Uncontacted peoples (or lost tribes) are communities who live or have lived, either by choice or by circumstance, in isolation without significant contact with the current ‘globalized civilization’.
Indigenous rights activists call for such groups to be left alone, stating that it will interfere with their right to self determination. Most uncontacted communities are located in dense forest areas in South America, New Guinea, India, Africa and other places.
But, despite this call by activists, the people in the ‘civilized world’ are still making contact and destroying the lives of many of these isolated communities. We have put together a few examples of these isolated tribes and how they have suffered, and are still suffering, from coming into contact with the ‘civilized world’.
The story of the Akuntsu tribe, an ancient Amazonian tribe located in Brazil, is a sad one. They have suffered continuous hostility since the Brazilian government began the construction of highway BR-364, through Rondonia, in the 1980s. The project invited loggers, farmers, and cattle ranchers to the region. They quickly turned the lush jungle into soy fields and cattle pastures. Since it was illegal to occupy indigenous territory, ranchers claimed that the Akuntsu did not exist so economic development could continue. Then, around 1990, ranchers massacred thousands of Akuntsu, leaving only five surviving women and two men. It only took the Brazilian Native-Protection Agency, to uncover the evidence of this massacre of the Akuntsu tribe.
From Brazil, we move to the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode tribe, in Paraguay. The Ayoreo tribe lives in the Chaco forest. It is said they were first contacted in the 1940s and 1950s, by Mennonite farmers who invaded the area to establish colonies. The Ayoreo were semi-successful in protecting part of their land, but a tuberculosis-like illness started to pop up in the tribe and is still present to this day. Those tested for tuberculosis continue to test negative for the disease whilst still showing all the symptoms, leaving doctors baffled.
It is also said between 1979 and 1986, a US-based Christian fundamentalist missionary organization-Enter New Tribes Mission, went on ‘manhunts’, capturing several dozen of the Ayoreo and killing many. They were sent to replace traditional customs and beliefs with the organization’s fundamentalist views. In 2013, Paraguay’s Environmental Ministry granted an environmental license to Yaguarete Pora S.A., to clear the Chaco forest. This means the Ayoreo lands have been taken over and they are still suffering from the actions of the Environmental Ministry.
The Suri tribe is found in Ethiopia. They were relatively unaffected by contact until the construction of the Gibe III dam, in 2006, by the Ethiopian government. It is said the construction of the dam violated numerous Ethiopian environmental laws. The Environmental Impact Assessment done on the tribe was grossly disregarded by the Ethiopian authorities. In 2011, the government banned a handful of Suri customs and this has greatly affected their lives.
The Onge tribe lives in the Little Andaman Island, in India. Anthropologists suggest they have lived for more than 60,000 years. They were first contacted in 1825, by British colonial Forces. In the 1950s and 60s, the Indian government resettled refugees, from what is now Bangladesh, to Little Andaman Island. This quickly opened the island to an influx of development, logging and settlers. It is said the Indian government has since cleared 51,400 hectares of their lands for other ventures, and are resettling the Onge around the Dugong Creek-which lies in the northeastern corner of the island. They have been introduced to a monetary economy by working on coconut plantations, cattle-rearing, and pig-breeding. As the forests get torn down, their natural food resources decrease, causing malnutrition and greater dependence on government handouts. This combined with the poaching of rare creatures such as the dugong, is slowly destroy the nutritional and cultural aspects of the Onge people.
Combining food such as rice, oil, and biscuits into their traditional diet has had the greatest negative impact on them. It has caused an increase in diarrhea, dysentery, and other malnutrition diseases that were not present before their contact. As the cash economy continues to grow on the island, the Onge are slowly being exploited to extinction.