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OPINION - The lost tribe

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I thought this was a fascinating story from last month, even if it doesn't have much to do with current events.

There are still places on Earth where it's possible to be in total isolation. In the U.S. it's hard, but not impossible, to be totally off-the-grid. You could live in the deep woods and almost never have contact with anyone. Even someone living there might still head into town for supplies or in case of emergency.

But three weeks ago in Brazil, members of the Ashaninka tribe emerged from the jungles of northern Brazil near the Envira River. This is a group of people that have had no communication with the outside world. Its been captured on video and in photographs men in loincloths and distinctive facial markings coming out into the open for the first time.

As best we know, this group of about 80 people live as hunter-gatherers. They catch fish and eat wild berries. We think they hunt with spears and poison darts.

The video is fascinating. They approach government workers and are curious about the camp. They take a machete, which they determine might be useful. They are curious about a towel. They seem unsure what its used for.

They have had contact with us once or twice before and its been negative. They've had contact with illegal loggers and drug cartels. (In Brazil and Peru, the drug-dealers flee into the jungle, hide out for a few days, and then find their way back to civilization using GPS devices.) A group that tracks indigenous people in South America says within the last year the Ashaninka were attacked by drug dealers, their elders were killed and their village was set on fire. Their only contact with the civilized world introduced the flu to the tribe; it was deadly.

We sometimes joke about third world problems --- I dont have cellphone service in the northwoods . This is the ultimate first world problem. A group that has existed for generations on its own is having civilization in on them. Things will change for them forever. They probably have no idea that their world is coming to an end in the very near future.

Chris Conley

Image: Members of an uncontacted tribe come out of the woods near the Envira River via FUNAI/Brazil