The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice: The latest & more relevant on the Mashco-Piro


I am the pink dolphin you see in the picture. This is my opinion for what it is worth and if anyone is willing to listen. The bottom line to the  ” contacted ” and “uncontacted” reality of Amazon ancestral communities is ” how” and ” why” they are contacted against their will. Swimming through history we, pink dolphins, are material witnesses to the fact that since 1960 in Ecuador alone ,94% of  uncontacted  Amazon civilizations are now dead. The same is true for us, and that is why humans now consider us to be endangered. Who in the world wants to be “contacted” in this manner?  The Mashco-Piro are no exception!


Who are the Mashco-Piro tribe and can they still hope to stay ‘uncontacted’?

The isolated Mashco-Piro in south-east Peru (images by D.Cortijo/

David Hill

1st February, 2012

Politicians deny the existence of isolated tribes like the Mashco-Piro as oil, gas and logging exploration increasingly encroaches on their forest territory

These communities are trying to remain apart from the outside world

Photos of indigenous people in Peru’s Amazon who have no regular contact with outsiders were made public yesterday by Survival International.

They are the most intimate photos of Peru’s isolated groups ever publicised, clearly showing a man, two women and children by the side of a river. They live in the Manu region in south-east Peru and are known by anthropologists and locals as the ‘Mashco-Piro’, although that is not the name they call themselves.

Survival researcher Rebecca Spooner said they released the photos, taken in mid-November last year, to ‘highlight the ever growing danger for uncontacted tribes’ from logging and oil and gas exploration.

‘The Peruvian authorities must ensure their safety,’ she says.

Who are the Mashco-Piro?

The ‘Mashco-Piro‘ are one of an estimated fifteen indigenous groups in Peru living without any regular contact with outsiders. ‘Uncontacted’ is a short-hand term often used for them, although the evidence suggests they are the descendants of people who had contact in the past.

During the ‘Rubber Boom’ in the late 19th and early 20th centuries scores of people poured into the Amazon to source rubber to supply the rapidly growing car and bicycle industries in Europe and the USA. The treatment of the local indigenous people was horrific, their land was invaded, and thousands were worked to death or killed, the ‘Mashcos’ among them. Those who survived retreated deeper into the rainforest and have lived there in isolation, more or less, ever since.

There have been some exceptions. In the late 1970s and 1980s three ‘Mashco-Piro’ women were regularly seen by employees at a Manu national park guard post. After years of intermittent contact, they settled in two villages nearby, Diamante and Shipetaeri.

Since the horrors of the ‘Rubber Boom’ there has been persistent pressure on the ‘Mashco-Piro’s’ land: more rubber tappers, drugs traffickers, oil companies, fishermen, and thousands of loggers looking for valuable hardwoods like mahogany and cedar.

One of the oil companies was Mobil, which explored in the region in the 1990s. Another was the Chinese state company Sapet, which agreed in 2006 not to enter a reserve established for the ‘Mashco-Piro’ after protests by local indigenous organisation FENAMAD.

Christian missionaries have ventured into ‘Mashco-Piro’ territory too, hoping to make contact and convert them to Christianity. The US-based Summer Institute of Linguistics targeted them in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and another US organisation, Pioneer Mission, has done the same more recently.

Over the years the name ‘Mashco-Piro’ has been the subject of some confusion, but today it is generally used to refer to at least two distinct bands of people in south-east Peru. One of these is in Manu, an area famous for its exotic flora and fauna, and another in the headwaters of the Las Piedras and Purus rivers.

Today the ‘Mashco-Piro’ are nomadic and dependent on hunting and gathering for their food, but until the ‘Rubber Boom’ hit them they lived in settled communities and practiced agriculture

Ethnobotanist and anthropologist Glenn Shepard says that makes the ‘Mashco-Piro’ as ‘modern’ as anyone.

‘The Mashco-Piro ironically epitomise modernity, having abandoned sedentary life and agriculture at the turn of the prior century to make way for rubber tappers feeding the global demand for automobile tires,’ wrote Shepard, who has worked in the Manu region for years, in Anthropology News six days ago.

Anthropologist Peter Gow agrees. ‘The Mashco abandonment of agriculture is a 20th century phenomenon,’ he stated in a seminal paper on the ‘Mashco-Piro’ presented in Brazil in 2006. ‘Only maturing secondary forest contains enough appropriate vegetation to sustain hunter-gatherers. All accounts place the Mashco in such old regenerated forest, whether on the Manu or on the Purus and Piedras.’

