The Last Tribes of the Amazon


                                          Photo by Carlita Shaw 2014

There is an urgent need to campaign for protection and preservation of Latin American Indigenous people, their cultures and the documentation of their unique languages, as they are fast disappearing within the Amazon rain forest. This is because the Amazon is being rapidly developed, vast swaths of rain forest destroyed by the oil and mining industry, logging and by cattle ranchers and soya and palm plantations and now the Chinese are building a 5,000 km railway between Peru and Belem in Brazil, to ensure that resources be shipped out of the Amazon much faster to then be shipped around the world, this vast railway will pass through some of the remotest areas of rain forest where previously undisturbed tribes await this unknown threat to their very survival.

Baji’s story

Baji is an indigenous woman who died on the 31st of December 2016, in the north of Bolivia, with her being the last female to speak her indigenous native language. Baji was diagnosed with stomach cancer a couple of months ago, she died in a village called Tujuré located south of Riberalta, in Bolivia. The death of Baji, means that the last four remaining survivors of the indigenous Pacahuara people are her two brothers and two nephews, Shaco Pistia, Maro, Buca and Bose Pistia remain, the last to speak their language, to know their identity, their history and culture, which is now on the verge of extinction.

The Pacahuaras originally lived in Pando in the province Federico Román, very close to the border of Brazil, they were dedicated to the harvesting chestnut and fruits in the forest and fishing and hunting. In the 1980s, Baji did not speak any Spanish, but in recent years she understood a couple of words. The Pacahuaras were an important group in the Amazon, but it is estimated that before the rubber industry (which relied on indigenous slaves to work in the rubber trade) and the more recent exploits of the logging industry, there were over 40 thousand Pacahuara people, but since the rubber trade and logging industry they suffered great violence and repression and were forcefully displaced from their ancestral land in Pando, so the government and logging company could access exploit their timbre resources, only one family survived, which is Baji’s remaining family, whose parents were Yaku And Caisaco.


Photo of the Ecuadorian Amazon, taken by Samuel Remenand for Carlita Shaw, 2012.

When the Pacahuara Amazonian tribe lived in Pando, they were unjustly declared an “illegal” territory by the Bolivian government because the Pacahuara people was unable to demonstrate their existence through a bureaucratic process (legal personality through a prefectural resolution), to remain in the forest on their ancestral land. Therefore, the Pando judge, who biasedly represented the interests of the Mabet logging company, ruled in favour of the logging company rather than the protection of the Pacahaura tribe, so they were forced to leave their ancestral land, despite their attempt to sue the logging company in October 2009. The response to their defence was that the Mabet logging company appealed to Article 142 of the Forestry Law and demanded the eviction of the Pacahaura people under the pretext they were “illegally occupying their own ancestral land.

In other words, the Pacahuara people were declared illegal, because it was impossible for this small indigenous group to fulfil the bureaucratic requirements of the corrupt judicial system so that their existence could be proven on paper. This is a common story that has happened again and again to thousands of indigenous people attempting to battle it out with loggers, oil and mining companies in the Amazon. The Pacahuaras were one of the last remaining 36 ethnicities recognized by the Bolivian Constitution. The Bolivian anthropologist Wigberto Rivero is working with Baji’s remaining family members to document their culture and work on a book that will be the only legacy of their almost extinct language and culture.

Baji was the second latin american female indigenous woman to die last month in December 2016. In Peru the decapitated body of another female indigenous woman, Rosa Andrade, 67 years old, who was a victim of a heinous murder, there were no witnesses and it is unlikely the perpetrator will be caught. Rosa Andrade was the last remaining Resigaro elder woman to speak the Resígaro and Ocaina languages, she was the last of the Resígaro tribe and was recently nominated by the Peruvian government, to teach children the Ocaina language through stories and songs. Rosa’s ancestral history is just as tragic as Bajis, the Resigaro tribe were also reduced in number due to the rubber trade who enslaved the Ocaina and Resigaro people in the early 19th century in Peru.

