By Megan Gannon
An indigenous tribe living near the Brazil-Peru border may be facing violent attacks from illegal loggers and drug traffickers who are exploiting the densely forested region, according to an advocacy group.
After years of living in isolation from the outside world, several young members of this “uncontacted” tribe recently entered a nearby settled community in Brazil. Through interpreters, they told harrowing stories about their encounters in the forests.
“The majority of old people were massacred by non-Indians in Peru, who shot at them with firearms and set fire to the houses of the uncontacted,” an interpreter named Zé Correia reported through Survival International, a group that advocates for tribal people’s rights. “They say that many old people died, and that they buried three people in one grave. They say that so many people died that they couldn’t bury them all and their corpses were eaten by vultures.”
In late June, a few members of the tribe emerged from the forest and voluntarily made contact with Ashaninka people in the village of Simpatia, in Brazil’s Acre state. FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous affairs department, released a video clip of this initial contact today (July 31) that shows young tribe members exchanging bananas and other goods.
FUNAI representatives learned that these people had walked several days to Simpatia from their home turf within Peru’s borders. Most of the tribe members appeared healthy at first. But after several visits to Simpatia, some showed flu-like symptoms. Earlier this month, seven of them were treated for acute respiratory infections.
Brazilian officials have gleaned that this tribe has had sporadic encounters with non-Indians, which have resulted in “terrible losses,” said Fiona Watson, a researcher and field director with Survival International. These indigenous people also had a gun, some screws and other items that they may have purloined from non-Indians, perhaps from a logging camp, Watson told Live Science.
Her organization “is extremely concerned about their health, about possible future attacks, and about the reports from the uncontacted that some of their community were killed at the hands of non-Indians and their homes set on fire,” Watson said in an emailed statement. She added that the organization is also worried about the ability of the Brazilian and Peruvian governments to contain a future epidemic in the region. Uncontacted people are particularly vulnerable to diseases, such as malaria and the flu, against which they have no immunity.