Uncontacted peoples, also referred to as isolated peoples or lost tribes, are communities who live, or have lived, either by choice (peoples living in voluntary isolation) or by circumstance, without significant contact with globalized civilization. Few peoples have remained totally uncontacted by global civilization. Indigenous rights activists call for such groups to be left alone, stating that it will interfere with their right to self-determination. Most uncontacted communities are located in densely forested areas in South America, New Guinea and India. Knowledge of the existence of these groups comes mostly from infrequent and sometimes violent encounters with neighboring tribes, and from aerial footage. Isolated tribes may lack immunity to common diseases, which can kill a large percentage of their people after contact.
Uncontacted tribes are a source of fascination in developed society, and the idea of tour operators offering extreme adventure tours to specifically search out uncontacted people has become controversial. A BBC Four documentary in 2006 documented a controversial American tour operator who specializes in escorted tours to "discover" uncontacted people in West Papua, similar to the BBC's own adventure in Papua New Guinea to make its 1971 documentary A Blank on the Map in which the first contact in over a decade was made with the Biami people.
The Sentinelese continue to actively and violently reject contact. They live on North Sentinel Island in Eastern India, a small and remote island which lies to the west of the southern part of South Andaman Island. They are thought to number around 250 (median estimate). Based on helicopter surveys of the island, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami does not appear to have affected the Sentinelese adversely.
It is estimated that they have lived on their island for 60,000 years. Their language is markedly different even from other languages on the Andamans, which suggests that they have remained uncontacted for thousands of years. They are thus considered the most isolated people in the world, and they are likely to remain so.
Another Andamanese tribe, the Jarawa, live on the main islands. They rejected all contact, but following the completion of a trunk road traversing their territory in 1997, some have begun emerging from the forest into the open. They are thought to number 300 people.
Large areas of New Guinea are unexplored by scientists and anthropologists due to extensive forestation and mountainous terrain. Indigenous tribes in Papua New Guinea are generally contacted in the sense that local authorities know they are there, but many remain pre-literate and out of reach of modern medicine and technology, and at the national or international level, the names of tribes and information about them may be extremely hard to obtain.
The Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua on the island of New Guinea are home to an estimated 44 uncontacted tribal groups. Isolated tribes have been reported also in the eastern Indonesian islands.
The uncontacted tribes are located along the following regions:
As of 2006, the presence of five uncontacted groups was confirmed in Bolivia; three more uncontacted groups are believed to exist. The groups whose presence has been confirmed are: the Ayoreo in Kaa-Iya National Park, the Mbya-Yuqui in the Yuqui Reservation and Rio Usurinta (most of the Yuqui are now contacted; only a few families remain uncontacted), the Yurakare in Santa Cruz and Beni, the Pacahuara in the Chacobo reservation, and a group of Araona in the Araona Reservation, and the Toromona in Madidi National Park. The presence of other groups, such as the Nahua in Madidi National Park has yet to be confirmed.
Members of an uncontacted tribe Encountered in the Department of Beni, Bolivia.
Current situation, as of 2013
The situation of uncontacted people in Bolivia has improved since the election of Evo Morales as the president. Bolivia signed the Belem declaration in 2005, which recognized the basic rights of the uncontacted people.
The status of the uncontacted people of Bolivia are as follows:
Reported from the Bolivian Chaco. Consists of around 5 families, reported from the Kaa Iya del Gran Chaco National Park. There are four bands, of which names of two are known: Atétadie´gosode and Tacheigosode.
Composed of some four families. They have intermittent contacts with the Christianized Yuki, who were resettled by the Christian New Tribes Mission (NTM) in the 1960s to the village of Bia Recuate. Lives in the Yuki Native Community Land Tierra Comunitaria de Origen - TCO), especially near the El Chore Forest Reserve (Municipality of Yapacaní). A small band is also found in Río Usehuta (municipality of Puerto Villarroel). According to reliable sources, the Yuki number some 49 families, of which 35 are Christianized and 14 are uncontacted. However, David Jabin claims that only 4 families remain in isolation currently, after the NTM infamously air-lifted large number of isolated Indians to Bia Recuate in 1989 and 1992.
