The recent emergence of isolated tribes from jungles in Peru and Brazil is challenging officials in both countries to rethink their “no contact” policies and to prepare for a possible wave of “first contacts” as the Amazon wilderness that harbors the highly vulnerable indigenous groups continues to shrink.“The people are going to come out,” said José Carlos Meirelles, a veteran of more than 40 years working to protect some of Brazil’s most mysterious and seldom-glimpsed “uncontacted tribes” along its remote and largely lawless border with Peru. “I believe we’re going to see a succession of first contacts in the coming ten years.”
Peruvian officials sounded the alarm late last month when they announced that a team of experts had been dispatched to a remote Amazonian region to seek “controlled contact” with a group of two dozen indigenous Mashco-Piro nomads. For months, the Indians have appeared regularly on riverbanks and even entered settlements to seize food and goods.
Tourists and locals have made videos of themselves embracing the Indians, handing them clothing and bottles of soda pop. But some of the encounters have also been deadly. In May the tribesmen killed a 22-year-old man in his village with an arrow-shot to the heart for reasons that remain unclear.
Nearly invisible to the outside world for decades, the Mashco-Piro suddenly began appearing with regularity along the upper Madre de Dios River about three years ago. They typically vanish as quickly as they show up, but their presence in the nearby forests is ratcheting up tensions with communities of Matsigenka natives who were contacted by missionaries in the 1960s and later settled along remote stretches of the river.