Uncontacted People of the World

Uncontacted peoples live in the dense Amazon rainforest.
Uncontacted peoples live in the dense Amazon rainforest.

Uncontacted peoples are groups of people that have remained outside of influence from the outside world. This isolation may be by choice or by sheer coincidence. If contact has been made with the global community, it has been limited. As of 2013, estimates suggest that there are over 100 uncontacted communities around the world. The majority of these individuals are concentrated in forests throughout South America and New Guinea. The outside world has learned about their existence usually through one of two ways: encounters with nearby tribes and aerial photography. This article takes a closer look at the uncontacted peoples around the world.

History of Communication with the Uncontacted Peoples

Many people believe that uncontacted tribes are groups of people who have chosen to retain their traditional lifestyle over taking part in the global society. While this may be the case for a few tribes, the majority remain uncontacted out of fear. A large percentage of people from these uncontacted groups have seen individuals from the outside world or at least know of their existence.

For many uncontacted peoples, the outside world has brought death and enslavement. These individuals have held on to the fear generated from the first contact with Europeans and passed these stories down through several generations. This has been shown on several occasions when researchers have been able to speak with individuals from these tribes. A common theme in these interviews is that the tribes desired contact with outsiders, but were too afraid to initiate a relationship.

Some of these bad memories and fears stem from as recently as the 1960s and 1970s. In Brazil, for example, the push for development of the rainforest was strong during these decades. Many indigenous people were forced out of their lands or killed if they stood in the way of that development. If not attacked, many uncontacted peoples were forced into assimilation programs leading to the spread of disease and killing of many of these individuals.

Uncontacted Peoples in South America

In South America, uncontacted tribes can be found in the following countries: Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Suriname, French Guiana, and Guyana. Of these countries, Brazil has the highest number of uncontacted peoples in the world. In 2007, the government reported 67 uncontacted tribes (an increase from 2005 estimates). Most of the tribes in these South American countries inhabit the Amazon rainforest, where they live a sustainable lifestyle. Despite their isolation, these individuals are vulnerable to several dangers from people outside of their communities. 

For example, the Acre peoples, a Brazilian tribe, made contact with a nearby village in 2014 in response to these dangers. Seven individuals left their homes, traveling from deep within the forest, to speak with their neighbors located near the Peruvian border. One of the villagers, who spoke a similar indigenous language, was able to translate the Acre people’s concerns. They explained that their homes and families had been under attack by outsiders. It is commonly accepted that these outsiders are illegal loggers and drug traffickers. They act violently against uncontacted tribes in an attempt to drive them away and steal the land for personal gain. Unfortunately, this case is true for many uncontacted peoples throughout South America.

Uncontacted Peoples in New Guinea

New Guinea was once believed to have the largest number of uncontacted tribes until Brazil took its place in 2007. The reason for this large number is that much of New Guinea remains unexplored. Researchers and anthropologists have been unable to reach many areas in this country due to the mountainous landscape and thick forest coverage. Identified tribes have very little, if any, contact with the local government and information about these communities is difficult to obtain. Approximately 44 tribes live within the Papua and West Papua provinces of Indonesia.

Uncontacted Peoples in India

In Asia, uncontacted tribes can be found in India in the Andaman Islands and the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The most well-known of these peoples is the Sentinelese tribe from the North Sentinel Island of the Andaman Islands. They are believed to be the most isolated people in the world. Estimates suggest that the community has lived on this island for around 60,000 years. During that time, they have been largely uninfluenced by the outside world. In fact, the Sentinelese language is unclassified and not in any way similar to the languages spoken on the other Andaman Islands. 

Several attempts at contact have been made since the late 1800s, each one unsuccessful. In 1974, for example, a National Geographic team approached the island only to be met by an attack. The Sentinelese began shooting arrows, striking one of the crew members. By the mid-1990s, the Indian government canceled all contact attempts for fear of introducing diseases and after some fatal accidents with other tribes. After the 2004 tsunami, the Indian Navy flew over the island to see if the tribe had survived and to leave food packages. A warrior came out of the jungle with bow and arrow, ready to attack. In 2006, 2 fishermen made their way too close to the shore and were killed. The Coast Guard was unable to recuperate the bodies. Today, the government has a policy aimed at avoiding contact and preventing poachers from approaching the island.

Uncontacted Peoples in Mexico

Researchers believe that all the peoples living in North America have been contacted. It is believed that the last contact took place in the early 20th century. In Mexico, the last tribe to make contact with the outside world was the Lacandón people. The first contact occurred in 1924, although it took several decades to build up enough trust to make full contact. Anthropologists believe these indigenous peoples may be descendants of Maya, who escaped Spanish colonialists. The Lacandón tribe is not interactive with the outside society, although the relationship is very controlled.

Conservation of Uncontacted Peoples

Activists around the world work to ensure that these individuals are left alone, claiming that external influences could interfere with their right to sovereignty. Additionally, researchers believe these individuals are unlikely to have immunity to common diseases. Therefore, outside contact could introduce these diseases and kill the communities.


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