Western civilization has had its share of anguish and calamities- there’s war, disease, overpopulation, terrorism, pizza on pineapple and people who complain about pizza on pineapple. But on the whole, we think the good stuff outweighs the bad. Everyone wants a flourishing civilization, don’t they? – Well, not quite everyone. Coming up, are some stories about remote tribes that will convince you to never fly over them.
Look at this extraordinary photograph from Reddit. According to the poster, this aircraft flew low over a section of the Amazon, and tribal warriors fired arrows to it.
For a long time anthropologists have known of the existence of isolated tribes living in the depths of the Amazon. Many of these people have never had contact with the outside world. The guys who shot these arrows clearly didn’t want civilization, or at the least, felt threatened by some odd alien spacecraft descending on them from the heavens.
So – if you fly over the amazon, how likely are you to be fired at by a swarm of arrows akin to the scene from 300? Well, I’ll get back to that photo of the plane a bit later, but for now, let’s talk about the uncontacted tribes you may come across if you fly over the amazon, and things happened to people who have tried before.
Tribes from Envira Region
The first such example comes from 2008, as anthropologists swept over the Envira region – a section of rainforest on the border between Brazil and Peru. The men who were photographed, appear to be warriors, threatening the passengers in the plane with bows and arrows. They were painted in scarlet from head to foot and the women appear to be painted in black.
Forest flights like these have observed that the tribespeople build large shelters thatched with leaves. They appear to maintain gardens and the enormous bows the men use suggests they are distinguished hunters. We don’t actually know a lot about these people: anthropologists don’t make direct contact with them for a number of reasons.
‘We did the overflight to show their houses, to show they are there, to show they exist’ says Jose Carlos dos Reis Meireles Junior, an expert on indigenous Brazilian tribes.
He says that there are people who deny that individuals like this exist and think that these are fake photos. So, he’s conducted multiple flights to prove their existence, despite being shot in the shoulder on previous campaigns.
Deniers include members of corporations who wish to use tribal lands for commercial purposes and religious organizations that often want to take them away from their traditional way of life. Even some conservationists want to remove them to preserve native plants and animals.
Jose Carlos and other experts are keen to prove the existence of these people. However, their intention is to ensure that no-one attempts to contact them. Besides the likelihood that their environment would be destroyed there is the probability that diseases, to which they have no resistance due to their isolation, would decimate them.
Yanomami in Venezuelan Border
We tend to think that every inch of land on the planet has been explored and charted. It comes as a surprise then to learn that there are still vast spaces where civilization has not penetrated. Another tribe, the Yanomami, live on the Brazilian side of the Venezuelan border, and images captured from 2016 show them in amazement at the overhead photographer.
The photos show a typical Yanomami Yano, which is a large communal house for multiple families. Different families live in each of the square sections of the Yano, where they hang hammocks, maintain fires and keep food stores.
Like other tribes, they are notoriously violent, and males often die from fighting with other neighboring communities over local resources. There are approximately 22,000 of these tribespeople living in an area the size of Scotland, with at least three of the groups never having received contact with outsiders.
In fact, it is estimated that there are more than 100 tribal groups across the planet that have not been directly contacted by the outside world. That doesn’t mean to say they are ‘lost’ or ‘undiscovered’ or completely isolated. They may know about neighboring tribes. They may know about the outside world, but choose not to have anything to do with it. Their ancestors may even have passed on experiences of contact with past colonizers and have moved away to avoid their descendants.
Not all of them live as if they were still in the Stone Age. They might use metal tools and guns. They might grow western crops. These people live mostly in the dense forests of South America. Some isolated tribes also live in New Guinea, India and Africa as well.
Attempts to contact these peoples often end in tragedy. From time to time foolhardy, if sometimes well-intentioned individuals, have attempted to meet with them for various motives – either by accident, for curiosity, greed, or the desire for fame or to preach religion.
Attempts to contact another uncontacted tribe – the Sentinelese people on North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal, near India, have notoriously ended in disaster.
