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  HOME | Peru

New Find Unveils Customs of Uncontacted Indians in Peru Jungle

LIMA – A tribe of Indians living deep in the Peruvian jungle that has never had contact with outsiders cooks its food with fire and has a taste for turtle eggs, according to experts that found traces of that group.

This is a group of about 150 nomads of the Yine tribe that lives near the Las Piedras River in the Madre de Dios region, Efe learned from anthropologist Americo Baca and the specialist in Indian affairs, Hildebrando Ruffner, of the government’s National Institute of Andean, Amazon and Afro-Peruvian Peoples, or Indepa.

They belong to a team which also includes members of the Frankfurt Zoological Society (SZF) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of Peru that found in mid-August the remains of 38 palm huts, turtle shells and eggshells, baskets and animal remains at a beach called Los Concesionarios on the shore of the Las Piedras River.

Days before the discovery at Los Concesionarios, a place the team reached from Lima after almost a week of travel by air, land and river, a leader of the Monte Salvado community, Teodoro Sebastian, and his wife said they caught sight of that tribe, but its members shot two arrows at them to keep them away, Baca said.

The arrows, made completely of vegetable material and picked up by Sebastian and his wife, are part of the evidence that is helping understand the customs and way of life of the Yine, who speak an Arawak dialect.

While this is not the first time these Indians living in voluntary isolation have been seen, the recent discovery of huts and utensils “confirms the existence of this group” and “helps us understand the kind of life they lead on the reservation,” the Indepa anthropologist said.

For example, the experts observed that three of the huts were “more highly finished” than the others, “which allows one to surmise that they would be inhabited by someone higher up in the hierarchy than the others,” Baca said.

There were also two huts on the edge of the camp that could have been for sentinels, the anthropologist said, adding that this group obviously has “some kind of social organization.”

Also found at the camp, which was already abandoned since the Yine are constantly on the move according to the rains, were the remains of animals including tapirs, turtle eggs and eggshells, palm fruit and “wild plantains.”

They also found a variety utensils, baskets for carrying food made from palm and annatto, a plant they use as a repellent and for protection from the sun and cold, Ruffner said.

In front of the huts were found vestiges of campfires, and everything indicated that they eat their food half-cooked and that they use “turtle shells to carry fire from one place to another,” Baca said.

The Peruvian anthropologist said that the Yine wear some kind of clothing that covers “their private parts” as do all the uncontacted groups seen in the Madre de Dios region, though further research into their customs is needed.

Baca said that the discovery of evidence of peoples living in voluntary isolation in the 21st century should “raise awareness” among citizens that the government should take concrete measures to protect them.

For his part, Ruffner said that these uncontacted peoples, who in Peru are estimated to number about 3,000 based on the times they have been sighted, have “ancestral knowledge” and are “guardians of biodiversity.”

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