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A Fleeting Phenomenon: The “Uncontacted” Tribe

Header: Getty Images

Last November, an assortment of beautiful photographs, taken from high above the Amazon Jungle was released to the public. The images allow us to see the world before our own; a glimpse into our past; a quick dichotomic vision of our historic collective achievement as humans. The pilot and the anthropologists on board both knew—from previous trips to the area in 2008—that they had better keep a good distance from the target if they didn’t want to get arrows shot at them.

The pictures they were able to take revealed another distant look at a truly primitive civilization that is still untouched by modern influence and technology—living today as if it was the Stone Age.

There are an estimated 100 “uncontacted” tribes around the world. Located mostly in South America, Africa, the Indian Ocean and Papua New Guinea. The existence of these precious “uncontacted” or “isolated” tribes are being threatened by the illegal industry that constantly creeps into their protected territory.

Here are a few of the photos that were taken:

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BBC/Survival International

Those who say no

After the tsunami in 2004, Indian government officials went to North Sentinel Island, a small isolated island that’s a part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean. They were going there to survey the damage done in the area and also to grasp the opportunity to check up on the locals.

The Sentinelese people are thought to be direct descendants from the first migrations from Africa. They have been living virtually uninterrupted for 60,000 years. They have rejected and threatened all colonial and industrial contact, keeping their secrets locked away from the rest of the world. In 2006, two fishermen got a little bit too close to the island and they ended up dead.

The human safari

Not too far away from North Sentinel Island, on South and Middle Andaman Islands—two of the three major islands—a tribe called the Jarawa has had their land cut in half by a controversial road. Unlike the isolated Sentinelese who have fiercely waded off contact from the surrounding islands, the Jarwari tribe was unable to keep up with the expanding local economy and expansion of settlement.

Much like other tribes on the main islands, like Great Andamanese and the Onge, they have opened up to allow modern conveniences to assist their lives.

In 1999 and 2006, the Jarawa suffered outbreaks of measles – a disease that has wiped out many tribes worldwide following contact with outsiders.
–Survival International
Related on the web:
Andaman Trunk Road: The greatest sin
• Shame of the human safaris: Tourists pay for jungle drive…
Baby’s Killing Tests India’s Protection of an Aboriginal Culture

The Andaman Trunk road opened in 1997 and it connects the many islands of the archipelago. Unfortunately, as these pictures show, the area quickly became a tourist attraction.

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Getty Images
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AFP/SCMN

In this footage (below) shared by the Guardian—an Indian policeman in 2011 is seen watching and cheering on tourists paying (or giving food to) the Jarawa to dance for the camera.

This cultural appreciation, or more like demonstration, led to a lot of publicity but it hasn’t changed the obviously corrupted conditions that are taking place there.

Unsurprisingly, bribes are happening all the time—probably the only reason this is happening.

Tourists give the local cops—who are there to protect the Jarwari people from the tourists by ensuring that all of the rules are followed—a few extra bucks and they get an up close and personal experience that’ is “guaranteed” by “officials.”

There was a water route that was proposed so the road can be closed. India’s supreme court has tried to close the road but they have fallen through too. There is currently a 5km buffer zone, preventing commercial uses within the area, that is supposed to be keeping them (both the Jarawa and the Indians) safe from each other.

The most recent update I could find on the route is from Survival International: “The Andaman Authorities have committed to opening an alternative sea route to Baratang by March 2015. This sea route would stop the human safaris as tourists would no longer have an excuse to drive through the Jarawa’s forest.”

But still to this day, the debate is still ongoing and the road remains open. VICE sent a reporter there to check out the situation:

Most recently, in March of 2016, a young boy who was on tour of the reserve with his father wandered off and got drowned by a Jarawa tribesman.

This once again has raised suspicion if the Andaman Trunk road should be closed due to ever-rising tensions. Other secluded aboriginal groups around the world seem to be coming out of hiding more often due to illegal activity such as tourism, mining, logging, and poaching which only further reaches into the reserved land.

There must be many other—completely off the grid, desperately-squeezed-by-civilization—rival tribes that have never been witnessed by the West, which have only intensified the situation for these once independent peoples that we are only starting to see now.

For the time being, however, it seems like the “uncontacted” tribe is turning out to be a dying fad because we just want them to be either an aloof animal to take pictures of or another one of us.

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5 thoughts on “A Fleeting Phenomenon: The “Uncontacted” Tribe”

    1. That’s great to hear Lisa. I would like to read a post about any experiences you have there! I’m so happy you came by and gave this post a read though because I really find these tribes to be absolutely fascinating… I’m sort of jealous of them, really.

      Liked by 1 person

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