Increasing sightings of tribes

In the last decade the number of sightings of or encounters with the ‘Mashco-Piro’ has increased, and there have been further, dramatic increases since May last year.

The reasons for this recent increase aren’t clear, but pressure on ‘Mashco-Piro’ territory remains. Tourists are a constant in the Manu region, and there are reports of logging activity and oil and gas company helicopters flying low over the rainforest.

There aren’t any oil and gas companies in Manu itself, but Peru’s biggest gas fields lie immediately to the west and US oil company Hunt is operating to the east.

Despite this increase in sightings and encounters, the ‘Mashco-Piro’ show no interest in taking things further.

This was made clear in November last year when a ‘Mashco-Piro’ shot an arrow at a Matsigenka man, Nicolas ‘Shaco’ Flores, and killed him. Flores had been trying to establish permanent contact with this ‘Mashco-Piro’ group for more than twenty-five years, and was believed to have known them better than anyone else.

Flores had planted a garden on the river bank opposite his house which he allowed the ‘Mashco-Piro’ to use. The reasons for his death remain unclear.

‘This tragic incident underscores the hazards of forcing contact on people who have so adamantly expressed their desire to be left alone,’ says Glenn Shepard, an old friend of Flores. ‘Shaco’s death saddens me. He was a generous and courageous man.’

Just six days before he was killed, a Spanish man, Diego Cortijo, was in Flores’ house when a group of ‘Mashco-Piro’ appeared on the opposite side of the river. It was Cortijo, a member of a Spanish Geographical Society (SGS) expedition looking for archaeological ruins and petroglyphs, who took the photos released by Survival yesterday.

‘There were thirteen of them,’ Cortijo says. ‘Two men, women, adolescents and children. Shaco thought he heard them call him so he went out to see them.’

But the attack on Flores is a rare exception.

‘In the large majority of encounters between the Mashco-Piro and non-Mashco-Piro, the Mashco-Piro have reacted by simply watching or moving off slowly,’ said Cabeceras Aid, an American NGO with extensive experience in Peru’s Amazon, in a 2007 report about the Purus region.

The biggest concern about encounters with the ‘Mashco-Piro’ is their lack of immunological defences to outsiders’ diseases, meaning that even the transmission of a cold could kill them.

Initial contact in the Amazon has often wiped out more than 50 per cent of entire groups. In Peru in the last century, the Nahua, the Cashinahua, the Nanti, the ‘Murunahua’ and the Harakmbut, mistakenly called ‘Mashcos’ by the Dominican priests who contacted them, were all decimated.

Can they remain isolated?

In 2007 photos of a ‘Mashco-Piro’ group were taken from an aeroplane, but six weeks later Peru’s president, Alan Garcia, publicly claimed such ‘unconnected tribes’ had been ‘invented by environmentalists opposed to oil exploration in the Amazon.’

Despite Garcia’s denials, the plight of Peru’s isolated indigenous groups has climbed the political agenda in recent years. This has largely been the result of increasing media coverage and vigorous lobbying by indigenous and other civil society organisations.

Five reserves for the isolated groups have been established, and another five proposed. The problem has been making the reserves mean anything in practice and keeping loggers and oil and gas companies out.

‘What’s the point in creating a national park in Manu or reserves for uncontacted groups if you don’t bother to protect them?’ says Survival’s Rebecca Spooner. ‘There’s nothing unrealistic about this. All it needs is Peru’s government to demonstrate enough political will and allocate enough resources to protect the Mashco-Piro’s land.’

Peru’s government took a major step last year by passing a law guaranteeing indigenous people the right to be consulted about and in agreement with any project that affects them, effectively making it illegal for Peru to permit any kind of activity on any ‘uncontacted’ group’s land.

That hasn’t stopped Peruvian congressman Carlos Tubino Arias Schreiber and a Catholic priest from calling for a highway to be built in the Purus region. This would cut right across rainforest used by the ‘Mashco-Piro.’

Mariela Huacchillo, from Peru’s National Protected Areas department, says the ‘Mashco-Piro’ should be left alone. People should ‘never attempt to enter into contact with these communities who are trying to remain apart from the outside world,’ she says.

Source: Ecologist

What happens when an uncontacted tribe meets ‘civilisation’?

Margarita Mbywangy’s tribe was nearly wiped out when the modern world came calling. Now she has come to Europe to talk about their stolen land and struggle for survival.

Margarita Mbywangy has spent her life fighting for the right to exist. At the age of five, she was kidnapped and sold into domestic slavery, removed from her family and the hunter-gather way of life that her Ache tribe had practiced in eastern Paraguay for millennia.

