x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Lost tribes, for now

The discovery of Indian villages in Brazil that have never come in contact with the outside world reminds us that even in the modern era, life still can surprise.

In the early 1960s, two American mercenaries steal an old German Messerschmitt in Peru and fly over the Andes into the Amazon Basin. On the side of the plane they have painted: "Wolfie and Moon. Small Wars and Demolition". Moon is a Sioux Indian who has been robbed of his language and religion by American missionaries and, when he sees a man in a village below defiantly fire an arrow, he decides to abandon the modern world and join the tribe. He is soon disabused of his romantic notions.

This is the plot of a novel, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, but the temptation to idealise primitive societies is part of real life. Two years ago, footage of real-life tribe members firing arrows up at a Brazilian government plane was broadcast around the world. Yesterday, more footage was shown of four large huts inhabited by Indians who have never been contacted by the outside world.

So far, 20 Indian villages have been sighted in the Javari Valley, an area the size of Austria on the Brazil-Peru border. The 14 tribes belong to the Pano language group and may number as many as 2,000.

Brazilian policy is to have no contact with the Indians, to spare them the threat of deadly diseases. In Peru, however, loggers move ever closer to the Indian sanctuary. In the novel, the Indians come to a bad end. Let us hope for a better future in real life.