current affairs

People outside civilization: Uncontacted humans

We live in a world that has long been connected.

We live in a world that has long been connected. For centuries traders plied the Silk Road between Europe and China, and afterwards ships flying the flags of many nations would dock in ports all over the World.

In our modern world this interconnectivity has increased rapidly. It has not always been for the best but you cannot deny it. A businessman in Tokyo can chat in real time to a partner in New York, a girl in London can Skype with her boyfriend in Argentina and a teenager in Texas can call a Russian a “jerk” on Youtube.

This isn’t just limited to the internet. More planes fill the skies than ever before, over five million Brits now live abroad and, just hours before I sat down to write this, the news was reporting that the Chinese have a long-term plan to build high-speed railways to the great cities of Europe. If and when this is complete it will reduce the overland journey time from Paris to Beijing to just 48 hours.

An incredible feat.

Beyond civilization

However, there are thousands of people who are completely out of this loop, and I don’t just mean they don’t have a Twitter account. As much as it may surprise some to learn, there are still tribes of people living in much the same way as they did thousands of years ago, completely isolated from the rest of the human race.

These are the Uncontacted Peoples. Survival International, the charity that works for their well-being, estimates that there are around a hundred such tribes living around the world. 

No one knows their true number, or how numerous the people of each tribe are.  We know next to nothing about many of them. We know nothing of their beliefs, their language or their customs. There are many whose existence can’t even be properly confirmed – and doubtless there are others we don’t even know about.

They live largely in the depths of the Amazon rainforest, the Andaman islands of India and the Western half of New Guinea. They are well out of the way of the majority of the human race and live in complete isolation from it.

But they still find themselves in danger.

Many threats

At worst they become the victims of loggers, gas companies or others who send in mercenaries and private security firms to massacre them discreetly. With no way to report what is happening to them, or even being aware that there is anyone to report it do, most of these massacres go unnoticed by the world at large. 

People armed with spears, bows and blow-darts stand little chance against highly-trained, well-armoured mercenaries fielding modern assault rifles.

A spokesperson for Survival International told me of a relatively recent incident: “Uncontacted Indians famously photographed four years ago from the air, for example, are lacking protection after a government protection post was overrun by drug smugglers and illegal loggers. Their whereabouts are not currently known.”

Even well-meaning contact can be dangerous.  “Uncontacted tribes are extremely vulnerable to diseases transmitted by outsiders to which they have no immunity, such as the cold, flu or measles, which have wiped out entire tribes in the past,” Survival International tell me.  

We have seen this before when cultures have clashed – such as the absolute decimation that disease unleashed on the peoples inhabiting the Americas before Europeans began to arrive.


These uncontacted peoples want nothing to do with the rest of us. They do what they can to avoid contact and many are understandably hostile towards anyone who intrudes on their territory. Our previous experiences with indigenous people should have taught us by now that such people are best left alone. 

One only has to look at the shameful state of the Aborigines in Australia to see the horrific effects badly managed contact can have.

Over the next few weeks I will be writing three more articles discussing various uncontacted peoples and the issues those particular tribes face. Many people are completely unaware that these people exist and I feel it is important that we are aware of them and the dangers they face.

Out in the most isolated corners of the planet are entire cultures and languages that are unknown to the vast majority of us but are still part of the rich tapestry of the human race. 

Many ancient ways of life are in danger and every language, belief and perspective that is lost to the ravages of illness or the gunfire of amoral thugs makes our planet a less rich and beautiful place to live.

What do you think about this tribe? Have your say in the comments section below.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons