Earlier this week, the BBC reported that the Mostest Detailedest Pictures EVER! had been taken of the isolated Mashco-Piro tribe. Apparently these pictures were taken completely by chance. A Spaniard just happened visiting Peru, went out for a wee walk found himself amazingly right at the site where the Mashco Piro tribe happen to live and as luck would have it, tucked away in his pocket was not only a camera but also a telescope. Wow – what a co-incidence.
The BBC also reports that the Mashco-Piro seem to be sending a message that they want to be left alone. Obviously its pretty difficult understanding what they are saying given language and cultural barriers and all it’s hard to be entirely sure of the exact nuances. But given that they fire arrows at any tourists or park rangers that come within range, that would suggest that yeah, they probably don’t want visitors. Still, you know, cross cultural communication can be difficult, and it may be some kind of friendly “hello – look as our nice arrows, would you like to see them close up” type interaction, so perhaps a little bit of persistence might be understandable.
No-one was more persistent at trying to be friends with the Mashco Piro than Shaco Flores. Married to a Piro woman, and a speaker of the Piro language he spent decades trying to be their friend. In 1982 he and his mates were so desperate to make friends with them that they captured one of the menfolk and his adolescent son, so that they could tell them all about them of the benefits of civilization. The guests refused all of their hospitality – took no food, water or gifts and the only words throughout the whole of their stay through the whole time was, “Leave me alone“. Eventually Flores got a bit fed up of their ingratitude and released them, but being the friendly soul that he was Flores forgave their bad manners and carried on visiting their camps, leaving them gifts and trying to talk to them. In November last year they shot an arrow through his heart.
Ungrateful wretches huh – I mean if I kidnapped someone and told them all about how fantastic Govan was, tried to get them to eat my SpagBol, gave them favours of my affections, ignored their rudeness and kept on trying for the next 20 years to talk to them, be nice to them and give them wee pressies you would think that I would at least get an invite to dinner after all that time. I mean if, in the unlikely event that they really, really, really, really didn’t want to hang out with me , all they would need to do would be to just tell me, murdering someone who only wants to be your pal is a bit off you know.
But then perhaps there’s a reason for their taciturn natures. In 1894, Carlos Fitzcarrald massacred thousands of their tribe in the pursuit of the profits of the rubber trade (and got honoured for his trouble with a province named after him). Long time ago tho innit – one really shouldn’t bear a grudge. But then again recent experiences of indigenous peoples contact with people just wanting to be friendly, hasn’t really turned out so well, and I’m not just talking about inflicting Sting on them. In the Andaman Islands, after contact in the mid-90s the indigenous people got a road built through their land – now they are tossed bananas as they dance for tourists. (All completely disapproved of by the responsible authorities – after all it does say “Please dont feed the Jarawas” on a sign just outside their enclosure). And then in Brazil, some people haven’t been quite so friendly – kidnapping the young children of the tribe, tying them to trees and burning them alive for their amusement and potential profit.
Given that history and that really we are in no place to reassure them that contact with us will not be downright bloody dangerous for them, coupled with the messages that they are sending out (sharp ones – aimed directly at vital organs), I reckon that they really, really, really do want to be left the fuck alone, they’re not just being coy, or a bit shy, they really, really want us to fuck off and not come back….so lets leave them the fuck alone then.
But then we’re pretty bad at leaving people the fuck alone.
You don’t really get uncontacted tribes in Scotland, but there are a good few examples of people telling others to leave them the fuck alone, and of communities and individuals not being respected in this wish. St kilda was a thriving settlement for millenia – undiscovered until the turn of the 17th century even towards the end of the 19th century their only communication with the mainland was by fireflare or a message in a bottle. A hard life – a very hard life, living on seabirds under a primative feudal communist structure, none the less, they survived and thrived, until tourism brought them disease; religion brought them sin and the military brought them commerce.
More recently there was the case of Robert Sinclair. Living in the woods for twenty odd years, his greatest ambition was to be left the fuck alone. Turning down tens of thousands of pounds that he could have given to landlords and merchants he lived wild in the woods of Stirlingshire. Petty thefts of items of clothing, meagre food supplies and essential equipment brought him to the attention of the authorities, who decreed that he was to live in a house as a test and when that failed, sent out enormous mahunts to find him and gaol him.
Maybe we should just leave people the fuck alone.