A small band composing of five families reported from Santa Rosa de Abuná municipality in Pando. Christian Evangelists from the Chacobo-Pacahuara Captaincy were attempting contact as of 2013. Also reported from Arroyo Cayuvín between the Río Pacahuara and the Río Negro (Municipality of Nuevo Manoa).
Reported from the Madidi National Park. The region is quite remote, and this seems to keep out the loggers and missionaries. The Toromona are found along the Rio Colorado and Rio Enhajehua (Municipality of Ixiamas). The Yora (Ese Eja) are nomads who criss cross the Bolivia-Peru border, and are found along the Río Heath region (Municipality of Ixiamas).
Uncontacted bands live in the Araona Native Community Land. Reported from Río Manurimi and Alto Manupare (Municipality of Ixiamas). The contacted bands of Araona number some 100 persons in total, and live under the supervision of the fundamentalist Christian organization New Tribes Mission (NTM). Both the NTM and the SIL are pursuing forced contact with the remaining uncontacted Araona, but these attempts have ended in failure.
In addition to these groups, some other groups (Mosetene, Tsimanes, and Chacobo) also exists with intermittent isolation.
Members of an uncontacted tribe encountered in the Brazilian municipality of Feijó, state of Acre
On January 18, 2007, FUNAI reported that it had confirmed the presence of 67 uncontacted tribes in Brazil, up from 40 in 2005. With this reported increase, Brazil has surpassed the island of New Guinea (divided between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea) as the region having the highest number of uncontacted tribes.
TI Raposa Serra do Sol in Roraima – Unidentified, Discovered in 2006. Near Monte Roraima and Monte Caburaí (2 to 4 km from Brazil-Venezuela-Guyana tri-junction).
TI Mamoadate in Acre – Mashko (Isolados do Alto Iaco).
TI Jaminaua-Envira – Isolados das cabeceiras do rio Jaminaua. (Part of Papavo)
TI Riozinho do Alto Envira in Acre – Isolados do Riozinho/Envira. (Part of Papavo)
TI Rio Teá in Amazonas – Four bands of Nadeb(?): Cabeceira dos rios Waranaçu e Gururu, Médio rio Tiquié, Cabeceiras dos rios Curicuriari e Dji and Cabeceiras do rio Teá. Two more bands nearby in Eneiuxi (Médio rio Eneiuxi) and Urubaxi (Cabeceira do rio Urubaxi e Bafuanã) are possibly Nedeb (Given as Nadeb in the table).
TI Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau in Rondônia – four to six groups of isolated people, Including Isolados das cabeceiras do rio Muqui, Isolados do rio Cautário, Cabeceiras do rio Água Branca and Jururei.
TI Vale do Javari in Amazonas – seven groups of isolated people: Cabeceiras de Santana e igarapé Flexeira, Korubo, Isolados do Coari-Río Branco, Isolados do rio Quixito, Isolados do Rio Jandiatuba, Isolados do Rio Jutaí e Isolados dos rios Jaquirana/Amburus.
TI Waimiri Atroari in Amazonas – Formadores do rio Alalaú (Piriutiti) and Formadores do rio Jatapu (Karafawyana or Chamakoto).
TI Xikrin do Cateté in Pará.
TI Araribóia in Mato Grosso – Isolados dos rios Buriticupu e Taruparu.
TI Cuminapanema – Zo’é.
TI Tanaru – Only one individual, the "Tanaru Isolated Indian." Remaining members of the tribe were massacred or wiped out by disease.
(2,3,4) Between the sources of the Envira and the Muru, and Igarapé Xinané, tributary of the Purus, overflowing into Peru.
Many isolated communities belonging to four distinct groups. Struggling is part of their traditions: reciprocal hostile contacts with the Kampa (whom they plunder), and peaceful ones with the Kulina; they plunder the loggers' encampments.
(1) Isolated language – On the extractivist reserve of Alto Jurua.
(2,3,4)-(2) Arawan, (3,4) Panoan – Two I.T. have been set up for them.
Rio Bararati, tributary of the Lower Juruena, Amazonas.
Probably Tupi–Kawahib, Tupi–Guarani. Have refused all contact since 1930.
Rio Curiau, Amazonas.
Related to the Waimiri-Atroari (Karib). Some live in, others outside, the latter's I.T.
Rio Parauari, tributary of the Maués-açu, Amazonas.
Tupi. Communities that split away from the Sateré-Maué a long time ago.
Between the Madeirinha and Roosevelt Rivers, northern Mato Grosso.
Tupi–Guarani. A no-entry zone has just been allocated for them.
Isolated communities; probably outside the I.T., but within the Rio Branco National Park.
Between the Upper Amapari and Upper Oiapoque, Amapa.
Unspecified language family. According to the Southern Wayãpi, a group that formerly broke away from them. According to the Northern Wayãpi, one of their former enemy groups, the Tapüiy.
name unknown (Isolados do Jandiatuba)
Between the Upper Jandiatuba and the Itacuaí, Amazonas.
Maybe a Katukina group.
name unknown (Isolados do São José)
Igarapé São José, tributary of the Itacuaí, Amazonas.
Seems to be a group distinct from Isolados do Jandiatuba.
Igarapé Recreio, Cruzeiro do Sul municipality, Upper Juruá, Acre.
name unknown (Isolados do Igarapé Tueré)
Igarapé Tueré, tributary of the Itacaiúnas, Pará.
name unknown (Isolados do Arama e Inaui)
South of Rio Inauini, Purus Basin, Amazonas.
name unknown (Isolados do Igarapé Umari)
Igarapé Umari, tributary of the Ituxi, Amazonas.
name unknown (Isolados da Serra do Taquaral)
Serra do Taquaral, source of the Rio Branco, Rondônia.
Of the known uncontacted peoples of Brazil, according to the above, 16 live in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, 7 in Rondônia, 8 in Pará, 2 in Acre, 3 in Mato Grosso, and one each in Amapá, Maranhão, Roraima, Tocantins, Goiás and Minas Gerais. Keep in mind some migrate between state lines.
Due to ongoing paramilitary conflict, Colombia is a country that offers little protection for isolated groups. Carabayo-Aroje is the one such group, living in the Parque Nacional del Rio Pure. It is not known whether any Yari (another tribe believed to be uncontacted) survives now. Nukaak Maku were contacted in 2003 and 65% of the tribal members died of disease. Around two or three dozen Nukaak still remain isolated.
It is not known whether any Tagaeri survive now in Yasuni National Park. In the 1990s when a member of Tagaeri was contacted by a lone Huaorani hunter, he told him that Tagaeri numbers only a handful of members and are in danger of being wiped out by their hostile neighbours – the Taromenane. Since then there have been no more peaceful contacts. The Tagaeri hunter also mentioned another group, the Oñamenane who numbered five or six individuals, and one other tribe – the Huiñatare. In 2003 about 30 Taromenane were massacred by the Huaorani in retaliation for the killing of a Huaorani hunter. In the same year 14 Tagaeri were killed by loggers. In April 2006 a logger was speared to death by the Taromenane (in 2005 another one was also killed by the same tribe, whose body was later found embedded with 30 spears and his face unrecognizable). In the same month a further 30 Taromenane and 10 loggers were killed in conflicts according to leader Iki Ima Omene (of Huaorani). In Jan 2007 the president of Ecuador declared the Southern part of Yasuni a forbidden zone (7,580 square kilometers) in order to protect the uncontacted people. At the same time CONAIE reported that there are a total of 150–300 Taromenane (divided into two sub-tribes) and 20–30 Tagaeri surviving uncontacted there. The Oñamenane and Huiñatare are extinct.
Oriente – Between the Upper Napo and Upper Curaray
Segment hostile to the Waorani. Threatened by the advancing front of oil prospecting.
