There are more than one hundred uncontacted tribes around the world

Uncontacted tribes are Indigenous peoples who avoid all contact with outsiders. They’re 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. But their survival is under threat from violence, disease and racism.

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There are more than 100 uncontacted tribes around the world, from the Amazon to Indonesia, from the Indian Ocean to the Chaco forest.There are more than 100 uncontacted tribes around the world, from the Amazon to Indonesia, from the Indian Ocean to the Chaco forest. © Survival

 

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Guardians

Tanaru Indigenous Territory, Brazil (home to the man known as "The last of his tribe" or "The man of the hole"Tanaru Indigenous Territory, Brazil (home to the man known as "The last of his tribe" or "The man of the hole"© Survival International
Tribal peoples are the best guardians of the natural world, and evidence proves that tribal territories are the best barrier to deforestation. This image 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 who’s 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.

 

Act now for uncontacted tribes

 

Genocide

Whole populations of uncontacted tribes are being wiped out by genocidal violence from outsiders who steal their land and resources, and by diseases like flu and measles to which they have no resistance.

 

 

 

They killed my mother, my brothers and sisters, and my wife.
Member of Awá tribe, Brazil

 

We didn't know what a cold was. Half of us died. Half of my people died.
Member of Murunahua tribe, Peru

 

 

  • Uncontacted people made contact with a settled Ashaninka community near the Brazil-Peru border in June 2014.

    © FUNAI/Survival

  • There are now just three surviving Akuntsu. When they die, the tribe will have been completely wiped out.

    © Fiona Watson/Survival

  • Boa Sr was the last member of the Bo tribe. The Great Andamanese peoples, made up of the Bo and several other tribes, were decimated after contact when the British colonized the Andaman islands.

    © Alok Das

  • © J. Pessoa

  • Baita, a Piripkura man, sleeping in the forest, Brazil. The Piripkura numbered around 20 people when FUNAI first contacted them in the late 1980s – many had been massacred. After contact they returned to the forest. Baita’s sister, Rita, now lives outside the forest, and Baita and his nephew Tamandua have sporadic contact at a FUNAI post. No-one knows how many more Piripkura are still living in their territory, which is being invaded.

    © Jair Candor/FUNAI/Survival


 

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Diversity

Uncontacted Indigenous people in Brazil seen from the air during a Brazilian government expedition in 2010. Men painted with red and black vegetable dye watch the Brazilian government plane.Uncontacted Indigenous people in Brazil seen from the air during a Brazilian government expedition in 2010. Men painted with red and black vegetable dye watch the Brazilian government plane.© 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 build intricate ladders up trees to collect honey from bees’ nests, and 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 game animals.

 

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Knowledge

Uncontacted Indigenous settlement, Javari Valley, Brazil, 2011.Uncontacted Indigenous settlement, Javari Valley, Brazil, 2011.© 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.

 

Join the movement for uncontacted tribes

 

  • Uncontacted Mashco-Piro people on a riverbank near the Manú National Park, 2011.

    © Jean-Paul Van Belle

  • Shelters built by members of an uncontacted tribe along the Curanja River, south-east Peru.

    © C Fagan/Round River Conservation Studies

  • Uncontacted people 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.

    © 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

  • The last of the Kawahiva are forced to live on the run from armed loggers and powerful ranchers. Still from unique footage taken by government agents during a chance encounter.

    © FUNAI

  • In the wake of the 2004 tsunami this member of the Sentinelese tribe was photographed firing arrows at a helicopter.

    © Indian Coastguard/Survival

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

    © FUNAI/Survival


 

Land theft and forced contact

 

We oppose attempts by outsiders to contact uncontacted tribes. It’s always fatal, and initiating contact must be their choice alone. Those who enter uncontacted tribes’ territories deny them that choice.

 

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  • From multi-million dollar projects to smaller scale illegal operations, mining pollutes and opens up Indigenous territories. The Greater Carajás project including a mine (pictured), a railway and a dam, exposed the north-eastern Amazon to unprecedented invasions and violence, and killed many uncontacted Awá.

