This Amazon tribe lived without the outside world. They may be the last

The Guardian

 Ricardo Stuckert's photographs of an uncontacted Amazonian tribe.‘The tribe portrayed in Stuckert’s pictures continue to appear to want to shun the outside world.’ Photograph: Ricardo Stuckert

The remarkable photos taken by Ricardo Stuckert of an uncontacted Amazon tribe reminded me of my own experience with the indigenous people of nearby Peru. “The Nomole are here, they’ve come. The Nomole,” were the hushed whispers I heard outside my tent as I was roused from my dawn slumber. Nomole was a term meaning brothers which I had heard many times in the last few days, at once embracing and familial yet also uttered with apprehensive concern.

With a jolt of adrenaline I pulled on some trousers and stumbled out into the open and jogged to the edge of a riverside bluff and gazed out. As the morning mist rose like steam off the Manu national park forest, 11 matchstick figures had emerged from the foliage and were walking out over a rock-strewn strand some 200m away across the turbulent Upper Madre de Dios river.

It was Romel Ponciano, whom they called Yotlotle (which means giant river otter in their language), they were calling for. Having seen one of these exuberant Amazonians I had to admit the anthropomorphic resemblance was uncanny and even funny. Portly and affable, Ponciano, an indigenous Yine leader, had a gentle air and exuded calm. He had had more than 20 encounters with the Mashco-Piro tribe and understands about 80% of their language. Such meetings can be dangerous, even deadly, but as children rode piggy-back on Ponciano’s back and he gave his T-shirt to one of the men to wear it was clear I was beholding a friendly exchange as timeless and quintessentially human as any.

Peru’s official policy of “no contact”, adopted in 2006, remains unchanged with respect to the 14 or 15 tribes living in isolation within its boundaries. Luís Felipe Torres, an anthropologist with the Madre de Dios region’s isolated tribes team, explained that an exception was made in the case of this particular group of Mashco-Piro because they were actively seeking contact with the outside world, exposing themselves to grave danger.

While the Mashco-Piro are at a turning point in what increasingly seems an inexorable route towards contact, Peru’s culture minister is trying to cushion them from the illnesses that could lay waste to their population, the unscrupulous people who might enslave or exploit them and the missionaries who want to save their souls.

The tribe portrayed in Stuckert’s pictures, not far across the Peruvian border in the Brazilian state of Acre, are not yet at that stage. They continue to appear to want to shun the outside world, just as they thrive, hunt game and farm. Yet as illegal gold mining continues to decimate swaths of rainforest in south-eastern Peru and local authorities illegally build roads which deliberately cut through national parks and isolated indigenous reserves, the living space for these isolated people who know no national boundaries is ever diminishing.

Those people who still name themselves after the flora and fauna of the forest, who I came to know from the other side of a river bank, may be the last of their generation.


Peru This Week

Alvaro Tassano

A photographer managed to capture images of an uncontacted Amazonian tribe, after his helicopter flight took a detour to avoid a rainstorm.

Amazonian tribe photographed
(Photo: Facebook/Ricardo Stuckert)

A photographer managed to capture images of an uncontacted Amazonian tribe, after his helicopter flight took a detour to avoid a rainstorm.

“I took the camera and started photographing,” said Brazilian photographer Ricardo Stuckert. “I didn’t have much time to imagine what was happening.”

He spotted them while flying over Acre, a state in north-west Brazil near the border with Peru. He was on his way to photograph another indigenous group for a book he is working on.

(Photos: Facebook/Ricardo Stuckert)

On the return flight, he was able to shoot more images that give insight into the lives of these uncontacted tribes. He believes there are around 300 people in the tribe, who farm bananas, sweet potato, manioc and peanuts, as well as hunting and fishing. He was pleased to see them looking healthy, despite concerns in recent years about threats to other groups in the area, especially on the Peruvian side of the border.

The boarder between Brazil and Peru has about 80 such groups but their existence is increasingly threatened by illegal loggers, miners and drug traffickers.