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5 Remote Cultures From Around the Globe

5 Remote Cultures From Around the Globe

Isolated and uncontacted tribes give us a glimpse of what life was like before the advent of modern technology. Many of us see these tribes as pristine examples of humanity, a ‘noble savage’ trope that is all too common. Yet each one of these groups display the same needs and desires as the rest of humanity, as they navigate current law, cultural roots and the impact of deforestation.

So let’s explore some of the most remote cultures from around the globe and see how, in many ways, they’re just like us:

1. Sentinelese, Andaman Islands

Sentinelese man meets the helicopter with his weapons drawn. Indian Coast Guard / AP

The Sentinelses are thought to be the most isolated culture in the world. They inhabit the northern island of Sentinel on the Great Andaman Archipelago between Thailand and India. Population estimates range anywhere from 60-300, although because this group has been so resistant to outsiders, it’s impossible to accurately estimate how many of them there are.

Cultural expeditions have described them as hunter-gathers who rely heavily on the sea to supplement their food. After the tsunami in 2004, numerous people wondered if they managed to survive, and a helicopter was sent to bring aid to any survivors. However, upon arrival a Sentinelese man ran out onto the beach, with a spear, pointing it at the newcomers, proving the tribe was indeed very alive and doing well. Short videos of the tribe, taken from afar, and a photo of the man who greeted the helicopter with a spear can be found here (work warning: it shows tribal nudity). Prior to these encounters, the closest anyone had gotten to describing them had been, “short, brown and left handed”.

Now it’s clear that the Sentinelese are a healthy, active and a flourishing community, with various flyovers showing a number of pregnant women among the group at any given time. It’s hard to say if the tribe will ever be open to outsiders, but many anthropologists contend that their isolation is a good thing, as it’s doubtful they’ve acquired immunity to many of our common diseases.

2. Suri Tribe, South Sudan and Ethiopia

A Suri boy shows off his decorative face paint. Stephanie Hunt/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

The Suri inhabit an isolated area called the Boma Plateau between South Sudan and Ethiopia. They haven’t shirked contact with the outside world, rather they are separated geographically by large swaths of hilly land. As it stands, it takes a three day hike through the bush from the nearest dirt road to reach their villages. Primarily agricultural with crops such as maize, beans, yams; they also keep sheep and goats to supplement their diets.

The Suri practice intricate forms of body decoration, creating symmetrical scars on their faces. The women use large lip plates, ear plates and both genders enjoy elaborate face painting. With a belief in God and numerous other spirits, including a local rainmaker, they have complex initiation ceremonies based on an age period of every 10 years. These ‘age sets’ are required to show the upmost respect to those in the age set above them, or risk severe beatings at the hands of the elders. However, marriage rites are performed much like they are in the West, with presents given to a bride and groom that must have separate bloodlines.

3. Ruc People, Vietnam

A Ruc shaman shows how he makes his spells.

These people, who have no familial names or tribal name, were first spotted in 1959 in central Vietnam. They once lived in caves, although they left them almost 50 years ago, and spent their time hunting and gathering in the hilly mountainous area of Thuong Hoa.

Called the Ruc by local Vietnamese, they are well regarded for their supposed spiritual prowess including spells such as the ‘blow closed’, ‘blow open’ and ‘air cut’. When a woman wants to have sex without conceiving, she receives a “blow closed” spell. When she wants a child, words and various drinks are given for the “blow open.” And when the Ruc happen upon dangerous animals in the forest, they “air cut”; a spell so powerful that leopards, elephants and tigers shrink away in fear, at least according to legend.

When researchers made contact with one of the oldest shamans in the Ruc community, he was willing to show them the spells for “blow close.” He even boasted that he could stop bleeding and cure snake bites. But when they asked him to show the “air cut” ritual, he refused, telling them that nobody outside the Ruc community is allowed to know.

4. Ayoreo, Bolivia and Paraguay

An Ayoreo woman outside her home / photo by: Survival International

This group was first encountered in the 1940s when Mennonite farmers made the mistake of building farms on their land. Killings ensued, and even as late as the 1980′s, fundamentalist groups from America, named The New Tribes Mission, began forcibly removing these tribes from their forest. Numerous Ayoreo died during these ‘gospel spreading’ encounters, many of them from disease.