Ms Mbywangy spent the next 13 years known only as Margarita – the name chosen by her new “mother” who insisted she was her daughter, but never hugged her, didn’t send her to school and made her cook and clean for the family. She looked and felt different; people in the street called her “Indo” – a derogatory term used to insult Paraguay’s indigenous people – but she had no identity papers, just a name.

This part of her story is by no means extraordinary. In the 1960s and 1970s many indigenous children in Paraguay were kidnapped and their parents killed by government forces and farmers who wanted to develop the acres of forest, their ancestral land, where they lived a nomadic life, trying to avoid the threats of the “civilised” world.

By 1976, all the Ache had been forcibly resettled on small areas of designated land where they had to swap hunter-gathering for agriculture in order to survive. Many died trying to defend themselves and the forest; many more died from new diseases such as flu because they had no immunity to these common conditions. The land was sold to farmers, roads were built and the valuable timber harvested. Only 36 families survived the slaughter. The government was accused of genocide.

“When we were taken out of the forest and forced to live in communities, we were left without medicine or doctors, and many, many more people died than even in the fighting. That was really the end of our way of life,” she says. Ms Mbywangy, 49, cannot remember those early years, and perhaps would never have known her story had she not found her family at the age of 18. For two years she tried to find out who she really was with the help of a priest and missionaries – whose predecessors had been responsible for brutal civilisation programmes centuries before.

“My people cry when they are sad and when they are happy, so when they saw me after so many years they started crying. But it was difficult, I was so desperate to know my mother and father but they were already dead, and I couldn’t speak Ache, there were many mixed emotions.”

From her siblings she learnt that her father had died from a snake bite; her mother from flu. She had been captured by farmers on horseback along with two other children when trying to escape with her clan. Ms Mbywangy learnt her forgotten language, and reassimilated with every tradition that her people still practised as best they could. They have been “given” a small forest where they can hunt monkeys and rodents and collect wild fruits, but they also cultivate maize, sweet potatoes, peanuts and rice.

The Ache tribe is now the second smallest, but fastest growing, indigenous group in Paraguay, with about 1,200 people in six communities, each with different customs. Their ancestral forest, and with it their old way of life, has been largely destroyed. Across the world there are more than 150 million tribal people in 60 countries, but only 100 truly uncontacted tribes are known to still exist.

More than half these tribes are in the Brazilian Amazon basin, 15 in Peru and one in Bolivia. Outside Latin America there are uncontacted groups in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Australia and Russia. Only one, part of the Ayoreo nomadic tribe, is known still to exist in Paraguay. The threats they all face are simple: diseases introduced by outsiders and deforestation, for logging, farming, mining and oil and gas exploration.

The rights organisation Survival International last week released the first- ever images of the nomadic Mashco-Piro Indians in Peru to pressure the Peruvian government into protecting the tribe’s land from loggers and other outsiders. About 70 per cent of land in the Peruvian Amazon has already been sold off to oil and gas companies.

Paraguay, like many of its neighbours, has signed International Labour Organisation 169, a law which protects the land rights of indigenous people. It also has strong national laws which guarantee lands to tribal groups. But an unwelcome throwback to the country’s violent past means there is no public land in Paraguay, as it was all sold to raise money for the government in the early 20th century. Since then there has been no land reform in Paraguay and the government cannot afford to buy back the land.

Apart from a few hard-earned victories, the vast majority of indigenous groups are still struggling to retrieve even small parts of their ancestral land. Many work in slave labour conditions or rely on food handouts.

Ms Mbywangy eventually became a tribal chief and, in an extraordinary twist, she was approached in 2008 by the newly elected leftist president, Fernando Lugo, after she became a tribal activist. Despite her lack of political experience she was appointed Minister for Indigenous Affairs – the first woman and first indigenous person to hold the job. “I accepted because I thought it would be a great opportunity for not just my people, but for all the indigenous people, to fight for what we need, for the forest,” she says.

The tenure was bittersweet, and she stood down at the end of last year amid internal and external opposition. “I would never disappoint my people, never let them down. So I left.” She is clearly angry and disillusioned.

Ms Mbywangy was in the UK speaking at a conference held by the World Land Trust (WLT), which helps NGOs in 20 countries buy land to protect the rapidly disappearing flora and fauna.

John Burton, chief executive of WLT, said: “Conservationists like us need to save big areas of land to protect the wildlife. Groups like the Ache also need big areas of land, but in order to live their lives as hunter-gatherers. These are not necessarily incompatible, but there is potential for conflict so we have to learn to work together. Establishing trust with indigenous people, who have suffered such terrible abuses from outsiders, is the most difficult thing.”

