Photographer Makes First Contact With Isolated Primitive Tribe in Peru

The Mascho Piro tribe. Photo: Jean-Paul van Belle.
The Mascho Piro tribe. Photo: Jean-Paul van Belle.

Rare photos have been released of a reclusive Amazonian tribe that has had little-to-no contact with modern civilization.

The newly-released photos of the Mascho Piro clan, who are also called the Cujareno people, were taken by Jean-Paul van Belle, a professor at the University of Cape Town, during a 2011 tour of the Amazonian rainforest.

“The first thing the guide did was get us as far away from the tribe as possible,” Van Belle told the Daily Mail of the two-hour-long stare down of an encounter, which began as members of the tribe tentatively emerged from the forest on the opposite riverbank.

The Mascho Piro tribe. Photo: Jean-Paul van Belle.

The Mascho Piro tribe.
Photo: Jean-Paul van Belle.

The photos were shot through the lens of a telescope Van Belle was using to bird watch. “We were incredibly lucky to see them,” he said. “They are the most amazing pictures I’ve taken in my life.”

Survival International has described the photographs as “the most detailed sightings of uncontacted Indians ever recorded on camera.”

The Peruvian government is currently attempting to make contact with the elusive Mascho Piro clan after they killed two men with a bow and arrow.

After 600 years of isolation, the nomadic clan have become increasingly threatened by loss of habitat due to logging, tourism, drug trafficking, and other incursions of the modern world. As a result, they are beginning to leave the refuge of the forest, with violent results.

The Mascho Piro tribe. Photo: Jean-Paul van Belle.

The Mascho Piro tribe.
Photo: Jean-Paul van Belle.

In addition to raiding local villages for food, tools, and weapons, tribesmen killed Leonardo Perez, 20, in May, reportedly to get his tools. They also murdered a local guide, Shaco Flores, in 2011.

Flores had been in touch with the Mascho Piro clan for 20 years, but the relationship is thought to have soured when he tried to convince them to abandon their traditional ways. He was found with an arrow through his heart.

As the tribe’s contact with and receipt of goods from missionaries has increased, they appear to be drawn more and more to industrialized society, and have been spotted a record number of times this year, according to Peruvian deputy culture minister Patricia Balbuena.

The Mascho Piro tribe. Photo: Jean-Paul van Belle.

The Mascho Piro tribe.
Photo: Jean-Paul van Belle.

The tribe’s territory in Manu National Park, as well as its right to remain uncontacted, is protected by law.

Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, has warned against attempts to communicate with the Mascho Piro, saying “first contact is always dangerous and frequently fatal—both for the tribe and those attempting to contact them. The Indians’ wish to be left alone should be respected.”


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