortijo said. “On the one hand the logging, the helicopters, and other activity in the area could be pressuring them. On the other hand, it may be that they themselves are trying to initiate contact and are unsure.”

Survival International activist Rebecca Spooner says growing number of Mashco-Piro sightings suggest the group is being forced from their territory by rising activity in the region, including illegal logging and hydrocarbon exploration. Survival International released the photos to pressure the Peruvian government to step up efforts to protect the Mashco-Piro and other groups who maintain little or no contact with industrialized society.

Peru’s newly elected President Ollanta Humala has said protecting the rights of indigenous peoples will be a priority of his government, and the congress recently passed a law he backed giving Indians more say over development in their regions. However, the ability of the Peruvian government to enforce such laws in remote regions is untested, analysts say.

A year ago, Survival international released a photograph shot from a low flying plane of an uncontacted Indian group, including a photo of a man in red body paint aiming an arrow up at the plane. That photo was taken in Brazil, near the Peruvian border.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Astonishing new photos of one of the world’s last uncontacted tribes 31 January 2011

Dramatic photos show tribe threatened by loggers invading neighbouring territory.
New photos obtained by Survival International show uncontacted Indians in never-seen-before detail. The Indians are living in Brazil, near the Peruvian border, and are featured in the ‘Jungles’ episode of BBC1’s ‘Human Planet’ (Thurs 3 Feb, 8pm, UK only).

The pictures were taken by Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department, which has authorized Survival to use them as part of its campaign to protect their territory. They reveal a thriving, healthy community with baskets full of manioc and papaya fresh from their gardens.

The tribe’s survival is in serious jeopardy as an influx of illegal loggers invades the Peru side of the border. Brazilian authorities believe the influx of loggers is pushing isolated Indians from Peru into Brazil, and the two groups are likely to come into conflict.

The photos reveal a thriving, healthy community with baskets full of manioc and papaya fresh from their gardens.

Survival and other NGOs have been campaigning for years for the Peruvian government to act decisively to stop the invasion, but little has been done.

Last year an American organization, Upper Amazon Conservancy, carried out the latest of several overflights on the Peru side, uncovering further evidence of illegal logging in a protected area.

Marcos Apurinã, Coordinator of Brazil’s Amazon Indian organization COIAB said today, ‘It is necessary to reaffirm that these peoples exist, so we support the use of images that prove these facts. These peoples have had their most fundamental rights, particularly their right to life, ignored … it is therefore crucial that we protect them.’

Renowned Brazilian Indian leader Davi Kopenawa Yanomami said today, ‘The place where the Indians live, fish, hunt and plant must be protected. That is why it is useful to show pictures of the uncontacted Indians, for the whole world to know that they are there in their forest and that the authorities must respect their right to live there.’

Peru’s Amazon Indian organisation AIDESEP issued a statement saying, ‘We are deeply troubled by the authorities’ lack of action… despite complaints from Peru and abroad against illegal logging, nothing has been done.’

TV presenter Bruce Parry of hit TV series Tribe said, ‘Protecting the land where uncontacted tribes live is of global importance. We have consistently failed to introduce them to our world without inflicting terrible traumas. It is for them to decide when they want to join our world. Not us.’

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘The illegal loggers will destroy this tribe. It’s vital that the Peruvian government stop them before time runs out. The people in these photos are self-evidently healthy and thriving. What they need from us is their territory protected, so that they can make their own choices about their future.

‘But this area is now at real risk, and if the wave of illegal logging isn’t stopped fast, their future will be taken out of their hands. This isn’t just a possibility: it’s irrefutable history, rewritten on the graves of countless tribes for the last five centuries.’

This man, painted with annatto seed dye, is in the community
Men painted with red and black vegetable dye watch the Brazilian government plane.

Men painted with red and black vegetable dye watch the Brazilian government plane.
© Gleison Miranda/FUNAI/Survival

Ask Peru’s president to protect uncontacted tribes

Isolated Nanti Indians, PeruOil workers and illegal loggers are invading the lands of uncontacted tribes in Peru. They risk introducing infectious diseases which could wipe the Indians out. Peru’s president has even denied the tribes exist. They won’t survive unless the invasions stop. Please sign the petition, and we’ll deliver it to President Humala.

President Humala: Oil drilling and logging in uncontacted tribes’ territories could wipe the Indians out. Please protect these peoples’ right to live in peace and security – stop the loggers and oil companies from entering their land.
Source: Survival
SELVA Vida Sin Fronteras acknowledges Kevin Schafer’s important contribution towards protecting the highly endangered Amazon pink fresh water dolphin. Title photographs of our “The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice” were taken by Mr. Schafer. 

~ by FSVSF Admin on 1 February, 2012.

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