Current situation, as of 2013
The uncontacted bands or nuclear families belonging to the Taromenane and Tagaeiri tribes were located in and around the tributaries of the Rumiyaku, Tiputini, and Curaray rivers (esp. along the Tivacuno, Yasuni Nashiño, Cononaco, Cononaco Chico, Tiwino, and Cuchiyaku rivulets). The major bands identified in 2013 were:
Located in the South-western side of the forbidden zone, along the Rio Curaray. This particular band has been almost exterminated by frequent conflict with the Babeiri group of the Christianized Huaorani. Indigenous organizations have accused the oil companies of bribing the Baeiri, in order to exterminate the uncontacted Indians. In a major massacre in 2003, more than 15 uncontacted Indians were massacred with shotguns and hunting rifles.
Tivacuno band of Yasuní
The band is located entirely inside the forbidden zone, which was set up for their protection. The ethnic identity is believed to be Tagaeiri, led by an elder known as Nankamo. This group speaks the Huaorani language. Clashes between the uncontacted Indians and the Christianized ones haven't been reported for the past many years.
Chico Cononaco band
Located along the Tiwino Road. This group have been heavily decimated due to armed conflicts. It is believed that this band is composed of Taromenane men and Tagaeiri women.
The conflicts occurring in this region is not a new phenomena. The conflict started as early as the 1970s, when oil companies recruited Kichwa Indians for their drilling and exploration work. To maintain the law and order, the Ecuadorian government asked the SIL missionaries to resettle the Huaorani to regions away from the oil blocks. In return, the missionaries were supported by the oil companies, who provided them with helicopters and other articles. Most of the Huaorani relocated (90% by 1975), but the remaining free bands soon took over the vacant lands. A part of the territory which was formerly occupied by the extinct Sápara tribe was also conquered.
In March 24, 2013 more than 20 uncontacted Taromenane Indians were massacred by Christianized Indians who were armed with shotguns and carbines. Human rights activists Miguel Ángel Cabodevilla and Milagros Aguirre authored a book called A Tragedy Hidden Away detailing the massacre, but the Ecuadorian Supreme Court banned its distribution. The book was later released on the internet.
As of 2013, no uncontacted ethnic groups exists in Guyana.
There remain perhaps as many as 300 Totobiegosode who have not been contacted; they belong to the Ayoreo ethnicity, which numbers around 2,000. In the 1990s the main group attempting to contact them was New Tribes Mission. In 1979 and 1986, the New Tribes Mission was accused of assisting in the forcible contact of nomadic Ayoreo Indians, whose unsuccessful attempts to remain in the forest led to several native deaths. Others died soon after being brought out of the forest. The incident forced some Ayoreo to flee to Bolivia. Currently the main threat to these peoples are ranchers, who illegally encroach on their lands. In 2004 a group of 17 Ayoreo-Totobiegosode previously uncontacted made contact with the outside world and decided to settle down (five men, seven women and five children, according to Survival). It was not known whether there were any more isolated Ayoreo left in the jungle. In the first week of September 2007, another uncontacted band of Ayoreo-Totobiegosode were spotted by loggers in the Western Chaco. Ayoreo are believed to be the last uncontacted Indians south of the Amazon basin. In 2008, a Paraguayan ruling blocked a Brazilian company from clearing Totobiegosode to make room for cattle ranches, although the forest is still being cleared illegally.
There are now five reserves in the Peruvian Amazon meant to protect the lands and rights of isolated peoples. Most of the reserves are currently entered by illegal loggers and petroleum companies with legal concessions to work in those lands, although their activities jeopardize the lives of the isolated populations.
After Brazil (67 uncontacted groups confirmed) and New Guinea (Papua New Guinea and Iriyan Jaya), Peru has the largest number of uncontacted tribes in the world (15). Some of the groups in Peru are in danger of extermination by loggers and oil development. As of 2006, the locations where uncontacted groups are confirmed to be living are as follows:
More than a dozen uncontacted bands of Indians remained in Peru as of 2013. The current status is as follows:
Divided into at least 3 different bands. One band lives in Rio Purus basin in south Ucayali, while two more were reported from the Rio Las Piedras basin (esp. Rio Tahuamanu and the Rio Los Amigos region). A fourth band, whose existence is not confirmed, is reported from Alto Rio Yurua (North of Rio Purus). Each band is believed to be divided into small nomadic subdivisions. The Mashco-Piro are the remnants of a much larger tribe which was destroyed during the rubber boom. In the 1960s, two of the bands were attacked using dynamite and other explosives by workers from the International Petroleum Company. Attacks after 1999 have been due mainly to the increasing prices of Mahogany. In 2002 a reserve was set up for some of the Mashco-Piro bands. As of 2013, all the bands seem to be surviving. Between 2005 and 2013, Miguel Piovesan, an Italian Christian missionary, campaigned for a road from Puerto Esperanza to Inapari, which would cut through the Mascho-Piro reserve. As a result of Piovesan's campaign, which got good support from the non-indigenous population of the region, the government declared its intention to construct such a road. This is likely to push the tribe towards extinction.
