Thinking Tech

Rare photos of 'uncontacted tribe' reveal a disappearing society

Posting in Energy

A close encounter leads to the most detailed sighting of uncontacted Indians ever recorded on camera.

Regular SmartPlanet readers know we spend a lot of time here both nitpicking and drooling over the latest technological innovations. As such, it's sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that there still exists a handful of people who would much rather have none of it.

They belong to indigenous groups known as "uncontacted peoples," who tend to be, in the fullest sense of the word, isolationists and their lifestyles offer a direct contrast to our modern communities. But in recent years, these populations have begun to dwindle at such an alarming rate that it threatens their very survival. There are now as few as 100 such Indian societies still in existence, according to an estimate by Survival International, a non-profit dedicated to protecting native tribes.

The group blames rising development, such as illegal logging, for encroaching upon indigenous territories to the point where it may wipe out entire groups of people along with a way of life.

And to bring attention to just how perilous the situation has become, Survival International recently released these images of the Mashco-Piro tribe in southeast Peru; Photos that the group has described as the "most detailed sightings of uncontacted Indians ever recorded on camera." Previously staying out of sight for many years, members of the clan have been spotted more frequently at a river bank popular with tourists. And last fall, relations with the tribe turned violent when a forest ranger was wounded during an attack using bows and arrows. Shortly after, members of the tribe killed a local Matsiguenka Indian named Nicolas "Shaco" Flores, who had long maintained an close friendship with the Mashco-Piro.

Their growing conflict, which is unfolding dramatically by the hour, is a striking example of preservation and the modern imperative, specifically infrastructural and energy needs, coming to a head.

According to a report in National Geographic:

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 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.”

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure