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The lost Amazon tribe – should we care?

Did you see the following article about this tribe in the Amazon jungle that has never been touched by our modern world?  It amazes me that in this age of supersonic flight, these people still exist.  I guess we’re not so omnipotent as we think with all our over-the-horizon satellites.&…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Did you see the following article about this tribe in the Amazon jungle that has never been touched by our modern world?  It amazes me that in this age of supersonic flight, these people still exist.  I guess we’re not so omnipotent as we think with all our over-the-horizon satellites.  It helps explain how Osama Bin Laden could duck and dive out of sight for so long.
What’s interesting to me is, the place where this tribe was sighted is not too far from where our ministry works.  If you saw the recent Indiana Jones movie, you fly into Iquitos and go down river from there (incidentally, it looks nothing like the movie).
These kinds of discoveries of stone-age tribes always provoke a debate over whether missionaries should blaze trails into the jungle in an effort to bring them the gospel or should they leave them alone.  Nor is it a clear cut argument, even some atheists say that missionaries are needed. The pictures of the tribesmen pointing their bow and arrows at the plane would lead one to conclude that they’d rather be left alone.  But the missionaries’ compulsion has always been to bring hope to the lost.  What are your thoughts?

‘Uncontacted tribe’ sighted in Amazon

Updated 4:44 a.m. EDT, Fri May 30, 2008(CNN) — Researchers have produced aerial photos of jungle dwellers who they say are among the few remaining peoples on Earth who have had no contact with the outside world.

Indians are photographed during an overflight in May 2008, as they react to the overflight at their camp.Taken from a small airplane, the photos show men outside thatched communal huts, necks craned upward, pointing bows toward the air in a remote corner of the Amazonian rainforest.

The National Indian Foundation, a government agency in Brazil, published the photos Thursday on its Web site. It tracks “uncontacted tribes” — indigenous groups that are thought to have had no contact with outsiders — and seeks to protect them from encroachment.

More than 100 uncontacted tribes remain worldwide, and about half live in the remote reaches of the Amazonian rainforest in Peru or Brazil, near the recently photographed tribe, according to Survival International, a nonprofit group that advocates for the rights of indigenous people.

“All are in grave danger of being forced off their land, killed or decimated by new diseases,” the organization said Thursday.

Illegal logging in Peru is threatening several uncontacted groups, pushing them over the border with Brazil and toward potential conflicts with about 500 uncontacted Indians living on the Brazilian side, Survival International said.

Its director, Stephen Cory, said the new photographs highlight the need to protect uncontacted people from intrusion by the outside world.


Comments (33)

  • That question is most powerfully answered for me in New Tribes Mission film/story called Etaoow! (sp?) That missionary couple was challenged with the same attitude/conclusion in CNN’s article, but I can’t watch that film without crying EVERY TIME! To see the fruit of their going to that tribe – those precious people moving from a life of fear, evil and bondage to such freedom and joy! For those of us familiar with numerous Jungle missionary stories, we know the answer, not just biblically, but experientially (even if vicariously.) I am so grateful for all the new brothers and sisters in the Body from tribes such as these. “…..from EVERY tribe, nation, people and tongue…”

  • It WILL happen sooner or later, going to this tribe that is. The Gospel must be preached to it and all, for Jesus to come back, which will happen!

    Kathy, (or Seth) do you know how I can get that movie? I would love to see it!

  • I agree, it really is amazing there are still tribes out there that haven’t been touched by the world.

    I wish we knew the way to SAFELY reach them and spread the Gospel.. or maybe the duty of an evangelist is to approach them with only trust in God that He’ll keep them safe..just a thought.

    Thanks for the article Seth (aka S.B.)

  • I always feel like the voice of descent on this blog but I am very passionate and committed to expanding the Christian notion of “evangelism”.

    The answer to your question, “whether missionaries should blaze trails into the jungle in an effort to bring them the gospel or should they leave them alone” is neither simple nor obvious. The balance between the truth of the Gospel and a sensitivity to cultural diversity and heterogeneity is hard to grasp and even harder to live out.

    A helpful exercise in discerning this balance is to look back into history. Having spent a lot of time in Africa I have witnessed firsthand the consequences of colonialism. Even in our own continent one does not need to be a historian to understand the brutalities committed by “Christian Missionaries” to indigenous people groups centuries ago (if anyone would like a reading list on this subject I would be more than willing and able to provide an exhaustive one).

    I do believe that our Faith has something unique and valuable to offer all people, but there are a variety of ways to share these gifts with others without imposing our culture or myopic religious ideology upon them.

