Free People of the Amazon

I was shocked when I read on the news that there are plans in place to go visit this community in the Brazilian-Peruvian border. I am not an anthropologist and I have not studied these topics in great lengths. However, it seems like an obvious trap.

The Western world calls them ‘savages’, ‘uncivilized’, ‘lost’, and ‘uncontacted’, when we really should be addressing them as something closer to ‘voluntarily isolated’.

They are one of the last truly free people on Earth. Free from the consumerist system, from corruption, from exploitation, etc.etc.etc. Why do we still think we have it better? Despite having so much information at our fingertips we are blind. We genuinely believe that our social, material, economic reality is inevitable, when there is evidence showing that these tribes have contact with neighboring communities and could easily move away from the system they live in now. There are plenty examples of previously voluntarily isolated groups who openly express how much they regret the experience of meeting us. Stories such as these move through generations and although many groups have never personally made ‘contact’ with the western world, they know they don’t want to.

“They are experts at living in the forest and are well aware of the presence of outsiders”(Fiona Watson, research director for the non-profit organization Survival International).

Through my short stay in the Ecuadorian Amazon, I became friends with a man who was the first of his family to move to a small city in the surrounding area. The rest of his family still lived in their small villages and their schooling consisted of learning about the medicinal uses of native plants, learning how to hunt, how to defend themselves from jaguars, etc. He explained that it was becoming increasingly difficult to live that way because the animals were becoming scarce and the land which contained plants they fed off of was being taken over by oil companies or turned into plantations. He felt the necessity to move to the city to find a job and feed his family, because the previous way of life was not feasible anymore. He also told me stories of tribes who were contacted by missionaries claiming to provide help. The missionaries dropped food supplies from their plane and the local community didn’t even touch them. They didn’t need or want the missionary’s help and expressed it clearly with threats. Despite that, the missionary came and they killed him.

We shouldn’t force people to remain with their current lifestyle in order to preserve their culture, and we shouldn’t force unwanted contact either. They are aware we exist, and if they want or need help they should have the option to choose.

Why do we ruin this over and over? Haven’t we learnt from history? Let them live free from our diseased society! The inevitable events of ‘contact’ follow:

  • We appear at their home.
  • They express some sort of emotion (be it anger, fear, confusion, we don’t know).
  • We trade life experience stories.
  • We leave, triumphant, and post it all over the news with pride that we ‘discovered’ something new, as if we’ve found a new dinosaur.
  • They all die from a cold.

Is it worth it?

We claim that they need our help, that they would want us to reach out to them had they known about our technology and medical advances. People are arguing for a “controlled contact”, as if this were an experiment. They explain that it will be controlled because it will be well-planned and IF we bring any diseases, we will have 24/7 medical assistance to help! …..seriously? Is that really the argument? “No amount of after-the-fact immunization or other Western technologies will compensate for the initial devastation”(Downey)!

If I am missing something or not being open-minded, PLEASE enlighten me because this just seems like such an obviously terrible idea.

If you would like to read more, there is a lot of literature out there. I do not agree on everything that is said on the following articles but it is important to review all points of view.
If you would like to read upon this, I suggest this article: “The Last Free People on the Planet” written by Greg Downey, an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Macquarie University in Sydney.

Although Survival International refers to these communities as ‘uncontacted’, which I personally don’t agree with, this organization seems to be doing great work. They are collaborating with remote tribal communities and rather than imposing their views upon these people on what is good for them, they let them have their own voice, which is their right. Check out their project: Tribal Voice, which allows the people to voice their views and explain what is happening around them.

More information: “Sad Truth of Uncontacted Tribes” and Uncontacted Tribes.

The National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), is the Brazilian government body that works to protect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples in Brazil .


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