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About 100 uncontacted tribes are believed to exist worldwide.
A previously uncontacted tribe has been found in Amazon jungle, with aerial photographs giving a glimpse of people who’ve had no known contact with anyone except their tribal neighbors. (Pics) 

Taken by Brazil’s Indian Affairs department, the photographs were released Jan. 31 by Survival International, a tribal-advocacy group.

About 100 uncontacted tribes are believed to exist worldwide. They live in remote, resource-rich areas, and are threatened by invasive development. The last such discovery was made in 2008, also in the Amazon. This tribe was spotted at the mouth of the Envira river in western Brazil, not far from the Peruvian border.

“We’re trying to bring awareness to uncontacted tribes, because they are so vulnerable. Governments often deny that they exist,” said Tess Thackara, Survival International’s U.S. coordinator. “We’re releasing these images because we need evidence to prove they’re there.”

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Possibly Panoan

Judging by their haircuts, the Indians appear to be Panoan, a tribe native to eastern Peru and western Brazil, said Survival International research director Fiona Watson. They’re probably descended from Indians who escaped contact during the Amazon rubber boom of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, a period of near-genocidal exploitation. Though they haven’t had direct contact with the outside world, they’ll know about it.

“I’ve interviewed people who have gone through the process of contact,” said Watson. “One of the things that struck me is that they know more about us than we think they do. They’ve been watching us. The world is full of dangers, and they’ve made this decision to remain isolated for survival. But there’s a lot of curiosity.”

Trade with tribes who have made contact likely explains the machete carried by a young boy at center, and the pot atop a stone below. More traditional is a basket containing papaya at left. Above it is a pile of bitter manioc, peeled prior to soaking. At top right are baskets with carrying straps, with banana leaves used as covers.

From the picture, the people appear in good health, said Watson. “These people look healthy. They’re not obese, they’re not thin. There’s not a decrease in the population. The communal houses are still there,” she said.

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Garden Clearing

A garden clearing is clearly visible from above. A man painted red with annatto-seed dye can be seen on a path leading to the garden. Red paint is a common body decoration among Amazon tribes.

“They must feel relatively comfortable to have a settled community with developed gardens and structures, which is good news,” said Chris Fagan, executive director of the Upper Amazon Conservancy, an environmental-and-cultural-conservation group that works in southeastern Peru.

Fagan said the photographs are important for providing documentation of the group, an essential step in pushing the Brazilian government to honor laws that promise territorial rights to indigenous tribes. Those laws can be evaded by refusing to acknowledge the tribes’ existence.

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Fagan also recommended a consumer boycott of Amazonian mahogany, demand for which fuels deforestation of tribal territories.

Man in the Garden

A closer view shows the man in clearer detail, along with details of banana plants and annatto shrubs in the garden. Papaya and manioc would also be grown there, and perhaps cotton used to make bracelets, anklets and hammocks, said Watson.

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Three Men Look Upward

Two men painted red and another painted black look up from their village clearing. Black paint can be either decorative or a sign of hostility, but Watson doesn’t believe hostility is directed at the plane overhead.

“In other photographs of uncontacted people that I’ve seen, you sometimes see them with bows and arrows pointed at the plane, or firing at the plane. That clearly denotes hostility,” she said. “In this picture, they appear to be an isolated people, looking up with curiosity.”

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Threatened by Illegal Logging

Thackara and Watson want the public to write the Peruvian government, urging a halt of illegal logging in the Amazon. With logging, ranching and mining come foreign diseases and the destruction of forests on which tribes rely.

Some uncontacted people have fled from Peru into western Brazil, where this new group was spotted. Thackara emphasized that the tribes deserve protection not as living examples of Stone Age life, but as rare and distinct cultures.

“We’re trying to encourage the view that these are evolving societies,” she said. “They’re not stuck in the Dark Ages. We want people to see them as something that can be part of our future.”

Via Wired