Uncontacted tribes seem to be looking to make contact
Earlier this week, news broke that a large number of the uncontacted Mashco-Piro tribe of the Peruvian Amazon ventured into the open on a riverbank across from the Yine Indian community of Monte Salvado. After seemingly attempting a crossing and being barred for their own safety, the group received gifts of bananas and disappeared back into the jungle.
In the wake of the news, the New Scientist explored the issue of how many uncontacted tribes remain. The best guess seems to be upwards of 100, globally.
Though some nations, like Peru, prohibit outside contact with isolated peoples, most tribes labeled as “uncontacted” have actually interacted with others; usually other isolated tribes.
Arizona State University anthropologist Kim Hill provided insight for the New Scientist article. He notes that while anthropologists are obligated to responsibly deal with research subjects, missionaries or resource developers are usually the ones to make first contact with native peoples. Therefore, standard first-contact procedures don’t exist.
As globalization pushes people closer together, previously isolated tribes are often forced into outside contact by encroaching civilization, namely logging, mining and other development on or near their ancestral lands.
Other times, shifting paradigms may be at play. “As soon as the tribes believe they might have some peaceful contact, all these groups want some outside interaction,” says Hill. “It’s a human trait to want to expand our contacts.”
However, outside contact frequently brings disease and death to members of isolated tribes with no immunity to common pathogens.
Also, these people commonly gain low standing once integrated into other societies. Yet, Hill says that interviews with former members of isolated tribes show that even years later they would not wish to return to their former situations.
Hill, a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has extensive experience working with hunter-gatherer societies of the Americas, including the Mashco-Piro.