Kugapakori and Nahua bands of Matsigenka
Although most of the Matsigenka are contacted, some are still uncontacted. The contacted Matsigenka were forcibly resettled by the Summer Institute of Linguistics in 1950s. The uncontacted bands are reported from Alto Rio Paquiria (in Rio Urubamba basin). As of 2013, the attacks against the uncontacted bands has slowed down, after government created tribal reserves.
Found along Rio Camisea, Rio Timpia and Rio Ticumpinia (lying in between the Rio Urubamba and Rio Manu basins in Cusco and Madre de Dios). Related to Matsigenka. The first attempted contact was in 1970s by Christian missionaries, which was followed by loggers and petroleum workers in 1980s and 1990s. Attempts to contact the tribe continued in 2000-2009 using helicopters. Epidemics such as acute respiratory infections and severe diarrhoea has been reported as a result of these attempts. A regional indigenous organization, Consejo Matsiguenka del Rio Urubamba reported that a large number of Nanti died in 2003 of epidemics, although the government later countered the claim saying that only 22 has died of epidemics from 2002 June to 2003 June. Most of the dead were children. In 2008, anthropologist Christine Beier reported that between 30% and 50% of the Nanti has died during 2000-2008 due to epidemics.
Most of the uncontacted bands of Ashaninka are located along the foothills of Cordillera Vilcabamba (esp. in Rio Ene basin). Population was estimated at 90 families in 2010. During the 1980 and 1990s, hundreds of uncontacted Ashaninka are believed to have died in the conflicts between government troops and left-wing guerillas. As of 2013, the attacks against the Indians has slowed down and their villages are located inside the Otishi National Park and the Ashaninka Communal Reserve.
Isolados do Rio Yavari e Rio Tapiche (Mayoruna ?)
Evidence suggests that this group speaks some of the Panoan languages. There are two distinct tribes, with the one in the north related to the Matses or Northern Mayoruna, while the southern one related to Isconahua or Remo / Southern Mayoruna. In 1964, the Peruvian Air Force attacked some of the villages with Napalm, killing a large number of Indians. The tribes frequently criss-cross the Brazil-Peru border. In 2010, the Marubo living on the Brazilian side of the border claimed that more and more "Mayoruna" from Peru are crossing over to Brazil, in order to escape from loggers and missionaries. Violent clashes has occurred recently between the contacted Marubo and the uncontacted Mayoruna. Missionaries from the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) are currently attempting to contact the uncontacted bands.
Located in North Ucayali, near the Brazil border. The villages are located in between Alto Rio Calleria, the Rio Utuquinia and the Rio Abujao. A reserve was established in 1998. In 1959, missionaries from the South American Mission attempted to contact one of the bands of Isconahua. This band numbered more than twenty people. The missionaries moved them to lower Rio Calleria, but almost all of them died of epidemics. The Isconahua calls themselves "Nucuini" and are thought to be the descendants of the once large Remo tribe. Most of the villages are covered by the Isconahua Territorial Reserve. The area is currently under extensive occupation by loggers, drug-traffickers and mining workers.
Isolados do Rio Calleria e Rio Maquia
Locally known as Kapanawa. Speaks a Panoan language. The villages are covered by the Sierra del Divisor Reserved Zone and border the Isconahua Territorial Reserve (to the SE).
