But for how much longer?
set of photographs was released earlier this week, some of the clearest pictures ever taken of the Mashco-Piro, which is one of the most isolated tribes of people in the world. The Mashco-Piro live in the Amazon, in the rainforest east of the Andes in Peru. And they have never been contacted by outsiders.
There are about 15 such "uncontacted" tribes tucked away in the Amazon. Estimates are that between 12,000 and 15,000 uncontacted tribespeople are living in the Amazon. You would be tempted to call it an "unspoiled life," but the entire reason we have these great pictures of the Mashco-Piro is that rampant logging in the Amazon has driven them out of their home territories, all the way to the river banks.
From the banks of the Amazon and its tributaries, the Mashco-Piro are exposed to river traffic, including tourist groups such as the one which snapped these most recent pictures. In the past, the Mashco-Piro have reportedly fired upon tourist groups with arrows. Which, if true, is frankly pretty understandable. Wouldn't you be angry if a bunch of otherworldly machines came and tore up your property, and you had to live out in the open, like the Mashco-Piro?
To call these tribes "uncontacted" is a bit disingenuous, of course. Most of them have had contact with modern people over the years, be it trappers, survey teams, or fishermen. These tribes remain "lost" because they choose to do so. Many of them have responded to contact attempts with violence in the past. Other tribes have a social system based on plundering other tribes; these tribes have turned their attention to the logging camps which are pushing into the area. In plundering logging camps, the tribes obviously achieve a type of contact with modern society (which unfortunately has the potential to include germs along with the other loot).
A number of indigenous rights organizations are fighting to maintain these tribes' land as national preserves, to keep their territory intact. Unfortunately, the logging and petroleum interests are a powerful lobby in South America. Other dangers to their territory include illegal logging, diseases being spread from modern populations, and wildfires set to clear farmland.
It's amazing to think that there are still uncontacted tribespeople living in the world today. Unfortunately it seems that they may not be able to keep this privilege for too much longer. While some governments have set aside territory for some uncontacted tribes, the Mashco-Piro are apparently not so lucky.