Uncontacted tribe in Amazon

 News 2008 05 Images 080530-Uncontacted-Tribes-Photo Big
This photo released yesterday depicts members of a tribe in the Amazon rain forest firing arrows at an airplane. Apparently, the tribe has never had any contact with humans outside of their own group. And there are likely many other "uncontacted" tribes in the region too. From National Geographic:
"We are very confident the photos are genuine," said Miriam Ross, a spokesperson for Survival International, which estimates that half of the hundred or so uncontacted tribes in the world live in the rain forests of Brazil and Peru.

Some experts say few, if any, tribes have had no outside contact. It's more likely is that previous generations had negative encounters, prompting social taboos that continue to drive clans deeper into isolation.

Due to their vulnerable immune systems, these groups are highly susceptible to diseases borne by outsiders such as missionaries, loggers, or oil workers.


  1. I would presume they know of human existence, from what the article states about ancestors’ prior experience being bad.

    I think it’s quite interesting that there are still such primitive beings living among us. And it shows what a long way we’ve come.

  2. possibly a fraud like previous, possible a tribe ready to kill the devil bird’s children (see annoying missionaries with photographs) There’s a good chance they have had contact with outsiders. We should take up a collection to send them rocket launchers. I recommend reading Wade Davis’ “One River”.

  3. I would presume they know of human existence

    Well, they experience it personally, being human, eh?

  4. Yes, leave them alone, please.

    Of course, we won’t, we never do.

    (I am reminded of a friend who would berate me for believing Bigfoot existed, with the logic “we’ve been everywhere and seen everything on Earth, we would’ve found them by now if they were real.” BUT, what if they didn’t want to be found?)

  5. Just wait till we figure out there’s oil under their land; we’ll surely “contact” them, same as the others…

  6. It’s obvious from the aerial photograph that they’ve developed weapons of mass destruction and we need to invade immediately.

  7. The additional photos on at the BBC imply that the plane flying over is a startling occurrence to them. My question is that they have had to see a plane fly over before, right? I know the article says they probably have had “bad” human contact, but do they shoot arrows at every plane they see? You’d think they’d be familiar enough with their weapons to know that they can’t shoot a mile with them, much less almost straight up. That doesn’t sit right with me.

  8. Does is bother anybody else that groups like this are always referred to as ‘tribes’? The word ‘tribe’ is weighted will all kinds of colonialist, western-triumphalist baggage. Also, it’s extremely imprecise. Define: tribe.

    From the photos, this looks like an extended-family group to me. Probably no more than 20 people living in a couple of longhouses.

    Also, why should we ‘leave them alone’? Aside from the strong possibility of infecting them with our various diseases. They are people just like us. They should have the choice of participating in modern society and adopting modern technology if they want to. It’s hard to put yourself in that position but I like to think that if I was one of those people I might be frightened at first, but later pretty glad to have been introduced to the entire world of possibilities outside my little rain forest territory.

  9. sometimes i wish i could be these guys i’m sure they dont feel the energy crisis, no mortgage, no kids screaming and yelling for things they cant afford and no Bush in their lives, looks like a paradise .

  10. They must have thought George Bush was in the plane, coming to bring them democracy.

  11. that pic link was funny lol and why are they orange for like pumpkins??

    they would prob kill each other if they got a coke bottle like the other tribe who went bananas when they got theirs

  12. I suggested this link too :(

    yay arkizzle! (my private BB)

    I’m gonna have to stop suggesting links, the emotional investment is just too high.

  13. “New extended-family group discovered!”

    Not exactly a catchy headline, sorry.

    Or how about gang?
    or hunter-gatherer collective?
    or autonomous anarchist commune?

    Tribes it is, then.

  14. you never know, they could have some pretty nice technology we never knew about that arrow may even bring down the plane just watch and wait

  15. @Enochrewt

    The article on the BBC says there was a previous flyover which is probably why they got out their weapons and body paint (red for the men, black for the woman) as an act of defense/agression


    Also this article is intresting/heartbraking: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7318021.stm

    The real story I heard in connection to that article is a reality TV show ignored the standards for precautions such as bringing professional medical teams along to supervise.

  16. #13 As to your question about seeing planes previously. Brazil is pretty huge, as well is Peru. Depending on where they have been living, they might not be in an areas which is a common flight path. It easily could be very rare for them to see planes. Or they just might want the plane to F-off and go away so they can be left alone, who knows.

    Check out the movie at http://www.survival-international.org/
    They have some interesting information about an Indonesian tribe who was able to keep the Indonesian govt. away from their island, the have lived on their island for 60,000 years and don’t have any intention of leaving, it’s quite fascinating.

  17. Nice “low-impact” study, peeps! From the slide-show:

    “The first flight had an obvious impact on the tribe. By the time the plane returned, most of the women and children had fled and those who remained had painted their bodies.”

  18. the article almost references them as it would a zoo installment. The writer/philosopher in me looks at this on a humanizing scale. They’re certainly “the other” and there’s really no way we can handle this without structuring their existence in some way.

  19. It’s simply amazing to me that this world simultaneously contains peoples living at the Hunter/Gatherer end of existence and people like me living in an apartment half the size of that hut, tens of thousands of dollars in debt, stuck in a dead end job…

    Wow, I wonder if they’d teach me how to hunt and thatch a roof.

  20. Probably actors from that last Mel Gibson movie Apocalypto.

    On the arrows are notes that read:

    “Help, I have a screen test on the 15th.”


    “Please send some Evian, at room temperature with a twist of lime.”

  21. One of my favorite images of the year… beautiful, disturbing, poetic and richly mysterious.

  22. But now they *have* had contact, what with the plane buzzing over their homes, why aren’t they now called “Contacted”?

  23. Maurik said:

    “I think it’s quite interesting that there are still such primitive beings living among us. And it shows what a long way we’ve come.”

    The word “primitive” means “at an early stage of development” but since their development is contemporary with own, there’s no objective way to determine this. The assumption that aboriginal cultures are less developed or less advanced than our own simply because they’re isolated from the so-called “developed” nations and they don’t have what we call industry is incredibly ethnocentric. They also don’t have toxic waste, and aren’t poisoning their air and water. We do know their culture is different than ours, but whether or not ours is superior is an arbitrary value judgement with no objective measure.