    For example, in Democratic Republic of Congo, I think one of the most effective ways to communicate the “love of Jesus” to these people is not by verbal proselytization, but rather by providing women and children access to clean water and safety from the political unrest that ruins their daily lives. In regards to this specific people group in the Amazon if Christians really want to show “Christ” to these people then put down your Bibles, shut up, and work hard to ensure that the human rights of these individuals are not infringed upon – that they can keep their land and maintain their way of life.
    It is neither helpful nor loving to say that these individuals live a life defined by “life of fear, evil and bondage”. This simply is incorrect and reeks of ethnocentricity. I am very confident that children within this community experience the same love and concern that I was privilege to growing up. More importantly I am very confident that my own life would dramatically improve if I were able to learn and fully incorporate some of their value systems and practices into my own life. For example, this group’s understand of ecology and their ability to sustainably live off the land is something the West (especially Christians) SUCK AT! Similarly I would be led to believe that the “keeping up with the Jones mentality” that keeps American Christians in “bondage” is not pervasive in their culture. Also, I bet our individualistic society could learn a lot about the Christian understanding of community by simply witnessing the day to day life of these people. One of the worst legacies Christendom has left upon society is its belief that our culture and way of life is superior to everything else. This arrogance is in direct opposition to the values of meekness and humility championed by God.

    Lastly, when interpreting the call to evangelism espoused within the Bible it is IMPERATIVE to understand the context in which the message was first delivered. Extensive reflection on the character of Jesus’ own mission on Earth reveals insightful values and goals that if practiced by modern Christians, would exponentially increase the effectiveness of our work.

  • Hey Jen,

    You can find EE-taow ( checked the spelling) at ntmbooks.com (EE=taow means “it is true!”) There are two videos, the second one showing how the Mauk tribe became missionaries to other tribes. Equally exciting, but watch the first one first!

    Kevin, I recommend your taking a look at these films, also. I believe you’ll be very encouraged by what you see.

  • Just going off of Kevin’s point above, I think that it is interesting to see that there is a group of people who, on behalf of this tribe and others “seeks to protect them from encroachment”. Obviously there are people who live in the world as we know it, and think that people who don’t live in the world as we know it may just be happier that way. I know I thought…how amazing to NOT know what we know. I wonder how God speaks to these people. What they may know that we don’t. I know that we are born depraved, but doesn’t nature itself speak to God? They live in God’s creation unencumbered by the weight of our crap…and our crap keeps people from knowing God as well. I would like to see the videos. I think this does raise some HUGE sensitivity issues…WOW!!!!!

  • Despite Kevin’s comments (I think he means “dissent”), this article still makes me want to hop in a plane and go find these people… not just to tell them about Jesus (which would be good), but to go as a learner and live with them. I don’t mean this cavalierly; I’ve had this desire for years and not sure what to do with it. Of course, I think we ought to do more than colonize, and I do agree that some of the poorest areas in the world are in the state they are in, because of a myopic view of so-called Christian “missionaries” who went to “convert” them to a different way of life. Surely, Christ can be incarnated in different ways in different cultures and SHOULD be, but that still doesn’t excuse us from the call to go. Which, I don’t think anyone on this blog is disagreeing with.

  • Jeff and Seth Simonson,

    Though i respect your willingness to go and live amongst these people one must first ask, “would they even want us to be around”. Many cultures are very exclusionary and do not have as high of a tolerance for diversity as the post-modern West. From a corporate perspective, Japan is a good example of this. It is very diffucult to participate in the Japanese economy if you are an outsider. This is neither bad nor good its just their culture and people must respect that.

    Moreover, before living with these people one must ask, “would my presence be beneficial or harmful”. From a health standpoint the answer is obvious. Being raised in the West our bodies have developed immunity to many pathogens (polio, etc.) and by entering into such a community we greatly increase the risk of exposing this people group to these diseases. A good example of this is the colonization of the Americas. From a sociological standpoint outside invovlement in such a close knit community can often have a destabilizing impact on the host group.

    Though your heart and intention is in the right place I would strongly suggest a prolonged season of distillation and reflection to fully understand the implications of any invovlement we have on such a people group.

  • Kathy,

    i watched an abbreviated version of the film you suggested and was actually upset rather than encouraged by what i saw. I think it would be most appropriate if we carried on this conversation offline, but in short the man’s invovlement in the community typified my legitmate concerns for Chrsitian invovlement in indigious people groups. Such examples of “neo-evangelism” provide sound evidence to support a strong case for the potentially adverse impact Western Christians can have on indigeous people groups. What i found most alarming was the depiction of these people as a “group with no hope” “lost in a world of deception and violence” etc.

