February 5, 2024 | Allison Robertson

The Toromona Tribe

The Toromona Tribe

The Toromona are an uncontacted indigenous people of Bolivia. They live in voluntary isolation, meaning they have virtually no contact with the outside in world.

In fact, it is not clear if this tribe even exists.

straw hut and tribal member split image

Do they even exist?

Actually, no non-native people have ever contacted this tribe. Currently, it is still not clear whether the Toromona tribe perished during the rubber boom or retreated to inaccessible parts of the rainforest.

Note: Images in this article may represent similar tribes from the same territory, as information about the Toromona Tribe is extremely limited.

Wandering hunters san peopleInternet Archive Book Images, Wikimedia Commons

Has anyone ever seen them?

There are rumors about a mysterious group wandering through the forest south of the Araona territory in Puerto Araona.

Some say it is the Toromona “ghost” group, others believe it may be another uncontacted tribe.

Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest,Amazon - 2011CIAT, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Why is it difficult to find them?

Some say tribal members have no hesitations about executing outsiders—which may be why we have such little information about them, because no one makes it home to share their findings.

Here’s what we do know, based on historical research and tales from other Indigenous tribes.

Ayoreos totobiegosode peopleSTR, Getty Images

Where do they live?

They live near the upper Madidi and Heath Rivers in northwestern Bolivia.

In 2006, Bolivia created a reserve especially for isolated Indians—specifically the Toromona. The reserve is 19,000 sq km, and prohibits logging, mining, and oil exploration.

River in rainforest - North Kivu - 2015MONUSCO Photos, Flickr

What language do they speak?

It is believed that the Toromona tribe speak the Toromono language, which is a Tacanan language—a family of languages spoken in Bolivia.

Many of the languages are endangered. Toromono is apparently extinct.

Close-up portrait hunter Bushman, San peopleVadim Petrakov, Shutterstock

How do they survive?

It is believed that the Toromona are a nomadic tribe, moving around the land in an attempt to keep hidden, and to support their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

San Bushmen IDavid Barrie, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

What do they eat?

Traditionally, the Toromona people depending primarily on foraging, like their Tacana neighbors—a similar tribe that is in contact with the outside world today.

They foraged for vegetables and fruits, nuts, honey, and turtle eggs. And they hunt for various game they come across as they travel.

Snapping Turtle eggs - 2009Seabrooke Leckie, Flickr

How do they hunt?

The tribal peoples of Bolivia typically hunt using a group effort, involving encircling the game with people and dogs (after the 19th century) and securing the game with bows and arrows.

Tribe man with bow and arrow.South African Tourism from South Africa, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

How do they fish?

It is believed that they use various methods in fishing, one being capturing fish in the pools left by receding waters after flood season.

They also shoot fish with bows and arrows and poison them with the sap of the soliman tree.

Hupa fisherman - 1907Library of Congress, Picryl

Do they have gender roles?

The Toromona men do the hunting, and the women process the meat. The women are also solely responsible for gathering and harvesting of fruits and vegetables.

Women are also responsible for weaving clothing, and the men make the tools.

Bushmen San, Kalahari Desert, NamibiaFrank Vassen, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Do they have pets?

The Toromona tribe’s neighbors, the Tacana raise dogs and chickens. The dogs only became pets starting in the 19th century.

It is unclear if the Toromona tribe also uses dogs for pets, but it has been stated that they will keep chickens if available.

Tribe man with dog walking.A_Peach, Pxhere

What do they wear?

Considering the Toromona are completely uncontacted, they do not have access to even a little bit of modern material.

The women make very simple coverings made from materials of the forest, which include bark and cotton. A lot of tribe members go completely unclothed.

Tribe man in the forest.Kureng Workx, Pexels

What are their shelters like?

Other Indigenous groups have said that the Toromona tribe appear to live in large dwellings, occupying as many as twenty family members.

These dwellings are more for gathering though, they sleep in smaller huts.

Apache Wickiup, Edward Curtis, 1903Edward S. Curtis, Wikimedia Commons

What were their sleeping huts like?

