Guest Author - Lisa Shea
It is almost inconceivable in our modern world of internet and cell phones that there are still groups of people completely unknowing about the "modern world". And yet in Brazil there are at least 67 reported such tribes. Brazil has more such tribes than any other country in the world.
For those who have watched the series "Star Trek" the issues are quite clear. Suddenly creating contact with a group of people can wreak havoc on their culture. They can fall victim to a number of diseases that they have not created an immunity to. They can become upset at the influx of modern technology. They can be overwhelmed by the studies done on them by well meaning (and not so well meaning) researchers.
Most of the tribes have 50-100 members in them, although one, the Hi-Merimã, is thought to have 1,500 or more members.
There are many sociological issues involved with isolated tribes. What if the tribes' members are all dying at an early age due to malnutrition? What if it would be easy to provide adequate food and water, allowing them to live longer, more disease-free lives? Should the nearby neighbors in essence sit back and watch them die, rather than intrude on their lives? Should the natives not at least know they have the choice of living the way they do or accepting a helping hand to offer more nourishing food choices to their young?
Then there are the sociologists who want to learn more about what humans were like before machines and technology became so prevalent. With the uncontacted tribes there is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn these things. With the number of tribes dwindling every day, the chance - one would assume - would soon disappear. There is a limited window of opportunity here.
On the down side (or so I would argue) there are tourist companies who are determined to make a profit from this situation. They offer once-in-a-lifetime chances for would-be adventurers to go with them to one of these locations and be the person to "break the ice" - to hand the natives a bottle of Coke or show them a TV. The idea that a random thrill-seeker could destroy one of these native cultures permanently upsets me greatly. But this is one of the dangers - these tribes are in a very precarious position. It is impossible to completely protect them from all "modern" members of our planet. It could be argued that if caring researchers do not handle this very gently, a more profit-minded person could easily do the damage in a weekend trip.
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