Reuters recently ran this article, Peru to make contact with isolated tribe for first time:
Peru will try to make contact for the first time with an Amazonian tribe that largely lives isolated in the jungle, part of a bid to ease tensions with nearby villages after a bow-and-arrow attack in May, authorities said on Tuesday.
Government anthropologists will try to talk with a clan of Mashco Piro Indians to understand why they have been emerging from the forest, said deputy culture minister Patricia Balbuena.
In recent years the Mashco Piro have increasingly been spotted seeking machetes and food outside their jungle enclaves in the Manu National Park in southeastern Peru.
Villagers, Christian proselytizers and tourists have all interacted with the tribe, often giving them clothes and food.
“The only ones who haven’t been in contact with them are representatives of the state!” said Balbuena.
Peru prohibits contact with the Mashco Piro and another dozen “uncontacted” tribes, mainly because their immune systems carry little resistance to common illnesses.
Authorities have said they cannot keep people from defying the contact ban because no penalty is attached….
Luis Felipe Torres, the head of the state isolated tribes team, said the government will not forcibly contact the Mashco Piro or try to change their nomadic lifestyle.
“But we can no longer pretend they aren’t trying to make some sort of contact,” Torres said. “They have a right to that, too...”
It's hard to see an article like this and not feel just a little sad that a way of life is likely coming to an end. In a way, it's reassuring to know that such tribes still exist -- because the Mashco Piro represent real multiculturalism.
(People descended from different tribes who've been living in the same country for hundreds of years do not; all they represent are different gene pools.)
A few Mashco Piro:
There are a few other such isolated tribes, mostly in the Amazon basin. The 35,000 Yanomami who live scattered along the border between Brazil and Venezuela, are probably the most well known. But in recent years they have been studied practically to death, and there is little mystery about their way of life.
On North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean there is a tribe which has lived there, more or less undisturbed, for 60,000 years. They are extremely hostile, and if outsiders approach the island, the Sentinelese fire arrows or throw stones at them. The Indian government has declared it illegal to go within three miles of the island.
Here is one of the few known photographs of the Sentinelese, firing arrows at an approaching helicopter:
The Korowai people, who live in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, were reportedly unaware of the existence of any peoples beside themselves until 1970. They are reportedly the last of the Melanesian tribes to still practice cannibalism, though there is some question as to whether this is true.
A Korowai tribesman:
In a way, such tribes present a moral quandary. It seems wrong not to offer them modern medicine, if not modern technology. But many have little resistance to the diseases that they will be exposed to by outsiders. And we will inevitably have a corrupting influence; once they've been exposed to civilization, they may not want to go back to their previous way of life.
It's a little like feeding the bears at Glacier National Park: it can spoil them, and possibly even kill them.
The other question is, will these tribes be happier after having been exposed to modernity?
In a way, this experiment has already been tried -- throughout all of South America. Do the current Latinos of Amerindian extraction seem grateful to the white man for having brought civilization to their land? Of course, whatever gratitude the Amerindians feel is mixed in with the feeling generated by the white man also having taken their land.
Africa has basically been another such experiment. Since the white man introduced his medicine, technology, agricultural methods, and aid, the sub-Saharan African population has exploded. Are the Africans better off?
Perhaps more to the point, are the Africans' feelings toward the white man who brought modernity primarily those of gratitude? (Admittedly, the white man did not originally go down there with charitable intentions in mind.)
These days, of course, outsiders tend to approach Stone Age peoples thinking less of subjugation, and more of anthropology.
Studying these tribes should, of course, be a priority. We should learn how their societies work, who is in charge, and what sorts of customs they have. It's an invaluable view into our own prehistory.
If we can learn their language, we could even ask these people who are living in a more natural state how they feel about our society. We might ask, how would they feel about having the women go off to hunt for meat while the men gather fruit and tend to the babies?
Or, how do they feel about the modern Western idea that everyone has exactly the same abilities as everyone else and that anyone saying otherwise is evil?
And would they ever consider voluntarily prostrating themselves at the feet of another tribe whom they've successfully raided in the past and proclaiming that other tribe morally superior?
If a neighboring tribe raped their women far more frequently than they raped the neighboring tribe's women, would they refrain from mentioning this for fear of appearing rude?
Would they embrace these modern ideas, or scoff at them? Their answers might prove revealing. After all, one civilization is as good as another.
In any case, there's much to be learned. And if we try change them to our ways too quickly, the world will be a poorer place for it.