Their huts are said to be smaller, designed to shelter them from mosquitoes and vampire bats. Some may live in simple windbreaks constructed of a row of large leaves.

Some are said to use bark as beds, while others simply sleep on the ground.

A glimpse inside a Pokot tribe hut. Kenya - 2015www.j-pics.info, Flickr

What is their family dynamic?

It is said that the Toromona divide their groups based on kinship on the father’s side of the family. This means that when a man and a woman marry, they dwell among the husband’s family.

Bushmen tribe villageOleg Znamenskiy, Shutterstock

What is marriage like?

Traditionally, tribes closely related to the Toromona marry at age 9 or 10, but the marriage is not consummated until after puberty. Some men prefer multiple wives, and the women often have little say in who they marry.

Marriages are very easily ended.

Group of San BushmenMario Micklisch, Flickr

What are their childbirth rituals?

Women have their babies in the forest, away from camp. At the same time, the men stay back at their dwelling and perform a ritual as though they were experiencing the birth physically as well.

Tribe man having his body painted.Richy Dannielz, Pexels

How do they perform funerals?

Funerals among similar tribes often include rituals before the person has actually passed. Of course, this is only the case if it is expected. Dancing, singing, and eating ceremonial food takes place.

A Group Of Women Dancing in the forest.Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

What do they do with the bodies of tribe members?

Once a tribe member has passed, their body is either buried in their hut—with the door being moved to prevent their ghost from coming back, or buried in the forest with their possessions.

This depends on the social status of the individual.

Ekasup Cultural Village - 2015Simon_sees, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

How do they make tools?

Explorers have reported finding tools in camps left behind by the suspected Toromona tribe.

These tools included spoons made from wood, small stone axes fastened to the handle with resin, and fans made from palm trees.

Men of the Hlubi tribe eating.Wellcome Collection, CC BY 4.0, Look And Learn

Do they have toys?

Another interesting find in abandoned camps where the Toromona are expected to be, are little flutes made of bones, with three hollows.

There are also balls made of flexible woven tree branches found in the area.

Flute Player at Lakshmi Temple - 2010Ignas Kukenys, Flickr

Are other tribes among them?

As mentioned, there are other Indigenous tribes in the same area that have chosen to come forward and adopt some modern ways of life. For example, the Araona tribe and the Tucana people.

Araona people in the woods - 1913Erland Nordenskiöld, Wikimedia Commons

Why do they choose isolation?

The Toromona tribe has never followed suite, and their neighboring tribes fully support their choice and help them remain hidden, only offering confirmation of brief sightings over the years.

There is one particular legend that might shed some light on this.

Dancers Enters The Clearing As Part Of A Kastom VillageDepartment of Foreign Affairs and Trade, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Paititi Legend

The Toromona tribe are the origin of the Paititi legend, which is the southern Amazon version of the El Dorado myth—the Lost City of Gold. 

Illustration of Paititi legendary Inca lost cityChibchaslife, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Lost City of Gold

During the Spanish colonization, settlers found it difficult to adapt to the area of the Amazon Basin.

Besides surviving, their main goal was to find a secret place called Paititi, an alleged hiding place of the Incas' most valuable treasures which had been sequestered away from the Spaniards.

Sixto Paz Wells showing petroglyphs during a field trip to PaititiTurismo Inkaiko SRL, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Protection of Paititi

It is suggested that the Toromona tribe are protectors of Paititi and all of its treasures.

One historical explorer alleges that they possess no qualms or reservations with regards to the executing of outsiders.

Members of an uncontacted tribe in Acre, Brazil.Gleilson Miranda, CC BY 2.5 BR, Wikimedia Commons

Is it really a myth?

Here’s the thing, no one has officially confirmed the existence of Paititi, or the Toromona tribe. Even today, explorers actively search the jungle for this mythical land of gold, and the tribe is only confirmed by historical accounts.

Man wearing body paint.Jonathan Valdes, Pexels

Notable Incidents: Percy Harrison

In 1911, a British explorer named Percy Harrison Fawcett failed an attempt to locate the uncontacted tribe, and mysteriously disappeared.