Photo of Tribal settlement in the Ecuadorian Amazon, taken by Carlita Shaw, 2012.

Uncontacted tribes are also at the highest risk of extinction upon first contact, this is because they have been isolated in the jungle and are not immune to illnesses that the rest of us are immune to, such as common influenza, mumps, measles and chicken pox, this has been the continuous fate of millions of indigenous Indians since Colombus stumbled across South America. However, while the demands of the western world exploit resources in the Amazon, development is rapidly having a drastic impact on the Amazon indigenous tribal populations and over the years there will be more tribes wiped out via contact with the outside world, this happened recently in 1994 when illegal loggers came into contact with the Murunahua people in Peru and over half of their population was wiped out within just a few months after initial contact.


Medicinal Plants of the Ecuadorian Amazon, taken by Carlita Shaw.

It is estimated that an indigenous language dies once every two weeks. When a language and its people go extinct, so does the library of knowledge that is their history and culture and a wealth of information that could benefit modern medicine, especially in plant medicinal knowledge.

Due to corporate terrorism, there is a similar story escalating in Ecuador in Morona Santiga with the Nankins Shuar people who have been fighting the mineral companies to stop their ancestral rain forest from being destroyed. On the morning of Thursday, August 11 2016, a military operation of 2000 soldiers proceeded to evict the residents of the Shuar community of Nankints, in the south of Ecuador, so mining could go ahead. This is just one incident among many in the area where soldiers and Caterpillar diggers were deployed to destroy people’s houses in the area. The Chinese Mineral Company heading this project has violated the right to consultation, enshrined in Article 57.7 of the Ecuadorian Constitution, in Articles 6 and 15.2 of Convention 169 of the ILO, and Article 19 of the Declaration UN Rights of Indigenous Peoples. More details are available on an earlier article I wrote here .

The Pacahuara were the last nomadic tribe of Bolivia, and Rosa represented the last speaker of the Resígaro and Ocaina languages in Peru. Latin American governments and international organization have failed to help these indigenous tribes to preserve their culture and ancestral lands of their rain forest territories. Their birth right to their ancestral territories that they were forced from, that they always inhabited without any need of contact with the outside world and it should be their right to refuse to do so and to be left in peace.

Their story of extinction has been echoed through every indigenous tribe lost to this day in the Amazon rain forest and this will continue over the next fifteen to twenty years when it is estimated there will be no more rain forest left at the current rate of deforestation in the Amazon basin which fluctuates yearly between 20,000 and 30,000 square kilometres per year, (which stretches across from northern Boliva, Ecuador, Peru to Colombia and Brazil which contains the largest area of the Amazon Basin), where ecocide and genocide go hand in hand as a product of corporate terrorism.

So this is one of the reasons why the Amazon rain forest its vast biodiversity of species and its unique indigenous people are on the edge of extinction, due to the corruption in the judicial systems and governments favouring the corporations rather than the indigenous people and preservation of the rain forest. The governments in most of these countries are driven through external pressures to give up their resources through their heavy debt burdens so they will always favour corporate exploitation over preservation of the Amazon as a jewel of biodiversity to the world and its incredible indigenous heritage. This tragic story of the recently extinct Pacahuara and Resígaro peoples has been a continuously echoed ecocide and genocide that mostly goes unnoticed by the Western world.

The Amazon contains over 50 percent of the worlds animal and plant species. There are roughly 70 uncontacted tribes in Peru, 100 different uncontacted tribes in Brazil and five in Ecuador and a few in the part of the Amazon that covers Colombia, these last uncontacted tribes deserve protection for as long as possible, but the current state of weak environmental laws and indigenous human rights which have been eroded to favour corporate giants and their exploits, have little chance of long-term survival under the current political and corporate powers.


Carlita Shaw

Author of

The Silent Ecocide, the environmental crisis is a crisis of human consciousness.


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