    Suboptimal said:

    “They are people just like us. They should have the choice of participating in modern society and adopting modern technology if they want to.”

    Culturally they are most definitely not like us, and I don’t know that they would consider modern technology and globalization some great gift. Most aboriginal cultures have most definitely not benefited by being colonized by our technology and culture.

  24. The OP reads like missionaries, etc. are plagues.

    Which is funny because it’s true.

  25. The intense part of this story that no one is saying anything about is that the reason these pictures were taken by the government was to encourage awareness (and perhaps action?) about illegal logging. The debate isn’t whether taking these pictures is wrong – it’s what do you do about these people not having land in a few years.

  26. @Suboptimal. Tribe is a fine word. I can’t be the only one who has a “people I would like to have in my tribe” list.

  27. In the next frame, Indiana Jones leads the russians through their village, and they are unceremoniously wiped out.

    In the middle of the massacre, there is a moment of silence, and fans demanded their money back.

    The end.

  28. This story got me a bit nervous and vaguely scared, specially the war body paint part. I blame it on years of bad 70’s italian cannibal movies.

  29. Jed (37), I see what you’re saying and agree to an extent. But there are certain objective measures, like disease and life span that would (to me) say that a more industrialized lifestyle like the US leads is better for the human. To clarify, I mean better for the individual, worse for the planet.

    If your current life expectancy is 35, and you’re told you could live to 70+ living another way, most beings with self preservation would choose the latter lifestyle.

  30. Throwing shit at helicopters is an age-old instinct. No reason to believe these folks have never seen one before. You could get a similar photo flying over LA.

  31. @ suboptimal

    You stated that: “They should have the choice of participating in modern society and adopting modern technology if they want to.”

    This smacks heavily of imperialistic righteousness. Who said our “modern” way of life is the only right way to live? Our modern methods are sucking this planet dry of resources, too many people live in poverty and can’t get either food or medical treatment despite the gross wealth accumulated by a small percentage of the population.

    And that: “I like to think that if I was one of those people I might be frightened at first, but later pretty glad to have been introduced to the entire world of possibilities outside my little rain forest territory.”

    You think these people are unhappy simply because they can’t cruise through McDonald’s for a burger and soda on their way home to watch hours of television with a house full of pointless consumer goods? Why exactly shouldn’t they be happy with their lives just as they are? Is it because you couldn’t be happy with that, so then no else has that right either?

  32. Longevity isn’t the only way that you can measure quality of life.

    Tradition, familiarity, family, continuity, a complete knowledge of how to survive, feed yourself, build tools, homes, weapons clothes passed on from generation to generation–or, having every new product be mysterious and alien, being dependent on huge anonymous governments and corporations for all of the things that you used to be able to provide for yourself with your own ability and community, being constantly afraid of things you can’t understand and having your fate determined by others.

  33. Yeah, no. I’m doubting this one too.

    Even (especially) primitive warriors would know better than to stand out in a clearing exposed to a potentially deadly threat, instead of shooting arrows from the cover of trees.

    And the photographer on the plane only managed to get two fuzzy shots?

    Stranger things, and all that, but this whole thing looks entirely too staged.

  34. The book “1491” argues that many remote Amazon tribes are the remnants of previously civilized peoples who fled death, disease and learning Spanish during the Conquistador era. Their “prior contact” may have been 25 generations ago.

  35. These comments make me wonder if this is what alien visitors think of us: “Hey look at this strange planet of primitives living in the outer rim. Maybe we should make contact?”

    “Nah – Let ’em be – They’d try to hit our ships with their primitive fision weapons, and we might kill them with our exotic diseases. Better to observe from afar – suck ’em up and probe ’em”

  36. Clearly they’ve had contact, otherwise how could they get jobs in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory?

  37. As two of the definitions of “advanced” taken from Princeton.edu’s wordnet are:
    -“At a higher level in training or knowledge”
    -“Highly developed especially in technology or industry”
    I don’t know that there is a valid argument that thier society is more advanced than western society. That’s not to say that our society is necessarily superior to thiers (We can argue about this all day), but more advanced, yes.

  38. #51: I see a lot of knee-jerk “Oh my god its anthrocentric!” reactions here, but I don’t think it is justified based on what suboptimal said. I am pretty happy in my culture/life, but if there are highly advanced aliens living one dimension over, I’d surely like to find out about them, learn about their society, and have the option of adopting the parts of it I like.

    No one has claimed these people are unhappy or that they should adopt western society, but I think its a basic human right to know about the world you live in, and have the option to choose how you will live. We, of course, have the option of going to live in primitive ways in the forest if we wish (more or less) but we have that option because we know about the existence of primitive-forest-living, and we have access to the information that would help us decide if it is right for us. Isolated cultures do not have the reciprocal option, and it could be argued that they should.

    And since when is McDonalds and TV the sum total of industrial civilization, is that really all we have to offer anyone? You have twisted suboptimal’s words, and held him/her accountable for your possibly very wrong assumptions about what he/she meant. It’s a pet peeve of mine.

  39. Zombie, not all of Western civilization is mindless crap. We have a lot of good stuff, too. Like antibiotics and eyeglasses and bicycles and yelling at strangers on the Internet.

  40. #14 – For someone worried about “The word ‘tribe’ is weighted will all kinds of colonialist, western-triumphalist baggage…” I am amazed that you would take such an ethnocentric view.

    I mean, of COURSE our way of life must be better right? So we must expose them to it.

    No. We don’t. Just leave them in peace to develop their own lives. Thinking that our way MUST be the better way is the height of..well… colonialist, western-triumphalist baggage

  41. @62 I would argue their stance and weapons makes it clear they are electing to defend their basic human right to be left the fuck alone.

  42. I for one am not twisting Sub’s words, just throwing them right back. To make claims about “colonialist, western-triumphalist baggage” while spouting more of the same is pretty silly.