Ms Mbywangy says: “The small areas of forest we have left are crying out asking to be saved. It is very important to protect the birds and animals, but also, organisations like the Wildlife Land Trust must realise that indigenous people are part of the forest too… so we will work with those NGOs trying to preserve the forests, because we are the forest. We cannot survive without it.”

First contact: The hazards

Most invasions of areas which are home to uncontacted tribes are prompted by the desire of loggers, miners, oil companies and cattle ranchers to seize lands and resources. But well-intentioned non-governmental organisations, missionaries, tourists and even locals who try to make contact can prove dangerous.

One of the reasons for trying to avoid contact, such as in the case of the people of the Mashco-Piro tribe who were chanced upon by Spanish archeaologist Diego Cortijo recently in a remote part of Peru, is the risk of passing on diseases to which they have no immunity. “First contact” usually results in 50-80 per cent of the tribe dying of imported sicknesses.

The danger of forcing contact on isolated nomadic tribes was reaffirmed by the recent death of Nicolas “Shaco” Flores (right), who was shot by an uncontacted tribe’s arrow near Manu National Park in Peru. He had been leaving food and gifts for Mashco-Piro Indians for 20 years and thought he was helping, but even he became viewed as a threat by some in the group.

In July 2011, a Brazilian tribe who lived near the Peruvian border is believed to have been massacred by drug traffickers. A few months later an eight-year-old girl from the Awa tribe was burnt to death by loggers in the north-east.

About 450 tribespeople were murdered in Brazil between 2003 and 2010, according to the Catholic Indigenous Missionary Council.

Nina Lakhani

Source: The Independent

Peru: more photos released of “uncontacted” Amazon peoples —as roads encroach

Submitted by WW4 Report on Sat, 02/04/2012 – 03:52.

Survival International has released new close-up pictures of an “uncontacted” indigenous band in Peru, exactly a year after aerial photos of an “uncontacted” indigenous band in Brazil astonished the world. The new photographs taken in Peru’s southeastern Madre de Dios region show a family believed to be from an “uncontacted” (or voluntarily isolated) band of the Mashco-Piro ethnicity. Uncontacted Mashco-Piro bands are known to inhabit Manú National Park, and sightings of them have increased in recent months. Many blame illegal logging in and around the park and low flying helicopters from nearby oil and gas projects, for forcibly displacing the bands from their forest homes. The Mashco-Piro are one of just some 100 “uncontacted” peoples in the world. The new photos are the most detailed images yet revealed of “uncontacted” indigenous peoples.

One of the Mashco-Piro photos was taken by a bird-watcher last August, Survival International said. The other two were shot by Spanish archaeologist Diego Cortijo on Nov. 16— six days before his colleague, local Matsiguenka indigenous person Nicolás “Shaco” Flores, was killed by an arrow believed to have been shot by one of the band near the Manú Park. Flores, who was helping Cortijo search for petroglyphs in the area, was probably been the only outsider in contact with the band, learning to communicate with them in their dialect and sometimes leaving them gifts of machetes and cooking pots. Glenn Shepard, an anthropologist and friend of Flores, wrote on his in Anthropology News: “Shaco’s death is a tragedy: he was a kind, courageous and knowledgeable man. He believed he was helping the Mashco-Piro. And yet in this tragic incident, the Mashco-Piro have once again expressed their adamant desire to be left alone.”

Beatriz Huertas, a Peruvian expert on uncontacted people, told Survival International that the Mashco-Piro case is “unusual, complex and extremely delicate.” She warned: “Contact could happen at any time. We must implement preventative measures and a contingency plan with local authorities as soon as possible to ensure this does not happen again.” She especially warned of the threat of illegal logging near the band’s homelands, saying, “They are removing wood very close.” She also cited a rise in air traffic related to natural gas and oil exploration in the region as adversely affecting native hunting grounds, forcing increasing movement by semi-nomadic tribes.

Last year Survival wrote to SERNANP, Peru’s agency for protected areas, expressing its concern at a video showing tourists leaving clothes for the “uncontacted” bands on riverbanks. The area was subsequently closed off to tourists, and an emergency warning issued to local residents. the indigenous affairs agency INDEPA announced plans to set up a guard post to protect the uncontacted groups.

