Being captured by a savage tribe, roasted at the stake, and then eaten sounds like a scene out of a King Kong movie. This is the sort of outlandish storyline that’s become commonplace in modern lore, inspired by true stories of native discoveries as told by the likes of famous explorers Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo. And these stories are responsible for what are largely wildly inaccurate and sensationalist perceptions of native societies. Of natives discovered in the Andaman islands in the 13th century, Marco Polo wrote: “they are a most cruel generation, and eat everybody that they can catch, if not of their own race.”
Today, anthropologists know that tribal life isn’t quite that simple – or anywhere near that barbaric. But it’s true that tribes that have never been seen before keep cropping up in places like the deep, dense jungles of the Amazon, lending to the possibility, always, of other hidden civilizations somehow managing to avoid modern-man and his world.
It is in fact estimated that about 100 “uncontacted” tribes still live in the world’s most remote locations. And yes, some of them are reported to really still be practicing ancient, ritualistic forms of cannibalism.
Some of these newly discovered peoples have adapted to intruders, and continue to enjoy their way of life while having occasional crossovers with modern man. Other isolated civilizations have been a bit less friendly…
Some tribes, that have been documented for years, seem to feel threatened by anyone outside their group, and will attack if anyone comes near them. In this way, these tribes have managed to preserve their way of life, more or less uninterrupted, since the dawn of man.
Here are ten cases of the most isolated people on earth, past and present, who have wanted absolutely nothing to do with anyone else in the world.
10. New Guinea tribes
When Michael Rockefeller took the 10-hour swim to a New Guinea shoreline for help after his 40-foot pontoon boat capsized, he didn’t think he would run into any problems with the natives.
The heir to the Rockefeller fortune had met the Asmat tribe once before, during a mission collecting artifacts with his anthropologist friend, Rene Wassing. Intent now on saving himself and his friend, who was left behind adrift on the capsized boat, Rockefeller bravely made the treacherous swim, assisted only by the buoyancy of two empty gas tanks strapped to his belt.
Had the 23-year old known the horror that awaited him, he would have listened to his friend’s fateful plea, “I really don’t think you should go.”
In November of 1961, Rockefeller was greeted on the beach by 50 awaiting natives. They took the man they had met before to their leader, who ordered him tortured, and beheaded. The natives then proceeded to butcher him, roasting and eating his body parts in a sacred, ritualistic form of cannibalism.
The killing had reportedly been a form of revenge initiated by the tribal leader, who had witnessed five members of his own family killed by Dutchmen who had been overseeing the 40,000 year-old colony some years before.
To this day, a ritualistic form of cannibalism does indeed continue to be practiced among tribes of some of the most isolated regions of Indonesian New Guinea. Rural New Guinea remains quite under-explored, due to the terrain remaining uncharted. It is also because no one dares to explore the regions amid reports of notoriously violent tribes living there, with some of them known to be practicing cannibalism.
In 2006, brave Australian journalist Paul Raffaele met with the members of one such tribe in an effort to find out why the practice of eating human flesh endures there. Nearly killed by jumpy members of the tribe, Raffaele’s Sumatran guide had to eat human flesh, and the journalist himself had to handle a cold, human skull in order for the two men to gain trust.
The tribal leader of the Letin clan, who had never met an outsider before, explained that they will only kill and eat another person in the tribe if they suddenly become inexplicably sick.
It is their belief that a person dying from unexplained illness has been possessed by an evil spirit. The tribe takes revenge on the spirit by killing and roasting the infected person, who they no longer view as a human; this, they say, is part of their justice system.
Why it is also necessary to eat the brains is perhaps a little more difficult to justify.
9. The Surma
Famous photographs of the Surma people wearing their giant “lip plugs” have circulated for years; apart from the photos, however, this isolated tribe of Ethiopia has avoided the outside world for centuries, surviving by cattle ranching in one of the earth’s most remote corners.
When Russian doctors in the 1980s made a rare attempt to contact the tribe, the children of the tribe reportedly ran away from the village thinking the men were the walking dead; they had never encountered anyone with pale skin colour before.
The last visit from outsiders had taken place 35 years before, during an anti-polio effort. In spite of a wariness of outsiders, the Surma people recognized that the medicine saved their people from extinction; there are currently 2,500 Surmas living in south-western Ethiopia.
The Surma continue to live isolated from modern civilization, apart from reportedly adopting the use of the Kalashnikov rifle (AK-47) as a means of protecting their cattle and lands from hostile raiders in nearby Uganda.
