Lost Tribe

Uncontacted Amazon Tribe:

The Cabellos Largos

By Dan James Pantone

Uncontacted Amazon Tribe


ecently, the Brazilian government released photographic evidence that uncontacted Amazonian natives still exist in the area of the Peruvian border with Brazil. What makes these images particularly intriguing is their high quality, revealing much of this newly discovered tribe’s culture, and the verification of reported encounters by the Matsés tribe of uncontacted natives that have long hair, the Cabellos Largos.

The Matsés tribe has many hunting camps scattered in and around their lands in Peru and Brazil in the Javari River Valley. These hunting camps are only occupied for several months out of the year and usually have huts and cultivated gardens with indigenous crops such as plantains and cassava. Recently, the Matsés have reported several encounters of long-haired uncontacted natives who have been harvesting some of the Matsés gardens at these isolated hunting camps in the southernmost range of their territory in Peru. None of the males of previously contacted tribes in the Javari Valley sport long hair. In fact, tribes such as the Matsés, Matis, Korubos and Marubos are renowned for having very short hair. Hence, the Matsés referring to this uncontacted tribe as the Cabellos Largos, or the “Long-Haired People.”
Lost Amazon TribeThe newly released photographs of these uncontacted natives clearly show the manner in which they use body paint to decorate their face and bodies. In fact, their use of red dyes on their face is similar to the traditional body paint of the Matsés tribe. Both Matsés males and females use red paint derived from the fruit of the annatto tree (Bixa orellana), in order to dye the skin around the eyes a bright red color. Similarly, the use by these previously uncontacted Amazonian Indians to paint the entire body of the female black with a dye obtained from the genipap tree (Genipa americana) is presently practiced by the Ticuna tribe during their coming of age ritual, the Pelazon, in which the Ticunas paint the entire bodies of adolescent girls black.

Another characteristic of this newly discovered Amazonian tribe that is similar to the Matsés is their use of headbands (coronas) and waist belts made out of undeveloped leaves of the Huicungo Palm (Astrocaryum murumuru) . The Matsés are one of the few Amazonian tribes that use wide headbands similar to those used by this uncontacted tribe.  In addition, the photos clearly reveal the use of thick waist belts similar to the traditional belts used by the Matsés.  In contrast, the Matis and Korubo tribes use a thin cord to support their male members.

Interestingly, these newly released photos reveal that this recently discovered tribe grows and harvests cotton, as do the Matsés. The Matsés use cotton to weave various textiles such as women’s skirts, wrist and leg bands (pulseras), and in the manufacture of arrows. Additionally, the aerial photographs of these previously unknown Amazonians clearly show that they are cultivating cassava (Manihot esculenta) an edible tuber in the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae). Cassava is commonly cultivated in the Amazon for its tuberous roots, from which is derived a flour used for making bread, and tapioca. In addition, an alcoholic beverage (masato) is derived from cassava.
Newly Discovered Amazon TribeThe houses of these uncontacted natives are rather small and unlike the large, traditional long houses (malokas) of the Matsés, Matis, and Marubos in which up to one hundred individuals lived. Their small huts seem to be more like the Korubos and may indicate that this newly discovered tribe is rather small or at least this particular village has few individuals living in it.

Perhaps the most striking characteristic shown in these newly released images is their use of bows and arrows. All the major tribes (e.g. Matsés, Matis, and Marubos) in the Javari Valley traditionally used bows and arrows with the exception of the Korubos who use blowguns and war clubs. The prominent display of bows and arrows by this uncontacted tribe raises the possibility that this is the tribe referred to by the Matis as the “Flecheiros” (in Portuguese) or “Arrow People,” a bow and arrow using tribe whose expedition to find them was featured in an article by Scott Wallace in the August, 2003 issue of National Geographic Magazine.  However, the possibility is remote as the "Flecheiros" live in the headwaters of the Itaquaí River, near the Jutaí and Jantiatuba rivers,  while the images of this newly discovered tribe were taken far away to the south in the upper Envira river area.  Hence, it is plausible that they could be "Flecheiros" but most likely are a distinct tribe.

Curiously, several weeks after the release of the photographic proof of the existence of this uncontacted or "lost tribe," some journalists started calling this new tribe a hoax and called them the "Not-So-Lost tribe."  By quoting the photographer of these photos (José Carlos Meirelles) as saying that scientists have known about this specific tribe since 1910, they alleged that Meirelles and the Brazilian government released the pictures to make them seem like a lost tribe in order to bring attention to the dangers that loggers might have on uncontacted indigenous Amazonians.  Using logic such as this is faulty in that whether this tribe is known or unknown to scientists is immaterial; this tribe is living isolated from the rest of the world and is obviously uncontacted.  Moreover, no one knows what they call themselves, what language they speak or their relationship to other tribes.  According to the National Geographic writer Scott Wallace, "My colleagues in the press didn't understand it when they rushed to publish the photos and they don't understand it now when they call the photos a hoax. These people are for real, they remain uncontacted. Just because the Brazilian government has known that they've been there doesn't make them any less real or any less uncontacted."

Now that proof that the Cabellos Largos actually exist has been released, it is time to protect this uncontacted tribe and their way of life. Unknown to most Peruvians, the Peruvian government is selling oil concessions to foreign oil companies of all the land in the Javari Valley on the Peruvian side of the border. In fact PeruPetro, a governmental corporation, recently sponsored a convention in Houston, Texas in which they presented the oil blocks that they are selling as uninhabited territories, a clear misrepresentation as it is known that uncontacted tribes and the Matsés live in this area. This raised the distinct possibility that the survival of Cabellos Largos and the Matsés tribe will be put in jeopardy by the invasion of their territory by these foreigners. Rather than sell the oil concessions for the benefit of foreign oil companies and the shareholders of PeruPetro, it would prudent for the Peruvian people to demand that the Peruvian government allow the Matsés and Cabellos Largos to be the guardians of their land and preserve it as they have for millennia.

The author, Dan James Pantone, is the founder of the Movement in the Amazon for Tribal Subsistence and Economic Sustainability (MATSES). For more information on how you can help the Matsés tribe and the Cabellos Largos in their struggle against these foreign oil companies that are invading their territory, please visit www.matses.org.


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