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Amazonian tribes endangered by external contact

Amazonian tribes endangered by external contact

Members of the Mashco-Piro tribe transporting food distrubted by Peruvian authorities. -- / AFP

Source : Le Monde / AFP
“We are on the verge of a vast cultural extinction”. A series of articles published in American review Science’s last issue from June 5th, found that entire groups of Amazonian indigenous populations are endangered in Peru and Brazil, due to increasing contact with the outside world.

Centuries of colonization have shown how clashes between civilizations can be tragic for these populations “among the most vulnerable in the world”, experts recall: since the Spanish arrived in 1492, an estimate of 50 to 100 million natives have died on the American continent, and entire cultures with them.

While acknowledging not knowing precisely what happens in these isolated tribes, experts explain that contact between them and representatives of the modern world are rapidly growing, but lacking regulation. Residents from villages integrated in modern society in Peru as well as in Brazil, also report a high increase in these natives sometimes raiding their houses in their absence, stealing and destroying, as indicated by Science magazine, pleading for a better handling of contacts rather than a plain and simple interruption.

No immunization

Other than the risk of confrontation, it is trivial infections such as pertussis (cough) or flu, against which these tribes have no immunization whatsoever and that kill them. They are transmitted through contact with loggers, journalists, drug traffickers and even anthropologists entering the forest.

The situation seems to be most dramatic in Peru, according to experts, where an estimate of 8,000 indigenous peoples are distributed throughout the rainforest. Lima’s government has established protected areas for three million hectares, in order to allow these tribes to remain isolated but this could appear to be insufficient.

In Brazil, where in the 1970s and 1980s 50 to 90% of some tribes were decimated by infectious diseases due to encounters with representatives of the outside world, authorities have taken drastic measures to prevent such encounters and limit them to a strict minimum. Between 1987 and 2013, exchanges have therefore only taken place with five tribes. The Brazilian government has identified 26 isolated indigenous groups in the country and believes there could be close to 80 more hiding.

With the rapid expansion of the Brazilian economy, ranked seventh in the world, mining and agricultural activity, as well as the construction of roads among other factors have exploded in the Amazon, applying growing pressure on these populations. “Without a significant intensification of efforts against external danger, and unexpected encounters with the outside world, chances for these tribes to survive are very thin” indicates Science in its special editorial issue.

© Le Monde / AFP - translated by Camille Guibal / original article

Date : 06/06/2015