    I would strongly encourage that you read up on the acts of violence being committed by christians in Nigeria against their Muslim counterparts. To believe that once “converted” to our faith that all social ills will be removed is not only wrong but again arrogant. The film highlighted no strengths or laudable aspects of their culture and this is simply wrong. Moreover, whenever we watch such reductionist propaganda, even if it supports our ideological convictions, we should be very wary of it. The world is extremely complex and difficult to understand. One good way to approach this montage of complexities is learning to be comfortable with ambiguities and to be hesitant to espouce absolutes.

    You can email directly at: [email protected]

  • Dear Kevin,
    Your intelligent and passionate arguments on this very interesting and challenging topic was just BLOTCHED(in my view) by your mention of “acts of violence being committed by Christians in Nigeria against their Muslim counterparts.”

    I hope you personally witnessed those “acts” and wrote the articles you are “strongly” encouraging us to read up????

    For your information, I live in Nigeria.

  • Dear Uche,

    Please read the article (one of literally hundreds out there) that document violence between Christians and Muslims in Niergia. Because the article is a bit long in length I have highlighted specific text that support my intitial claim. The article can be read in its entirety here: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/nigeria-1.htm

    Understanding the large and diverse nature of your country I cannot expect you to know every act that is being done by “Christians”. However, before suggesting that I “blotched” an asertion, I would STRONGLY suggest that you would do your research before making a claim.

    “In early May 2004 Nigerian security forces restored order in remote areas of central Plateau State, where sectarian violence had left scores of people dead. Calm returned to the highlands town of Telwa, as hundreds of police reinforcements arrived to quash revenge attacks by Christian ethnic-Tarok fighters against the mainly Muslim-ethnic Hausa community. Local authorities also announced drastic measures to put a stop to the recurring violence. The deputy governor of Plateau state imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Yelwa town, and the government has, in addition, ordered the security personnel to shoot on sight anybody or group found fomenting trouble, as well as the immediate dismantling of all illegal roadblocks mounted by the militia. Police said the death toll of 80 announced on 04 May 2004 underestimates the number of casualties. Muslim Nigerian leaders said they believe more than 200 people were killed in the violence on 01-02 May 2004, and more than 100 others were missing. They called it mass murder, and accused local authorities of organizing militia fighters, while withdrawing police from the area before they stormed the town. The Red Cross estimated as many as 600 people may have been killed in attacks on the town of Yelwa by Christian tribe militias in the first week of May 2004.”

  • Kevin,
    You are literally bullying us with your depth of knowledge and academic talent here. This blog topic is NOT about my loved ones that where massacred in that crisis and many others before and after it; that will never be written or mentioned. It’s not about the 2yr old Muslim girl and others like her that were slaughtered by the so called “Christian Tribe Militias”, people whose names could be Paul, Peter and James but have no knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus nor His all conquering love. People who fought and died for themselves and not the Master nor for His cause.

    This is about unreached peoples who MUST and WILL be reached. I just wish that in some way, God could use us to do it… to make Jesus famous and followed by all peoples, regardless of their “primitive” or “civilized” status.

    As poorly as we may present this gospel, God will use it to save the lost and change their fortunes for eternity’s sake. Let it be in Jesus name!! Amen!!

  • Thanks, Kevin, for your reply. I agree and didn’t mean to sound impetuous. I would, of course, count the cost on both sides before hopping a plane (I realize that my comment didn’t communicate this). Nonetheless, I believe that there is an urgency in the call to “go make disciples” or “as you go” to make disciples (however you may read it), and I don’t want to downplay that. Again, not being cavalier or egocentric here – I just think that this sort of thing ought to ignite something in our souls to be a little reckless and seek those who may not know the saving grace of Christ. I’ve found that the interesting irony in that as we obey the great commission (overseas and in our own back yards), we discover little pieces of grace that we never knew and come to understand our own salvation more fully. That’s why I believe in going with the posture of a learner. Nonetheless, we do bring something – what else does “you are the light of the world” mean?

    Kevin, I re-read some of your concerns and criticisms of other comments, and I hear you in regards to our typifying Western Christianity as the universal solution to the world’s problems and assuming that we “bring Jesus” somewhere instead of discovering the common grace in whatever context we find ourselves. Nonetheless, common grace is not saving grace, and we ought not confuse the two. The Apostle Paul knew that it wasn’t enough for the people of Athens to have a statue dedicated to the “unknown God.” Rather, he saw this as an opportunity to share about how to come into relationship with the true Creator God. So, while I may not be a prime candidate to go to these people in the Amazon and reveal the Gospel to them, someone should. Whether their bows are pointed or not, we as the Church should be compelled to see to it that these people come to know the truth of Who created them and for what purpose they were created: to be loved.

