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Questions and answers: uncontacted tribes 'Are there any pristine societies?' and more questions

Survival answers commonly-asked questions about the world’s uncontacted tribes


The last of his tribe

He’s the sole survivor of his tribe. We don’t know who he is, the name of his tribe or what language he speaks.


Making contact True 'first contact' caught on film


‘Before we knew it, we’d all caught pneumonia.’ The devastating impact of first contact

from Films

Before contact: on the run Uncontacted Ayoreo Indians in Paraguay


Uncontacted tribes: the outsiders’ view

Uncontacted tribes are wrongly seen as wantonly aggressive and having the savagery of the ‘uncivilised’.


Contact: a personal story Afraid, one family risks everything and makes contact


Beast with Metal Skin An uncontacted tribe’s brush with the outside world

from Films

Why do they hide?


The most isolated tribe in the world? Alone on an island for 65,000 years


  • MYTH: They aren’t aware of the outside world

    Everyone has neighbours, even when they’re some distance away, and they’ll know who they are. If it’s another tribe, they may or may not have friendly relations with them. And many uncontacted tribes have suffered appalling violence in the past from settlers.

  • MYTH: They are living in the ‘Stone Age’

    All peoples are changing all the time and always have, including uncontacted tribes. Survival doesn’t talk about ‘pristine’ tribes or cultures. They are not backward or ‘Stone Age’, they just live differently.

  • MYTH: Reports of uncontacted tribes are faked

    Some ‘first contacts’ are acts for the benefit of tourists, but there are actually quite a lot of real uncontacted tribes, and more are ‘discovered’ all the time. Sometimes, they are surprisingly close to people who’ve been in contact for decades, or longer.

  • MYTH: They can’t be left alone forever

    Whose choice should it be, theirs or ‘ours’? If a people chooses to make contact with wider society, they’ll find a way. The problem is that the belief that they are primitive and incapable of deciding for themselves is still widespread.

  • MYTH: If they are contacted, they can have the benefits of ‘our’ way of life

    They won’t get the chance. In reality, the future offered by settler society is to ‘join’ at the lowest possible level – often as beggars and prostitutes. History proves that tribal peoples usually end up in a far worse state after contact, often dead.

  • Questions and answers: uncontacted tribes

Did you know?
An uncontacted tribe lives less than 100 km from Machu Picchu, one of the busiest tourist destinations in the world.
More than 70% of the Peruvian Amazon has been carved up into oil concessions, making uncontacted tribes extremely vulnerable to the introduction of diseases.
One uncontacted tribe is now believed to be reduced to only one man, known as the Last of his Tribe, who digs holes in the Amazon rain forest to catch animals and fires arrows at anyone who comes near.
The Javari Valley indigenous reserve on the border of Brazil and Peru is home to seven contacted peoples and about seven uncontacted Indian groups, and is one of the largest concentrations of isolated peoples in Brazil.
When tribes are destroyed, so are their languages and the knowledge contained within them. One linguist has described the loss of a tribal language as being 'worse than a bomb dropped on the Louvre'.
It is not unusual for 50% of a tribe to be wiped out within a year of first contact, by diseases such as measles and influenza.
The uncontacted Sentinelese people are thought to be directly descended from the first human populations to emerge from Africa, and have probably lived in the Indian Ocean's Andaman Islands for up to 55,000 years.