    If YOU want to meet the highly advanced aliens? That’s fine. It isn’t up to YOU to choose for everyone.

    There’s an uncontacted tribe near Australia that is off-limits because they kill people who get too close to their island. Should we force contact on them too?

  43. For all of the comments about imperialism and the sanctity of their way of life no one seems to bring up the fact that small isolated pockets of human life are probably good for the species as a whole. If a plague came through and wiped most of us out these folks have a chance of never being touched.

  44. “The word “primitive” means “at an early stage of development” but since their development is contemporary with own, there’s no objective way to determine this. The assumption that aboriginal cultures are less developed or less advanced than our own simply because they’re isolated from the so-called “developed” nations and they don’t have what we call industry is incredibly ethnocentric. They also don’t have toxic waste, and aren’t poisoning their air and water. We do know their culture is different than ours, but whether or not ours is superior is an arbitrary value judgement with no objective measure.”

    Not really.

    We know that, say, Germans didn’t used to be able to travel 1000s of miles in a few hours, look up something someone wrote exactly as they wrote it 100 years ago, or smelt metal tools which last longer than stone tools, and can do more things.

    distance, time, ability. All objective.

    Now germans can do such things, and germans have built on what they learned to do themselves or copied others doing, and have done more things to shrink distance and extend time and increase abilities to accomplish tasks.

    This group hasn’t done the things other tribes learned to do. There may be all kinds of reasons for it, but it doesn’t do any good to tell them they are as advanced when germans can clean a wound and prevent infection and perhaps they can’t at all.

  45. For God’s sake, Jim, what about the Prime Directive.

    God, I’m a nerd.

    Also, I think this is a classic example of the “every response will be problematic” – to “leave them alone” is to arbitrarily decide to shelter these individuals from certain political and economic forces, while to “contact them” is to arbitrarily decide Western culture is right – even if you just want to give them the choice, well, you’re being very Western if that is your perspective. A genuine conundrum.

  46. Some really interesting comments in this thread, I had kind of pondered a lot of what is being said (on both sides) already, for it is an old problem. But some of the comments are really quantifying the notions for me.

    I think we (as lofty civilized society) like the idea of their being ‘primitive’ parts of the world, untouched by progress, and that it represents something for us, romantically. Kind of sacred, like nature (ideally).

    But, is our symbol of ‘innocence’ a reason to deny someone else the choice of a whole different world? Is letting someone know that there is a world beyond their realm, that will possibly ‘corrupt’ what it means to be who they are and dilute their purity-of-society, in any way different to us finding out that there is intelligent life in the universe, with powers vastly beyond our ken?

    Would we not want to know that, and let be whatever changes to our understanding of ourselves occurred, however much more like the other ‘higher’ society we became, thus diluting our ‘innocence’.

    I certainly think I would, but that’s possibly related to some sci-fi ideal of a populated galaxy. Maybe our projections of what kinds of society might be prevalent in a galaxy like ours, are so based on our own human perspective, that we would be horrified to find out what really goes on in the universe.

    Anyway, I have no answers to propose, only more questions.

  47. Unusual Suspect,

    What part of my link to more photos did you find hard to understand?

  48. FYI,

    I work for the Tribe, live across the street from the Tribal cemetery, wave hello to the Tribal police and pay land lease fees (via rent) for living on Tribal land. It’s just an Etruscan word for a division of people. The local tribe certainly has no problem with using it.

  49. These natives are becoming the next consumerists. They want freedom, don’t they?!

  50. interesting that their roofs look similar in style to “civilized” folks.

    They could have once been “contacted” but over several generations of no contact have lost memories of “modern” folks… s’possible.

    Either way, very interesting stuff.

  51. A number of “new” tribes have been discovered over the last decades. Anthropology certainly is full of tales of the cultural ruin that seems to follow first contact.
    Werner Herzog’s 10,000 years older, a documentary film about the aftermath of first contact, seems to plot out the future of so-called primitive societies: link


  52. Kennric (#62): Thanks. I was going to write a long reply to some of the comments on my comment. However, your post is much better than what I would have written.

  53. #for all the ones calling fake: very unlikely. Those photos were published by FUNAI the official brazilian gov body for indian policies. For #74 i recommend you googling for north sentinele people, for an example of true uncontacted tribes

    #for the discussion on either they should remain uncontacted, it seems you are all romanticizing the story, not thinking about the whole facts.

    This is NOT a california man movie, where those people have a choice between living an idyllic prehistoric life or applying for a job in New York. During the history of civilization growing upon the wilderness, many tribes have took the choice of going to live in civilization or to seek isolation. Those are probably the ancestors of those people chose the latter, and have been able to live their lifes that way. This is NOT like being visited by aliens species that are out of our own reach. They could reach civilization if they walked the direction the plane went for a few days, and they probably did some point in their past as a tribe.

    Some tribes, like the yanomami, have been able to reach a middle term compromise, where they are able to gain access to modern medicine and electronic voting machines but kept some traditions alive. Those are the famous indians wearing boxers you can see in other articles. Others, have reach a ill fate, vanishing as a group by diseases, alcohol and assimilation. Remember how hard it was growing up and seeing all the little things you valued in your childhood (your parents, your toys, your home) being slowly taken away by maturity? Imagine this happened upon everything you ever knew? So you need an analyst to talk about when mommy took your candy?

    The main point is: those indians live in complete isolation because of their own (or their ancestor’s) choice. While we still have great extents of protected rain forests, they will be able to thrive, therefore protecting them is also protecting the rain forests our own world needs, and that’s what funai plans to do.

    They have a choice of walking down to a city in acre (a state so isolated that brazilians itself joke if it even exists) and finding about great things like TV, alcohol, cigarretes, cars and maybe – if they are walk a lot – some internet bar with a pc running windows 98.

    But it’s not like they could simply press a button and say: “beam me up scotty, i’m tired of this stuff. Take me to the 5th avenue apple store cause I crave this new 2nd gen iPhone.

  54. #65 – Here here! We don’t have to rescue them from themselves. If we stop overlaying our own values on their lives we’d know to just leave them the hell alone in the first place.