Survival director Stephen Corry said upon release of the new images: “One year later these photos provide yet more overwhelming evidence of the existence of uncontacted tribes. It is no longer acceptable for governments, companies or anthropologists to deny this. First contact is always dangerous and frequently fatal—both for the tribe and those attempting to contact them. The Indians’ wish to be left alone should be respected.” (Survival InternationalAP, Jan. 31)

Indigenous rights advocates in Madre de Dios are raising the alarm over a proposal to build a highway through Alto Purus National Park, Peru’s largest, which borders the Manu Park on the north and is also believed to shelter isolated bands. Carlos Tubino Arias Schreiber, a lawmaker from the right-wing Fuerza 2011 party, has been promoting the highway in Peru’s Congress. “In Purus the monkeys and plants have more rights than human beings,” he stated in November after a visit to the region. “The national parks have cut it off.”

Currently the Purus region is only accessible by plane or river. “Something must be done about Purus’ isolation,’ Tubino told Peru’s Congress on Jan. 5. “Three and a half thousand people are living in an unacceptable and unjust situation which creates many kinds of problems: exorbitant prices, difficulties with education, and, above all, lives threatened when there are medical emergencies. Human beings are worth more than trees and animals.”

On the day Tubino visited Purus in November, the local indigenous organizations Federation of Native Communities of Alto Purús (FECONAPU) issued a statement categorically rejecting the highway, citing the “possible invasion of our territories by colonists and mestizos.” Their statement also claimed a local Catholic priest, an Italian named Miguel Piovesan, is behind the highway plan, and has been applying “constant pressure” to have it built.

The Upper Amazon Conservancy agreed, asserting in a statement: “‘The road controversy first emerged as an obscure proposal with little public support by Piovesan. After intense political maneuvering, Piovesan succeeded in bringing his case to the legislature, which promptly shelved the project, citing a lack of public support in the region”‘ Piovesan has now “reemerged,” the Conservancy said, continuing “to push his road plan with the Peruvian media” with a “campaign of misinformation.”

Piovesan met Peru’s President Ollanta Humala in Lima in December. That month, the Purus’ parish magazine dedicated a special issue to plugging the road project, stating: “Without a highway there will be no development for this region… Purus today feels excluded.”

The Upper Amazon Conservancy counters: “Nearly 80% of Purus’ inhabitants are members of indigenous groups, the majority of which have organized against the proposal. The road’s supporters, meanwhile, are largely minority mestizo settlers in the provincial capital of Puerto Esperanza, relative newcomers to the region and many former loggers who would benefit from improved access and increased opportunities for resource extraction.”

Survival International’s Jonathan Mazower called the highway “a road to ruin.” He told The Ecologist magazine: ‘”The worst thing you can do to the Amazon and the people who live there, particularly if they’re uncontacted, is build a road through their territory. Every time that happens, the result is the same: lots of people die.”

Humala visited Purus on Dec. 23, just eight days after he met with Piovesan. Two days before that, Peru’s alliance of Amazonian indigenous peoples, AIDESEP, wrote to Humala, warning: “Since 2001 until the present day, the Catholic priest Miguel Piovesan has been trying everything he can to promote the construction of the highway, supposedly to ‘solve Purus’ isolation. This is without considering the negative environmental impacts that this kind of project would have, such as the destruction of millions of hectares of the rainforest, the death of the indigenous people living in voluntary isolation, and the invasion of indigenous land.”

The proposed route for the highway is from Puerto Esperanza, Purus’ only town, to a settlement on the Peru-Brazil border, Inapari, where it would connect to the “Inter-Oceanica” road system now under construction to link Peru’s Pacific coast with Brazil’s Atlantic ports.

The highway would also cut through Purus Communal Reserve, established to protect the lands of “contacted” indigenous people in the region, and the adjacent Territorial Reserve for “uncontacted”‘ peoples, established in 2002 after vigorous lobbying by Native Federation of the Rio Madre de Dios (FENAMAD). “The proposed highway is a major concern for us,” said Jorge Payaba, the director of FENAMAD’s isolated peoples team. “We have a great deal of information demonstrating that the areas that the road would cross are used by the Mashco Piro in voluntary isolation.”

FENAMAD charges that the highway would contravene a new law passed last year guaranteeing indigenous people the right to be consulted on any project affecting their territory. Carlos Tubino hailed that law a “historic page” for Peru’s Congress. He did not respond to The Ecologist’s requests for an interview. Miguel Piovesan also refused to respond to questions about the highway. (The Ecologist, Jan. 19)

See our last posts on Peru and the struggle for the Amazon.

 Source: World War 4 Report
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 7 February, 2012.

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