In 2006, two Indian fishermen who had been illegally fishing for crabs drifted into the shallows of the island. They ignored the warnings of passing fishermen, and were set upon by Sentinelese warriors and axed to death. Their bodies were strapped to bamboo stakes, facing out to sea as a warning to others.
Then, in November of 2018, a young Christian missionary by the name of John Chau entered the island’s waters illegally.
He managed to land and gave the natives gifts. The Sentinelese appeared bewildered, and a boy shot a metal-tipped arrow into the bible Chau was holding. On that occasion, Chau fled back to sea. But when he went back he told the fishermen who were helping him to leave without him. Later, the same fishermen saw Chau’s dead body being dragged along the beach.
The Huaorani People
These stories prove that visitors should certainly be wary when visiting indigenous people with little or no contact with civilization, especially if they have no knowledge of the culture.
In 1956, five Evangelical Christians from the United States journeyed into the depths of the Amazon rainforest to bring Christianity to the Huaorani people. No one had contacted these tribespeople, who live somewhere within the Ecuadorian Yasuní National Park, before.
In September 1955, the missionaries began dropping gifts from planes for the Huaorani, and they gave gifts back. The five men – Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully, Ned Saint, and Roger Yourian – set up camp a few kilometers from a Huaorani settlement. The Huaorani attacked them and speared them all to death. A search party found the dead bodies of the men on the banks of a river.
The Huaorani are fiercely territorial and ward off anyone who attempts to enter their lands, including other Huaorani. As with many tribes, they maintain a strong in-group/out-group distinction between relatives of the tribe other people unrelated to them. So you should never trespass, as they’ve killed rubber plantation workers and explorers who come too close.
But not all of the uncontacted tribes in the world are so violent. Another visitor, Benedict Allen – an explorer – literally dropped in on a tribe of head-hunters called the Yaifo.
Allen was air-dropped into the Central Highlands of Papua New Guinea in 2017. He met them for the first time 30 years before. He was 26 then and taking on a daring independent journey. At that time he was the first person from the outside world to ever make contact with the Yaifo. They accepted him after putting him through a pretty brutal initiation. Allen says it involved being beaten, force-fed, thrashed with bamboo blades and losing two pints of blood.
Upon trying to re-visit them in 2017, Allen went missing, which wasn’t helped by the fact he went without a cell phone or a GPS, but luckily, he was found five days after being reported missing, appearing by a remote airstrip in central Papua New Guinea after contracting malaria and dengue fever, and being blocked on his route back by tribal infighting between rival groups. It just goes to show that even though the tribes themselves are dangerous, nature is just as treacherous.
Massacre of Indigenous People
And though it may seem like indigenous tribes always attack intruders, often it’s the other way around. In 2017, miners prospecting for gold in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil came upon a tribe. According to federal prosecutors in Brazil, 10 members of the tribe were massacred by the prospectors as they were gathering eggs on the river. After the alleged killings, the men relaxed in a bar, where they boasted about the crime, brandishing a paddle carved by the tribe.
Prosecutors said it was not the first such allegation. The number of killed Amazon tribespeople were 50 in 2017 and 60 the year before, according to estimation. However, investigations are difficult because of the geography of the alleged crime sites. It’s dangerous to contact tribal witnesses and clash with the power of commercial interests.
The miners said they committed the murders as they were fearful they’d be killed by the tribesmen if they didn’t. And its not difficult to understand why the tribespeople don’t like miners, since they bring diseases like malaria and pollute the tribes food and water sources with mercury, which they use to refine their gold, leading to serious health issues.
It seems to support the idea that threats to endangered indigenous groups are on the rise in the country. Sadly, because of the small sizes of these uncontacted tribes, this latest incident may have wiped out a significant percentage of a remote ethnic group.
All things considered, it isn’t hard to understand the reluctance of the Sentinelese, Huaoroni and other tribespeople to welcome the outside world, especially when we consider the experiences of native peoples in the past. During the British colonized Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries, thousands of the indigenous Aboriginals were killed.