  55. The way the word “advanced” is used when it is used most broadly has little to do with technology and more to do with hierarchy. The standard by which you establish that hierarchy can be based on any measurement that you like. It’s a subjective concept. If that measurement is pea counting and I can count more peas than you, than I’m advanced, and you’re primitive.

    How fast and how far I can travel, how well I can treat a wound, how many products I can manufacture–these are all subjective criteria.

    “Advanced” and “primitive” are inadequate words to measure the true value of a culture, and what that culture has to offer.

    The development of German culture as described by Pduggie was mostly concurrent with and parallel to the development of European culture in general.

    Once industrialized nations were established, they had–as Jared Diamond describes–the guns germs and steel that would aid them in dominating cultures that didn’t have the guns, the steel, or the resistance to germs that they did. Every culture that industrialized nations have come into contact with that haven’t had guns, steel, or a resistance to modern germs have been at a huge disadvantage. We’re not talking benevolent aliens with gifts of wonderful technology, we’re talking genocide.

    All precedents would suggest that most of the cultures we have invaded were better off before we got there.

    It’s true that less industrialized cultures spend more of their waking hours providing for their basic needs for survival. It’s true that they don’t live as long, are more vulnerable to disease, and have poor orthodonture. But each culture has it’s own history, language and traditions. Not all of those traditions are ideal, beneficial, or, by our culture’s standards, humane, but they do uniquely belong to that culture. They are advanced in the practice of those traditions and their own world view. We are primitive in our understanding of that world view.

    I don’t know that we have a responsibility to preserve that culture, but the idea that they are going to benefit by our introducing them to cable TV, Mcdonalds and strip logging is ill-concieved. All precedents would tend to point elsewhere.

    As far as the interests of extraterestrials or any other kind of non-human life, most of our speculations about how they might think, whether ETs or mollusks, are hopelessly anthropomorphic. It’s the only way we know HOW to think. Benevolent extraterestrials with gifts of advanced technology is an idealistic fantasy and doesn’t have any place in a practical discussion about anthropological issues.

  56. I’m reading Iain M. Bank’s ‘Culture’ series now, and I love the fact that they are called ‘uncontacted’. I’m sure Contact will think of something to deal with them.

    Someone said “We do know their culture is different than ours, but whether or not ours is superior is an arbitrary value judgement with no objective measure.”

    I respectfully disagree. Culture, like all inventions, can be judged by how well they serve those that use them. Does their culture provide them with ideas, concepts, attitudes etc. that help them lead happy, healthy lives?

    As an extreme example, is a culture that prohibits blood transfusions for sick children as good as a culture that allows it?

  57. My question, besides where they got that hot body paint, is how many cultures have benefited from interventions by alien cultures. The answer, as far as I can see, is not very many.

  58. Happiness is the most subjective concept of all.

    And whether a culture is “good” or “bad” is as relevant as whether you think chocolate ice cream is good and vanilla is bad. If I think my culture is better than yours my opinion is as good as yours if “good” and “bad” are the criteria.

    How well a culture serves a given population can’t be objectively measured anymore than happiness can be, because there’s no objective criteria for service. Or quality for that matter.

  59. interesting that their roofs look similar in style to “civilized” folks.

    Rob, where do you think the “civilized” folks got their roofs from? Do you think we invented them anytime recently?

  60. George Dvorsky at Sentient Developments did a post about this an asked some very good questions. Quoting…

    This discovery brings to mind a number of ethical issues and considerations:

    # What if some of these people need medical help and medicine?
    # Is it ethical for us to not let them know about the greater world around them?
    # How could we ever have consent for contact and/or cultural uplift? Should it be assumed? Why? Why not?
    # Are we sufficiently justified in keeping this tribe in a zoo-like scenario?
    # If eventual contact is unavoidable, why wait until then? Would contact with the modern world ever be ‘on their terms?’
    # How would we feel if we discovered that we were being observed and purposefully held-back by a more advanced civilization?
    # Is this the kind of cultural diversity that we want to preserve? If so, why? To what end? Does cultural diversity benefit the lost tribe?
    # What does it mean to say that we risk their “extinction?” Is it accurate to equate the extinction of a culture with that of a species? What are the consequences of a lost cultural mode for a) those who used to participate in it and b) for those who will never be a part of it? What are the consequences relative to the benefits of adopting a new culture?

    While I don’t have all the answers to these questions, I did (peripherally) address a number of them a couple of years ago in my paper, “All Together Now: Developmental and Ethical Considerations for Biologically Uplifting Nonhuman Animals.”

  61. “Happiness is the most subjective concept of all.”

    Life, death, health, and disease are not subjective concepts.

  62. Just to give an example of failed cultural intervention that doesn’t involve Geordi and the away team…

    The divide between Islam and the West is probably the biggest socio-political phenomenon of our era. Since Europeans started making serious inroads into the Islamic world around the beginning of the nineteenth century, Islam has changed enormously. Women’s rights have decayed. Enforced veiling was not the historical norm, but is a reaction to the perceived excesses of Western culture. Until the twentieth century, Jews were far more welcome in Muslim countries than in Christian or crypto-Christian ones.

    Interpretations of Shari’a have been getting harsher for the last couple centuries with a big spike in the last couple of decades. Most of what Westerners see as fanatical about Islam is a reaction to Western cultural intervention. Yes, jihad is in the Qur’an, but it wasn’t any more relevant than the Crusades until recently.

    Obviously some of this is related to straight-out political intervention such as destabilizing regimes to keep the oil flowing. But a big part of it comes from our Western notion that our culture is superior and that Muslims need to be liberated from their own cultural values. It’s backfired stupendously. Cultures evolve in their own way and at their own pace.

    Contacting the Orange People and conferring on them benefits which they have no frame of reference to understand or contextualize is unlikely to make them happy. At best, they would become a tourist attraction.

