The above photo was taken of a shaman living near the Tahuayo Lodge, Iquitos, Peru.
There are over 200 Amazon Rainforest tribes that survive in the rainforest, but these have been driven deep into the forest with the arrival of foreign colonists. The Amazon region has been inhabited by human beings for about 10,000 years, however, more than 90% of Amazonian tribes died out in the 1800s. With them went their knowledge of the rainforest and the life within it. The death of a medicine man or shaman is the same as the burning of a unique library, as all of the knowledge passed down over centuries is lost forever.
In the US, 40% of all prescriptions from pharmacies are for medicines derived from living organisms. As the tropics contain 50% off all living species, they are a good bet to unlocking the answers to current medical issues e.g. an arrow poison called Curare from one of the Amazon Rainforest tribes has become useful as a muscle relaxant in modern surgery. With the vanished Amerindians went information that would have significantly improved modern medicine, not to mention knowledge of new crops, pesticides, and genetic material.
The Mark of Amazon Rainforest Tribes
Because Amazon Rainforest tribes utilised natural materials to make their settlements and camps, little is left behind to alert archaeologists to their presence. Instead, researchers look for other clues. They have discovered unusually high patches of soil overly rich in nutrients found in parts of Amazonia. These suggest the existence of now gone societies that increased the fertility of the soil for agriculture. This as well as other evidence suggest people have inhabited the rainforest for thousands of years. They lived in a variety of ways and only a fraction have survived to this day. It is thought the original inhabitants were hunter gatherers that later started farming, either independently or it was introduced by newcomers.
Early Accounts – Amazon Rainforest Tribes
Early Amazon explorers describe large colonies of indigenous people living along the Amazon River. Today these numbers of Amerindians can only be imagined. One early document from the area now known as Tefe in western Brazil of the Omagua people, who introduced the world to rubber and plastics, described the community being able to furnish 60, 000 warriors. These settlers of the Amazon Basin were farmers existing on crops of cassava, hunting, and fishing. Another account from a Portuguese expedition in 1967 describes the native inhabitants as, “so numberless that if a dart were to fall from the air, it would strike an Indian and not fall on the ground.”
Persecution – Amazon Rainforest Tribes
Tribal populations and culture crashed due to slave trading, introduced diseases, warfare, and missionary intervention upon arrival of foreign colonists. Many tribes have gone completely. Those that remain are generally the more ferocious tribes who are suspicious of outsiders and act aggressively to those encroaching on their homes, although there are exceptions. This behaviour is what has protected them while their neighbours perished. These Amazonian tribes are deep in the forest and could only be encountered by large-scale specific expeditions, which would ultimately negatively impact the tribe’s welfare. The non-welcoming attitude is justified considering how the outside world treated tribes greeting strangers with hospitality and open arms.
Ecotourism – Amazon Rainforest Tribes
Some tribes have, however, recognised that things have changed from the days of uniform persecution. They utilise ecotourism as a way to spread the word of their struggle against oil companies and as a way to preserve their culture by sharing it with visitors. One such tribe is the Huaorani who now face a major threat from oil companies that want to encroach on their Yasuni National Park in Ecuador, which contains the Earth’s highest concentration of flora and fauna in an exceptionally diverse section of Amazon Rainforest.