The Last Free People On Earth

Joanna Eede writes for National Geographic:

Deep in one of the remotest parts of the Brazilian Amazon, in a clearing at the headwaters of the Envira River, an Indian man looks up at an aeroplane.

He is surrounded by kapok trees and banana plants, and by the necessities of his life: a thatched hut, its roof made from palm fronds; a plant-fiber basket brimming with ripe pawpaw; a pile of peeled manioc, lying bright-white against the rain forest earth.

The man’s body is painted red from crushed seeds of the annatto shrub, and in his hand is a long wooden arrow — held, in seeming readiness, close to its bow. At his side, children, naked but for cotton waist-bands, gaze up in amazement.

It is a photograph of one of the last uncontacted tribes in the world, taken in June 2010 by FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian Department, together with what is thought to be the first-ever film footage. Survival International published the images in order to help protect the lives of the tribe by proving their existence…

For more information, see original article.

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  • Butter Knife

    “The Last Free People On Earth”

    A bit melodramatic, that. And a bit unsubstantiated. As an uncontacted tribe, we know virtually nothing of their society or culture. We might hope that they live in peace and harmony, but we cannot disprove that they live under the tyranny of a brutal hereditary war-chief who stifles dissent through murder and rape. I’d venture to guess that neither is true: that they fall somewhere in the middle, that they are humans surviving in the circumstances of their reality as would any others.

    Beyond that, what, exactly, makes them freer than anyone else? Strip away romantic idealizations of the tribal subsistence lifestyle, and you are quickly left with little to endorse. Our own ancestors didn’t decide to do things differently because that was so much fun.

    Their choices are heavily circumscribed, they are free to do precisely what they must… what a charming notion of freedom.

    This is not to suggest we should contact them: I think there is compelling evidence that we should not… but let’s not engage in fantasy when discussing the actual choices we face in dealing with these peoples.

  • Butter Knife

    “The Last Free People On Earth”

    A bit melodramatic, that. And a bit unsubstantiated. As an uncontacted tribe, we know virtually nothing of their society or culture. We might hope that they live in peace and harmony, but we cannot disprove that they live under the tyranny of a brutal hereditary war-chief who stifles dissent through murder and rape. I’d venture to guess that neither is true: that they fall somewhere in the middle, that they are humans surviving in the circumstances of their reality as would any others.

    Beyond that, what, exactly, makes them freer than anyone else? Strip away romantic idealizations of the tribal subsistence lifestyle, and you are quickly left with little to endorse. Our own ancestors didn’t decide to do things differently because that was so much fun.

    Their choices are heavily circumscribed, they are free to do precisely what they must… what a charming notion of freedom.

    This is not to suggest we should contact them: I think there is compelling evidence that we should not… but let’s not engage in fantasy when discussing the actual choices we face in dealing with these peoples.

    • Machete

      They are monitored, so it is less ‘melodramatic’ and their land have reserve status. The problematic are from illegal logging and oil/mineral exploration. Most of these tribes are refugees from the rubber boom of the past century.

    • Synapse

      No reason to interrupt their society. Ignorance is bliss as far as they’re concerned. Contact them and you run the risk of having people run away just to try to join the modern community (and probably fail).

      The Sentinelese are pretty clear on “Leave us the fuck alone.” It’s probably a really good idea. But I’m all for watching them. Observing an isolated culture from afar can teach us much more than interacting with them, especially if we pulled some CIA type spying like cameras on flies and what not.

      • feintruled

        That’s morally troubling. How would you like it if a technologically advanced nation spied on every detail of your life without your knowledge?

        • Andrew

          That’s probably already happening.

      • Butter Knife

        I agree that we should leave them alone.

        I simply disagree with the notion that they are, as per the article’s title, “The Last Free People On Earth”.

        It is a childish romantic fantasy, possible only because of our near total ignorance of their actual lives. All we know about them is an approximate level of technology and geographic location. We can take guesses at their social system, religious practices and the like, but we have absolutely no way of finding out the details (well, short of your somewhat eerie Big Brother idea… which might lead to pandemic if our pathogens survive long enough to infect them)… and as we all know, that’s where the Devil lies.

        Maybe they really are happy and free, living purely and in harmony with one another and the world around them. I certainly can’t discount the possibility. But neither can I discount the possibility that they practice cannibalism and human sacrifice, or that their primary reproductive practice involves the ritual circumcision and rape of girls who reach puberty.

        Once again, pretending that they live out our own primitivist fantasies is not a helpful part of coming to realistic, rational decisions about how to address the very real possibility of direct contact. Decisions which, most likely, will be matters of life and death for the tribe(s) involved.

  • Machete

    They are monitored, so it is less ‘melodramatic’ and their land have reserve status. The problematic are from illegal logging and oil/mineral exploration. Most of these tribes are refugees from the rubber boom of the past century.

  • Synapse

    No reason to interrupt their society. Ignorance is bliss as far as they’re concerned. Contact them and you run the risk of having people run away just to try to join the modern community (and probably fail).

    The Sentinelese are pretty clear on “Leave us the fuck alone.” It’s probably a really good idea. But I’m all for watching them. Observing an isolated culture from afar can teach us much more than interacting with them, especially if we pulled some CIA type spying like cameras on flies and what not.

  • feintruled

    That’s morally troubling. How would you like it if a technologically advanced nation spied on every detail of your life without your knowledge?

  • Andrew

    That’s probably already happening.

  • Butter Knife

    I agree that we should leave them alone.

    I simply disagree with the notion that they are, as per the article’s title, “The Last Free People On Earth”.

    It is a childish romantic fantasy, possible only because of our near total ignorance of their actual lives. All we know about them is an approximate level of technology and geographic location. We can take guesses at their social system, religious practices and the like, but we have absolutely no way of finding out the details (well, short of your somewhat eerie Big Brother idea… which might lead to pandemic if our pathogens survive long enough to infect them)… and as we all know, that’s where the Devil lies.

    Maybe they really are happy and free, living purely and in harmony with one another and the world around them. I certainly can’t discount the possibility. But neither can I discount the possibility that they practice cannibalism and human sacrifice, or that their primary reproductive practice involves the ritual circumcision and rape of girls who reach puberty.

    Once again, pretending that they live out our own primitivist fantasies is not a helpful part of coming to realistic, rational decisions about how to address the very real possibility of direct contact. Decisions which, most likely, will be matters of life and death for the tribe(s) involved.

  • Butter Knife

    I agree that we should leave them alone.

    I simply disagree with the notion that they are, as per the article’s title, “The Last Free People On Earth”.

    It is a childish romantic fantasy, possible only because of our near total ignorance of their actual lives. All we know about them is an approximate level of technology and geographic location. We can take guesses at their social system, religious practices and the like, but we have absolutely no way of finding out the details (well, short of your somewhat eerie Big Brother idea… which might lead to pandemic if our pathogens survive long enough to infect them)… and as we all know, that’s where the Devil lies.

    Maybe they really are happy and free, living purely and in harmony with one another and the world around them. I certainly can’t discount the possibility. But neither can I discount the possibility that they practice cannibalism and human sacrifice, or that their primary reproductive practice involves the ritual circumcision and rape of girls who reach puberty.

    Once again, pretending that they live out our own primitivist fantasies is not a helpful part of coming to realistic, rational decisions about how to address the very real possibility of direct contact. Decisions which, most likely, will be matters of life and death for the tribe(s) involved.

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