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Isolated Peruvian tribe attempts to make contact, asks for food

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Members of the Mashco-Piro tribe — one of the most isolated on Earth — recently attempted to make contact with outsiders, resulting in a tense stand-off at a river hamlet.

The Mashco-Piro, who live in Peru's southeastern Amazon, are one of several tribes designated by officials as "uncontacted people." This particular tribe, which numbers in the hundreds, have largely kept to themselves, though they tried to make contact back in 2011.


Now, footage taken late in June by the local activist group AIDSEP apparently shows tribe members asking for bananas, rope, and machetes from the local Yine people.

Some tribe members can be seen attempting to cross the river. A canoe appears to be packed with food. The entire encounter took three days to resolve.


The Yine people did their best to dissuade the Mashco-Piro people from crossing the river.

Indeed, contact with the Mashco-Piro tribe, or any uncontacted tribe for that matter, could have devastating consequences, and is therefore forbidden; Peruvian law prohibits physical contact with the estimated 15 lost tribes in the region.

Contact cannot be made because isolated peoples have not yet developed immunities to many of the diseases that have swept through Eurasia and much of the Americas. What's more, cultural transmission could likewise prove fatal to their way of life.

NBC reports:

The incident on the Las Piedras is chronicled in video shot by one of the rangers and obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

"You can see in the images there was a lot of threatening — the intention of crossing. They practically reached mid-river," Quicque said by phone from Puerto Maldonado, the regional capital.

The video shows Mashco-Piro of all ages and sexes, including men with lances, bows and arrows. In one image shot during a moment of tension, a man flexes his bow, ready to shoot.

Quicque said the estimated 110-150 people living in Monte Salvado "feared for their lives." He credited the ranger, Rommel Ponciano, for keeping a cool head.

He said 23 Mashco-Piro appeared on the first day, 110 on the second and 25 on the third. The clan left and hasn't returned.

"They spoke a variant of Yine," Quicque said, but Ponciano understood only about two-thirds of the words.


According to AIDESEP, logging and urban development have diminished the area in which the tribe lives. Additionally, their traditional hunting grounds have been affected by a rise in low-flying aircraft related to natural gas and oil exploration.

Local experts say it's strange to see members so close to the village. They may be upset that others are taking resources from their territories, which may explain why they were demanding objects and food from the villagers.


It's estimated that there are between 12,000 and 15,000 people living in jungles east of the Andes.

[Via BBC, NBC]