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Photos: New isolated Amazon tribe

Brazilian researchers say they have confirmed the possible existence of a previously unknown and uncontacted tribe.
Last modified: 23 Jun 2011 02:43
Photo of a newly discovered hut of the korubo indigenous tribe. Photo: Peetsa/Arquivo CGIIRC-Funai

As far as I am aware, the discovery was first reported June 16 by A Critica newspaper in Manaus, and confirmed this week by the Brazilian government’s national Indian foundation, known as Funai.

The new tribe was discovered in the remote eastern part of the Brazilian Amazon about 1,130 kilometers east of Manaus.

Two thatched roof huts thought to belong to the newly discovered tribe. Given that there are crops around the huts, they are thought to be healthy. Photo: Peetsa/Arquivo CGIIRC-Funai  

They live in the Vale do Javari, a huge demarcated reserve roughly 80,000 square kilometers in size, slightly larger than Ireland.

In Javari alone Funai has identified 14 isolated tribes; the area is thought to hold the highest concentration of uncontacted tribes anywhere in the world.

The discovery was made during a research flyover of the region conducted in April after satellite images picked up specks of unknown clearing.

The newly discovered tribe is thought to be of the Pano linguistic group and likely an offshoot of the korubo family, according to Funai.

Another never before photographed structure thought to belong to the newly discovered tribe. Photo: Peetsa/Arquivo CGIIRC-Funai  

“This is a great discovery that required very careful and intense work,” Carlos Travassos, chief of the isolated/newly contacted Indians division at Funai, told Al Jazeera by phone. “We have been working in this region since 2002 and have detailed information about several tribes.”

Also discovered on the recent flyover were new huts never before photographed of identified tribes - the korubo, their first contact with outsiders famously conacted in 1996 in this video.

Only in very rare instances (like the video link above) is contact ever made with uncontacted tribes. The Brazilian government policy is to avoid personal contact with uncontacted tribes in fear of disrupting their natural habitat or passing on germs the Indians are not immune from.

A newly discovered hut belonging to the korubo tribe.  Photo: Peetsa/Arquivo CGIIRC-Funai 

“Our work now is to guarantee their survival and population growth, without contact,” Travassos said. “We have to keep monitoring them in order to protect their territory from ranchers and loggers.”

The new discoveries come just a little over two years since dramatic photos of another uncontacted tribe were captured near the same area in Brazil by longtime Funai Indian researcher Jose Carlos Meirelles. The photos showed painted Indians firing arrows at the passing airplane.

(Click here to read answers to common questions and misunderstandings about uncontacted tribes from the NGO Survival).

Newly discovered large hut, surrounded by smaller ones, also thought to belong to the korubo people. Native people often run into the jungle when a plane passes above at low altitude. Photo: Peetsa/Arquivo CGIIRC-Funai 

Those Indians lived in another remote area of the Amazon, in Acre state, not far from the Peru border. (Meirelles refuses to give the GPS coordinates to anybody, he says, in fear that rouge explorers might try to contact them).

At the time, I went to Feijo, Brazil in the Brazilian Amazon to interview Meirelles and my video report detailing his now famous expedition can be seen here.

Meirelles, who is part of a small group of Indian researchers who live deep in the jungle to document un-contacted tribes, told me back then that the threat of illegal, cross border logging, and gold and oil exploration was pushing into uncontacted Indians lands and surely a lethal threat.

Another view of the newly discovered hut complex thought to be from the korubo tribe. Photo: Peetsa/Arquivo CGIIRC-Funai 

“There is massive logging on the Peru side of the Border, and unfortunately the Peru side of this border is a no-mans land and everything is permitted,” Meirelles told me.

Meirelles told me then that while outsiders should never contact isolated tribes, it is up to outsiders to protect them because it is outsiders encroaching on them, not the other way around.

“The destiny of these (uncontacted tribes) is not in their hands, it’s in our hands,” Meirelles told me. “Their future existence depends on us, and what the government of Brazil and Peru are going to do with the Amazon region. If we don’t protect it, these people will soon be gone, and the world will be a sad place.”

The Funai researchers say they will examine the photos, and maybe do another flyover of the huts, to try to gain more insight into the mysterious natives who live inside.

Follow Gabriel Elizondo and news from Brazil in Twitter @elizondogabriel

With reporting also from Tatiana Polastri of Varal Filmes.