A new video (above) released by the Peruvian government shows a chance encounter between tourists on a motor boat and an uncontacted group of Amazonian people called the Mashco-Piro. The video depicts at least one member of the remote tribe firing an arrow at the tourists as the boat floats by.
The encounter highlights the dangers and ethical dilemmas that arise when the modern world and indigenous peoples cross paths. It also raises questions about what is being done to preserve indigenous cultures throughout the Amazon.
Though it may appear that the tourists are the ones in danger, the encounter is potentially far more devastating to the Mashco-Piro, who risk losing their way of life. Uncontacted peoples are also highly susceptible to introduced diseases.
The event, which was reported by National Geographic, was recorded by travelers along the Manu River, one of the many tributaries in the Amazon basin. In the video, the travelers are heard debating whether to approach, back off or leave gifts of food and clothing — until they depart in a panic as a tribesman pulls back a bow to launch an arrow in their direction.
According to Survival International, an indigenous rights group, the event marks a recent upswing of sightings of the Mashco-Piro along riverbanks in Manu National Park near a popular tourist destination. A park ranger was recently hit by a tipless arrow as a warning to stay away. The area has since been designated as a restricted zone and tourists are being urged not to leave any items behind, as such gifts that might harbor disease that could infect the vulnerable tribe.
Authorities don't know exactly why the tribe has been appearing more frequently in the area, but it may be related to an uptick in illegal logging that is an ongoing problem within Amazonian reserves. Wildcat gold prospectors and seismic teams exploring for oil and gas also represent an ongoing threat to native peoples. Developers, miners and prospectors have been known to shoot and kill natives when they encounter them.
The Peruvian government has said it is working on enacting and enforcing stricter laws to protect indigenous peoples throughout the Amazon. Peru's newly elected president, Ollanta Humala, has shown more compassion to indigenous groups than previous administrations and was elected with broad support from the indigenous population.
"The policy of this government is one of permanent inclusion of indigenous peoples, of commitment to their social demands, including territorial demands, education, and health care," said Roger Rumrill, a special advisor to Peru's Environment Ministry. "It's diametrically opposed to the previous government."
For more information about indigenous issues in the Amazon, check out our interview with Monte Reel, author of "The Last of the Tribe: The Epic Quest to Save a Lone Man in the Amazon."