  63. @49:
    Dinesh D’Souza (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinesh_D'Souza) has argued extensively that things like colonization and slavey, while awful for the generation that was colonizaed/enslaved, yields far more good for the future, non-oppressed, generations. He is from India and uses the example of his grandfather hating the British, whereas D’Souza tended to view them as a net positive because he managed to gain education, health, etc that he would not have gotten otherwise and did not have to deal with their oppression first-hand. Even more controversially, D’Souza argued that while slavery was inhuman for the Africans who were kidnapped from Africa and their descendants who were slaves in America, their currently free descendants are doing far better in nearly every measure than Africans in Africa.

    Of course, one of the reasons Africa’s as screwed up as it is is because of colonization, so this whole argument is a bit questionable…

    My conservative European History professor made us read him in high school as a counterpoint to living in the People’s Republic of Cambridge (MA). Don’t really agree with him, and he seems to use a lot of the typical conservative intellectual talking points, but the colonization stuff is interesting to consider.

    @70: The Prime Directive was the first thing I thought of too!

  64. I would paint my body with stuff too if I lived in the Jungle with an unbelievable onslaught of bugs every day.


    We could send in robots, because they’re culturally neutral.

  65. “culturally neutral” (thanks to previous poster on olympics)

    I give you: “Roboto Kanibaru”

  66. #14 – Actually, “tribe” is a precisely defined word among anthropological types. I’m not saying that I know what the definition is (waaaay outside my area), merely that it has one. So regardless of the imperialist overtones that we uneducated folks might attach to it, I’m willing to bet that the spokeswoman for Survival International used it correctly.

    #51 – Right on. I have a friend pursuing a PhD in the area of anthropology/linguistics, who has told me all sorts of horror stories of botched contacts. The way she tells it, almost all end up destroying the original culture and introducing big social problems. Asuming that our culture is a happier or better one than theirs is supremely arrogant; the fact we have shinier toys doesn’t qualify us to say that our habits and worldview are any more worthwhile than theirs. Of course that raises the debate of whether destroying another group’s way of life is justified if it means their children will have access to, say, medicine. Somehow I doubt we’ll manage to settle that one here.

    #85 “As an extreme example, is a culture that prohibits blood transfusions for sick children as good as a culture that allows it?” – A Jehova’s Witness would say: “No, better”.

  67. Antinous @86

    I know it may sound pedantic, but most cultures have been ‘invaded’ by many others in the course of their development, whether militarily or culturally.

    Most cultures have some connecting factors, and threads of shared heritage. Depending on the cultures in question, it’s just a case of how far back you care to look. Even with these people, noting the similarity of their weapons and houses to previously seen items, they have known others.

    If the question is how many cultures took western Europe’s imperial expansion throughout the last 500 years in stride, indeed, not very many. But that wasn’t about sharing culture, it was about greed and snatching territory and trophies. The values of the expanding forces were different then, ignoring tribal ownership of land at every turn. Now there are groups with the power to question neo-imperial motivations. And on a positive note, western medicine and technology have played huge parts in lots of cultures.

    I suppose the validity of the concern depends on the relative strengths of the cultures involved, and how easily trampled the new culture may be. For a handful of people living in the jungle vs the world, it’s probably a valid concern.

    Regarding the comparison to aliens visiting us, I think it’s a valid one. The point was made that these people won’t suddenly be liviing in uptown New York enjoying the high life upon leaning of it’s existance. Indeed, their likely fate is that they’ll end up living on the fringes of what we would probably consider the least accesible sections of our society; townships on the edges of wilderness, with little or no prospects.

    Well, similarly, if aliens came to tell us we were not alone, we wouldn’t all be carted off to galactic center, to be asked our opinion on the running of the pan-galactic council. We would go from being the absolute rulers of our world to the absolute bottom of the new order of civilization we found ourselves in. We would be novel scum, with nothing to offer our new found uber cultures other than titilation.

    These people, over just a couple of generations, could very well go from being utter masters of their domain, to being in the very last place, in an almost infinitely vaster capital driven world.

    But, it sounds like the reason for the fly-over was to get proof of their existance to implement restrictions on the use of the land surrounding them. So there may be hope yet of some sort of positive eventual outcome.

    At some point, these people are going to meet civilization, it is absolutely, unquestionably inevitable. The most we can do is ensure it goes as well as possible. There are organizations involved in the interests of keeping the land in the hands of the tribes, so with support they can probably provide the best set of circumstances this type of situation will have seen in the history of humankind (read: they aren’t going to get massacred).

    Hopefully it will be enough, but how do we quantify that?

  68. David Brin treats cultural relativism in his essay ‘Otherness’.

    In a nutshell, let’s say you have a culture that contains the value judgement that judging other cultures is a Bad Thing. An example of such a culture is the culture propounded by some posters in this thread.

    When that culture encounters a culture that judges other cultures, it must inevitably judge that culture as being less Good than itself.

    As usual, when we encounter a paradox, it is our reasoning or our axioms that are flawed, not the nature of logic itself.

    Of course, Brin’s discussion of this topic is both comprehensive and brilliant, unlike what I have managed here.

  69. Myb thy r bttr ff thn s, t lst thy hv thngs bttr t d thn whn bt l nd Bsh. crtnly dn’t lk hm, bt sm f y ctlly ct lk y’r nt pwr hngry, mny sckng fl t.

  70. “Apparently, the tribe has never had any contact with humans outside of their own group.”

    Oh please, give me a break. So they independently invented weapons that look exactly like bow and arrows? I guess that’s encoded in our genes, eh?

  71. Okay, so they don’t have cars, gas stoves, or internet access — yet we’re expected to believe they independently developed spray-on tanning?

    I call BS.

  72. The Prime Directive is for pre-warp societies. So here is the plan: Once they have their warp drive up and running one of you text them.

  73. Send them an iPod with Jan Jelinek tunes. See if they break it or learn to use it. If they break it and kill the weakest of the tribe and tear the limbs out of the sockets, then find another frikkin tribe to be buddy buddy with.

  74. #104: With the materials they have on hand, there are few ranged weapons that can be invented.
    I’m guessing the list would look something like this: Boomerang, bow & arrow, woomera/atlatl, slingshot.
    Given that boomerangs would be inefficient in a dense forest, that gives an odds of about 1 in 3 of them coming up with bow and arrow.

