Dark Edge of the Frontier

August 25th, 2011

posted to NationalGeographic.com

While on assignment for National Geographic in Peru this summer, I had the privilege of visiting the Ashéninka indigenous community of Saweto, at the headwaters of the Alto Tamaya River near the border of Brazil. It can take up to eight grueling days of boat travel from the city of Pucallpa to reach Saweto, a quiet village of plank-and-thatch huts set atop the banks of the twisting Tamaya River. But we – photographer Alex Webb, University of Richmond geography professor David Salisbury, and myself – had the luck and luxury to arrive by helicopter, which delivered us as if by magic carpet onto Saweto’s soccer field in the village clearing a mere 40 minutes after lift-off from Pucallpa.

Such are the contradictions of modern life. Forty minutes in the air and you drop in on another reality, people so removed from the outside world that they can scarcely remember the last time they were visited by a government official, other than the school teacher who packed up and left weeks before the end of the academic year with no promise to return.

(more…)

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Concern for Uncontacted Tribes as Armed Gang Invades Forest

August 8th, 2011

posted to National Geographic.com

Five Brazilian Indian rights officials are holding out in a remote jungle outpost in a desperate attempt to protect uncontacted indigenous groups from heavily-armed drug traffickers who have moved into the area from Peru in the past two weeks, according to dispatches from the scene. Officials fear the traffickers may have unleashed a manhunt to track down and exterminate the highly vulnerable tribal populations in order to clear the forests for their coca-growing operations.

Isolated Indians in the headwaters of the Envira River on the Brazil-Peru border take aim at
a low-flying aircraft with bows and arrows in 2008. Credit: Gleison Miranda/FUNAI

 

The drama began last month, when Asháninka Indians three hours upstream from the base warned by two-way radio that a heavily armed band of intruders had crossed the border from Peru into Brazil. Nearly two weeks later, 40 armed men appeared in the dense forests around the control post, which sits on the banks of the Xinane River, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) inside Brazil’s border in the western Amazonian state of Acre.  (more…)

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