June 22, 2008

True lies

283_2_08.jpg The Guardian, usually one of the UK's more responsible newspapers (for what that's worth), has a breathless article today on the Secret of the 'lost' tribe that wasn't.

They are the amazing pictures that were beamed around the globe: a handful of warriors from an 'undiscovered tribe' in the rainforest on the Brazilian-Peruvian border brandishing bows and arrows at the aircraft that photographed them.

Or so the story was told and sold. But it has now emerged that, far from being unknown, the tribe's existence has been noted since 1910 and the mission to photograph them was undertaken in order to prove that 'uncontacted' tribes still existed in an area endangered by the menace of the logging industry.

Gawker fell hard for the spin declaring itself (a bit tongue in cheek) vindicated for having speculated that the whole thing was a hoax.

The odd thing is, if you read The Guardian's original story on the tribe, there's absolutely nothing in it that's contradicted by the new "evidence," an interview with the man who shot the photos.

Deep in the Amazon jungle, one of the Brazil's last uncontacted indigenous tribes has been photographed from the air, to prove its existence.... Funai warned that logging in the region threatened the existence of the few remaining uncontacted indigenous communities.

"We did the overflight to show their houses, to show they are there, to show they exist," said Jose Carlos dos Reis Meirelles, an expert on uncontacted tribes at Funai. "This is very important because there are some who doubt their existence."

The only thing Meirelles "admitted" was what he had said from the very start. The word "undiscovered," which the Guardian puts in quotes today, appeared nowhere in the original account. Maybe some people got that idea from skimming the headlines, but I read all the original reports carefully when I paraphrased them for The Week, and it was clear that anthropologists had long known about this tribe, and scores of others -- the only thing that was new is that Meirelles and his team decided to photograph it and publicize the images.

Perhaps more interesting, and I'm surprised the Guardian didn't mention this, is that though the tribe has had no direct contact with the modern world, it has had contact with other tribes that themselves are in contact with the modern world, and it likely knows quite a bit about us and has obtained modern clothing and other items through trade. There is only one totally isolated tribe in the world, and there are even pictures of that one.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


This is disgusting and your graphic is dead on. I guess the Guardian misses the good old days of Tarzan.

When I read the original article and saw the photos, I didn't think "undiscovered." I thought "leave us the hell alone." And with good reason. Peru pushes into this territory and these people will be dead. But Mireilles is straight-up about his intentions -- which were never hidden to begin with -- and suddenly this is a hoax? You can't win with these fucking people.

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