I don't suppose we can just leave them in peace
I saw in the news the other day that "we" have found a group of the last remaining "uncontacted" Indians in the Amazon. Estimates are that, worldwide, there are 100 such tribes, of whom 50 are likely to be in the Amazon.
God help them, is all I can say.
Wrapping a 21st century head around what it must be like to be one of the "uncontacted" and to see a helicopter flying over is nearly impossible. I suppose the nearest equivalent would be an alien space invasion, but we're primed for at least some versions of that by having watched Close Encounters, E.T., and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Of course, all of those presume a near-humanoid "other". "They" will be vaguely like us - eyes, arms, legs, but they'll "look weird", with funny ears or scaly skin. "They" will come in spaceships that are made out of some sort of metal, and look something like a small town's water tower, only on shorter legs. "They" will have some sort of language, and we'll be all set if they understand us when we say, "Klaatu, barrada nikto."
So, "we" will be prepared for "them."
Unless they come in some creepy, non-corporeal form and buzz into our brains like a swarm of gnats, in which case we'll all go insane.
So, trying to get in the mind of some Amazonian tribesman who just saw a helicopter is pretty darned unimaginable.
Of course, they have likely seen some traces of modern man over the years, which probably just forced them deeper and deeper in to the jungle. And they've got plenty of reason to flee encroaching civilization.
Contact with outsiders has historically been disastrous for Brazil's Indians, who now number about 350,000 compared to up to 5 million when the first Europeans arrived.
More recently, a Peruvian tribe contacted in the 1990's lost half of its population to the strains of illness we introduced.
I am by no means a civilization basher. My life has certainly been immeasurably eased by things like polio vaccine, tampons, and the microwave oven. My life has certainly been enriched by the written word, by the movies and - who am I kidding - TV, by symphonic and - who am I kidding? - other forms of less high-falutin music.
I've been a camper, and, I have to say I prefer indoor plumbing. I've walked barefoot on broiler-hot beaches, and I prefer flip-flops. I've had strep throat, and I much prefer a shot of penicillin.
Still, there is something really troubling at the notion of "us" swooping in on these folks, even if it's just a fly-by with a helicopter.
Some of the countries - Brazil among them - with such indigenous people are becoming more sensitive about leaving them alone - and given our excellent track record of more than decimating their numbers, that's fortunate. Other countries, including Peru, leave more to chance, and there has been violence over logging there.
Brazil has a "no contact" policy, and there's a growing appreciation that when there is contact, it should be on the terms and the timing of the uncontacted. Some tribes themselves have gotten pretty savvy, and have made connections with foreign environmentalists to keep industry the hell out of their neck of the woods.
But it does seem inevitable that, in our insatiable quest for natural resources, and with our divine right to progress - and to dragging everyone along the path to progress, however kicking and screaming they come - we will eventually see that there's no rock unturned anywhere in the world. ("Hey, there may be a diamond under that rock, and I want a big shiny rock on my finger. Or there might be some oil under it, in which case I may be able to drive an additional 5,000 miles a year in my RV. But, hey, the RV's big, and I could probably fit half your tribe in it. Come on board. Wait 'til you see Mount Rushmore!")
I remember reading somewhere that, at the turn of the last century, a Pygmy tribesman - Ota Benga was his name (I googled) was brought over from Africa and put on display in a zoo.
That, fortunately, is not apt to happen. But it's certainly easy to see how some filmmaker would feel that they had the right to go in and shoot some really interesting footage for the rest of us to gawk at. How some crackpot missionary might believe that the uncontacted have souls that need saving. How some heinous tour promoter might want to charge top dollar for a trek to the last frontier.
Jose Carlos Meirelles, an official with Brazil's Indian protection agency who was on the helicopter that overflew the tribe, said they should be left alone as much as possible.
"While we are getting arrows in the face, it's fine," he told Brazil's Globo newspaper. "The day that they are well-behaved, they are finished."
So, a poison blow gun dart in the neck to the first tourist that decides they have the right to take a peek. After all, what's Machu Pichu (let alone Paris) if every Tom, Dick, and Harry can get there?