Friday, 8 August 2008

Amazon Tribes in Extinction

When Europeans arrived five centuries ago there were once seven million people living from the Jungles of the Amazon - accounting for two thousand indigenous tribes – of which today there are less than 400 tribes with two million individuals, about 5,000 of which still resist contact with ‘civilization’.

Extinction can be seen in several ways – real extinction (genocide) and the other, comes in the form of a generalised, but emphatic, cultural change. Soon enough the country’s main language is learnt and old values are swapped for t-shirts, baseball caps and coca cola.

In Peru, for example, there are differentiations in describing tribes particularly when noting those that live in voluntary isolation – which can be defined in two groups, those that have never been contacted and those that after initial contact then decided to hide in the jungle and lose contact from the rest of the world. The paradox goes that by investigating more about them we often place them in more danger. There have been accounts of missionaries, that having gone in good faith, to advise tribes about petroleum explorations have either got blow piped and killed or set off the flu that brought about the end of them.

The UN accounts there being a ‘cultural genocide’ made on the – Korubo from Brazil, the Tagaeri from Ecuador, the Ayoreo from Paraguay and the Ashaninkas, Mashco-Piros and Yaminahuas from Peru.

The case is often the same - Besieged by oil explorations, logging and tourism, the Tagaeri peoples from Ecuador voluntarily hide away from the rest of the world. They have made their presence felt with various deaths in their territory in the Yasuní National Park opposing any foreign filtration. Similarly the Mashco-Piro peoples from Peru – of 1100 – are affronted by a diverse amount of threats, created mainly by oil and gas drilling and exploration. The Ashaninkas, a fighting people, have gone up in arms to reclaim land that was lost and contaminated.

And so it continues – A hunter-gatherer tribe the Ayoreo were chased and exhibited as prized animals during the 1950’s, from where they hid further into the jungle. Near the end of the 90’s they attacked with bow and arrows workers trying to build routes through the jungle of Chaco. Situated near the Bolivian border their land has become even more limited by cattle farming and agriculture.

All Paraguayan natives, as like in most Amazonian countries, face the hounding from American-funded Evangelical missions. The missions are often charged with shaming and vilifying ancient practices, bringing an end to age-old values and dress codes. In the case of the Ayoreo they bitterly opposed conversion during the 80’s leading to violent confrontations....

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