Brazilian authorities to search for uncontacted Indians in Amazon

Tumá and Tupá (baby) Matis, near the Itui river, Javari Valley, Brazil.
Tumá and Tupá (baby) Matis, near the Itui river, Javari Valley, Brazil.
© Fiona Watson/Survival

Brazil’s Indian affairs department, FUNAI, has announced it will embark on a two month expedition to search for uncontacted Indians in the Amazon rainforest.

The expedition in the Javari Valley indigenous territory in the western Amazon will start in November.

This area is home to almost 4,000 Korubo, Mayoruna, Marubo, Matis, Kanamari and Kulina Indians, the majority of whom have been contacted over the last decades. FUNAI thinks that more uncontacted indigenous groups could be living in this densely forested area than anywhere else in Brazil.

Elias Bigio, coordinator of FUNAI’s uncontacted Indians unit, said, ‘We do not know how these people live, which language they speak, how they hunt or about their culture.’ He said that FUNAI’s policy is not to contact them but to confirm their existence and to map out their lands.

The expedition comes as a result of signs that the number of uncontacted Indians in the Javari Valley may be decreasing. A flight over the forest in July identified two huts in a Korubo settlement, a significant decrease from the nine huts and 300 individuals identified at the end of the 1990s.

Fransciscato Rieli, coordinator of the expedition, said, ‘One of our most exciting moments was in 1988 when we helped map the 400,000 hectares of the Masako tribe in Rondônia.’ The 1988 expedition was the first to be carried out under FUNAI’s current policy of not contacting uncontacted Indians, and instead focusing on mapping out and protecting the tribes’ lands.

In recent year the tribes of the Javari Valley have suffered from appalling health problems, especially a virulent form of hepatitis and epidemics of malaria. Indians leaders have regularly denounced Brazil’s health foundation which has failed to deal with the crisis.

Earlier this year Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel wrote to President Lula urging him to intervene. BBC presenter Bruce Parry visited the Matis who told him member of their community were dying from diseases.

Survival is campaigning for the right of uncontacted tribes to remain uncontacted and for their territories to be recognized and protected.

Watch Survival’s short film ‘Uncontacted Tribes’