The Lost City of Z was a film released in 2017 detailing Fawcett’s expedition to find the Toromona people.

Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett in 1911.Daniel Candido, Wikimedia Commons

Notable Incidents: Lars Hfskjold

Later in the 1980s, Norwegian biologist Lars Hafskjold had searched exhaustively for the Toromona, and became quite famous due to his disappearance, somewhere in the region of the Madidi park.

It is believed he may have come across the tribe and was executed.

Madidi National park, Amazon Bolivia - 2010Dirk Embert / WWF, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, Wikimedia Commons

Are they aware of dangers?

It is assumed that the Toromona tribe is aware of us outsiders, and that they choose to stay isolated for their safety.

There are around 30 indigenous tribes in Bolivia, and 14 of them are currently extremely critical situations as far as their survival—the Toromona being listed as one of them.

Tribe members in the forest - 2009Gleilson Miranda/FUNAI, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Why are they in danger?

Many Indigenous tribes today are in significant danger of not just losing their territories, but also losing their lives.

Their homelands are being colonized, even today, as loggers, miners and oil explorations search for new land to take over.

Uncontacted indigenous tribe in the brazilian state of Acre. - 2009Gleilson Miranda, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Why can’t we protect them?

Many times, reserves are opened to protect the Indigenous groups and their land. However, not everyone obeys the rules.

Many of the logging and mining expeditions that take place happen unlawfully, and it takes years for any retribution to commence.

Logging activity in Berau, East Kalimantan, Indonesia. - 2017CIFOR, Flickr

What does this mean for the Indigenous people?

Many of the Indigenous tribes that exist today remain as hunter-gatherers, and most of them are nomadic because they follow their food sources.

By taking the land, they lose their hunting grounds, as well as the forest that protects them from both outsiders as well as the environment.

Unidentified men of the Bushmen tribeDietmar Temps, Shutterstock

How does the environment affect their survival?

When they lose their forested land, they lose their food, shelter, clothing, tools—everything.

They are then forced into reserves where they only have a set amount of space that is expected to be enough for their whole lives—which is drastically untrue.

That’s not the only danger.

Uncontacted indigenous tribe in the brazilian state of Acre. - 2009Gleilson Miranda, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

How does contact with outsiders affect their health?

When uncontacted tribes are met by outsiders, they are immediately introduced to germs that they have never been exposed to.

A simple common cold that may lie dormant in our body, could decimate an entire tribe.

A small nambas dance as part of a kastom village tour on Malekula Island - 2013Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Are they at risk of extinction?

Yes, in fact many people believe that the Toromona tribe no longer exists, and this could very likely be due to colonization, which introduced disease.

It could also be due to genocide.

A Dancer Enters The Clearing As Part Of A Kastom Village TourDepartment of Foreign Affairs and Trade, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Why is this happening?

The simple answer here is greed. Many logging companies, oil companies and mining companies want to make money off the land that these tribes occupy.

If they can’t force them to leave, they take it to the next level. There are countless reports of outsiders opening fire on camps, ending the lives of entire tribes.

Carpenter chainsawing a felled tree in a forest - 2012CIFOR, Flickr

Will we ever find the Toromona Tribe?

With any luck, no we will not. Many Indigenous Rights Activists are fighting to keep the Toromona tribe as hidden as possible.

Research is not needed. We have everything we need from other tribes in the area. There is no reason to put their lives at risk for the sake of research.

Uncontacted indigenous tribe in the Brazilian state of Acre. - 2009Gleilson Miranda, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Final Thoughts

The Toromona Tribe is an uncontacted Indigenous tribe that remains a mystery. Their existence has been confirmed, but only by other Native peoples.

Their chosen isolation is likely due to an immense need for safety and preservation of their traditional nomadic lifestyle.

We hope they remain in the shadows for generations to come.

Uncontacted indigenous tribe in the Brazilian state of Acre. - 2009Gleilson Miranda, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons


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