Astonishing new photos of one of the world's last uncontacted tribes 31 January 2011

Dramatic photos show tribe threatened by loggers invading neighbouring territory.
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UPDATE: 4 February

An extraordinary new film of the tribe in these pictures has been released. It is the first aerial footage of any uncontacted community. Watch now »

New photos obtained by Survival International show uncontacted Indians in never-seen-before detail. The Indians are living in Brazil, near the Peruvian border, and are featured in the ‘Jungles’ episode of BBC1’s ‘Human Planet’ (Thurs 3 Feb, 8pm, UK only).

The pictures were taken by Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department, which has authorized Survival to use them as part of its campaign to protect their territory. They reveal a thriving, healthy community with baskets full of manioc and papaya fresh from their gardens.

The tribe’s survival is in serious jeopardy as an influx of illegal loggers invades the Peru side of the border. Brazilian authorities believe the influx of loggers is pushing isolated Indians from Peru into Brazil, and the two groups are likely to come into conflict.


This uncontacted tribe is likely to be descended from Indians who escaped the atrocities of the rubber boom last century. For several decades they will have known about and have had access to metal goods, such as the knife and pan in the photo, acquired through inter-tribal trading networks.

Metal pan

Like the machete, the metal pan was likely acquired through inter-tribal trading networks.

Peeled manioc

Manioc (also known as cassava) is a tuber cultivated by many tribes in South America and is a staple part of their diet, providing starch. Bitter manioc is peeled (as seen in the photo), soaked and squeezed to get rid of the poison, then grated, sieved and heated over a fire to make bread.

Unpeeled manioc

This unpeeled manioc might have just been dug up from a forest garden nearby.


Amazon Indians cultivate several varieties of banana and plantains in their gardens. Plantains are eaten boiled or in stews. Sweet bananas are eaten alone as fruit.


The basket is brimming with large papayas from trees grown in the gardens and near the house, proof of a varied and healthy diet.

Red body paint

Many South American tribes use body paint as decoration and for other reasons. Red paint (known as urucum) is made from seeds from the annatto shrub. Some also use it to dye objects like hammocks and baskets.

Palm fronds

Everything used to make the house comes from the forest. Tree trunks or branches are cut and lashed together with fibres. Palm fronds are sewn onto the wood to make a waterproof thatched roof.

Basket and carrying strap

Various baskets and a carrying strap are on either side of the house and are made from plant fibres. They are used to store vegetables and carry game and fish during hunting trips. One is covered with banana leaves to protect the contents.

The photos reveal a thriving, healthy community with baskets full of manioc and papaya fresh from their gardens.
© Gleison Miranda/FUNAI/Survival
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Survival and other NGOs have been campaigning for years for the Peruvian government to act decisively to stop the invasion, but little has been done.

Last year an American organization, Upper Amazon Conservancy, carried out the latest of several overflights on the Peru side, uncovering further evidence of illegal logging in a protected area.

Marcos Apurinã, Coordinator of Brazil’s Amazon Indian organization COIAB said today, ‘It is necessary to reaffirm that these peoples exist, so we support the use of images that prove these facts. These peoples have had their most fundamental rights, particularly their right to life, ignored … it is therefore crucial that we protect them.’

Renowned Brazilian Indian leader Davi Kopenawa Yanomami said today, ‘The place where the Indians live, fish, hunt and plant must be protected. That is why it is useful to show pictures of the uncontacted Indians, for the whole world to know that they are there in their forest and that the authorities must respect their right to live there.’

Peru’s Amazon Indian organisation AIDESEP issued a statement saying, ‘We are deeply troubled by the authorities' lack of action… despite complaints from Peru and abroad against illegal logging, nothing has been done.’

TV presenter Bruce Parry of hit TV series Tribe said, ‘Protecting the land where uncontacted tribes live is of global importance. We have consistently failed to introduce them to our world without inflicting terrible traumas. It is for them to decide when they want to join our world. Not us.’

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, 'The illegal loggers will destroy this tribe. It's vital that the Peruvian government stop them before time runs out. The people in these photos are self-evidently healthy and thriving. What they need from us is their territory protected, so that they can make their own choices about their future.

