Brazil spots unknown tribe of indigenous people in Amazon jungle

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Map of Brazil. Javari river valley reservation is near the border of Peru.
Image: Felipe Menegaz.

Brazil has located an isolated group of indigenous, uncontacted people in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, the Brazilian National Foundation of Indians (FUNAI) announced today.

FUNAI, a state agency, uses aerial expeditions to avoid impacting uncontacted people and invading their land. The agency's policy is to avoid maintaining any human contact with untouched tribes.

Clearings in the Javari river valley reservation were first identified by satellite; the group's existence was only verified later by air flights over the area. The flights established the existence of three clearings with four straw-roofed buildings, known as malocas, which may shelter over 200 Indians. Also visible were areas where crops such as bananas, maize and perhaps peanuts were apparently being grown.

FUNAI's Javari valley coodinator told the Brazilian news agency Estado that both the croplands and the malocas "are new" and are estimated to have been used "for at most one year".

[T]he Amazon region contains the majority of untouched tribes without any contact with the exterior in the World.

—Fabricio Amorim, FUNAI coordinator

Amorim said, "[T]he Amazon region contains the majority of untouched tribes without any contact with the exterior in the World." And he said the recent findings highlight that the Javari valley holds, "the greatest concentration of isolated groups in Amazonia".

The newly identified group is located close to Brazil's border with Peru in the huge Vale do Javari reservation. Fourteen known uncontacted tribes have been spotted there and up to eight more are suggested by aerial evidence. Altogether, there are about 2,000 individuals in the reservation, according to Amorim.

He said that their culture and their very survival is threatened by illegal removal of the area's natural resources, as well as many other intrusions of civilization, but most of Brazil's indigenous groups have not changed their languages or traditions. FUNAI estimates that the recently discovered tribe likely belongs to the pano language group.

Brazil's indigenous peoples have tenaciously fought for their legal right to reclaim their traditional lands which were allotted to them in Brazil's 1988 constitution stating that all indigenous ancestral lands were to have their boundaries clearly marked and returned to tribes within five years.