As reported by the BBC, the Brazilian organization FUNAI (which handles affairs of indigenous people within the country) released a statement on July 1st 2014 stating that seven members of an isolated tribe entered a village on the Peruvian border and made “peaceful contact” with the locals.[i] The group has been referred to in news media as an “uncontacted” tribe because of its formerly limited interaction with settled society outside of the Amazon rainforest, where the group makes its home.
The reemergence of this tribal group proves to be a source of enlivening discussion for scholars of the culture of medicine. The American Association for the Advancement of Science—the organization behind the journal Science—published a news piece that the tribal people “first exhibited flu symptoms on 30 June, 3 days after their first meeting with government officials in the Brazilian village of Simpatia.”[ii] After returning to the town, the article notes, the group was met by a medical team who administered flu vaccines and held them for six days at a treatment facility. They hoped to stop the disease from being transmitted to fellow members of the tribe, who due to infrequent contact with the villagers, could lack established immune defenses against the illness.
Another piece from Forbes news describes this interaction in further detail. “Doctors were flown in to the remote village and were able to talk to the nomads through an interpreter who knew a similar language, persuading them to take medicine that helped them to recover before they went home to their people,” the piece explained.[iii] The author also cites Carlos Travassos of the FUNAI organization, who remarked that, “at first [the tribal people] were afraid and wary, but thankfully in the end they understood, believed us, trusted the medical team and accepted the medicine…it was a difficult and slow dialogue.” The case therefore highlights the cross-cultural impact of medical treatment and the possible problems of delivering care that is non-native to the patients.
This news invites us to revisit postcolonial theory and to weigh the relationship between the settled, modernized world with that of local natives who have sustained their lifestyle alongside globalized societies which they come into contact with. It also suggests that the notion of the exotic “other,” and romanticizing of tribal life, remain objects worthy of introspection and critical interest.
[i] Newar, Rachel. (August 4 2014). Anthropology: The sad truth about uncontacted tribes. BBC News. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140804-sad-truth-of-uncontacted-tribes
[ii] Pringle, Heather. (July 25 2014). Did Brazil’s uncontacted tribe receive proper medical care? American Association for the Advancement of Science News. http://news.sciencemag.org/health/2014/07/did-brazils-uncontacted-tribe-receive-proper-medical-care
[iii] Rodgers, Paul. (July 20 2014). Indians Emerge From Jungle, Catch Deadly Flu. Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/paulrodgers/2014/07/20/indians-emerge-from-jungle-catch-deadly-flu/