    Once the basic idea of a bow has been arrived on, simple experimentation quickly converges on a design that looks remarkably similar whether you are from the Brazilian rainforest or medieval Europe.

    Unless your point is that they are too primitive to invent anything at all, of course.

  75. It says they don’t have contact with the outside ‘modern’ world, not that they evolved separately from sponges or were dropped there from outer space. Weapons are one of the most valuable and traded commodities. They certainly shared this technology with other similar groups.
    Shooting arrows at the plane reminds me of the Goodyear blimps. A friend worked at Goodyear in Akron, which has a blimp hangar. When flying the blimps over certain mountainous rural areas in Appalachia, they would pass at high altitudes to avoid collecting bullet holes.

  76. The New World was (maybe) colonized ~ 12,000 years ago. Bows were (maybe) invented ~ 15,000 years ago. Plus, they’re pretty ubiquitous.

  77. Whether or not their culture is more or less “advanced” than globalized ones has nothing to do with whether they are more or less advanced than us.

    They are the same humans we are — just used to different things.

    If you stole one of their babies, it could grow up to learn theoretical physics. If they stole one of your babies, it could grow up to be an expert botanist.

  78. Intriguing. I’m in the ‘fly off and leave them the hell alone’ category. If they’re interested, they’ll migrate; there are enough sources of people in that area that it’s highly unlikely that they are entirely uncontacted, and even if they are completely ‘virgin’ towards other groups, we’ve never, ever, ever done anything right as a race when it comes to getting involved with other cultures.

    The Gods Must Be Crazy is insanely racist and condescending. I didn’t realize when I’d watched it (with my class) or when someone else mentioned it, but in certain ways it really is.

  79. Did anyone click on the link for a related article on the right, about the rare rhino footage in Indonesia?

    In the video they had some scientist comment on the footage… the guy’s name is “Had Alkaloid”. There’s a nice scientific name for you! :-)

  80. It would appear that their culture has a taboo of extraterritorial travel. So I don’t imagine any of them are very likely to catch a bus to São Paulo anytime soon. The bows and war paint would seem to suggest an interloper taboo too.

    So unless their isolation can be determined harmful to anyone, why try to strike up a conversation?

  81. Very colourful people. They aligned with the horde?

    #107 – destruction of ipod = sign of superior culture

    Seriously though, just let ’em carry on in peace. Just talking to them is likely to cause death and misery.

  82. Yabbut if they didn’t destroy the iPod and actually like Jan Jelinek, then that would mean they’re jungle metrosexuals.

    One could then infer a course of action, like for instance, what robot design to use. A police robot might not be ideal under the circumstances.

    Just don’t send them any of our food, that’s sure to make the gods angry.

  83. “What part of my link to more photos did you find hard to understand?”

    Oops, sorry. SEVEN blurry, staged-looking photos.

  84. also, check out green anarchy, wild roots, feral visions, green anarchism, anarchymag, venomous butterfly, killing king abacus, and antipolitics.net f y’r nt fckn tchn plgst dvr tht and then talk to me.

  85. “not all of Western civilization is mindless crap. We have a lot of good stuff, too. Like antibiotics and eyeglasses and bicycles and yelling at strangers on the Internet.

    That last one is my favoritest part of Western Civ!

  86. I can’t believe no-one has yet mentioned At Play in the Fields of The Lord, by Peter Matthiessen. (Yes, the one made into the 1991 Quinn/Lithgow/Hannah movie.)

    Similar remote tribe, contanct/no-contact debates, external economic threats, religious missionary aspects, immunological threats from outsiders, environmental loss.

    The central plot revolves around a remote Amazonian tribe, and the most striking image in the book is an almost identical incident where an airplane flyover brings out several tribal defenders, one of whom fires arrows at the offending plane. The arrow incident underlies most of the rest of the story for one of the protagonists.

  87. Not that I’m particularly on the side of contacting them, but…

    As a (albeit extremely diluted by now) ethnic Briton, my ancestors were invaded by an extremely advanced civilization (for the era) the Romans. The Romans brought a multitude of advances to my ancestor’s little island – though I doubt the Britons being invaded would have particularly felt this way, I think we can all agree that the Roman invasions of many tribes was, on the whole, a good thing.

    I kind of agree with Dinesh D’Souza’s thoughts on the matter; colonialism may have created a lot of problems, but it also improved the quality of life for many human beings. And if it’s imperialistic and ethnocentric to feel that a 70+ life span, access to free universal healthcare and more food than I could possibly is advanced, then fine.

  88. These look really photoshopped to me. The light illuminating the people is really uniform and bright, not like the light illuminating the scene, which is less even and more mottled.

    Picture 6 in particular has one person in the right foreground, who is surrounded by smoke, but not obscured by it the way the rest her surroundings are.

    Definitely dubious!

  89. “I don’t know that we have a responsibility to preserve that culture, but the idea that they are going to benefit by our introducing them to cable TV, Mcdonalds and strip logging is ill-concieved. All precedents would tend to point elsewhere.”

    Your argument would make more sense if you replaced those three things with Herzog movies, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and organ harvesting.

  90. PS: I prefer Vosges Haut, particularly their chipotle chocolate blend (mmm… red fire)… but figured you’d have less idea what I meant, particularly because they stopped carrying it at the Whole Foods around the corner here… and organ harvesting probably comes off bad to many as well, but not if your the recipient of a donor who died of natural causes.

    The point is I liked the argument that was being given until it reverted back to pointing out the negatives in our society.

  91. Picture 6 in particular has one person in the right foreground, who is surrounded by smoke, but not obscured by it the way the rest her surroundings are. Definitely dubious!

    Or, it isn’t smoke at all, just a lighter colour of earth beneate the feet of the person. Look at the top right of the picture, same ashy coloured dirt.

    So, not really dubious at all.

    On a side note I’d like to propose a new drinking game category: P!ICTBTP

    Photoshopped! I Can Tell By The Pixels

  92. our friends over at the cellar pointed out what the director of Survival International, Stephen Corry, had to say:

    “The world needs to wake up to this, and ensure that their territory is protected in accordance with international law. Otherwise, they will soon be made extinct.”

