About a month ago members of a previously uncontacted tribe made contact with a settled Asháninka indigenous community. One of the major fears researchers and FUNAI contacts had was the possibility of the group contracting diseases they have previously never had contact with. This fear became a reality when seven members of the tribe contracted and were treated for influenza.
This image, released by FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department, shows a group of indigenous people who contracted the flu after making contact with a settled tribe. FUNAI
Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department, FUNAI, says that the tribe spent about three weeks with Brazilian officials. The group consisted of about five men and two women between the ages of 12 and 21. They communicated with officials through linguists and people from neighboring tribes who said they could understand some of the language because they think they belong to a grouping of people who are known as Penan peoples. From what the group had to say Funai believes that the tribe originally comes from Peru, but through interactions with dangerous, non-indigenous people they have been pushed into Brazil. When asked if FUNAI had an idea of what else could be threatening these people and causing them to move, Fiona Watson of Survivor International helped explain what could have happened.
“They think on the Peru side and survival [International] knows from reports that we have received is that there’s certainly a lot of invasion of indigenous peoples lands on the Peru side. We know that there are drug traffickers trafficking cocaine and cocoa plants have been planted there. There’s a lot of logging activity – mahogany, the hardwood is prevalent in that area – and you can imagine if you’re a non-contracted tribe who has some knowledge but very little knowledge of that world out there and what you see is people coming in, stealing your resources, scaring off the game that you rely on for food and most dangerously wielding firearms – this must be an incredibly frightening experience. And we think that has pushed them over the border into Brazil where they’ve now appeared.”
While they were being treated the seven members of the tribe decided that they wanted to return to the forest. Now that the tribe has received treatment for the flu and left, the main concern is their lack of immunity and the possibility of the disease evolving into something more series such as pneumonia. This could put themselves and other isolated people that they come into contact with at risk.
FUNAI has taken several measures to assist in the situation, including keeping medical personnel and supplies in the area in case the tribe returns and reopening a post in the region that has been closed since 2011. Many of these posts had to be abandoned when they were overrun by drug traffickers and illegal loggers.
Now that the group has returned to the forest, researchers and are officials are hoping that the treatment was given in time. “We can only hope that the Funai team members were able to give out treatment before the sickness was spread to the rest of the tribe in the forest,” says Chris Fagan, executive director at the Upper Amazon Conservancy in Jackson, Wyoming. “Only time will tell if they reacted quickly enough to divert a catastrophic epidemic.”