    © Peter Frey/Survival

  • Hydroelectric dams, often presented as “green energy” alternatives, are destroying vast swathes of Indigenous land. A series of internationally-funded mega-dams in the Brazilian Amazon – such as Belo Monte, pictured – threatens the existence of several groups of uncontacted people.

    © Ministry of Mines and Energy, Brazil

  • Missionaries attempting to force contact on uncontacted tribes could end up wiping them out. Here, a missionary smiles as he takes a selfie with an uncontacted child who has just emerged from the forest. This simple act could kill, as he is likely to be carrying germs of common Western diseases to which the tribespeople have no resistance.

    © FENAMAD

  • Deforestation kills uncontacted people by destroying their land. They depend on it totally for their survival. Paraguay’s Chaco forest – the last refuge of the uncontacted Ayoreo – is being devastated by one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world.

    © Rodrigo Baleia

  • Uncontacted tribes’ land is being stolen and used for cattle ranching. Cattle are grazing on the land of the uncontacted Kawahiva tribe while the people face extinction and are living on the run, struggling to survive.

    © Survival

  • Huge tracts of land in Amazonia – once home to hundreds of uncontacted tribes – have been opened up for large-scale plantations. In Brazil, this is encouraged by Congress’s anti-Indigenous rural lobby group.

    © Rodrigo Baleia

  • South-east Peru is home to various uncontacted Nahua, Nanti, Matsigenka and Mashco-Piro groups. The Camisea gas pipeline construction slashes its way through the heart of uncontacted tribes’ forest in Peru. Oil and gas projects like this have killed countless uncontacted tribes in recent history and are a clear violation of national and international law.

    © A. Goldstein/Survival

  • Illegal poaching in the waters around their island threatens the survival of India’s Sentinelese tribe. If their resources are too depleted, the consequences could be catastrophic.

    © A. Justin


 

All uncontacted tribal peoples face catastrophe unless their land is protected. They’re resisting the invasion and destruction of their lands, and we're doing everything we can to secure their land for them, to ensure invaders are kept out, and to give them the chance to determine their own futures.

 

Explore critically urgent cases where uncontacted tribes are at imminent risk of destruction:

1.     Land Protection Orders, Brazil: the territories of several uncontacted tribes in Brazil are shielded by temporary “Land Protection Orders,” but anti-indigenous politicians and ranchers want to open these territories up for beef production, logging and mining.

2.     Ayoreo, Paraguay: The last uncontacted tribe in South America outside the Amazon is holding out in an ever-shrinking island of forest, as bulldozers clearing land for cattle ranchers rapidly close in on them.

3.     Uncontacted tribes, Peru: After years of delay, the Peruvian government has still not signed into law several indigenous territories which uncontacted and recently-contacted tribes depend on for their survival.

 

FAQs

What do we mean by uncontacted tribes?

Tribal peoples who avoid contact with outsiders. These could be entire peoples, or sub-groups of larger tribes who do have contact.

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

No. Everyone has neighbors, 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 come into contact with invading colonists, often loggers, ranchers or settlers, and then retreated from the violence which they 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 always did in the past?

Nobody is. Some Amazonian groups even had guns, from inter-tribal trading, before they’d ever met an outsider. 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.

Aren’t Uncontacted Tribes pristine societies?

No - all peoples are changing all the time and always have done, including uncontacted tribes.

Aren’t we denying them the benefits of Western medicine?

No - Uncontacted tribes have unrivalled knowledge of their environment and medicinal plants, which they use to treat the diseases that are known to them. But contact almost always introduces new diseases, to which they have no immunity, and these are very likely to kill at least some of them, even when emergency medical help is provided.

If they knew about "our" way of life, surely they'd choose to join us?

The future offered by the settler society is almost always to "join" at the lowest possible level, often in abject poverty. History proves that tribal peoples usually end up in a far worse state after contact – if they survive at all.

They can't be “left alone” forever!

If the alternative is their destruction, why not? We oppose attempts by outsiders to contact uncontacted tribes. It's always fatal and initiating contact must be their choice alone. The solution is clear: Protect their land to allow them to live as they choose.

 

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