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Indigenous people in Brazil contacted for the first time — with bananas

Handout picture released on July 30, 2014 by Brazil’s Fundacao Nacional do Indio (FUNAI) indigenous affaires department with grabs from a video showing a group of isolated Amazonian indians getting in contact for the first time with Ashaninka natives on the banks of the Envira River, Acre state, Brazil, in the border with Peru.  (FUNAI via AFP/Getty Images)

They wear loincloths.

They carry bananas, bows and arrows and a shotgun.

They are used to being attacked, displaced by illegal tinder merchants and cattle breeders invading their land.

They are living in the 21st century — and they just found out.

In a part of the Acre River that connects Peru with Brazil, an unnamed indigenous community was found by researchers from the Brazilian indigenous peoples’ government foundation FUNAI, who said the tribe was fleeing drug smugglers.

In a video shot last month just published in Terra, the members of this community speak a language that hasn’t been deciphered yet.

They were lucky — they ran into researchers from FUNAI who aim to protect tribal communities. The organization keeps a diary of encounters with indigenous groups, establishing methods of outreach and aid.

This is, after all, an emergency: According to a census in Brazil in 2013, there are at least 810,000 indigenous people in the country, and in the past decade 560 of them have been murdered. At least 18 communities are spread out in the Amazon region with no contact with the outside world, the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported.

FUNAI says that offering food is always a good way to approach people. This time the organization offered the indigenous people bananas, boiled yucca, cooked meat and coconut, but only the bananas were eaten. Though suspicious of everything they were offered, an indigenous woman gave a Funai representative a turtle as a symbol of gratitude. Only after that did they take the plunge, opening the coconuts and drinking some water.

But making friends can be dangerous. Communities like these can become infected with diseases their bodies are not prepared to deal with – a simple flu can be a death sentence. Every time they run into other people, they must be looked after, FUNAI says. Some of those they are likely to encounter include religious missionaries, drug dealers and mining agents.

But indigenous people don’t necessarily feel like being “saved.” Many times they flee organization such as FUNAI, doing their best to avoid being swallowed by the modern world. Other indigenous communities such as the Asháninka collaborate with the foundation, giving clues to other groups’ locations and helping researchers find them.

When feeling threatened, some groups just move. They only carry the basics. In the case of the tribe in the video, they carried soap, matches, colorful linen, salt, rubber and bullets for the shotgun.

They are always on the run.



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Justin Wm. Moyer · July 31, 2014

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