Nine tribal facts for August 9

Korowai man and child, Papua. Tribal people in New Guinea were some of the worlds earliest farmers.
Korowai man and child, Papua. Tribal people in New Guinea were some of the worlds earliest farmers.
© Survival International

August 9th is the UN Day of indigenous people. To celebrate, here are 9 little-known facts from Survival about tribal peoples:

1) There are over 100 uncontacted tribes in the world. Some live less than 100km from Machu Picchu, Peru’s biggest tourist attraction.

2) Tribal people in the Baliem valley of New Guinea probably developed agriculture long before the ancestors of Europeans.

3) The Moken ‘sea gypsies’ of the Andaman Sea have developed the unique ability to focus under water, in order to dive for food. The eyesight of Moken children is 50% more powerful than that of European children.

4) The Sentinelese tribe is thought to have lived on the Andaman Islands for about 55,000 years.

5) One in every 6 languages spoken on the planet comes from New Guinea.

6) Tribal peoples developed some of the world’s staple foods. Manioc (cassava), maize and potatoes are all the product of indigenous husbandry.

7) Hadza hunters in Tanzania use the song of an African bird to guide them to bees’ nests in baobab trees.

8) Awá women in Brazil care for orphaned baby monkeys by suckling them.

Takwarentxia and Hakawaí and their family. They were contacted with their first-born baby in 1992, near the town of Imperatriz, Brazil.
Takwarentxia and Hakawaí and their family. They were contacted with their first-born baby in 1992, near the town of Imperatriz, Brazil.
© Fiona Watson/Survival

9) The language of the Bolivian Kallawaya healers, still spoken today, is believed to be the secret language of the Inca Kings.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry, said today, ‘This annual UN day is an important chance for the world to recognize tribal people and their right to survival and self-determination. Survival International has released nine unusual facts to coincide with August 9th, to help spread an understanding of, and respect for, tribal peoples and their astonishing contribution to the diversity of mankind.’

Like these? Here are nine more:

10) Tribal peoples have developed extraordinary survival skills over millennia. An Amazonian hunter may mimic a predator to frighten it towards a fellow hunter or copy the call of a female animal in heat to attract males.

11) Bushmen peoples of Southern Africa might have lived there for 70,000 years or more. Recent studies suggest that the Bushman tribes are genetically closer to the ancestors of all of us than anyone else. 

12) In times of drought, the Bushmen store water underground in empty ostrich eggs sealed with beeswax.

13) Of the world’s 7,000 languages, 4,000 are spoken by tribal peoples.

14) The Kazakh eagle hunters of Western Mongolia have such a strong bond with their eagles that they sleep beside them at night and hand-feed them for a month when young.

15) Tribal peoples possess detailed ecological knowledge. They know things we don’t. For example, the Shuar of Ecuador use no less than a hundred different plant species solely for stomach ailments.

16) The very last remaining speaker of the 55,000-year-old Bo language of the Andaman Islands died in 2010.

17) The Andaman tribes were not affected by the 2004 tsunami. When they saw the sea recede, they immediately retreated to higher ground.

18) Curare, a plant poison developed by South American Indians to render prey immobile, has been appropriated by western medicine as a muscle relaxant. It makes open-heart surgery possible.