Brazilian Ricardo Stuckert accidentally stumbled on to the tribe after his helicopter was diverted.
A photographer has captured images of an uncontacted Amazonian tribe after his helicopter flight took a detour to avoid a rainstorm and happened to fly over their longhouse.“I took the camera and started photographing,” said Brazilian photographer Ricardo Stuckert. “I didn’t have much time to imagine what was happening.”
It was a moment of luck for Stuckert. He spotted the building while in Acre, a state in north-west Brazil near the Peruvian border, on his way to photograph a contacted indigenous group for a book he is working on.
On the return flight, on 18 December, he was able to grab more images that provide tantalizing clues to the lives of uncontacted tribes. Brazil has about 80 such groups but their existence is increasingly threatened by illegal loggers, miners and drug traffickers.
He was impressed with the body paint on one of the men, which he saw as camouflage. “When it is cold we put clothes on. They put that paint to protect themselves,” he said. “I thought, ‘You have to photograph this, it has to be preserved’.”
Three isolated groups live in Acre state, said José Carlos Meirelles, an expert in Brazil’s indigenous peoples who was also on the flight.
“At times a little detail could reveal a lot, and as the photos have wonderful definition we can get closer to the details,” he said.
In 2014, a fourth isolated tribe from Acre state, the Txapanawa, made contact. Some of them told Meirelles – who has 40 years of experience with indigenous peoples and now works for the Acre state government – they thought helicopters were something magical, or a huge bird, and had no idea people were inside until he told them.
Meirelles first saw signs of the tribe that Stuckert photographed on expeditions in 1988, and was on a BBC flight in 2010 that took high altitude footage of them.
“They use axes, machetes, pans, they do know our world but they know very little of it. They don’t have any idea of the confusion that we are,” Meirelles said.
He believes there are around 300 people in the tribe, who farm bananas, sweet potato, manioc and peanuts, as well as hunting and fishing. He was pleased to see them looking healthy, despite concerns in recent years about threats to other groups in the area, especially on the Peruvian side of the border. He said no one knows the tribe’s name.
“We call them the Indians of the headwaters of the river Humaita,” Meirelles said. “They never made contact with anyone, we have no idea what language they talk and who they are. Fortunately we don’t know. The day we find out they will start to have problems.”