Aerial view of an uncontacted tribe in the Peruvian amqazon. The tribe is believed to have taken refuge in Brazil after escaping Peru, due to illegal logging and drug trafficking, occurring in the country. Photo: Gleison Miranda / FUNAI

By Jonathan Brown
20 July 2014

(The Independent) – When they emerged from the forest on the outskirts of an Ashaninka indigenous community on the upper reaches of Brazil's Envira river, it was the first time in recent history that members of an uncontacted tribe of Amazonian Indians had chosen to leave their home and visit a settled population. But 80 tribe members have now returned to the forest on the Peru-Brazil border, despite the threat of violence and disease.

Before they went back, some who were showing flu-like symptoms were immunised by government doctors. That some of the tribe were already ill could explain why they took the unprecedented step of entering a settled village last month.

It has also emerged, however, that they were fleeing heavily armed drug traffickers who had attacked them upstream in Peru – showing that outside incursions are being made deep into the heart of their traditional protected territories.

Previously, it had been thought that they had been disturbed by the presence of heavily armed loggers, a growing industry in Peru. The mahogany and teak harvested by the gangs is believed to be destined to be made into garden furniture in Europe or the US. Under international law, the Indians have the right to their own traditional territories.

The disclosure by Funai, Brazil's Indian protection agency, that at least seven members of the group were suffering from a virus normally found among outside populations has caused deep alarm among campaigners for the rights of indigenous peoples. It is not known whether other members of the tribe were sick and had refused to receive medication, prompting fears that they could spread disease on their return to their centuries-old way of life.

The spread of minor ailments such as measles or even the common cold has in the past led to deadly epidemics devastating populations of tribes which have built up no immunity.

José Carlos Meirelles, of Funai, said the tribe had gone back to their villages where the infection could spread to other members of their community. He said the Brazilian government now planned to re-establish a permanent base of officials in the highly remote region to offer better protection in the future.

Linguists brought in to help mediate the contact – the first with an unknown tribe for more than 30 years – said the Indians reported "suffering acts of violence" on the Peruvian side of the border. Cocaine smugglers are known to be active in the region as well as loggers, flouting the land rights of the Amazonian communities. It is the first time in recent memory that an uncontacted tribe has voluntarily left isolation. [more]

'Lost' tribe returns to the rainforest despite the threat of violence and disease



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