Video: See the First Aerial Footage of an Uncontacted Amazonian Tribe

By Patrick Morgan | February 4, 2011 1:41 pm

In the rainforest along the border between Brazil and Peru, an indigenous tribe is ignoring the 21st century and living life the old-fashioned way. Experts believe this “uncontacted tribe” has had no direct contact with mainstream society, but the Brazilian government has known about the tribe for 20 years and routinely flies above the settlement to check on the inhabitants’ well-being.

NOw, the BBC has released the first ever video footage of this tribe, which had previously only been seen in photographs:

The footage was filmed in cooperation with the Brazilian government, and was featured on the BBC’s Human Planet series. It was shot in the summer of 2010 along the Peru-Brazil border using a zoom lens that allowed the crew to film from more than a half-mile away.

The Brazilian government flies over the settlements once a year to check on the tribe. As José Carlos Meirelles, the Indian-affairs specialist who led the video expedition, explains to National Geographic:

“They always get scared when they see an aircraft, but this tribe is used to seeing commercial flights—Boeings and local jets—flying over the region…. I prefer to get them scared once a year—and make sure they are healthy, growing in number, and protected from loggers and miners—rather than leave them without any supervision.”

Tribes like these face many threats from companies that want to exploit the region’s timber, oil and gas, and minerals. Advocates for the tribe hope that this video footage will lead to more protections. As Meirelles says in the video:

“This footage is the only way to convince the rest of the world that they are here. If illegal loggers or miners contact these people, they won’t shoot images… they’ll shoot guns.”

Illegal loggers have reportedly been setting up operations on the Peru side of the border, forcing the Indians into Brazil. Making matters worse, Peru’s government has been reluctant to crack down on the loggers, and has previously suggested that this uncontacted tribe might not exist. But Peru has recently announced its intention to stop the loggers, and advocacy groups like Survival International are keeping the pressure on. The group has a website where you can learn more about this tribe and the world’s other uncontacted tribes, and can petition the Peruvian government to protect this tribe.

Loggers aside, let’s also hope that reality television doesn’t decide to approach this tribe–the effects of a indigenous Brazilian reality show might just be worse than the destruction of their land.

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  • Brian Schmidt

    Some groups in the Andaman Islands are similarly isolated.

    Interesting that these people have permanent structures and agriculture (I saw banana and papaya trees). They can’t run away as easily as hunter-gatherers can. I woudn’t be surprised if they have some type of indirect contact with the larger world.

  • Idlewilde

    I wonder what airplanes seem like to them. If they have no contact with the modern world, then what do planes seem like? Insects? Demons? They don’t seem to like the plane much, you can see the kids running away and the guy holding a spear. Can they see a person in the plane?

  • jemand

    some close ups show they have some machetes and metal bowls– from trade with tribes which have made contact. Apparently, from talking with others who made contact more recently, these tribes have been watching us, and know more about us than we might think they do.

    Still…. understanding a plane, is probably tough.


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