February 15, 2024 | Jamie Hayes

Photos Of The Last Remaining Uncontacted Tribes On Earth


Uncontacted

Modern civilization has encroached on nearly every corner of the globe, but a few uncontacted tribes still do exist today, almost exclusively in dense rainforests or on isolated islands.

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The Ayoreo

Though not all of the Ayoreo people have cut off contact to the outside world, approximately 100 of them live uncontacted in the rainforests of Paraguay.

Ayoreo people - 2015Fotografías Nuevas, Flickr

They're Hunter-Gatherers

They live a nomadic lifestyle and still mostly hunt and forage for food, though they do grow food in a limited capacity. But that doesn’t mean people haven’t tried to contact them.

Ayoreo people - 2015Fotografías Nuevas, Flickr

Missionaries

The first Christian missionaries made contact with the Ayoreo in the 18th century, but they abandoned their mission and no contact was made again until the 20th century. And when missionaries made contact, things immediately went wrong.

Missionaries with villagers, Congo, ca. 1900-1915The University of Edinburgh School of Divinity, Picryl

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Disease

Between forcibly removing them from their land and bringing fatal diseases like measles, further attempts to convert the uncontacted Ayoreo reduced theur numbers. Little surprise, then, that the uncontacted tribes have attacked a group of outsiders as recently as 1998.

Tribal war with archery and spear.Nurul Ichlasiah, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Last Ones

The Ayoreo who have shunned civilization are the last remaining group of uncontacted people south of the Amazon basin.

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

Some Were Forced Out Of The Forest

Remaining isolated from modern society gets more difficult every year. Though some of the Ayoreo chose to remain uncontacted, the constant destruction of their forest forced 17 members of the tribe to make contact in 2004.

Ayoreo people - 2017David Lazarus, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Nukak

The Nukak people of Southeast Colombia managed to remain completely isolated from modern society until 1981. Their story has not improved since then.

Among the Yanomami - a shaman laughs - 2022Carsten ten Brink, Flickr

Their Population Halved

Since first contact was made with the Nukak, their population has fallen by half, primarily due to disease. However, the cocoa growers, ranchers, guerillas, and paramilitary groups that have encroached on their territory didn’t help either.

Man cuts cacao pods from the tree.USAID U.S. Agency for International Development, Flickr

Hunters

The Nukak are extremely effective hunters, using blowdarts coated with a poisonous substance called “manyi” to catch birds, monkeys and more. They don’t, however, hunt the local brocket deer, which they value and believe shares an ancestor with humans.

A Yagua tribe man demonstrating the use of blowgun.JialiangGao , CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

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The Carabayo

The Carabayo, or Yacumo people, are another uncontacted tribe in Colombia, who live in the Amazon rainforest. They are legally protected today—and with good reason.

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

They Want Nothing To Do With Us

The Carabayo have had brief contact with civilization intermittently for the last 400 years—but each time led to violence and death, so the tribe retreated into isolation. Today, attempting to contact them is against Colombian law.

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

The Piripkura

Few uncontacted tribes enjoy happy stories, but the Piripkura have had a particularly rough time. Though once numbering 100 individuals, the usual combination of attacks and disease decimated their population. Today, only three Piripkura survive.

Tribe members in the woodsLife Folk, Pexels

Rita

One of the surviving Piripkura, a woman named Rita, fled her land after loggers slaughtered her family. 

Loggers cutting a tree in forest.CIFOR, Flickr

She Returned To Her Home 

After further exploitation from civilization, Rita eventually led an expedition back into her lands, where they found the two last remaining Piripkura.

Woman from amazonian tribes.Jordy Neves, Pexels

The Last Two

The final two Piripkura are a man named Pakyî and his nephew Tamandua. They live alone on their territory, relying on traditional hunting techniques.

Two Pataxo Indians outside - 2016Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

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The Tagaeri

The Tagaeri of the Ecuadiorian Amazon Basin are a Huaorani tribe named after one of their members who had brief contact with civilization, Tagae.

Caso Tagaeri and Taromenani - 2015Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Flickr

There Are Very Few Left

As with most uncontacted tribes, it’s difficult to say just how many Tagaeri live in Ecuador today, but estimates are as low as 20-30 members remaining.

Caso Tagaeri y Taromenani - 2015Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Flickr

They Chose This Life

When missionaries first made contact with the Huaorani, Tagae and several other families broke off from the main tribe, preferring to live in isolation.

Waorani Tribe Women - 2013Yasuni Waorani, Flickr

They Fight Back

The Tagae have actively fought back against intrusion from the outside world, and they have attacked settlements in reprisal for attempts to contact and convert them.

The Zulus with the traditional assegai iron spears  - 2014GovernmentZA, Flickr

They Fight With Spears

As recently as 2008, the Tagae claimed the life of a rare wood poacher, who was found with nine spears sticking out of his stomach.

Man with traditional tattoos is holding a spear.Oncy Oni, Pexels

The Taromenane

The other uncontacted tribe in Ecuador is the Taromenane, who live in Yasuni National Park. Like the Tagae, they are believed to be related to the Huaorani people, having splintered off and lived in isolation since first contact with outsiders.

Yasuni National Park, Ecuador - 2014GRID-Arendal, Flickr

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They Need Protection

Though the Taromenane have chosen to live in isolation, civilization is still wrecking havoc in their lives. In 2008, five tribespeople were slain by illegal loggers, prompting an investigation by Ecuadorian authorities.

Loggers in the forest cutting trees.Karolina Grabowska, Pexels

The Uncontacted Tribes Of West Papua

One of the wildest places on earth, there are more than 40 uncontacted tribes in the West Papua region of Indoneisa.

