Isolated Amazonian tribe emerges from jungle, chased by buzz of chainsaws

Manuel Rueda
Madalena Borges/CIMI

Three members of an isolated Amazonian tribe that had avoided contact with the outside world for decades have suddenly emerged from the jungle — and Brazilian authorities are wondering why.

The encounter occurred on Dec. 28 in Brazil’s northeastern Maranhao State, where an estimated 100 members of the Awa nation live deep in the jungle in intentional isolation.


According to news agency Agencia Brasil, two women and a teenager from the tribe wandered far enough to make contact with other humans, who brought them to the nearest village to receive medical attention and food from government specialists.

The encounter was only reported internationally on Tuesday, when Survival International, an indigenous rights group, published a press release warning that illegal logging in Maranhao state could be responsible for pushing the isolated tribe out of its secluded habitat. The Awa live in an area that is increasingly deforested by illegal loggers and cattle ranchers, the group said.

“The uncontacted Awá…are at risk of extinction,” Survival said. “They could be wiped out by violence from outsiders who steal their land and resources, and by diseases like flu and measles to which they have no resistance.”


Two of the Awa who emerged from isolation, they use clothes donated to them after encountering outsiders. [photo: Madalena Borges/CIMI]

Awa territories are protected by Brazilian law. Last year the government conducted several operatives to oust loggers from the area.


But Survival fears that the sudden emergence of tribe members could be a sign that loggers have returned to the region. The NGO is calling on Brazil to step up its protective efforts in Awa territory.

At least two more incidents of isolated tribes seeking outside help, have been recorded in the Amazon in recent years.


Last August, a group of Mascho-Piro indigenous people wandered out the jungle and unto a remote Amazonian village in northwest Brazil where they told a community that speaks a similar dialect that loggers had massacred members of their village.

In 2013, villagers in Peru recorded a video of another group of Mascho-Piros making contact with the outside world for the first time in decades. The group asked for machetes, bananas and rope, and attempted to cross a river that would lead them to a village. But locals dissuaded them from crossing, and they went back into the jungle.


Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.

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