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Images have surfaced from deep in the Brazilian Amazon where indigenous people, normally isolated from the modern world, sought out another tribe after drug traffickers had penetrated their protected reserve and subjected them to violent attacks.

A collection of videos and photos shows members of the isolated tribe interacting with the Asháninka – a more well-known Amazonian tribe that live in contact with modern society near the Envira River, in the Brazilian state of Acre, close to the Peruvian border. They speak in Pato, a language common among various tribes in the region.

Representatives from the Funai (Brazil’s department of indigenous affairs) were told of how timber and drug traffickers attacked the tribe, killing several of their members and burning down their lodgings. Historians familiar with the history of the Spanish conquest of the Americas will notice the similarities between these events and those of the 15th and 16th centuries (click here for an excellent documentary on the conquest). Despite the slaughter and various wars that wiped out the majority of the indigenous American population, the biggest loss of life came as a result of the introduction of European diseases. Over 60% of the Amerindian population died from viruses and bacteria they had never come into contact with before. Reports from Brazil today note that this isolated tribe had also contracted the flu, which they were treated for before returning to their reserve. Given that the isolated community have no immune resistance to the disease, entire tribes have been wiped out by the flu or measles brought about through contact with the outside world.

Terri Aquino, an anthropologist who works for Funai, believes that these natives were “looking to acquire technology”  – namely weapons – with which to fend off the intruders. Lucille Escartin, the communications officer for Survival, a French NGO that works to protect indigenous populations, explained how these events were , ‘unfortunately fairly revealing of the situation facing isolated native tribes in Peru and Brazil, as many of them live on land with plentiful natural wealth.’

The case of the Amazonian tribes is also one for Economists, Lawyers, Anthropologists and HSPS students to consider. Historically, reserves were created to ensure that these indigenous people could choose to live a life isolated from civilisation, a right guaranteed by the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169. Despite both Brazil and Peru signing the Convention, each country has been guilty of providing concessions within these reserves to companies. The level of encroachment has prompted human rights defence organisations, as well as public agencies, to revisit their policies on isolated natives. Whereas initial objectives rested on the need to understand the tribes to better protect them (including an emphasis on minimising contact to not interfere with their ways of life), recent developments have meant that a new strategy is being adopted in order to determine the dangers they are facing – as well as an ongoing need to put pressure on governments and companies to raise awareness about this type of issue.

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