Lost Tribe Discovered in Brazil…Now What?

Two weeks ago, FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian Affairs agency announced the confirmed existence of a lost tribe living deep in the Amazon basin.  It is one of at least two dozen lost tribes located within Brazil’s borders and like the others, has very little, if any contact with modern civilization.

“Finding the Lost City” (1898)
Illustration by L.J. Bridgman
Source: The Lost City by Joseph E. Badger, Jr. (Digitized by Google Books)

The Lost Tribe?

This particular lost tribe was discovered near Peru’s border in the Vale do Javari, a rain forest reservation of sorts for Brazil’s indigenous peoples.  The population is estimated at about two hundred.  They live in four large communal malocas and appear to be planting corn and bananas, amongst other things.

The story reminds me of 2008, when a photographer associated with FUNAI claimed to have discovered a lost tribe in the same general area.  A short while later, it turned out that the whole affair was a hoax and that the tribe had been discovered much earlier, in 1910 to be exact.  The purpose of the stunt was to shed light on the danger that the logging industry posed to Brazil’s tribes.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, that brings me to the question at hand.  Namely, how should society as a whole treat these people?  Popular opinion holds that we should “protect” the tribe.  Proponents point to the terrible treatment natives have traditionally received at the hands of outsiders.  They also believe that the lifestyle and traditions of these tribes are precious things that deserve to be protected from outside influence.  FUNAI is at the forefront of this argument, having actively sought to isolate Brazil’s tribes from the outside world.

Personally, I love the idea of lost tribes.  In a world that often seems devoid of mystery and romance, the very thought of an undiscovered, self-sustaining society gets my blood flowing.  However, I can’t help but disagree with popular opinion.  It strikes me that FUNAI is treating these tribes as a strange sort of sociological experiment where the people are, in essence, forcefully isolated on reservations while the rest of us watch via cameras high in the sky.  Its also quite possible that the tribes could benefit from food, medicine, and other things obtainable via peaceful trade (of course, this could make them vulnerable to communicable diseases as well).

Regardless, I don’t think that contact should be mandatory.  If Brazil’s tribes want to be left alone, then we should respect their wishes.  No one should be forced to accept change.  But at the same time, no one should be denied the opportunity to pursue change either.

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2 Responses to Lost Tribe Discovered in Brazil…Now What?

  1. Micheal Cameron says:

    Hell was paved with good intentions, but contact with someone for almost 2 millennia for the first time would be surreal. I would love to know their teachings and their way of life and the medicine they can offer.

  2. David says:

    You and me both Michael! I’ll be spending some time with an isolated tribe in the Yucatán before the year’s out but it’s just not the same thing.