  • The only thing more astounding than these untouched tribes, is that in our modern time, people still believe in religion. You people think the best thing for these people is to be told about “Jesus”? How can you people live your lives still so blinded to the catastrophic damage that religion has caused us.

  • I’m with “seriously.” I think it’s kind of cute that Seth and Jeff are ready to jump on planes and live and learn from this tribe. I bet this tribe has been waiting centuries for the likes of you two to come and hang out with them.
    Secondly, you Christians are retards for believing in religion. But you’re disgusting and loathsome for thinking it your place to impose it on others.

  • I wouldn’t call Christians, or any other religious people retarded. Some of them are quite intelligent. Unfortunately they are all completely delusional. Especially if they believe that the best thing they can do is go share Jesus with tribes that have probably been living in seclusion since the time of “Jesus”. They will impale the Jesus out of you with their spears, they don’t need Jesus. They need to be given the rights the Original Americans should have been given (Remember all those people we slaughtered?)

    Secondly, stop “sharing” the word of god. If it were so powerful, he certainly wouldn’t need your help, would he?

  • Wow – some strong reactions here.

    First Bob: good call; they may not be lost. God has not made himself hard to find. I’m not assuming that “uncivilized” peoples are necessarily lost. I also don’t want to assume that leaving these people alone is the best thing for them, either. We left the people of Rwanda alone in 1994, and over 800,000 people paid the price for that mistake.

    “Seriously”: You’re right; religion causes damage. But I’m talking about having a living relationship with the Creator. Granted, that’s been abused for most of history, but I think when someone comes in contact with Jesus (not a religion or ideology), one’s life is completely changed. So, yeah, having experienced that change, I’m passionate about seeing it happen in others’ lives. I can’t apologize for that.

    Erin: Thanks for calling me a “retard,” because I’m different than you. I would love to be a part of whatever you’re about.

    “Seriously”: Again, you’re right – the Natives of North America were butchered by “religious people.” That’s a good reason to not be religious (that is, a zealot who thinks God is on their side and will back up whatever brutality they commit “in his name”); however, it’s not a good reason to not believe in Jesus, who came to earth not to condemn humanity, but to seek and save those who are lost, bringing them back into relationship with God.

    Furthermore, I don’t think we should turn these tribal people into “good Americans” or anything like that. Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying here. I’m not advocating for colonialism or extending the “American way of life” here. I’m considering what it would look like to share Christ with these people and see him manifest himself in this culture in a unique way. I don’t think that means that these people become capitalists, industrialists, or any other “ists.” If that’s met with the end of a spear, well then, so be it. It doesn’t mean that it was wrong.

  • Bob, I commend your humanitarian empathy and compassion for these people. Truly, I do not wish physical harm upon them; however, my desire is to see them come to know the living God, either through human interaction or divine one. If you don’t know Christ, I can understand your flippant attitude towards sharing the message of salvation with others, but I can’t downplay the seriousness of eternity. With that said, being a Christian also means being a good steward of the earth God has given us and the resources in the earth. People’s lives and health, too, ought to be cherished. Nonetheless, it is important that this tribe and others (people in shopping malls, cities, suburbs, rural areas, islands, mainlands, and all over the world) hear about a God who loves them and wants to have a relationship with them through his son Jesus. Now, with that said, this may be a moot point. As it turns out, this “unreached” tribe was allegedly already discovered in the early 20th century. Good conversation, though.

  • NO, I absolutely do not think they should be contacted, by missionaries or anyone. First of all, the introduction of “white men” to these tribes has been catastrophic to other ones in the past, to say the least. White men bring diseases, take advantage of them, take away their land or try to assimilate them as slaves or just into the rest of the common population. It’s outrageous to me. Secondly…who is to say that YOUR “gospel” is the only way to happiness and fullfillment. Who’s to say that who or whatever they worship is bad or that they need the “Gospel” because YOU THINK it’s better. If it weren’t for missionaries and other white men interfering with or taking away their land, they would be a thriving community. Maybe it’s US, and yes even bible bible thumpers and missionaries, that could learn a few things from them. Such as not giving in to greed, control, sexual perversness, destruction of our lands, and animals ect, ect, ect. And for the record, I do have a very strong belief in God and the power of prayer…I am not some atheist just ranting for the sake of ranting. Just who are WE to impose ourselves and our ways onto others without thinkng of the consequences it may bring. That is just selfish.