8. The Mashco-Piro
The Mashco-Piro tribe of Peru used to stay well out of sight. In recent years, however, several sightings of the previously uncontacted tribe have been made, as their natural territory is increasingly destroyed by the logging, gas, and oil industries.
Just last December, the tribe made global headlines by raiding a nearby village several times over in a desperate attempt to find food.
Researchers have known about the Mashco-Piro for decades, but the isolated people were always clear that they didn’t want to mix with modern man.
In 2010, the Mashco-Piro actually killed the member of a different tribe, Nicolas Flores, who had been trying to make formal contact with the Indians for decades.
More recently, there were reports of the tribe shooting arrows at tourists as they passed by in boats, and firing a warning arrow at a Park Ranger in 2012, as signified by an arrow having no tip.
“Survival International”, an organization championing the rights of tribal people, blames illegal logging, as well as gas and oil projects in the region for decimating the Mashco-Piro’s natural territory, making it difficult for the tribe to find food.
As a result, more sightings of the desperate tribesmen have been made, including the recent hostile raids on nearby villages, involving the theft of food, clothing, tools, and other household items.
The Peruvian government has responded by helping relocate the victimized villagers in an attempt to help them escape future raids. The government forbids direct contact with the Mashco-Piro over fears that the immune systems of the tribesmen would be vulnerable to illnesses of the modern world.
7. The Sentinelese
In 2006, when two drunken fishermen happened to get too close to the island occupied by the Sentinelese people and were killed by the fiery locals, no one from nearby India dared to appeal to the people to claim the bodies. That’s because they knew from past encounters that they would almost certainly be attacked with a slew of arrows sprung from the bows of the natives.
The Sentinelese people of the Andaman Islands are largely regarded as possibly the most isolated civilization on the planet earth today, and are justifiably wary of outsiders.
First contact with outsiders in 1857 ended tragically, with some islanders being kidnapped and others dying from illness brought to their island paradise by the intruders. More recent contact in the 80’s and 90’s had many of the natives killed in skirmishes with armed salvage teams who visited the island trying to recover lost items from a shipwreck. An understandable distrust of outsiders was born, and clearly past down from generation to generation.
So for the last 60,000 years, this community has survived on a small island with no need of the modern world, apart from the odd arrowhead or tool fashioned from steel washing up on their shore from shipwrecks. Their resilience has baffled the modern world.
In 2004, The Sentinelese island would have been slammed by the devastating tsunami that struck the entire surrounding region. How the Sentinelese people could have survived the devastation at all is a mystery, but indeed they did, as evidenced by photographs taken by a helicopter crew.
In the wake of the tsunami, the helicopter flew over the island to check on things; as it flew over, it was immediately greeted with the sight of an aggressive native aiming his bow and arrow at the giant metal object in the sky.
The Indian government has recently backed off any “contact” efforts, as encouraged by human rights organizations who support the Sentinelese in continuing their way of life, undisturbed.
One last such expedition in the 90’s by the Indian government revealed video footage showing a clearly healthy group of people. To keep it that way, leaving them alone could indeed be the best scenario; other Andaman island tribes who cooperated with modern man have sadly been reported to have suffered a sharp decline in health as a result of shifting their simple way of life, suffering from sexual exploitation, measles, and alcoholism; sounds like the echo a of sad, repeated theme in history.
6. Russian Old Believers, of the Taiga
When geologists started a project in Russia’s remote taiga region in 1978, aerial research showed an image of what appeared to be a tiny cabin, truly in the middle of nowhere.
When they set out to find the cabin located 250km away from any civilization, they were stunned to discover a group of 6 people living in it. The Lykov family revealed they had been living in isolation for 42 years, in an effort to protect their religion; thus they became referred to as “the Old Believers” of Russia’s taiga territory.
Feeling their religion was being threatened by the Stalinist regime in 1936, the Lykov family of four fled to the furthest reaches of the Russian wilderness, where 2 more children were born.
The family amazingly survived the well known brutal, harsh elements of the Siberian forests. Finding food was a huge problem, and the mother of the family eventually died from starvation, favouring her children whenever food was found.
In spite of their struggles, after making contact with the geologists, the family chose to stay living in isolation. Today, daughter Agafia Lykova is the sole surviving member of the family; making occasional trades with rangers, she still lives alone in the forest, apart from a hen, a goat, and several feline descendants of cats the family took with them when they first fled.
5. Pintupi Aboriginals
An isolated group of nomadic aboriginals from the ancient Pintupi tribe was discovered quite by accident in 1984 when they stumbled upon a settlement in Australia.
The isolated family had been overlooked years before when the British rounded up all of their fellow tribesmen to place them in safer settlements during times of missile testing in the territory.