'But this area is now at real risk, and if the wave of illegal logging isn't stopped fast, their future will be taken out of their hands. This isn't just a possibility: it's irrefutable history, rewritten on the graves of countless tribes for the last five centuries.'

This man, painted with annatto seed dye, is in the community

This man, painted with annatto seed dye, is in the community's garden, surrounded by banana plants and annatto trees
© Gleison Miranda/FUNAI/Survival

Men painted with red and black vegetable dye watch the Brazilian government plane.

Men painted with red and black vegetable dye watch the Brazilian government plane.
© Gleison Miranda/FUNAI/Survival



Notes for editors

These pictures can be reproduced provided the following link is included: Contact for high-res versions.

Download images:

For more information on this story, please contact:
T (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or (+44) (0)7504543367

In the US:

Christina Chauvenet (before 12 pm EST)
T (+1) 202 525 6972
Tess Thackara (after 12 pm EST)
T (+1) 415 503 1254

New photos: questions and answers

Is this an ‘undiscovered’ or ‘lost’ tribe?

No. This is empty sensationalism. It’s extremely unlikely there are any tribes whose existence is totally unknown to anyone else. The uncontacted tribe in these photos has been monitored by the Brazilian government for 20 years, and lives in a reserve set up to protect uncontacted tribes.

What do you mean by ‘uncontacted’?

Peoples who have no peaceful contact with anyone in the mainstream or dominant society. There are about 100 uncontacted tribes in the world. More questions and answers about uncontacted tribes...

Who are the uncontacted people in the photos and footage?

Many tribes in this region suffered atrocities during the ‘rubber boom’ a hundred years ago, when wild rubber became an important international commodity. Many were killed or died from disease. However some managed to flee deeper into the forest. The uncontacted Indians living here today may be descended from these people.

Why have they painted and decorated themselves?

Many South American tribes use body paint as decoration and for other reasons. Red paint (known as urucum) is made from seeds from the annatto shrub. Indigenous people use it to colour things like hammocks and baskets, as well as their skin. (It is also used as a dye by the food industry.) Many Amazon tribes make black dye from the genipapo plant. Some also use crushed charcoal. Black can be used to signal hostility. Like other tribes in the region, the men have shaved their foreheads and have long hair.

How can they be filmed if they're uncontacted?

The Brazilian authorities have been monitoring this group of uncontacted Indians for years from the air. Over-flights are used to gather evidence of invasions of their land.

Indians certainly hear the plane long before it becomes visible. They will have seen many planes over the years from commercial jets to light aircraft belonging to missionaries, prospectors, and government authorities like FUNAI.

How do these people live? What do they eat? What are the foods visible in baskets?

They probably live in a similar way to many other Amazon Indians. They have cleared large vegetable gardens for fruit and vegetables, and manioc, maize, sweet potato, pumpkin, peanuts, papaya, and bananas can all be identified. They also plant cotton which is spun and woven for skirts. The men have cotton waist bands and some have small head dresses. The men carry bows and arrows for hunting – probably tapir, wild pig, deer and monkeys. No canoes have been seen (many Amazon tribes do not use them), but they probably fish as well.

Baskets are made to store vegetables and carry game and fish. (To the left of the main photo there is a pile of manioc or sweet potato, with peelings lying on the ground. The basket is full of papaya. At the entrance to the house are two baskets, one showing a carrying strap. The basket to the far right shows unpeeled tubers – probably manioc. Another is covered with banana leaves to protect whatever food is inside.)

What will their state of health be like?

It is likely to be very good. In the photos the Indians appear strong and healthy and their gardens are full of produce.

Why are the photos and video footage being released?

Various government officials in Peru and Brazil have denied the existence of uncontacted tribes and accuse indigenous organizations and their supporters of inventing them. The photos and footage provide clear and compelling evidence that uncontacted tribes do exist. Many tribal people recognize the importance of using the photos and footage to persuade governments to protect uncontacted peoples’ land and to uphold their rights. You can read statements from Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa Yanomami and from COIAB, the network of indigenous organizations in the Amazon.

What next?

Survival is launching an urgent campaign calling on the Peruvian government to expel all loggers working illegally on the land of uncontacted Indians in Peru. Join the campaign.

Uncontacted tribes: more questions and answers