  • Jeff Goins………are uuuuu serious??? You would risk bringing disease and whatever else to these people just to teach them about YOUR GOD!!! Does that not seem insanely selfish to you??? Who says that YOUR GOD is better then THEIR GOD?? Did God himself tell u that??? Come on people….do u not see how you could be creating more harm then good by self righteously and ignorantly proclaiming that they need YOUR GOD. Maybe YOUR GOD thnks you should just leave them alone and respect other human beings more. That is so so very arrogant of you and others like you to think that. Do you really think that’s what GOD wants?? It’s not them who need saving, it’s people like you who use their religion as a false crutch to feel better about themselves. Do you think christianity is the only way to spiritual happiness and attunement with “God” and decent morals??? Maybe you could learn a thing or two from some buddhist monks, if you want to see people who are totally selfless and free and spiritually awakened and in tune with “their” god.

  • Yup, sure would. And yes, God did tell me that. It’s not arrogant; I think he wants to talk to more people. We just need to listen.

  • I would just like to apologize for my comments…while I still strongly believe these tribes people should be left alone..I didn’t mean to be rude or offend anyone. I think your hearts are in the right place and you mean well. And i do have alot of respect and admiration for the work you do. I think that in most cases, you help make the world a better place.

    Good luck! 🙂

  • Believe that these people’s do not need any outside interference from any faction….and that GOD is present because God is all around us and is within us, all of us everywhere!!! There are a great many influently people in society that are and have been protecting these ancient tribes. Take care and KNOW that with ( GOD ) or whatever you may call the source of all. That all IS POSSIBLE! May all of you be blessed to shift your vibration with the third eye of sight so that you too can see and know the truth.

  • i think you are all missing the point here. Sending missionaries (or anyone for that matter) into an untouched tribe will OBVIOUSLY wipe them out. If you go there to fulfill your own religious beliefs than you are a murderer and don’t people who murder go to hell? A good suggestion would be to respect other humans cultures/lifestyles/beliefs instead of forcing them into yours.

  • In regards to this specific people group in the Amazon if Christians really want to show “Christ” to these people then put down your Bibles, shut up, and work hard to ensure that the human rights of these individuals are not infringed upon – that they can keep their land and maintain their way of life.

    kudos to kevin! some of you should actually take his advice

  • If you want to read an amazing account of a missionary who did not change the way of life of the tribe he brought the gospel to, read “Bruchko” by Bruce E. Olson (Creation House Publishers). He lived among them, ate their food, learned their language, and brought medical aid by giving medical supplies and knowledge to their witch doctors. And by the way, they had their own diseases that are just as annoying/deadly as any Western culture disease, which can be relieved by medical aid. Bruce Olson not only reduced their language to writing and gave them a translation of the Bible, but helped them in their struggle against the unscrupulous people who were trying to drive them off their land and destroy their way of life. He did only good to these people, and gave them knowledge and help that they would never have got otherwise. Those “lost” tribes are probably already being encroached upon. Intelligent missionary work will not only improve their way of life (not by replacing it but by aiding their own lifestyle), but protect them from those who wish to harm them.

  • How people respond to the question of contacting isolated people groups and giving them the opportunity to believe or reject the message of the Bible has everything to do with what people believe about the Bible themselves. This question could just as easily be asked, “Do you believe the 66 books of the Bible are God breathed?” And “Do you believe that all who are related to Adam and Eve are separated from God and justly deserve eternal separation from God by that fact alone?”

  • Like the Bob above maybe they are not lost. Perhaps God wants us to learn something. How many will die from our civilized diseases as we convert them . Are we responsible for the ones who go to Hell because they die before the message and word gets inducted into their souls. Now that the press has promoted them perhaps a lot of them should die for their own good. Lets face these facts should a high percentage of them die to be converted and changed from there lazy hunter gather life styles. Knowing this will happen is a fact, doing it in Gods name keeps it from being murder even though it,,s premeditated .

  • Jeff

    My fear for these forest folks is not so much who brings what influence or value . God, Christ , Profits , Ownership Mentality,
    all these so called civilized concepts are the exchange media for present day human interactions. We all have grown and developed in this matrix. It is our present day reality.
    These folks have no idea what’s about to change and hit them. Some will fall to new diseases, some will be in prison for crimes they do not understand, some will be exploited sexually, ect. If the Christian concepts are brought to them suddenly or any modern concepts we use to interact, lots of harm will come. If these folks can be valued for their own life style and with great sensitivity over many years studied carefully. Perhaps gradually they can make their own choices with much less stress as they learn our ways . They are part of our human family and bring special unique learning for us so called moderns. But they are found, what only remains is how they will be treated.

  • Good comment Jeff. I would be down for living with them and just learn from them. Whenever you are ready, let me know.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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