Hundreds of thousands more were dispossessed and forced on reserves while hundreds of thousands more died of European diseases. The indigenous people of the Americas and Africa suffered a similar fate when the so-called ‘civilized’ races invaded their lands.
On September 13, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in response to continuing violence against the indigenous peoples around the world. Nevertheless, indigenous peoples still encounter political and commercial opposition to their right to self-determination. Hopefully, we can all respect their rights and leave them alone.
The Arrow-ed Plane: True or Fake?
Now back to the image of the plane at the beginning. Did one of these tribes shot the aircraft? Let’s look at it carefully. Could arrows really pierce the underside of a plane like this? They are quite long, and experts say some Amazonian tribes do use longbows with arrows about 6 feet long. These arrows certainly do look as if they could be 6 feet long.
Steel-tipped arrows did pierce metal armor in medieval battles. Now most planes are made of aluminum and aluminum is softer than steel, and some tribes use steel-tipped arrows. So an arrow shot by a tribal warrior could theoretically pierce a plane.
But could such an arrow reach a flying aircraft? Light aircraft generally fly no lower than 152 meters or 500 feet above the ground for safety reasons, especially when there are tall trees about, as in the Amazon. That’s just under the maximum height of a longbow arrow like the ones these tribes use. So, while they could just about reach the plane, they likely wouldn’t have enough power to penetrate the aircraft.
Then again, the plane may have been flying lower than it’s safe to fly, to get as detailed a picture of the tribespeople as possible, so maybe an arrow could penetrate the plane on a lucky day. Even so, I guess you might want to ask how the plane is peppered with so many arrows.
It would mean that roughly 200 or more warriors – going by the number of arrows – just happened to fire at the exact same time in the split second the plane flew over them, and most of them hit their mark! That’s some pretty good shooting!
Also, there are no shattered arrow shafts. You’d expect a few to at least to break on impact. Still, others would surely have snapped off when the aircraft landed on the runway. On the whole, the scenario doesn’t look good as far as authenticity is concerned.
As it happens, this plane – a Piper Comanche – is part of an art exhibition in Buenos Aires. The piece was made by an artist collective called Los Carpinteros and is called Avião. According to the artists, it is a symbol of modernization. It certainly got a lot of people talking about indigenous issues and that’s got to be a good thing.
International organizations like Survival, a volunteer advocacy group based in the United Kingdom, would hope that images like this would encourage more discussion about the rights of tribal peoples. Survival works to prevent violence to them and to respect their right to determine their own destinies.
Still, the image has been doing the rounds with misleading information. Loads of people are claiming it to be a real artifact after an attack from one of these tribes. The best thing you can do if you see the image online somewhere with misleading information is to point out that it is in fact just a piece of art, and isn’t the aftermath of an actual attack. If more people get the impression all tribes are incredibly violent, then they may end up committing terrible crimes similar to the miners if they even stumble upon one, and the cycle of violence will needlessly continue.
Some people ask Survival, ‘shouldn’t we be civilizing these people so they can share in the benefits civilization has to offer?’ Well, first of all, not everyone thinks all of the products of civilization are too great – like smog, traffic jams, and noise – even if you can tolerate pineapple on pizza.
But Survival would answer the question by saying they can have civilization if that’s what they want. But it’s up to them to decide, not others.
The take-home message from all of this seems to be – if you want adventure don’t be bothering these people. There are many other more respectful and less dangerous ways to explore our wonderful world. It belongs to all of us and we should all have the right to live the way we want. These tribes want no intruder to live as they want, and that’s cool. Another message might be – don’t be shooting at low-flying planes with bows and arrows to see if you can hit it! The Aviation Authority tends to frown on that sort of thing.
So, do you agree that we should leave these remote tribes alone? Or you think that it would be beneficial for us to introduce them to modern society? Let me know in the comments section down below!