The uncontacted tribes of the Amazon basin are a reality that many regional governments would prefer not to be true. The existence of these highly susceptible indigenous groups – found in the most remote reaches of Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela – prevents the miners, loggers, and oil from removing the valuable resources that are becoming increasingly easier to extract. While they are protected under international law, the enforcement of those laws is loose at best, shifting with every change in government. Some governments go as far to say that because they are unseen, that the tribes are fictional creations by environmentalists that want to hamper the development of rainforests. Proving that the tribes, who voluntarily choose to be in isolation, do exist without threatening them even more so than they already are is a complicated tasks, as the book The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes by Scott Wallace attests.
In the highly recommended book, Wallace describes a 2002 expedition into Brazil’s remote Vale Do Javari (Javari River Valley) with the renowned Brazilian ethnographer and social activist Sydney Possuelo, which was at the time the subject of a National Geographic article. The goal of the expedition was to provide evidence of the flechiros, or Arrow People, an uncontacted tribe living in the region, with as little contact as possible. Possuelo wanted to show that the tribe was thriving despite not being connected to modern civilization. The 76-day expedition begins from the Tres Fronteras region of Brazil, Peru, and Colombia with a small army of men, many of them Matis and Morubo tribesmen, and moves by river into the reserve. Once inside the boats are left behind and a long trek on foot crosses the virgin jungle while surviving on the meat of monkeys and boars. The evidence of the flechiros becomes apparent rather quickly and they group mistakenly stumbles onto a small settlement and brief encounter with the tribe.
There are few places in the world as remote and untouched as the Vale do Javari, or anywhere that uncontacted tribes can be found. Yet these places are still getting smaller. The Javari Valley was long encroached by loggers, who flushed many uncontacted Indians out of the region with guns and violence, until the Brazilian government stepped in and set aside the 85,000 square kilometer reserve to protect the estimated 2,000 uncontacted Indians from roughly 14 different tribes. While increased logging, mining, and oil exploration in many other parts of the Amazon (read my article from Penthouse in 2011) are sending some of the other few uncontacted tribes scrambling to find new territories, the Javari Valley is one of the few places where these tribes are protected. In other words, this book is the only way you’re getting in. Read it.
Buy The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes by Scott Wallace from Amazon.com.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.