Tribes Of West Papua - 2006Frans Huby, Wikimedia Commons

We Know Little About Them

Though some tribes, such as the Korowai, have established contact in West Papua, there are still many groups living in isolation. We know very little about these tribes—but maybe that is a good thing.

Korowai portrait - 2016Carsten ten Brink, Flickr

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

While some human rights organizations attempting to spread awareness of the uncontacted tribes in West Papua, in order to prevent the destruction of their land, others prefer to keep information about them vague, hopefully to avoid encouraging missionaries and adventurers from trying to establish contact.

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

The Sentinelese

The Sentinelese people of North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal are perhaps the most isolated tribe of humans on Earth. Their island has been a tribal reserve since 1956, protected by an armed patrol to prevent incursions.

The rare times people have attempted contact have not gone well.

Top image of North Sentinel Island - 2015oooOOC, Flickr

They Attack Outsiders

Throughout history, the Sentinelese have been hostile and even slain outsiders who attempted to make contact with them, as recently as 2018, when an American missionary ventured onto the island.

Rainforests FactsPxHere

They've Been Alone For A Long Time

The Sentinelese are related to other tribes on the other Andaman islands nearby, but based on the limited knowledge we have of their language and their customs, it’s likely that they have been isolated on their island for thousands of years.

The beach on Rutland Island with the rock pools - 2007Scheherezade Duniyadar, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Toromona

The Toromona people of the upper Madidi River in Bolivia live on an "exclusive, reserved, and inviolable" piece of land in Madidi National Park.

Madidi National Park, Bolivia - 2010Joe Lazarus, Flickr

Workers Intrude

No non-indigenous peoples have had any contact with Toromona—or at least, that’s the official story. In 2016, the Bolivian government denied reports that their workers, working as a subsidiary of a Chinese oil company, made contact with Toromona.

Madidi National Park, Bolivia - 2010Joe Lazarus, Flickr

The Pacahuara

There are two groups of Pacahuara people in Bolivia who refuse contact with the outside world. The first group consists of only four people—the fifth, a 57-year-old woman, having passed in 2016—living in voluntary isolation in the Pando Department.

Mouth of the Río Manupare (front) into the Río Madre de Dios (background, from left to right) near El Sena, Pando, Bolivia (2014).Grullab, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Only Some Are Isolated

The other group of unconcacted Pacahuaras is larger, 50 people in eight families, and lives closer to the Brazilian border. In total, the Pacahuaras population is around 230 individuals, the rest of which have contact with the outside world.

A Man in tribe Is Cutting A Boy's Hair With A Bamboo Knife - 1903Gijsbert van der Sande, Wikimedia Commons

The Awá

Of the 350 Awá people in the eastern Amazon rainforest in Brazil, 100 of them have absolutely no contact with the outside world. Like nearly all of the remaining uncontacted peoples on Earth, the outside world threatens their way of life—in more direct ways than you might realize.

Traditional Hut of the Awa people in Ecuador - 2014Andreas Kay, Flickr

Loggers Threaten Them

Logging doesn’t just threaten the Awá’s way of life—it’s costing many actual lives as well. Between 2003 and 2010, around 450 Awá were murdered, often directly by illegal loggers, who have also destroyed Awá villiages in the search of more land.

Logging of trees at Itare Forest. - 2017CIFOR, Flickr

They Can't Escape Us

Though many Awá still live without contact to the outside world, still it encroaches on their lives. In July, 2021, one of the tribe’s members lost their life from COVID-19.

Person doing a home covid testfreepik, Freepik

The Kawahiva

The Kawahiva of northern Mato Grosso in Brazil have learned that the best way to avoid contact with civilization is to stay on the move. Since these nomadic people avoid interacting with anyone, most of what we know about them comes from the things they leave behind, like arrows, baskets, and hammocks.

Rio Pardo - 2009MARCO AURÉLIO ESPARZ, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

They're Losing Protection

Moving helps, but it’s becoming impossible to outrun civilization for long. Deforestation and violent encounters threaten the Kawahiva constantly. It doesn’t help that the Brazilian government keeps removing the protections on their lands, reinstating them, then removing them again.

Deforestation of forest - 2006crustmania, Flickr

The Korubu

Brazil’s Korubu tribe live in the lower Javari Valley of the western Amazon Basin. The Portuguese called them caceteiros, or “clubbers” because of the clubs they wield.

Tree by the water of the Mata Mata lagoon in the AmazonNowaczyk, Shutterstock

They Splintered

An interesting thing about the Korubu is that 20 members of the tribe split off from the rest of the group after a dispute. While the main Korubu tribe remains isolated, the splinter group has regular encounters with other tribes and even Brazilian officials.

A member of the Tariana tribe in the Amazon region of Brazil - 2008World Bank Photo Collection, Flickr

They Resisted

Contacting any members of the Korubu tribe was a bloody process that took decades. Seven civil servants lost their lives to the Korubu between 1972 and 1996.

USONG, A KAYAN YOUTH OF UPPER CLASS, SON OF TAMA USONG. - 1912Internet Archive Book Images, Wikimedia Commons

The Jupaú

The Jupaú people of Rondônia, Brazil live in the Uru-Eu-Uaw-Uaw Indigenous Territory, alongside two other, contacted tribes. The Jupaú had absolutely no interaction with the outside world before 1981. At that time their population was 250. By 1993, that number had dropped to 89.

Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest - 2011CIFOR, Flickr

They're Recovering

Though illegal logging still encroaches on their land and threatens their livelihood, the creation of the protected Uru-Eu-Uaw-Uaw Indigenous Territory has helped their numbers begin to recover.

Timberjack 1070D Harverster - in the forest.Heikki Valve, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons


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