New glimpse of an old worldCertain areas Of the Amazon rain forest are like time warps to an earlier era in human history. A few months ago, while flying over a deeply secluded part of this jungle, Sydney Possuelo, who heads Brazil's federal Department of Isolated Indians, caught a glimpse of this old world, as he has several times before. Half-hidden beneath the thick canopy of trees was a village of about 200 members unknown to modern civilization, seemingly living in a hunter-gatherer society.
|It's believed that when Portuguese navigator Pedro Cabral reached the South American
coast in 1500, between 1 million and 11 million indigenous people
(dubbed "Indians") lived in what is now Brazil. Nearly half a millennium later,
there are only 300,00 0 surviving Indians. War, slavery, starvation, and disease all
primarily resulting from invaders-are to blame.
This latest discovery of an uncontacted tribe is another case in Brazil's ongoing political controversy over what to do with such groups. Brazil's government tries to find remote tribes, demarcate their territory, and then leave them alone. It creates guard posts to keep out farmers, loggers, gold miners, poachers, and other
outsiders who might incite violence, degrade the tribal lifestyle, or bring diseases (against which the Indians have no inherited immunity). Nearly 200 million acres, roughly 11 percent of the national territory, have recently been promised to the remaining natives. Opponents of the move not only think this allotment is too much for so few people but want a return to Brazil's old Possuelo with Korubo Indians, a tribe he contacted earlier policy of assimilation.
While assimilation has often been disastrous, some tribes do welcome interaction with the outside world; others want no change at all. As for this newly found tribe-of which almost nothing is known regarding its customs, language, or name-its remote location precludes any immediate threat from modem society. (It has yet to be photographed, except from the air.) The government has no plans to make contact. If and when the day of contact arrives, the government's policy is to let the group decide the level of acculturation.
Up to 55 uncontacted and undiscovered Indian groups are believed to live in remote pockets of the Amazon, which most anthropologists consider to be the last place on Earth where such tribes dwell. -Dan Stern
(courtesy of U.S. News & World Report, July 20, 1998, p.8)
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