Yet their troubles weren’t over. When a Brazilian company named Yaguarete Pora bought an almost 80,000 hectare plot on their land, the Ayoreo’s days in the forest became endangered as the company made plans to bulldoze the entire area for a cattle ranch. The Ayoreo moved up into uninhabited land, and are currently trying to have the region classed as a protected space, under local law. However the landowners, who no doubt want to expand the space for themselves have so far blocked the legal actions of the Ayoreo.

The Ayoreo are now starting to join labor forces for these ranches, and have been tightly controlled by the New Tribes Mission, which still wields a large influence over the area, suppressing their indigenous rituals and rites. At the bottom of this link, you will find out more on how you can help stop the deforestation around the Ayoreo.

5. Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau, Brazil

Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau Family, Rondonia, Brazil, 1992

Brazil is home to the largest collection of isolated peoples in the world. With special governmental protections and a system in place to secure their land, the vast Amazonian forest sustains numerous Terra Indigena (indigenous people). In the 1980′s the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau first came into contact with non-natives.

However, because of their isolated nature they (and many tribes like them) have no natural immunity to our regular diseases. Soon after contact their numbers began to drop, bottoming out to only 89 in 1993. However, in the mid-1990s they enjoyed a population resurgence, which has helped them develop into a number of subgroups.

Known for tattoos around their mouths, the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau have lately faced the problem of settlers pouring into their land. Although the government has removed these interlopers and confiscated their weapons, some settlers remain hidden on the land, exposing the group to new diseases that could devastate their population. A local NGO, Kaninde, has now set up protections surrounding the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau, to try to keep outside influence to a minimum.

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Photo credit: Gleilson Miranda, Wikipedia.

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163 comments

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7:17AM PDT on Jul 27, 2014

Oops, that should read 'in the immediate area.'

7:16AM PDT on Jul 27, 2014

For Elizabeth P. - it apparently is now generally agreed that although a small group of Tasaday did exist, they were not in fact an unknown Stone Age tribe isolated from the rest of the world. They are related to other tribal groups living in the immediate, and have metal tools and other implements. Here is an interesting article from 1993:
http://www-01.sil.org/~headlandt/caveppl.htm
There is also information on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tasaday_people

9:07PM PDT on Jul 25, 2014

Protect the remote and uncontacted Iskonawa people in the Amazon rainforest of Peru:

https://www.rainforesttrust.org/projects/tropical-rainforest/peru/

2:56PM PDT on Jul 25, 2014

I love them

12:07PM PDT on Jul 25, 2014

Now, leave them alone!

8:49AM PDT on Jul 24, 2014

It's so sad that greedy people keep trying to take their land

5:23AM PDT on Jul 23, 2014

How sad, 5 remote cultures from around the globe. Even sadder, we have lost not so remote cultures from around the world in the past 60 years including the subsistence living people around the Mediterranean. They used to have a great life that was based on thousands of years of learning and experience and after the Second World War they were overrun by manufactured products with great taste and flavour instead of subsistence farming and village life.
Interesting about the tribe in South Sudan and Ethiopia, they grow maize. Maize! They haven’t shirked contact with the outside world, rather they have adopted the best the world has to offer and maize must be one of the offerings. Maize was brought to the rest of the world following the discovery of South America.
This is a good lesson in adopting what is good and rejecting what is bad. We would not be overrun by corporations selling inadequate foods if we didn’t buy them and we wouldn’t have governments that pander to our own greed if we didn’t vote for them. We need to take responsibility for what we create around us and not apportion blame to those that we encourage.
I, like these remote cultures point spears at those that threaten my health, my family’s health and the health of humanity. It is we that have the power and not the corporations, whether you believe in evolution (survival of the fittest) or god that has infused many religions, it is we that have the opportunity to create heaven on ea

1:09AM PDT on Jul 23, 2014

Thank you for sharing!

3:30AM PDT on Jul 22, 2014

Brilliant comment, Ben O. ^^
one does wonder just where these giant corporations have their spare planets stowed.
Surely they must have some ? Or do they simply not care about using up Earth as if it is a disposable thing ?

3:44PM PDT on Jul 21, 2014

In a perfect world, they would be left alone and one one would encroach on their territory. Money and greed will be their undoing.

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