x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Finding 'lost' tribes

The world glimpses members of a "lost" Brazilian tribe who probably prefer to be left alone

Avatar is real. At least to a Kalahari Bushman, Jumanda Gakelebone, who sees parallels between the Hollywood blockbuster and his own life. "We are being denied rights to our land and appeal to the world to help us," Mr Gakelebone told Survival, an organisation working for tribal peoples' rights worldwide. "Avatar makes me happy as it shows the world about what it is to be a Bushman, and what our land is to us." It is safe to say that more people sympathise with the movie's blue aliens than with those of real tribes whose indigenous ways of life are threatened.

A documentary airing on the BBC tonight will shed new light on the issue. Human Planet will show spectacular footage of the Panoan Indians, a previously undiscovered Brazilian tribe. Staring at a reconnaissance plane from their village deep in the jungle, the Panoans brandish bows and arrows at the intruders.

Calling them a "lost tribe", however, is a bit of a misnomer. They may not have Twitter accounts but photos show the Panoans using metal machetes and pots. At the very least, they have commerce with the outside world.

The motives for the documentary are commendable: to protect the forest and its inhabitants. But it is hardly surprising that Panoans would have a hostile reaction to researchers flying over their village. The outside world is riveted by this glimpse into their lives, but they seem to be doing fairly well on their own.