    “protected”, eh? “extinct” eh?, like they’re not human or something. gah. i say leave ’em alone. leave us all alone.

  93. If I’ve learned anything from Pocahontas, however benevolent the “contacters” may be, fall-out from contact never seems to really work out for those being contacted. As soon as the choice between remaining an isolated tribe or joining the fun ride the rest of us are on is presented, the former is irreprably altered. So is there really any choice at all?

  94. There’s probably big-brained aliens on the dark side of the moon telepathing to other alien strangers around the universes, laughing about how we post-moderns think we’re “all that” because we can sit in our comfy computer rooms and discuss our own primitive not-there-yet brethren.

    [Ha ha ha… Not that I’m particularly on the side of contacting them, but… As a (albeit extremely diluted by now) ethnic Andromedan, my ancestors were invaded by an extremely advanced civilization (for the era) the Saggitarians. The Saggitarians brought a multitude of advances to my ancestor’s little planet…]

  95. Interestingly, Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael, advocates for a return to a more primitive society, arguing that it is essential for the future survival of our species. Another theme of the book is that there are immutable laws of life that we as humans believe we are exempt from.

    It’s an intriguing and worthwhile read, in my opinion (in spite of the misanthropic theories of population control & etc…) The book definitely
    offers an unconventional view of the “tribal” society by promoting that kind of lifestyle.


  96. As members of the most recent colonizing culture, we have been taught of the horrors and hubris of such actions. This has been ingrained.


    Western culture, as pointed out previously, is also the product of colonization. This is how memes spread and have a chance to mutate and propagate and improve. It’s not always fun, but ultimately, it’s a good thing.

    Western culture is not bad. It is good. Really, really good. By basically any measure you can think of. It is the product of a lot of unconnected cultures mixing and mingling, pulling the best ideas out of each (we have a lot of ideas and values from everywhere from India to pre-Christian Britain, with ever-growing modern additions from East Asia). It’s not perfect, but it’s damn good.

    We are healthy, well- (actually OVER-) fed, and yes, pretty happy. We don’t have to worry about having our arms lopped off for fun by the tribe next door, or being massacred by them and our wives and daughters raped pregnant and used to grow the numbers of our enemies…

    These are the problems that people face in primitive (and yes, that is the right word) cultures. We were there, too, in Europe, until the Romans opened our eyes to the possibilities of social organization on a massive scale. The possibilities of a meritocracy. It’s a good model. Before that, people just lived in horrid little tribes–extended family groups–and killed each other left and right. The Romans taught the Northern Europeans that if you stopped doing that for awhile, you could build a nation so strong that you could kill even bigger groups of people.

    …Okay, so I’m half joking about the last bit.

    What I’m saying is this: Violent deaths used to be incredibly common in our cultures, as they are in primitive cultures still today. But now the numbers that die violently–even with the big wars we wage–is miniscule. It is entirely probable that not a single person reading this will die at the hands of another human. That, my friends, is the proof in this particular pudding.

    So, do we share our society with these people?

    I dunno. It’s not going to go well for them, and they won’t be able to buy any Big Macs with leaves or dirt or whatever, so they won’t even be able to participate. Their children or grandchildren might, but not them.

    Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. They will be contacted eventually, and it won’t be fun for them, so we might as well get to destroying their culture and killing them with the common cold sooner rather than later. All we can do is try to be humane about it.

  97. @141 said “What I’m saying is this: Violent deaths used to be incredibly common in our cultures, as they are in primitive cultures still today. But now the numbers that die violently–even with the big wars we wage–is miniscule.”

    I’m not an expert on the numbers, and maybe the percentage of people who die due to human violence compared to those who die of other causes is lower now than 10000* years ago. But, that’s only because we now have 6.5 billion people around to make that ratio work out. Thousands and thousands of people die of human-on-human violence daily now. I doubt that that many people were dying of human-on-human violence daily 2000 years ago when an estimated 5 million** people populated the earth.

    *I chose 10000 years ago because it seems likely that the majority of people were living in this type of “simple” society then – minus perhaps the Egyptians building the pyramids, maybe the Mayans, and who knows what other complex societies. There were pyramid builders in Southern Illinois at some point, but that might have been only 5000 years ago.

    **I’ll admit, my population numbers come from Wikipedia, and I couldn’t find a source for those.

  98. Once again Mr Pratchett says it better than I ever could…

    “Ignorant: a state of not knowing what a pronoun is, or how to find the square root of 27.4, and merely knowing childish and useless things like which of the seventy almost identical-looking species of the purple sea snake are the deadly ones, how to treat the poisonous pith of the Sago-sago tree to make a nourishing gruel, how to foretell the weather by the movements of the tree-climbing Burglar Crab, how to navigate across a thousand miles of featureless ocean by means of a piece of string and a small day model of your grandfather, hot to get essential vitamins from the liver of the ferocious Ice Bear, and other such trivial matters. It’s a strange thing that when everyone becomes educated, everyone knows about the pronoun but no one knows about the Sago-sago.”

    ‘Primitive vs advanced’ is an unhelpful polarity. I personally choose the pronouns, penicillin & McDonalds over the Sago, but wouldn’t dream of forcing it on someone else…

  99. Wow.

    I’m not a big champion of modern western culture. I’m horrified when missionaries go ramming their culture and beliefs down other peoples’ throats. And I sure see how exposure to a dominant culture (not better, just more powerful) has wrecked other cultures.

    But then I think about my son and how terrible it would have been to have lost him to a childhood disease. Or the time I had a tooth ache and had to wait for Monday to go to the dentist. About broken legs, about being cold and being hungry … and I’m torn.

    I participated in a recent bioblitz and found myself pulling up traps set for various invertebrates in swamps on a steamy hot day. Sleep deprived, insect-chowed (they sampled me more than I sampled them, that’s for sure) and filthy, I kept wondering what it would be like to spend your whole life in such conditions, as most people have for most of human history.

