Uncontacted tribes

Who they are

There are more than one hundred uncontacted tribes around the world

Uncontacted tribes are not backward and primitive relics of a remote past. They are our contemporaries and a vitally important part of humankind’s diversity. Where their rights are respected, they continue to thrive.

World Map

Uncontacted Mashco-Piro Indians on a riverbank near the Manú National Park in Peru, 2011. © Jean-Paul Van Belle

Shelters built by members of an uncontacted tribe in Peru. © C Fagan/Round River Conservation Studies

Uncontacted Indians in Brazil seen from the air during a Brazilian government expedition in 2010. The photos reveal a thriving, healthy community with baskets full of manioc and papaya fresh from their gardens. They also have metal pots and knives, likely obtained through inter-tribal trading. © G. Miranda/FUNAI/Survival

This man, painted with annatto seed dye, is in the community's garden, surrounded by banana plants and annatto trees, Acre, Brazil. © G. Miranda/FUNAI/Survival

This image of a member of Brazil's Kawahiva tribe was taken during a chance encounter with a team from the department for indigenous affairs. On noticing he was being watched, the man fled. © FUNAI

The Sentinelese live on a forested island in the Indian Ocean and resist all contact with outsiders. They are the most isolated people on Earth. From what can be seen from a distance, observers note that they enjoy excellent health, unlike neighbouring tribes whose lands have been invaded. This member of the tribe is firing arrows at a surveillance helicopter. © Indian Coastguard/Survival

Uncontacted Indians made contact with a settled Ashaninka community near the Brazil-Peru border in June 2014. The uncontacted Indians appeared young and healthy, but reported shocking incidents of a massacre of their older relatives. After first contact, the Indians contracted a respiratory infection and were treated by a medical team. © FUNAI/Survival

Guardians

Tribal peoples are the best guardians of the natural world, and evidence proves that tribal territories are the best barrier to deforestation. This photograph shows the land of an uncontacted tribe as an island of green forest in a sea of deforestation (the orange line is the territory’s border). It is home to the “Last of his Tribe”, a lone man and the last survivor of his people, who were probably massacred by cattle ranchers occupying their land.

The best way to prevent the destruction of the Amazon rainforest is to campaign for the land rights of uncontacted tribes.

Diversity

Uncontacted tribes have developed ways of life that are entirely self-sufficient and extraordinarily diverse. They add enormously to the richness of human life.

The uncontacted Awá in the Brazilian Amazon use the resin of the maçaranduba tree to make fire to light houses and to hunt at night. They are able to build a house in just a few hours – from lianas, leaves and tree trunks.

The uncontacted Kawahiva Indians build intricate ladders up trees to collect honey from bees’ nests and they make traps to catch fish in the streams by their camps.

One uncontacted man known as “the Last of his Tribe“ digs deep pits in which he places sharp spikes to capture large prey.

Knowledge

Uncontacted tribes’ knowledge is irreplaceable and has been developed over thousands of years. They have an acute understanding of their natural world through botanical and zoological wisdom and demonstrate unique solutions to sustainable living. Many of the drugs used in Western medicine originate with tribal people, and have saved millions of lives. Uncontacted tribes are likely to hold the key to many more secrets of their forest.

Tanaru Indigenous Territory

Tribal peoples are the best guardians of the natural world, and evidence proves that tribal territories are the best barrier to deforestation. This photograph shows the land of an uncontacted tribe as an island of green forest in a sea of deforestation (the orange line is the territory’s border). It is home to the “Last of his Tribe”, a lone man and the last survivor of his people, who were probably massacred by cattle ranchers occupying their land.

The best way to prevent the destruction of the Amazon rainforest is to campaign for the land rights of uncontacted tribes.

© G. Miranda/FUNAI/Survival

Uncontacted tribes have developed ways of life that are entirely self-sufficient and extraordinarily diverse. They add enormously to the richness of human life.

The uncontacted Awá in the Brazilian Amazon use the resin of the maçaranduba tree to make fire to light houses and to hunt at night. They are able to build a house in just a few hours – from lianas, leaves and tree trunks.

The uncontacted Kawahiva Indians build intricate ladders up trees to collect honey from bees’ nests and they make traps to catch fish in the streams by their camps.

One uncontacted man known as “the Last of his Tribe“ digs deep pits in which he places sharp spikes to capture large prey.

© Peetsa/FUNAI/CGIIRC Archive

Uncontacted tribes’ knowledge is irreplaceable and has been developed over thousands of years. They have an acute understanding of their natural world through botanical and zoological wisdom and demonstrate unique solutions to sustainable living. Many of the drugs used in Western medicine originate with tribal people, and have saved millions of lives. Uncontacted tribes are likely to hold the key to many more secrets of their forest.

What do we mean by ”uncontacted tribes” ?

Tribal peoples who have no peaceful contact with anyone in the mainstream or dominant society. These could be entire peoples or smaller groups of already contacted tribes.

Does that mean they have no contact with anyone else at all?

No. Everyone has neighbours, even when they’re some distance away, and they’ll know who they are. If it’s another tribe, perhaps also uncontacted, they may or may not have friendly relations with them.

Have they ever been in contact?

In some cases, probably. Some may have been in touch with the colonist society in the past, and then retreated from the violence which that brought. Some may once have been part of larger tribal groups, and split off and moved away, fleeing contact.

So they aren’t necessarily living as they were in past centuries?

Nobody is. Some Amazonian groups even had guns, from inter-tribal trading, before they’d ever met a non-Indian. Most uncontacted tribes have used some metal tools, which they have found, stolen or traded with their neighbours, for many years or even generations. Uncontacted peoples in India’s Andaman Islands use bits of metal from old shipwrecks, for example.

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