The Lost Tribes of the World: Is it Our Responsibility to Intervene?

Laura Cunningham

Over two million years ago, our human ancestors established a monumental milestone when the Homo habilis, our extinct hominid predecessor created and handling stone tools. As we evolved, our technology was refined and today most humans may enjoy scientific, medical and recreational advancements which allow us to live a life of leisure rather than a struggle for survival. There are currently ‘primitive’ peoples referred to as ‘Lost Tribes’ scattered in the rainforests of South America and South Asia who remain in isolation from modern advancements such as electricity, modern medicine or communication.

Modern society is innovative, free and ringing with social, scientific and technological progress. Usually, in westernized countries, we enjoy the institutions of equality and prosperity and find comfort in the order provided by a stable society. We prioritize education, curiosity, love and leisure. If you are currently able to read this, you are a member of modern society. If you were given the choice between a life consisting of current advancements or a life without, it is safe to assume you would choose the more familiar option: the current advancements. If you were to choose a life without advancements, society would view you as incompetent or foolish for an having divergent opinions that seem ‘irrational’.

As modernized people, we share an ethnocentric idea that our way of life is superior, and that we have a responsibility to help the ‘little guy’ out when they are caught behind. This is apparent in the various instances of imperialism where successful countries attempt to “humanize” barbaric or indigenous peoples such as the ‘scramble for Africa’ in the late nineteenth century. This mindset of “my way of life is better than yours” demonstrates the narcissistic ideology that we modern people share as we fail to acknowledge that there is more than one correct way to live one’s life.

As Americans, most of us have been raised with values of charity and share the mentality to ‘treat others as you would like to be treated”. It has been engraved into our heads as young school children, and this mindset of feeling looking after others tugs us to act on the morals of our upbringing. We as Americans feel a sense of accomplishment when we help those less fortunate; whether we actively volunteer or donate to a charity once a year during the holidays. Though this generous lifestyle has become a staple in our culture, it seems we may be overextending ourselves beyond our responsibility.

Lost Tribes, being full aware of modern society have made the deliberate choice to remain isolated and have prospered for thousands of years without outside help (Time). It is highly unethical to contact isolated tribes who have chosen solitude to preserve their alternate way of life. To play devil’s advocate, I’d like you to imagine a life where another culture enters your country, and insists you adopt their way of life. They may force themselves onto you, arguing their institutions were superior or that they’re only trying to help. Chances are, you’d be against their movement, believing your way of life is adequate as is or that you don’t need help. The situation is no different with the lost tribes of the world.

Lost Tribes are thought to be the most vulnerable societies on the planet as their lack of immunities cannot withstand encounters from the outside world (Daily Mail). The simple curiosity of the modern public wanting to know more about these “unknown people” is no justification for the destruction of tribal livelihood. These people have little to no exposure to common diseases that You and I have become immune to, therefore viruses such as influenza, measles, and chickenpox have a deadly, catastrophic effect. In many instances, just one exchange of infectious pathogens can wipe out the majority of a society. This was evident in the summer of 1910 when one embrace between a Brazilian man and an Amazonian tribesman caused the Nambikwara people’s population to drop 5,000 to 550 in 3 generations from influenza, whooping cough and the simple common cold (Time). In cases like this, sickness spreads like wildfire resulting in an unintentional mass murder. This inexcusable damage is easily avoidable as outsiders simply need to control their exposure and better understand the effects their presence has on uncontacted peoples.

Though outsiders may believe their actions can improve lives, they are hurting far more than helping. There have been rebuttals made by the supporters of pro-tribal contact who argue that a tribe’s association with outside advances will augment the quality of life for tribes people. One of the most common theories these advocates propose is that the introduction of modern medicine would permit contact between tribes and modern society without fear of sickness (The Independent). These propositions though decent in nature have proven to be meaningless considering isolated tribes intentionally made the choice to remain detached from society. Though in theory, the idea of vaccinating isolated tribes is amiable, it can never be validated simply because evading the tribe entirely is equally, if not more effective.

Lost Tribes are credited as the “last free people on the planet”. Though their survivalist ways of life have expired among the masses of the modern world, these isolated peoples continue to demonstrate the preserved lifestyle of the primitive man. As stated above, these people have deliberately withdrawn themselves from modernity in an attempt to preserve their culture (Neuroanthropology). When we contact isolated people, we are not benefitting their livelihood but changing it instead. By eliminating cultural bias we step into the shoes of these indigenous peoples and see their perspective of us; they may consider their customs to be superior, just as we believe ours to be.

We as members of the modern world do not have the responsibility to modernize uncontacted people, but rather to encourage and foster their voluntary isolation. Some organizations have already begun this practice including FUNAI, the national Indian foundation of Brazil. This high-principled group protects natives from outside risks by mapping land and preserving land in an attempt to prevent invasions (Survival International). In doing so, the ways of life for many tribes are able to prosper as institutions like language, rituals and beliefs are upheld.

So why is it unethical to contact an isolated tribe? The answer is transparent: the effects are disastrous. Patterns have shown that when we establish a connection with these secluded groups, we devastate their numbers and culture thereby contributing to the destruction of their entire existence. In forcing lost tribes to change, we are stripping them of their humanity and individuality.

We must make an effort to understand the complexity of human nature in order to accept cultures for what they are. There is no ethical reasoning for us to disrupt lost tribes who wish to remain secluded nor is it right to change another group to better suit our own. Altogether, there is more than one correct way to live one’s life and it is trivial to judge another culture’s justification for existence based on our own perspective.

Work Cited:

  • Connor, S.
  • Connor, Steve. “We Need To Make Contact With Isolated Amazon Tribes, Say Academics”. The Independent. N. p., 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2017

International, S.

International, Survival. “FUNAI — National Indian Foundation (Brazil)”. N. p., 2017. Web. 12 Mar. 2017.

‘The last free people on the planet’ | Neuroanthropology

“‘The Last Free People On The Planet’ | Neuroanthropology”. Neuroanthropology. N. p., 2011. Web. 12 Mar. 2017.

Uncontacted Tribes: Is it Ethical to Leave Them Alone?

“Uncontacted Tribes: Is It Ethical To Leave Them Alone?”. N. p., 2017. Web. 12 Mar. 2017.

Visitors risk death if they step foot on mysterious tribe’s island

“Visitors Risk Death If They Step Foot On Mysterious Tribe’s Island”. Mail Online. N. p., 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2017.