    I’ve been hungry, but never starved. I’ve been scared, but it hasn’t been a way of life. I’ve had to obey laws that were largely moderate, but never intense taboos. I’ve lived as a woman in a culture in which women are not equal to men, but not one in which I was flat out property (or Saudi Arabia even). What do these people endure? In this country, we are horrified when a child goes hungry. But that’s okay if it’s a tribal tradition?

    I understand where the “leave them alone” folks are coming from philosophically, but when it comes to hunger, when it comes to disease, I flip flop.

    In the jungle, life is shorter, of that I have no doubt. Does it have more meaning? I don’t know. I think it is just as sketchy to project or romanticize these people’s existence as it is to assume that they need to be “improved”.

    The problem is, with the assumption that any contact contaminates them, they get no choice. That bothers me. But yah, I doubt anyone could do a clean job of interacting without causing major upheaval.

    Just remember, these are PEOPLE, not some damn museum exhibit, not potential converts to your particular religion.

    Someone up there on the thread mentioned that if Aliens appeared, it would traumatize us, because we wouldn’t be the masters of creation any more. Well get over that. Who needs to be teh boss of everything. I don’t want to be enslaved by an advanced culture, but if there was one kicking around, I’d find it heartbreaking if they were keeping out of sight and just observing us because they didn’t think we could emotionally handle the exposure. Bring on the antigravity devices and the chance to meet folks from other worlds. If I had to handle being the butt end of some jokes about being a terrestrial biped or whatever, so be it.

    I’d be curious, really curious. Don’t you think some of those tribes people would feel the same way? Not wanting to joked about, but wanting to know? Don’t you think they wonder about what is out there?

    These are people, not a species evolved for a particular niche. These are human beings, adaptable and curious. So if we could keep the folks who would exploit them at bay, the loggers and the mining interests and the missionaries, if we could guarantee them the right to their traditional lands, I guess I lean towards careful, mindful, RESPECTFUL contact.

    Because we are using up the damn planet at a horrific place. Our world is closing in on theirs. Best we help them get braced for it while we still have the resources to be altruistic about it. Because it is going to happen anyway.

  100. Dear Pipenta

    Only one way to be sure. Buy a plane ticket, walk into the jungle, find a tribe and live with them. See if their life is better or worse than yours. What do you have to lose?

  101. Lol.

    I say leave them alone.

    Preserve the innocence of them all.

    Either that or crack out the vodka and have a rave.


    It’s a good way to introduce them to the world at large.

    Either that or we invade their land and say we’re looking for oil.

  102. I lean towards a conservative approach. If you can’t make a reasonably certain prediction that you won’t do more harm than good, first, do no harm.

    For instance, dental caries is a communicable disease which is, furthermore, supported by a sugar-rich diet. There’s a pretty good chance they they don’t suffer from tooth decay, although they might, for instance, break teeth or grind them down more than someone with a squishy-food diet. The vast majority of the world’s population has no access to dental care. The overwhelming probability is that contact with these people would create dental disease where none now exists without providing them any means of relief.

    The impacts of what we call civilization on health are not cut and dried. Access to clean water accounts for the overwhelming upgrade in average life span. They probably already have that. We have antibiotics to treat infectious disease, but we are just as likely to give them infectious disease as we are to cure it. And at the moment, infectious disease is outstripping our ability to find cures.

    The other main impact is lifestyle. The world’s population increasingly eats a diet of something like fried school paste. Combine that with a sedentary lifestyle, and health has declined over the last few decades. We are beginning to see a decline in average life span which will probably grow worse as the fast food generation ages.

    Civilization brings carcinogens and toxins which will increase diseases like cancer. Once again, we have treatments which may help, but they will be unavailable to these people.

    Finally there’s violence. I have no idea if these people kill each other or their neighbors. I do know that a million Iraqis have died since we invaded, that Hitler killed more than ten million, a million died in Rwanda, a million in Armenia, Stalin may have killed as many as sixty million. Whatever level of violence they experience, we have no improvement to offer them.

    So what are we offering them? Tee shirts and the destruction of their fundamental world view and social structure. It’s disingenuous to argue that this is analogous to the meeting of developed cultures. Look at sub-Saharan Africa. Most countries have life expectancies in the 30s and 40s, and many are torn by widespread violence. Can anyone give one single example of an isolated group whose lives and happiness have been improved by contact with a developed economy?

  103. You guys laugh now, but just think what would happen if we had a mass of UFOs descend upon us. We’d be trying to shoot them out of the sky with our primative weapons, too. :P

  104. Hey, the Indians took out Custer, I’m sure a whole planet could take out a few space ships.

  105. We would have the same behaviour seeing a UFO !

    Go Bush, let’s give them Freedom, Peace and Civilization !!


  106. It’s “tribe” because if we used the kak-work “community” it would make them sound more like people.

  107. In this context I find:

    Spirit of the Rainforest: A Yanomamo Shaman’s Story by Mark Andrew Ritchie

    very interesting

    Ritchie records the account of a shaman who *gasp, horrors* converts to Christianity and is VERY GRATEFUL to no longer go through life in a drug induced haze where the spirits tell him to slaughter the neighboring tribe for the last depradation in their ongoing feud. The shaman also is annoyed at the anthrpologists who want them to stay “pure” and don’t want them to have western medicine.

    It really should be read by anyone sure that all missionaries do is ruin functioning cultures.

  108. a shaman who *gasp, horrors* converts to Christianity and is VERY GRATEFUL to no longer go through life in a drug induced haze where the spirits tell him to slaughter the neighboring tribe for the last depredation in their ongoing feud.

    Because, of course, the history of Christianity is the history of world peace.

  109. DoctorWhat

    You could probably get as much of a reaction if you showed them your laptop, or a video camera.. or indeed, a book.

    It’s the book, you see. It tells him what to say. Magic.

  110. i belive we should leave these people alone let them live3 there life the way it is dont cross them like hurting their civilitastyion maybe they are not contacting us because they want there own rules dont bother them let them live as they wish to live not as you tell them to

    LEAVE THEM BE Cassidy Rohde aka 13 year old opinion

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