Thus separated from their relatives and clansmen, the lone family wandered on foot from waterhole to waterhole, sometimes drinking the blood of monitor lizards to survive during droughts. They had been wandering like this for days, as their nomadic ancestors had before them for the last 20,000 years, when they stumbled upon the settlement.
The “Pintupi 9,” as they became referred to, ran away frightened having never seen anyone outside their group before. Interpreters managed to track the family of nine down and informed them that the world outside their own could enable them an easier way of life, with readily available water and food.
Members of the group adapted to the easier way of life in the modern town, with some choosing to work as traditional artists. But one member named Payirti decided to keep living the way he’d become accustomed to, going it solo in the Gibson Desert. He continues to live there all alone to this day.
4. The Last Native American
The last sole surviving member of the Yahi tribe of native Americans shocked the modern world of 1911 when he emerged one day from the forests of California into the modern sprawl of society.
The police were reportedly so stunned by the sight of the native, in full Indian dress, that they arrested him on the spot; an interpreter was brought in and the native was able to tell his story. Unable to tell his name, as no one remained to speak it, an anthropologist named him Ishi, the Yahi word for man.
The last survivor of the Yahi tribe that had remained hidden away for forty years following a devastating massacre by raiders, Ishi told of his struggles trying to live alone off the land. Clearly aware of the world around him, he finally decided to come out of the forest for help, amazing anthropologists with his accounts of living off the land, as well as the rest of the modern world.
3. Brazil’s Amazonian Tribes
The Brazilian government regularly sends aircraft over the Amazon jungle to try to photograph and assess the numbers of tribes living isolated from the world, who clearly want to keep it that way; one such photographer came under fire from a tribe, who shot arrows at the low flying aircraft.
There are reportedly dozens of tribes living in the most remote sections of Brazil’s rainforests. Recently, sightings of the tribes have become more frequent. Last year, one tribe emerged from the jungle for weeks on end, stealing food, axes, and machetes from a Brazilian village near the Peruvian border, reportedly frightening the women and children by making sounds like monkeys.
The tribe eventually made peaceful contact with the Brazilian village people. This particular tribe was thought to have come out of Peru, telling an interpreter they had done so fearing for their lives. They described how members of their tribe had been massacred, and their houses set on fire by illegal loggers and cocaine traffickers in Peru.
It is thought that the tribe did not merely find the Brazilian village by chance, but likely knew of it all along. Fiona Watson of Survival International, a group defending tribal rights, said, “They know far more about the outside world than most people think. They are experts at living in the forest and are well aware of the presence of outsiders.”
While they may not have wanted to make contact with those outsiders before, illegal trades have forced them to adapt.
2. The Man of the Hole
Of the dozens of uncontacted tribes estimated to be living in the Amazonian rainforests, one clan is said to be consisting of just one man.
Sometimes referred to as “the loneliest man in the world,” this tribesman has been encountered by several people, each time quickly escaping before anyone has had a chance to make proper contact with him. His home-base well known to researchers, the lone man has shot arrows to those who have come too close, even once hitting a man from Brazil’s Indian Affairs department. The man managed to recover from his injury.
Scientists believe the man is the last surviving member of his particular Amazon tribe in Brazil, and are hoping to make contact with him for anthropological research about his tribe’s culture and language.
He is sometimes referred to as “The Man of the Hole” because of the 6-foot holes he digs to either trap animals or to hide in. His people are thought to have been massacred by cattle ranchers trying to claim new territories; left all alone, the tribal man is thought to have survived for decades in the rainforest.
1. The Vietnamese Ruc
During the Vietnam war, sections of the jungle suffered brutal bombings, forcing a never before seen tribe to emerge from the devastation.
Vietnamese soldiers were reportedly stunned at the sight of the tribe, who had never before had any contact with members of the modern world.
Border guards approached the tribe for months, describing the mysterious tribe as naked and timid, living in mountain caves, and able to climb trees and cliffs like chimpanzees. The guards eventually convinced the Ruc to leave their caves and join a nearby community.
Over fifty years later of trying to adapt to society, the Ruc’s primitive way of thinking has not changed, and they continue their mysterious way of life, with many still choosing to live within their beloved deep caves.
They also reportedly perform witchcraft; to keep from being attacked by wild animals, the Ruc cast a spell known as an “air cut” that stops charging leopards, tigers, and elephants in their tracks.
The tribe is considered to this day to be one of the most mysterious tribes living on the planet.
dailymail.co.uk, survivalinternational.org, vice.com, bbc.co.uk, history.com,
all-that-is-interesting.com, survivalinternational.org, english.vietnamnet.vn
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