Recently, an escalating number of conflicts have led the government of Peru to consider making its first official contact with an isolated tribe living in the Amazon rainforest. Called the Mashco Piro, the tribe is technically ‘uncontacted’ and reaching out to tribes with the status has been historically controversial in part because of the dangers of spreading disease to a group of people who lack immunity to common illnesses. However, according to a July 24 report by LiveScience, an increasing number of unregulated interactions between the tribe,villagers, tourists and missionaries in the area has led the government to believe that making official contact may be necessary.
In part, the recent number of conflicts is due to the Mashco Piro tribe venturing further out of the rainforest. The Telegraph reported that the Mashco Piro have been seen in populated areas around 100 times this year. Some of these interactions have been deadly, such as the attack the Mashco Piro made against the Machiguenga community of Shipetiari where they killed a man with an arrow. The Peruvian government, which generally has policies that oppose making contact with the isolated tribes that live in the Amazon, has decided to make contact largely to figure out what has caused the Mashco Piro to regularly venture out into more populated areas.
Historically, the Mashco Piro have not had fond feelings toward outsiders. After surviving slavery under European colonies during the Amazon rubber boom of the late 1800s, and rebuffing a group of mercenaries, the tribe has maintained its isolation from the rest of Peru.
The Mashco Piro aren’t the only ones driving further contact with the outside world. Both missionaries offering the group food and clothing, as well as tour companies advertising ‘human safaris,’ have made contact with the tribe. These uncontrolled visits with the Mashco Piro have led several anthropologists to call for an official contact from the Peruvian government. “The only ones who haven’t been in contact with them are representatives of the state” said Patricia Balbuena the deputy cultural minister.
“Unless protection efforts against external threats and accidental encounters are drastically increased, the chances that these tribes will survive are slim,” said anthropologists Robert Walker of the University of Missouri and Kim Hill of Arizona State University in a report for the journal Science. Both Hill and Walker said that regulated contact, with doctors on site to treat any potential illnesses, would be the safest approach.
However, there are several groups that disagree with Hill, Walker, and the Peruvian government. Survival International argues that contact should be avoided and instead the government should do a better job of enforcing strict protections of native land. FENAMAD, an indigenous group, has argued that the state making contact would legitimize the visits made by tourists and missionaries, which have been known to obliterate ‘uncontacted’ tribes in the past. Although Peru technically has a ban on making unwanted contact with any of the isolated tribes in the Amazon, it is rarely enforced. Drug trafficking and illegal logging has also made it more difficult to prevent contact between the tribes and the outside world.