Yora, and other tribes
The Peru-Brazil border region along the Peruvian states of Madre de Dios & Ucayali, with the Brazilian state of Acre is home to a number of isolated bands. The region is bound by Rio Yurua to the north and Rio Purus to the south. The Indians call themselves the "Yora". Language is Panoan. During the 19th century, more than 100 different Panoan tribes lives between R.Yurua and R.Purus. The Yora are believed to be their remnants.
Murunahua and the Chitonahua
Found between Alto Rio Yurua and Rio Envira, along the Peru-Brazil border. Both tribes are under extreme harassment from the loggers, and a large part have been forcibly contacted and resettled near missionary outposts. Murunahua Territorial Reserve was established in 1997, but was soon overrun by the loggers.
Live along the Rio Purus and Rio Curanja basins. In 2006, one member was contacted by the Christian Pioneer Mission and taken to the Puerto Paz village. This was followed by a small number of other Mastanahua. However the remaining uncontacted Indians have recently engaged in violent conflicts with the villagers of Puerto Paz.
Uncontacted bands are found along Rio Pisqui, Rio Aguaytia, Rio San Alejandro, Rio Sungoroyacu and Rio Pozuzo in the Loreto, Ucayali and Huanuco provinces. Contacted Kakataibo have clashed with the uncontacted Indians, and have found their language difficult to understand. The government has refused to establish territorial reserves for the uncontacted Kakataibo. Currently the region is under invasion by loggers, petroleum explorers and coca farmers. A tuberculosis epidemic is also reported in the area.
Isolated groups along Peru-Ecuador border
Reported from Rio Napo, Rio Aushiri, Rio Nashino, Rio Curaray, Rio Arabela,
Rio Tangarana and Rio Pucacuro, in north Loreto province. It is believed that most of the bands are related to Zaparo and Huaorani. Presence of two Huaorani bands (Feromenami and Tagaeri) has been confirmed. Pananujuri, a Zaparoan group (related to Arabela?) is found near Rio Aleman. A decade ago, two groups tried to establish contact with the Pananujuri. The first one was a Russian anthropological group, which was some-what successful, and the second was the Christian missionary organization Summer Institute of Linguistics (unsuccessful). The SIL alleged that the Russians gained unlawful entry in to the uncontacted territory, although no negative consequences were reported.
Isolated groups along Peru-Ecuador border
Reported from Alto Rio Tambopata and Rio Malinowski. Threats against the uncontacted were insignificant.
Isolados do Rio Manu
Probably Panoan. A part of the territory is unprotected.
Isolados do Alto Rio Yaco
Known as "Masko". Frequent cross-border movement to Terra Indigena Mamoadate in Brazil. Most probably related to Yora. Language not intelligible to the Yaminahua of Mamoadate.
Watershed between Suriname and Brazil. Between the sources of the Itani and the Jari
Last uncontacted segment of Akulio.
They refuse all contact.
As of 2013, no uncontacted ethnic groups exists in Suriname.
There are three uncontacted tribes living in Venezuela. They are Hoti, Yanomami and Piaroa. The vast majority of the members of these tribes are already contacted and only a few live in isolation. Another isolated group, the Sape of Rio Karun became extinct during the 1990s.
Located near Rio Kaima and the Sierra de Maigualida region. Most of the contacted Hoti live in the missionary outposts of San Jose de Kayama and Cano Iguana. About 40% of the Hoti are nomadic, while the remaining 60% are stationed in various missionary outposts. The Venezuelan government expelled the Christian missionary group New Tribes Mission from the Hoti lands in 2006, in order to prevent the forcible contact.
There are a total of 25,000 Yanomami, who live in approx.250 villages. There are five bands of Yanomami which live in isolation (a few hundred individuals). These include Alto Rio Siapa (SE Amazonas), between Sierra Parima and the Cerro Delgado Chalbaud (Amazonas), between Alto Rio Ocamo and the Rio Mutucini (Amazonas), Alto Rio Caura (Bolivar), and Alto Rio Paragua (Bolivar).
Small isolated bands of Piaroa are located near Alto Rio Cuao and Rio Parhuaza. These bands are locally known as comunidades de tierra adentro. The regions where they live are extremely difficult to access.