We keep hearing things like “It’s a small world” and “technology has brought us closer”, and it’s hard to think that there are still people living in complete isolation from the modern world. Not much is known about these tribes as they are clearly not interested to build any contact with us. These remote tribes have developed their own ways of coping with their surroundings. Read the article to know more about them.
North Sentinel Island is the part of Andaman and Nicobar and is home to a tribe which does not want any intruders on their land known as the Sentinelese. Many attempts had been made in the past to contact these people but they had mostly been unsuccessful. In 2004, few helicopters were sent to check on the Sentinelese people after the Tsunami. The tribe was found in good shape but was not pleased at the hovering helicopters and attacked them with bows and arrows. In 2006, they killed and buried a fisherman whose boat got drifted to the island.
The island got media attention from all over the world in 2018 after the death of an American tourist who illegally visited the isolated North Sentinel Island. John Allen Chau was a Christian missionary who wanted to preach Christianity to the natives. It is reported that the tribal people chased him away twice, but killed him when he tried to venture on the island for the third time.
They remain a hunter-gatherer society with no known agriculture. They have metal tools but can only fashion them out of the iron they recover from nearby shipwrecks. They have been isolated for so long that their language is not mutually intelligible with their nearest neighbors and remains unclassified, suggesting hundreds if not thousands of years of isolation.
There has only been one friendly contact with the islanders till date. In 1991, a team of anthropologists made various trips to the island bearing gifts such as clothes, candies and coconuts. Initially the tribe showed resistance but one day they came closer and took the coconuts from the boat. The process of collecting gifts continued for few months but the tribal people never invited any one on their island. Later, the government decided to stop this program and no one has been to the island since. Madhumala Chattopadhyay, one of the anthropologists later said “The tribes of the islands do not need outsiders to protect them, what they need is to be left alone.”
Another isolated tribe in India, they also live on the Andaman Islands. They are a self-sufficient hunter-gatherer society and are, by several accounts rather happy and healthy this way. In the early nineties, the local government presented a plan to bring the tribe into the modern world with their long-term ‘master plan’ to settle the Jarawa in two villages with an economy based on fishery. In 1998, members of the tribe began to visit the outside world and started leaving their forest for the first time without their bows and arrows. But the forced settlements were proven fatal. The contact with the outside world caused two outbreaks of measles among the tribe, who had no immunity to it. Later a vigorous campaign by Survival and Indian organisations ensured that the resettlement plan was abandoned, and in 2004 the authorities announced a radical new policy: the Jarawa would be allowed to choose their own future, and that outside intervention in their lives would be kept to a minimum.
The Jarawas returned to the forests but sadly they still face many threats. The road that cuts through their territory brings thousands of outsiders, including tourists, into their land. The tourists treat the Jarawa like animas in a safari park- teasing them and throwing food at them. They still remain vulnerable to outside diseases to which they have little or no immunity. It’s quite clear that Jarawas can live self-sufficiently on their ancestral lands and can thrive on their own without any outside intervention.
Vale do Javari Tribes
The indigenous land of Vale do Javari lies on the border of Peru, Brazil and Bolivia and here lives the highest concentration of uncontacted tribes on Earth. Vale do Javari is home to approximately 20 tribes. They include the Isconahua, Matsigenka, Matsés, Mashco-Piro, Mastanahua, Murunahua (or Chitonahua), Nanti, Sapanawa and Nahua, and many more whose names are unknown. Almost all are nomads, moving throughout their territories according to the seasons in small, extended family groups. Some of them rely completely on hunting while some depend on agriculture as well. But one thing is common between all the tribes. They reject outside contact.
In the 1970s and ’80s, it was the policy of the Brazilian government to contact isolated tribes for their benefit. The first contact was made with the Matis who shortly afterwards started dying as a result of the diseases they were introduced to. Three of its five villages wiped out, and their population dropped drastically. Other tribes were also impacted in a similar manner. The impacts are still seen today as the surviving generation from these tribes is suffering from diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and hepatitis; diseases that were introduced by us. Another threat comes from poachers and loggers. These intruders have shot the tribal people and even massacred whole villages, when engaged in illicit activities such as drug trafficking. In last few years, the government has started monitoring the region to prevent any outside contact or violence.
The Korowai Tribe are a fascinating tribe only recently discovered in Papua New Guinea. Up until the 1970s, there had been no previous recorded contact between them and the western world. In fact, scientists believe the tribe may not have ever realised anyone else even existed other than themselves. The tribe has an interesting lifestyle.
First, they live in tree houses. These houses form a defensive fortification as they are intended to prevent rival clans from capturing people. It helps against floods and insects. The Korowai also believe that spirits always stay on the ground and therefore can’t enter their homes.
The tree dwelling tribe is also rumoured to practice cannibalism. The Korowai do not have access to many modern medicines and diseases are treated with herbs, so the mortality rate is typically very high. It’s rare for a member of the tribe to live past middle age. Not having the relevant scientific knowledge, the tribe reportedly believed that deaths are caused by ‘khakhua’ or demons that take the human form. And the tribe believes that the demon can only be expelled by killing the person and eating them. It is a curious and a weird ritual to protect the rest of the Korowai people. However, the incidence of cannibalism may now be waning due to tribal ambivalence and outside intervention.
Many of the forest-dwelling peoples in the Congo have been contacted infrequently over the last century. However, it is supposed that many uncontacted tribes still exist. The Mbuti, a ‘pygmy’ people, a contacted but isolated case which can give us an idea of how the uncontacted tribes may live.
The Republic of Congo is home to the famous Pygmy Tribe. This indigenous tribe lives in the Congo rainforest. The people of this tribe are small of stature. The average Pygmy man is around 4ft 10in tall, whilst the average woman is around 4ft 1in tall! They are mostly forest dwellers who still practice hunting and gathering for their livelihood. They live in small, egalitarian villages. They are largely self-sufficient, but they do engage in trade with outside groups. Their way of life is at risk due to deforestation, illegal mining, and genocide being carried out against pygmies.